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Understanding Google My Business & Local Search

Google My Business Guidelines – A Detailed Comparison New & Old – Part 1

Google has completely rewritten their My Business guidelines and in doing so has provided both more rules and many more examples.

The best way to think about the new document is to read the overview as a statement of their overal objectives and the sections below as providing more nuance and use case examples. At the end of the day the simple guideline of representing your business as it is known in the real world, is the best basis for making a decision as to what is in compliance.

You also want to realize that their document needs to cover both single location entities and large multi location chains. And everything in between.

The problem with that is that guidelines that are really meant for large multi location chains are misinterpreted or over analyzed to apply to a single location.

I heard tell of auto dealers that were multi brand at a single location freaking out over the rule that states “If your business location combines two or more brands, do not combine the brand names into a single page”. That rule applies to those new KFC/Taco Bell combo stores that inhabit a single location to save on rent but still have distinct national and local indentities. It doesn’t mean that Freedom Chevrolet Buick GMC, who goes by that name, has always gone by that name, has a single location and a single presence has to create two pages. The general rule of thumb here is if that is how your are known in Dallas, Tx then that is how you should be known on Google +.

To eliminate some of the confusion brought on by addressing large chains and single location in one document, I am doing this guideline comparison in two parts. This first part are general rules and rules that apply to single and small multi-location entities. I will address the new guidelines that specifically affect multi location chains in a subsequent post.

Read on for part one of a comparison of the old and new guidelines:

New Guidelines Old Guidelines Comments
Overview Note that I am only including parts that have changed between the two docuements
Following these guidelines helps avoid common problems, including changes to your information, or, in some cases, removal of your business information from Google. This intro is new.More importantly, the document is structured in a way to provide a top down understanding of Google’s objectives. The most critical information is included in this overview.The nuances of these points are explained in more detail throughout the document.

“Removal of your business information from Google” is an interesting statement as to the fact that you won’t likely be penalized but you are more likely to have your data reverted to what Google thinks it should have been.

Unless it is so bad that you are removed and see a 404.

Represent your business as it’s consistently represented and recognized in the real world across signage, stationery, and other branding. Your title should reflect your business’s real-world title. This has been expanded to be more explicit. Google has noted in the past that one way they quality check this is by how you answer your phone. Another is likely to be StreetView.
Choose the fewest number of categories it takes to describe your overall core business. New – see details below.
Basic Guidelines Eligible Business Models  Old  Comment
In order to qualify for a local Google+ page, a business must make in-person contact with customers during its stated hours. Only businesses that make in-person contact with customers qualify for a local page on Google My Business. Expanded the guideline noting that you must be available during stated business hours.This rule has been in place for a while but this makes it explicit. Thought needs to be given to professionals that have their own page at multiple locations to be sure that the hours accurately reflect their presence.This has not been enforced but might be now that it is explicit.
Business Information
Name  Old  Comment
In addition to your business’s real-world title, you may include a single descriptor that helps customers locate your business or understand what your business offers. Descriptors are no longer allowed in the new guidelines.”We were just kidding when we introduced them”.

“No, no, that’s not it. It was a big data, physiological study to see how badly and quickly they would be abused.”

“No, we are not sure what we did, nor why”.

This is why treating Google, Facebook, Apple, Bing or any of them like your partner is a foolish endeavor. They own the friggin sandboxes.

Any additional information, when relevant, can be included in other sections of your business information (e.g., “Addresss”, “Categories”).Adding unnecessary information to your name (e.g., “Google Inc. – Mountain View Corporate Headquarters” instead of “Google”) by including marketing taglines, store codes, special characters, hours or closed/open status, phone numbers, website URLs, service/product information, location/address or directions, or containment information (e.g. “Chase ATM in Duane Reade”) is not permitted. Marketing taglines, phone numbers, store codes, or URLs are not valid descriptors. Your name, and nothing but your name.
Address  Old  Comment
Use a precise, accurate address to describe your business location. PO Boxes or mailboxes located at remote locations are not acceptable. Use a precise, accurate address for your business location. Expanded to make mailboxes etc explicitly forbidden. They were against the rules before but it was not stated.
If your business rents a temporary, “virtual” office at a different address from your primary business, do not create a page for that location unless it is staffed during your normal business hours. This is new. It defines that virtual office are for the most part not allowed.The other interesting tidbit in this sentence, is the use of the word temporary.Thus the situation in which a virtual offices might be allowed – only when they are staffed & permanent– while oxymoronic, I take to mean that if you lease from one of the big shared office space locations you need to have at least some physical presence in the form of staff, not be truly virtual and have relatively permanent presence.Hmm, that does need some clarification.
Website & Phone  Old  Comment
Do not provide phone numbers or URLs that redirect or “refer” users to landing pages or phone numbers other than those of the actual business, including pages created on social media sites. Do not provide phone numbers or URLs that redirect or “refer” users to landing pages or phone numbers other than those of the actual business. Expanded to explicitly exclude landing pages on social media sites (and I take that to mean any directory), a tactic that has taken on new life post Pigeon.
Categories  Comment
Categories help your customers find accurate, specific results for services they’re interested in. In order to keep your business information accurate and live, make sure that you:Use as few categories as possible to describe your overall core business from the provided list. As noted in the overview, this is completely new. It aligns Google My Business category rules with those of MapMaker.
Choose categories that are as specific as possible, but representative of your main business. Do not use categories solely as keywords or to describe attributes of your business. Do not use categories that pertain to other businesses that are nearby or related, such as a business physically contained within your business or an entity that contains your business.  Hmm… what you are not what you do but one assumes that all of the current categories created by Google meet that criteria, no?If not why not?
The goal is to describe your business holistically rather than a list of all the services it offers, products it sells, or amenities it features.You should focus primarily on adding the most specific categories for your business; we’ll do the rest behind the scenes. For instance, when you select a specific category like “Golf Resort”, Google implicitly includes more general categories like “Resort Hotel”, “Hotel”, and “Golf Course.” Feel free to skip adding any category that seems redundant with a more specific category you selected. If you can’t find a category for your business, choose one that is more general. If this is to be the rule, then Google should upgrade their category interface to make it clear what categories are more general and which are more specific when you select them.Otherwise it can get very unclear very quickly.
Google can also detect category information from your website and from mentions about your business throughout the web. This is an interesting new “tell”. We have long thought that Google did this, but it now confirms it.Be sure to max out your categories elsewhere and make sure that your website gives strong and clear categorical signals.
Multiple practitioners at one location  Old  Comment
If the practitioner is one of several public facing practitioners at this location: The organization should create a page for this location, separate from that of the practitioner. The page for the practitioner should be titled with name of the practitioner only, excluding that of the organization. Individual practitioners may be listed individually as long as those practitioners are public-facing within their parent organization. Common examples of such practitioners are doctors, dentists, lawyers, and real estate agents. The practitioner should be directly contactable at the verified location during stated hours. A practitioner should not have multiple pages to cover all of his or her specializations What is new, is the explicit requirement to NOT include the organization name when listing the practitioner. In the past Google permitted various permutations of practice and practitioner.One of these days, the local industry will get its act together in this regard. Not today.
Solo practitioners belonging to branded organizations  Comment
If a practitioner is the sole public-facing one at this location and represents a branded organization, the practitioner page should not be separate from the organization’s page. Instead, create a single page, titled using the following format:Acceptable: “Allstate: Joe Miller” (if Joe is the sole public-facing practitioner at this Allstate-branded location) In the past Google was lax about this. Although I have run into several cases where it was being actively enforced recently.Time to get your act together on this one.