New Google Maps Business Listing Guidelines – What’s Changed

Google has changed much more than the order of the guidelines with this update. The guidelines are more rigorous and specific than they have been in the past.

I have noted in italics those sections which are completely new.

Previous
Listing Guidelines

Ordered to Match new Guidelines
New
Business
Listing Guidelines
& Order
Ownership
Only enter listings for businesses that you own or are explicitly authorized to represent. Only business owners or authorized representatives may claim their business listings on Google Maps.
Business
Name
Represent your business exactly as it appears in the offline world. The name on Google Maps should match the business name, as should the address, phone number and website. The business name on Google Maps must be your full legal business name.
Do not attempt to manipulate search results by adding extraneous keywords
into the title field,
Do not attempt to manipulate search results by adding extraneous keywords or a description of your business into the business name.
and do not include phone numbers or URLs in the title along with your proper business name. Do not include phone numbers or URLs in the business name.
Physical
Location
Provide information that best identifies your individual locations and provides users with the most direct path to your business.
Create only one listing for each physical location of your business. Do not create listings at locations where the business does not physically exist.
PO Boxes do not count as physical locations.
Do not create more than one listing for each business location, either in a single account or multiple accounts. Do not create more than one listing for each business location, either in a single account or multiple accounts.
Service area businesses, for example, should not create a listing for every town they service. Businesses that operate in a service area as opposed to a single location should not create a listing for every city they service. Service area businesses should create one listing for the central office of the business only.
Likewise, law firms or doctors should not create multiple listings to cover all of their specialties. Businesses with special services, such as law firms and doctors, should not create multiple listings to cover all of their specialties.
the precise address for the business in place of broad city names or cross-streets. The precise address for the business must be provided in place of broad city names or cross-streets.
A property for rent is not considered a place of business. Please create one listing for the central office that processes the rentals.
URL & Phone
For example, you should provide individual location phone numbers in place of central phone lines and the precise address for example you should provide individual location phone numbers in place of central phone lines Provide a phone number that connects to your individual business location as directly as possible. For example, you should provide an individual location phone number in place of a call center.
Provide the one URL that belongs to your business both in terms of the landing page and the displayed URL. Provide one URL that best identifies your individual business location.
Pages that redirect to another domain, or act as “click through” sites may lead to penalization Do not provide phone numbers or URLs that redirect or ‘refer’ users to other landing pages or phone numbers other than those of the actual business.
Custom Attributes & Description
Use the description and custom attribute fields to include additional information about your listing. This type of content should never appear in your business’s title, address or category fields. Use the description and custom attribute fields to include additional information about your listing. This type of content should never appear in your business’s title, address or category fields.
Please see this page of the LBC User Guide for examples of acceptable custom attributes.
Best Practices
Use a shared, business email account, if multiple users will be updating your business listing.
If possible, use an email account with a domain that matches your business URL. For example, if your business website is www.giraffetoys.com, a matching email address would be you@giraffetoys.com.
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.
Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
New Google Maps Business Listing Guidelines - What's Changed by

79 thoughts on “New Google Maps Business Listing Guidelines – What’s Changed”

  1. If Google is going to require that businesses use only their legal name as the business title then they should turn down the dial, way down, on the part of the algorithm that uses keyword relevance in the title as a ranking factor.

  2. Mike:

    We discussed this. In various partnerships we operate 7 businesses. At this moment I don’t know the full legal name of every business. I have to look up the dba name in cases.

    I used to lease commercial space. I can’t tell you how many entities don’t know the legal name offhand. Many don’t do business under that name.

    On a side note, I scanned a lot of restaurants in my region a short while ago. It was astonishing to me how many well established long term businesses hadn’t claimed their local business records. These include businesses with tremendous track records of success over several decades.

    I agree with Steve’s comments above. Google should turn down the element of a business name in a title with regard to their algorithim. Of course if they did that, they would not need to make full legal name a requirement as they just did.

    They should comment publicly Don’t sneak this out in the dark of night. First businesses that change their legal name to a city/service….wins the onebox.

    They should fix their algo, they should comment openly, and as Stever suggested they should tone down that part of the algo that makes the legal name so incredibly important with regard to local search.

    Basically they are establishing all the rules for operating a small business in a community. Who granted them the power? Most business operators don’t even realize they are taking control as most businesses haven’t even claimed their LBC record.

    Meanwhile, I’m now checking on every legal name, checking competitors for their legal names, and beginning to make changes.

    Google has become more intrusive and has a bigger impact than “Big Brother”…..and it is all under the radar screen.

