This is our Deep Dive Into Local from May 22nd, 2017. In our Deep Dive series, we take a closer look at one thing in local that caught our attention and deserves a longer discussion.
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Should you add city to your business name at Google? This question recently came in at the Local U forum:
A multi-location retailer who just starting using Yext was told by a Yext rep to append to their business name their city so to distinguish between their various locations.
[Business Name] + [City]
[Business Name] + [City]
[Business Name] + [City]
Note: Addresses and phone number are different for each location.
Do you agree or disagree with that local seo strategy?
Currently it is against Google's GMB guidelines.
And currently Google is not in any way shape or form enforcing those guidelines. It is an active discussion on the Google GMB private forum but Google has not yet responded with a policy change.
The question confronting a client is, given the lack of enforcement, will Google punish the business in some way if they decide to enforce this? If you think that Google will not punish the business then its fine to do this with no risk. If you think that they will punish the business for rule violation, then it should be assessed on a risk reward basis. I have no idea which way Google will land on this.
From where I sit, the obligation of the Local SEO in this situation is to inform the client of the facts and let them decide as to correct course of action.
Here are the Google guidelines as they currently are written in reference to adding City name to a listing:
Including unnecessary information in your business name is not permitted, and could result in your listing being suspended. Refer to the specific examples below to determine what you can and can't include in your business name.
Throughout the examples below, names or parts of names in italics would not be permitted.
Your name must not include:
- Service or product information about your business, unless this information is part of its real world representation or this information is needed to identify a department within a business (see "Departments"). Service information is best represented by categories (see "Categories").
- Not acceptable: "Verizon Wireless 4G LTE", "Midas Auto Service Experts"
- Acceptable: "Verizon Wireless", "Midas", "Best Buy Mobile", "Advance Auto Parts", "JCPenney Portrait Studios"
- Location information, such as neighborhood, city, or street name, unless it is part of your business's consistently-used and recognized real-world representation. Your name must not include street address or direction information.
- Not acceptable: "Holiday Inn (I-93 at Exit 2)", "U.S. Bank ATM - 7th & Pike - Parking Garage Lobby near Elevator", “Equinox near SOHO”
- Acceptable: "Holiday Inn Salem", "U.S. Bank ATM", “Equinox SOHO”, "University of California Berkeley"
As you can see the current written guidelines explicitly prohibit the practice and suggest suspension as the penalty. Current Google practice in this situation, when the name violation is reported by the public or a local guide, is to change it back without any penalties.
Unfortunately this is leading to a whack a mole situation with smaller, spammier players who then go and change it back. And so the snake chases his tale.
Google has generally looked the other way with larger players and has also often rejected edits to smaller businesses.
Google's stated goal is to create a map product that conforms to the real world. Thus the reason for the ban on using city in the name if it isn't normally there.
BUT the real world is a bit messier than that. And when you view a list of locations under a brand search for a multilocaion business, it might be helpful to the searcher to see more clearly where each of the stores is located.
That same argument however does not really apply to plumbers who are looking to manipulate for their personal gain. And to a large extent these folks are, in my opinion, creating a situation that Google is likely to respond to with increased enforcement. Whether they, in that scenario, ignore or make an exception to large brands is another question.
Obviously the problem is much larger than just whether a business should add a city to a business name. All too often businesses also include everything in their business name including the kitchen sink. And all too often, as Joy Hawkin's has pointed out, it's a quick way to success at Google.
This case though interested me as even large scale providers, like Yext, are encouraging the practice. What do you tell your clients?
Mike: Hi and welcome to the "Deep Dive into Local" from Local U. I re-welcome Mary back after an extended vacation. This week, the topic of our discussion is, "Should you add city to your business name at Google My Business?" This came up out of a question in the Google...on the Local U forums where a local SEO said that one of his three- or four-location clients have been approached by Yext, and Yext then recommended to the client to include city name with their business in their listing. And he wanted to know whether other people in the forum agreed or disagreed with this strategy. So, what about you, Mary? Do you agree or disagree with this strategy?
Mary: This is a tough one because at one time it was, you were not supposed to do, you were badly punished for doing it. Then Google came out and said, "Do it again." Like, they freely put that in the guidelines that you should add the city. Then they took it away again. And then...
Mike: In the guidelines.
Mary: In the guidelines. And then...but then they...
Mike: And it's currently prohibited in the guidelines.
