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Understanding Google My Business & Local Search

Renaming your business for Local

Google has recently made clear that a business can have only one listing per address and that multiple listings for that business at one address would be considered spam. They have made no clear policy statement in regards to naming the business.

Google appears to tolerate and to some extent endorses the idea that a business should be able to readily change their business name. Yahoo’s policy seems to be that you can change your business name in their local system but if you don’t subscribe to their premium listing it will revert to the business name as indicated by the upstream data providers that they buy their listings from. Is it ok for a business owner to rename their business listing for use in Google Maps?

This “tactic” was first suggested by Chris Silver Smith in Extreme Local Search Optimization Tactics. Of late I have reported a number of Maps listing where listers have creatively “rebranded” a business by changing its business name. “Local Marketers” have used keyword phrases like “Brain Injury Lawyer” or “Boob Job” to replace their business names in an effort to achieve ranking. Mary Bowling recently had an insightful post on Taglines-Why You Need One and how a good tagline in your business name listing not only communicates to your customers but communicates important information to the local search engines as well. Certainly in its current iteration, Maps seems to reward business names that relate closely to the search phrase with higher rankings.

Is changing your business name for the internet a legitimate exercise? Can it ever be? Will it be considered spam or otherwise incur a penalty with Google? The answers are yes, yes and who knows but I think not.

I would take Mary Bowling’s concept of adding a tag line one step further and suggest that every small business should consider evaluating their business name to see how well it serves their needs on the internet. A great time for that review is when they start exploring marketing into the local space. After a review, it may very well make sense to create a new DBA specifically for their local internet presence.

Most small businesses depend on a long term client relationship for sustenance. The spammers (or their advisors) who have utilized renaming tactics, are very focused on short term, easy gains. Most very small local businesses are more concerned with building long term customer relations and are more focused on long term gains. They don’t worry so much about being caught by Google as dissappointing a loyal customer base. How could a name change work for them, particularly after years of local brand building?

Should Anderson-Shortell, a local plumbing firm, change his name to “Clogged Sink Drains Fixed in Olean NY“? Probably not, but there are number of legitimate reasons to create a more meaningful name for use across the internet AND standadrize around it.

We have found that many small businesses have given little thought to their business name and even less to how well it will play in the vast playing field that is the internet. A name that is locally recognized may have no (or bad) connotations on the internet. A name that is obviously categorized in the yellow pages may need some help on the internet in alerting customers as to what a business really does.

One client’s business was named Eville Concierge. To the owners and their neighbors it was a meaningful name. They had spent ten’s of thousands of dollars to make sure that visitors to their town and residents alike knew about them with bill boards, signs, and yellow page & newspaper ads. But from an internet perspective it communicated very little. Eville is the local nomiker for Ellicotville, a western New York ski resort village. The company sold real estate and handled vacation rentals. They offered concierge services as their distinguishing service in their vacation rental and property management businesses. For the internet their name became: Ellicottville Concierge – Real Estate and Vacation Rentals.

Another client, as is typical of many small businesses, had three names. The locals and the phone companies (thus the online directories) knew them as Beefeaters. Did they sell gin or were they a beef specialty house? At some point in the past the owner decided that “Beefeaters, A Downtown Eatery” was an a hip alternative. Their domain, a third variation, was Their domain name became their name for Local: The Beefeaters Restaurant.

Finally we had a client, Michael Donnelly Interior Design, who the phone companies had shortened to Michael Donnelly Interior DSGN. it probably occurred years ago when the field names availabe in phone company computers were limited in length. The owner had never really taken note of their billing name despite the fact that it propagated across the many on-line directories and local search engines.

All of these businesses had developed a local brand that was respected but had a business name that didn’t work well on the internet for one reason or another.

This renaming should not be done lightly and it should be carefully thought out prior to any change. It needs to fit into the overall marketing plan of a business, reinforce and be compatible with their local brand, can’t be abusive of their Maps listing privileges and needs to clearly communicate to the customer/end user who the business is, what they do and perhaps where they are.

Google at some point, may diminish the importance of a business name in their ranking algo. But will they penalize a business for changing their name?. A business has a right to implement a name change that helps customers understand who they are and what they do. I believe that if the business does so carefully, it will not be construed as spam and will not incur any penalties. It will serve to provide meaningful information to the searcher which is what Google is ultimately striving for as well.

However coming up with the new name is just the first step. Being sure that it makes its way to all the appropriate places is the next step and that requires some additional efforts. More later…