  3. I completely agree with Steve. Google is taking a step back and basically confusing business owners by disallowing keyword rich titles just on LBC. However, when they need to optimize their website, having keywords in titles, content, images is an important guideline to keep in mind.

  4. @Dev

    I am sure you are halo certified. 🙂

    @Shagun

    Keyword rich titles has the long term affect of making every business name the same. If you search on San Francisco Computer Repair roughly half of the businesses have taken on that name. Not a very satisfying user experience that’s for sure.

    But the rule, in and of itself, is not adequate to solve the problem that Google themselves have created.

    As Stever and Dave point out, it was their algo that started this rush and now they have a fairly large problem of both quality and enforcement.

    The interesting part from my point of view is how Google will handle violations of this going forward.

    Do they have an algo based way to check? Will the check only occur in the LBC at the time of creation? Will it be retroactive?

  5. While I tend to agree with Google (and Mike) that too many keywords in a business title is a bad experience, there is still something to be said for those keywords getting bolded and increasing clickthrough.

    I think if Google, as Stever suggests, turns back the dial on business title as a ranking factor AND stops bolding keyword matches in business title, they’ll probably get much closer to the user experience they are looking for.

    I actually appreciate the fact Google has given a couple of explicit examples of what violates the guidelines (PO Boxes and Rental properties) and as Dave says, I wish they’d figure out a way to get this information more visible (even though everyone should be reading Mike’s blog anyway!).

  6. I’ve been checking some of our names. Google absolutely needs to distinguish in specifics between legal name and dba name.

    Exactly what do they mean. Legal names could be wierd, disconnected to a real business or not. I could set up a legal corporation for my Olean computer business but set up a legal name based on some initials important to me…say my kids names, or a family entity….then set up my dba (doing business as) Olean Computer Store. Meanwhile the legal name could be MoeLarry&CurleyBlumenthal LLC

    Exactly what does Google mean?

    Seriously Google, (big brother that you are). Are you insisting that I enter the legal name of MoeLarry&CurleyBlumenthal LLC into my Google Business Record?

    Be more specific; DBA, legal name….or why don’t you tone down parts of your algo?

  7. I like that things are getting more specific though I understand that if Google comes out with the 10 commandments of local search, then the majority will look to find the sneaky way around the guidelines.

    Business names really don’t need to effect the algorithm. I think the policy is great in requiring the legal name, but how far would Google have gone if their name had to be Search Engine for ranking purposes. With a name like Google, they should be first in line to support businesses with totally irrelevant names.

    I noticed a while ago that someone from Google Maps in the help section mentioned having a domain email address is favored. The reasoning was “trust” related. This was a while ago, so I am glad to see that it became part of the guideline sections since it had already been in effect for quite some time.

    And those complaining that Google shouldn’t role this out in the dark of the night should realize that Google is now expecting Blumenthals.com to make the announcements for local search, and are simply saving online storage space. Mike…shouldn’t you be getting a Google paycheck for this? 😉

  8. @earlpearl

    I would presume that a DBA is considered a legal name as it is legal. In the case of McDonald’s for example they are all done that way.

    PS You now have 299 comments. What is the appropriate celebration when you hit 300?

  9. Comment #300. A bar of soap, a towel, maybe getting google to respond to a couple of questions. Any of those things would be very exciting IMHO. 😉

  10. OK, so lay on the questions…I can handle the bar of soap, the towel would be theft but lets hear what the questions would be 😉

    Mike

    PS My mother would always take the sugar packets and any left over cookies, would those suffice?

  11. This is systemic of Google’s thinking about itself and the world. Google’s preference, for any search query, would be to deliver the “one true answer”. This of course does not exist, but they can’t see it while wearing the employer issued Google blinders.

    To succeed in the monopolistic world Google is creating, local businesses must become the defacto local monopoly within their industry. This is the direction things are headed. This is a piss poor system.

    Are you a numbered company? Only your bank and the government know and use your legal name. The sign on your door say’s Pure AC, you’re an air conditioning contractor. But wait, you’re actually a full service HVAC company doing heating and ventilation stuff too. Those gas furnaces you sell over there, well you should stop selling them. There is nothing about furnaces, or heating for that matter, in your name. Oh, you do some plumbing stuff too? You should stop that, you’re not a plumber. Just stick to air conditioning, please. Oh wait, I can see you’re a numbered company. That tells me nothing, you should just stop doing everything your doing and get out of business. Ok? Thank you. Next.

  12. @Stever

    In the end, they need to stop relying on business name for rank.

    Or they should also set up a free legal team to help change names.

  13. I like the idea of the free legal dept to change names. Then they should also pay for redoing all your branding; paper supplies, changing the websites, the logos, the ads, etc. It ends up costing a bit of money.