Mary: Yes, but in no way does it badly affect anybody's rankings. In fact, it helps. And I think you could find hundreds and thousands of examples where you can see this. Not just the city name but your main category keyword phrase being in your business name, like Denver radon mitigation. I was doing some research where I found that for that particular term "radon mitigation" --
Mike: Which doesn't have a category.
Mary: Right, it does not have a Google category. That everyone who ranked in the local finder in Denver for that term had "radon mitigation" in their name. So, from a business point of view, it kind of makes sense that if you named your business "Denver Radon Mitigation," it's very clear to customers where you are and what you do.
Mike: In my research on categorization, Google would indicate the following sort of hierarchy: The Google index is every word and every pair of words that create a semantic triple around your business. They index every review and understand categories through third-party -- their trusted third-party sites, interesting categories at Google, and they understand business name as a categorical classification. And so, all of those things, content and third-party sites, can get you into Google Maps. A category and a third-party site can get you into Google Maps. Reviews using those words can get you into Google Maps and into Google search. Categories at Google can get you into Google search. And of all of them, the most powerful that I found in terms of ability to drive results was having that in the business name.
What was fascinating to me in the research was that it isn't either or, it isn't having a business name, it's additive. In other words, if you have articles about you, and if you have third-party review categories, and if you have review content -- third-party categories from IYPs -- and if you have review content, and if you have Google category, it adds up. It's not binary. And thus, you could, conceivably, I have demonstrated, overcoming the name by it. Or, like you said, the name priority, the value of it, can even overcome though other limits imposed by, for example, the distance limit. And Google is more likely to show a business closer to the searcher. But if there's a highly relevant business title that's far away, that would still show. So, likewise, business title or business title with all those four things I mentioned could add up to create a very powerful combination.
The question though, one is, "What is the SEO's obligation to either use or not use a technique, and to inform or not inform their client?" And that's a question we want to have for you. And question two is, "If Google were to make -- to enforce this, once again, which is, the pendulum swings both ways, what's going to happen? And what would you tell the client in that situation?"
Mary: Well, like I said, I think that in the real world, it makes a lot of sense to name your business, where you are and what you do. To me, that's the best way to name a business because it makes it unmistakable to people what you do and where you are.
Mike: Right. Although there is something to be said for unique local branding, there's something to be said for mapping it. In other words, if you...if there's three Denver Radons variation, it gets a little confusing to the searcher, as well.
Mike: So, to some extent, there's a limit to that tactic. And I think also there's a branding limit to that tactic. But if you do it only once, and there's a limit to your business in that tactic. If you want to do more than one thing but you were called Denver Radon and you wanted to expand to the suburbs or you want to add some service beyond radon inspection, you're in a bit of a bind there. So there are certain pragmatic limits. But like you said, if you do it ... so, the real question, first question is, "If you're going to do it, you should give it the same thought, from my point of view, as you give to any naming exercise for your business. What do you want as a brand going forward? How much is your brand explicative versus emotionally connected?" And you should probably make it a formal part of at least the DBA to doing business ads if not the legal name.
Mary: So, yes. And where you talk about the ethics of it, I think it's a matter of ... if Google is not going to enforce their own rule, it's certainly not up to me to enforce it. But I would definitely tell businesses, "That's against the rules. It could whack you up the side of the head at any time." But what we've seen happening is that you just fix it and your ranking has come back and it doesn't have long term harm. So that's personally what I would tell businesses.
Mike: Well, what happens if they do come back with some sort of system that tabulates, for example? How many times have you tried changing it back? And if you've done it more than once, for example, that it imposed some sort of...I mean it's conceivable...
Mary: Oh, yes, it is conceivable, and I think that it's necessary.
Mike: I mean, a Penguin was a very difficult penalty to overcome.
Mary: Yes, some people still never overcome Penguin.
Mary: They had to start over from scratch. And...
Mike: Now, clearly, the practices, though, that got you in trouble with Penguin were never viewed as acceptable by Google.
Mike: Whereas this, as you've pointed out, sometimes it has been, sometimes it hasn't been. Now it isn't, but it is. It's a very confusing environment, so it's difficult to predict the future for sure.
Mary: And it's also difficult for businesses who have named their businesses where they are and what they do. That's a legitimate name of the business. But on the other hand, then you see -- and I've seen it with more lawyers than I care to even mention -- that they used loopholes in this system to create a business, and everything about it is fake. That there's three or four lawyers who've come together with a keyword-rich business name, a keyword-rich domain name. But meanwhile they're all still practicing law in other places doing other things. So it's...
