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Understanding Google My Business & Local Search

Google Penalizing Category Spamming – What are the Standards?

There is another possible reason for the stats to drop to zero over night on the Local Business Center Dashboard: You’ve been penalized for category spamming . The new penalty, first noted by Chris Silver Smith last week, dings your listing and causes it to loose standing precipitously. It does not preclude you from editing your listing in the Local Business Center.

A user in the Maps forum posted about a preciptious drop in his listings in the Google Map Help forums last week. Upon investigation it became obvious that his listing included multiple categories and geo phrases in the category fields. Removing the category cramming and geo phrases immediately (as in 30 minutes) brought his listing back into 10 Pack view.

Here are some examples of his choices to fill a single category field, which when removed returned his listing to the 10 Pack although in many fewer searches:

los angeles arabic classes, los angeles german classes, los angeles hebrew classes, los angeles japanese classes, los angeles persian classes, los angeles russian classes, los angeles korean classes, los angeles latin classes, los angeles thai classes

Clearly having multiple phrases on your category fields offers the possibility of your listing being returned on many more searches. For a business that doesn’t bother to read the guidelines or that is looking to gain a temporary advantage, it is easy to abuse Google’s categorization options.

The Google Maps Listing Guidelines as they relate to categories cramming and spamming are as follows:

• When entering categories, use only those that directly describe your business.
• Do not submit related categories that do not define your business. For example, a taxi company might properly categorize itself as “Airport Transportation”, but it would be inaccurate to also use the category “Airport”.
• Also, please use each category field to enter a single category. Do not list multiple categories or keywords in one field.

Interestingly while the poster was penalized, his close competitors had multiple categories per field but without the geo phrases and did not receive the penalty.

So it raises the question of what exactly can go into the custom category fields and what behaviors you would recommend? Does Google’s lack of enforcement imply tacit acceptance or support for category cramming?

Chris Silver Smith noted the following in an email conversation that we had on the topic:

It may indeed be arbitrary, but if we’re talking about algorithmic detection, then they’re rapidly applying penalizations only when able to detect them, and then also penalizing manually the instances that are brought to their attention.

Geographic terms would be relatively easy to detect in category fields through automation, compared with valid categories, yet overcrammed. They’re probably adding more automated detections as they’re able to identify common patterns.

Could also be that they might run detection scripts and then review all listings which are in violation of the algorithm. They might allow listings that are not egregious to pass, such as the language class you mentioned.

They’ve sorta created a problem for themselves in this area, since the Category fields have room for so many characters — it rather encourages small, inexperienced businessmen to add in MORE words and length than are found on average in biz category names. If they wished to reduce abuse, they could easily do so by once again moving to a formal, set list of biz categories to choose from (hopefully much longer than their earlier list), and then they could get rid of the free-form category fields entirely. They could also stand to better tutor small businessmen as to what Categories are, and point them to some of the standard lists of categories as an example of what could work.

In inimitable Google fashion and in a way that is sure to annoy every SMB from here to California, they are penalizing some violators of the guidelines and not others. This seems to be the case even when close competitors are participating in this and other behaviors in violation of the guidelines. What exactly would you recommend that a client do with custom categories?