    This so reminds me of the business world complaining about the cost of govt. regulation. 😉

    On a more serious note; since they made a proclamation in an environment in which there is no opportunity for further commentary and questions…it appears this be one of the places where Google could further clarify their comments.

    It would be nice if they further explained themselves. (seriously I feel this is more “big brotherish” than govt./tyranny/ etc.)

    I respect your response, Mike, abt DBA’s probably being appropriate…but I’d feel a lot more comfortable if I heard it from Google.

  14. Super chart, Mike.

    The business name on Google Maps must be your full legal business name.

    Including LLCs, INCs, etc? Is that really useful?

    PO Boxes do not count as physical locations.

    This is a pain in the neck. Google has got to figure out a solution for local businesses with private addresses…remember, 50% of SMBs are run from home.

    If possible, use an email account with a domain that matches your business URL. For example, if your business website is http://www.giraffetoys.com, a matching email address would be you@giraffetoys.com.

    Hmm…I wonder if this has any effect on Maps rankings. Could be Google has just revealed a little signal there.

    If Dave gets a towel and soap, what do I get?

    A property for rent is not considered a place of business. Please create one listing for the central office that processes the rentals.

    O-ho! Sounds like Google must be having major trouble with people doing this if they’ve included it in the guidelines. I haven’t seen this covered anywhere, Mike, have you?

  15. I often have clients ask me specifically about whether or not they should include an email address in their maps listing info. They are concerned about publicly displaying an email addy where it will get picked up by spam bots, and rightfully so. I tell them that’s up to them, but I won’t add email addresses to mine.

  16. Following issues are related to me & they are reflecting ONLY my opinion & conclusions from recent experiments:
    1. The debate on the business name & the listing title is right & good but i really don’t think it’s that strong ranking factor.
    As most of you know, Google is changing their Maps algo frequently, just as they did 1 week ago. prior to this change, the main factor to get into the 7 pack was a specific key word in the category, now you should know that they have put more weight on User Created Content.
    The title… well I’m not going to get crazy because of that.
    2. I’m much more concerned about their definitions of the uses of physical location. Guys, you’ll get more activity by advertising in other cities in your metro area than having a proper title in your listing. How a metro-wide biz should advertise itself? Can’t a Pizza biz located in Oakland CA serve Berkeley CA? maybe they are much better for the user/ customer than their Berkeley located competitors?..
    3. In the past 3 years we saw many new & updated guidelines & regulations. nothing was enforced. do you think it’ll happen this time? Let’s hope so.

  17. @Miriam

    I told Dave no on the towel (it requires theft on my part)….but I am afraid to give you soap. 🙂 Any other ideas?

    The property rental issue has been simmering for quite a while and I didn’t write about it because it is so very grey. It showed up in the forums because it lead to so many mergings….if two agents each had listings at a given location…and it showed up in Europe last year.

    @PureSheer
    I think you are correct about the algo change…although I also noticed that listings that did not have strong presence across the total ecosystem (not just user maps) were also dinged…

  18. @Mike

    Right!
    Do you think it has something with a listing’s seniority in the index?
    Other issue-
    How Google can reinforce what is a physical address (e.g. mailbox) & a physical location (e.g. storefront) & for the last- is it a legit physical location or a ‘stolen’ one?

  19. Dave and I have been discussing it.

    I’d like a sack of organic hickory nuts from the east coast. They don’t grow here and I’ve always wanted to taste them. Are they good, Mike?

  20. Miriam deserves one of those very plush bathrobes they give you at all those luxury hotels you stay in. As long as you are sending her one; rip off the monogram from the hotel and stitch in one with her name.

    Do it right or don’t do it all!!! 😀

  21. So these guidelines are for new listings, what about the old listings? Will the Old listings that don’t match these guidelines be penalized?

  22. @Kunal

    Great question. Google works by algo and exception. By exception I mean that if a listing that is in violation of the guidelines and is reported then they are likely to penalize that specific old listing.

    As they train their algo to spot different types of listings that are in violation, there are likely to be penalties applied to a broad number of listings.

    Who knows which things they will be actively enforcing.

  23. Okay, this may answer why one of my sites just went down in the results. Wasn’t something done intentionally but I will change it.

    Thanks!

  24. @miriam

    I agree — the PO Box rule change will really hurt thousands of businesses, if enforced. It hasn’t yet been implemented retroactively — I just checked a client who is listed with her PO Box, and her listing is fine.

    For some categories of small business, (think plumbers, locksmiths) the percentage of home based businesses probably runs way higher than 50%. This could be devastating to those people. Stupid move by Google.