Mike: But Google says that those aren't spammers.
Mike: That only one half of one percent of all searches generate spam results, and those aren't them.
Mary: Yes. Even though, if you trace the history of this business, you can see that it was only created to take advantage of Google's lack of enforcement of their own guidelines.
Mike: Speaking of lack of enforcement, as you know I've been pursuing this review topic of what my wife calls "spewers," review spammers. Spewers, right? So, I've been analyzing spewers, and guess what the top ... the industry that I found most frequently spammed was movers. But guess what was second?
Mary: I'm going to say lawyers.
Mike: You guessed it. How did you know?? And not only are they creating fake locations with fake names, they're buying fake reviews. And of all the lawyers, personal injury was leading because that's the highest economic incentive, but it was across a range of lawyer categories. Fascinating. And Google didn't even highlight those as potential in their spam article. And to me, this is...
Mary: I know. And when you look at some of the markets, it's just so obvious.
Mike: So obvious.
Mary: That it really need...
Mike: So, back to the question at hand, what about ... just let's simplify. Let's get rid of the question of what you do. Let's just deal with the question of where you do it. Should you add it to your business name if it gives you an advantage today without changing your business name? Should you change your business name? Should you anticipate some penalty when we -- just the location for the -- just to simplify this conversation because it gets complicated pretty quickly.
Mary: My point of view would be that it's working. So, why wouldn't I ... it's working and Google is not punishing people, so why would I not use it? However, to cover my butt and protect myself, I would get the DBA that included that, which is supposed to satisfy Google's requirements.
Mike: I will go and step beyond the DBA. I would actually redo my citations that way. I would redo my letterhead that way, and I would redo the way I answer the business that way as well, right, answer the phone that way. I think if you're going to do it, my opinion would be, that it is legitimate to rename. That's a legitimate business activity. And particularly in a business with three or four locations, I think clarity of location information is critical to the ... a critical benefit to end user, but I would go whole hog, I wouldn't stop at just the DBA. I would do it across the board. If the business didn't want to do that across the board then I don't know that I would, as a ... I wouldn't want responsibility for what Google might do to them otherwise.
Mary: Right. It's like you have to play the game Google's way if you expect to win.
Mike: Long haul.
Mary: Long haul.
Mike: You expect to win the long haul.
Mike: You may lose over the short haul, and that's a problem. So, it is...
Mary: Yes, and that's what makes it difficult for people who want to give white-hat advice to businesses when Google is not enforcing their own rules.
Mike: Right. And this particular of lack of enforcement is egregious.
Mary: Yes. And it's so tied to money that it's not even funny. I mean, there's just so much money involved with this that Google really needs to make some effort instead of just continuing to cash in on $100-a-term keyword, $100-a-click keywords.
Mike: Well, they are making some efforts in the advanced verification marketplaces, they did expand that, by the way, why you're going to...Philadelphia, first East Coast city. But it's not cool and ... but simultaneously with that, that becomes primarily a monetized ad play, right, when there's some local listing there. But, the question is whether local should just be monetized, I guess, is the bigger question. In the meantime, there should be a clear set of rules. They should be clearly enforced, fairly enforced, and regularly enforced.
Mary: Yes. And the same set of rules should apply to lawyers that apply to locksmiths.
Mike: Exactly. Lawyers aren't getting better because their collars are ... their collars are white rather than blue. I mean, in some ways, they ... in some ways, I think fake reviews are worse than fake locations, right, because they're on their face deceiving the customer about a critical quality attribute of the business, whereas a fake location for a locksmith doesn't, one way or the other, dictate the quality of their service. They're going to be doing the service on-site. All they're doing is implying that they're closer to that location but not. So I would see, in all of this, I see fake reviews worse than fake locations in some regards, but I don't know.
Mary: Yes. And some of them are doing both at the same time.
Mike: Well, all three, fake locations, fake name, and fake reviews. Absolutely, I agree.
Mary: And you would think that they could catch those guys.
Mike: You would think that they could. In fact, if you look at the review patterns I'm seeing, they can catch them. I mean, if I can catch them, they will catch them.
Mike: All right. Well, with that, we will say goodbye. Thanks for joining us for this current issue of "Deep Dive into Local." Bye-bye.
Mary: Thanks, Mike. Bye-bye.