    Neil Street

  25. @Neil

    I don’t think that Google is trying to prevent the use of PO Boxes so much as prevent their abuse. See this new post with details about how PO Boxes can still be used.

    The new rules touch on the whole issue of virtual locations and what is acceptable. Historically, when the costs for virtual locations were high, only high value transaction businesses pursued the strategy.

    For example in the floral business, in the case of remote call forwarding an 800 aggregator would add local phone numbers in every phone book to create the impression of a local presence. Since these numbers have gotten cheap this practice has expanded incredibly.

    Lawyers are another market segment, particularly those in personal injury, that have long set up a desk, a phone in a remote location and hardly ever actually used the office. This practice has been formalized in recent years with whole office buildings in major metro areas that serve this purpose.

    The standards in this whole area are quite cloudy as you move from PO Box, the UPS mail stop, to Remote Call Forwarding to a 6’x7′ office in a rural bank to office buildings filled with nothing but shared, virtual office space.

    What is a bricks and mortar location?

  26. @mike

    I’m not so sure. I think time will tell. To me, there is a lot of ambiguity here. Google is saying you must have a “mailing address” which is usually your “physical address” but can be a PO box if you want to keep your address private. But they also say (and this is the most recent update) that a “physical address” cannot be a “PO box”). It doesn’t really add up. I guess we have to wait and see what happens.

  27. Puresheer:

    Your comments in response #21 are very appropriate. Maps algos are young, relatively unsophisticated compared to google.com and subject to a lot of change.

    Maps are totally unsophisticated to the way people shop. Your comment about a pizza place in 2 nearby locations; Berkeley and Oakland is totally relevant. That is how real people shop. If they find a great place a couple of towns away…that is where they go and that is what they reccomend to their friends. The maps algo is way to rigid at this point to accomodate that.

    There are many places in the US where cross border shopping is incredibly prevalent: Cincinnatti serves Kentucky, Philadelphia serves southern NJ and vice versa, Maryland and Virginia residents of the DC metro region cross border shop all the time, etc. etc. etc. All you need is a change in state taxes and that creates an enormous shopping movement in border state regions.

    Maps absolutely doesn’t respond.

    As to enforcement; who knows. Cripes Google has historically not put people and hours into answering problems that are detailed in the forums. How are they going to enforce these changes. Its a good question.

    Once again a Google rep responding to these points would be helpful.

    (btw: Mike: I really think you should get Miriam hickory nuts and one of those many plush bathrobes you collect from luxury hotel suites. 😀 :D)

  28. I read your blog post and immediately did an experiment. I removed the keywords from my LBC listing and replace it with my company name. Within minutes, I dropped from #1 on Google Maps for the phrase “columbus ohio SEO” to, well, invisible. It appears that Google’s map algo still uses keywords as part of the ranking formula regardless what the official position is.

    1. @Dave

      Be careful to not confuse ranking with policy. Six months before their algo started dinging for category and geo cramming, they had explicit policy to prevent it. At some point, when they have the algo, it is likely to be dinged.

  29. @Dave

    I would respectfully submit that your listing should stand successfully with or without keyword stuffing in your title. If it doesn’t, you have work to do that you should start now as it might take a while.

    I would also suggest that you have your alternative marketing strategies in place, in case you get banned.

  30. @mike,

    My local listing is pretty well laid out, perhaps with the exception of videos and generating more web pages about myself that Google might also pull in. What do you make of this? When search Google for “columbus ohio SEO” The #1 result is not for a local SEO firm but for the blog of a salesman at a leading local SEO firm!

  31. Mike,

    Thanks for keeping us in the loop.

    Google’s ability (and perhaps willingness) to enforce the “full legal business name” has always appeared extremely limited in the past, except in cases of large-scale spam.

    What are your thoughts on how this will change under the new guidelines, if at all?

    Also, and I apologize for the tangent, do you have an opinion on how adding keywords/city etc. to the business name field might affect Google connecting citations and/or merging listings?

    1. One can only guess about Google’s willingness and ability to enforce the guidelines. If they can do so via algo they will do so, if they can’t they won’t. Obviously that can change as they tweak Maps.

      That being said, you second point is more to the point. I think it is absolutely imperative to have a consistent presence across the internet. Thus by adding keywords you run the risk of creating split listings in Google, lost reviews etc. In the worst case it could lead to merging if you and a nearby competitor hit upon the similar title tweaking.

  32. it seems that Google changed back the guidelines about the business name. now it’s “Represent your business exactly as it appears in the offline world. The name on Google Maps should match the business name, as should the address, phone number and website.” again 🙂

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