Google Local Business Listings
Google local business listings can appear in 3 places in the search results for Google: in Google Maps, in Google+ and within the organic Google web results. Since Google owns the lion’s share of local search traffic, it’s very important that both your website and your local listing rank well in Google in order for searchers to discover your company.
Before your Google listing can rank at all, you have to get listed and that’s not always as easy as it may sound. Sometimes, it’s not possible to create a listing, sometimes you can’t get it verified and sometimes it never goes live because it doesn’t make it through Google’s review process. This can sometimes be due to a bug on Google’s end, but much more often, it’s because you’ve violated one or more of Google’s requirements for having a business listing.
Google publishes quality guidelines for its local business listings. Think of these as rules, not guidelines, because failure to follow most of them will either keep you from being listed at all OR from ever ranking well in Google. The exceptions are where it clearly states “if possible”. But if it is possible, just do it.
I suspect that there are unpublished guidelines, too, that are not visible to us. Some of them eventually make it onto the list we can all see, but in the meantime, we just have to guess at what may or may not be acceptable now or in the future. To confuse matters more, Google sometimes leaves old, but undated information up on its pages, so you’re not really sure if what you’re reading is currently applicable or not.
Whether you are creating a new business listing or modifying an existing one, it’s wise to follow Google’s current Places quality guidelines. Here they are as of April 2014, with my notes about them in blue. Additions and changes made in the past year are written in green.
Google Places quality guidelines
Google Places brings users and their local businesses together, both online and in the real world. To best serve our end users (and your potential customers), we’ve come up with a list of guidelines for your Google Places account and listings.
Your Google Places Account
Ownership: Only business owners or authorized representatives may verify their business listings on Google Places.
Account Email Address: Use a shared business email account, if multiple users will be updating your business listing. If possible, use an email account under your business domain.
Note: Using a domain-associated email address adds a layer of trust to your submission, since only someone with permission to represent that business would have one. Even though you don’t have to do this, do it if you can.
Your Business Listing
- Your title should reflect your business’s real-world title.
- 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.
- Marketing taglines, phone numbers, store codes, or URLs are not valid descriptors.
- Examples of acceptable titles with descriptors (in italics for demonstration purposes) are “Starbucks Downtown” or “Joe’s Pizza Restaurant”. Examples that would not be accepted would be “#1 Seattle Plumbing”, “Joe’s Pizza Best Delivery” or “Joe’s Pizza Restaurant Dallas”.
The recent change in this guideline (changed Feb 2014) is significant. You may now add a “single descriptor” to your business name. That single descriptor can be a location and if it is a location, then several words can be used in the “single descriptor” like 16th St Mall, Glenwood Springs, South Denver, etc. It is unclear if this change was intended to include descriptors that are not related to location. Therefore, caution should be used in testing phrases like Cosmetic to Dentist, or Personal Injury to Attorney or Emergency to Plumber.
Business Location: Use a precise, accurate address to describe your business location.
- Do not create a listing or place your pin marker at a location where the business does not physically exist. P.O. Boxes are not considered accurate physical locations.
- Exceptions to the above are self-serve businesses such as ATMs or video-rental kiosks. If adding these locations, you should include contact information for customers to get help.
- If you need to specify a mail box or suite number within your physical location, please list your physical address in Address Line 1, and put your mail box or suite number in Address Line 2.
- Use the precise address for the business in place of broad city names or cross-streets.
- Do not create more than one listing for each business location, either in a single account or multiple accounts.
- 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 listings to cover all of his or her specializations.
- Departments within businesses, universities, hospitals, and government buildings may be listed separately. These departments must be publicly distinct as entities or groups within their parent organization, and ideally will have separate phone numbers and/or customer entrances.
- Businesses that operate in a service area, as opposed to a single location, should not create a listing for every city they service. Businesses that operate in a service area should create one listing for the central office or location and designate service areas. If you wish to display your complete business address while setting your service area(s), your business location should be staffed and able to receive customers during its stated hours. Google will determine how best to display your business address based on your inputs as well as inputs from other sources. Learn how to add service areas to your listing.
- If you don’t conduct face-to-face business at your location, you must select “Yes, this business serves customers at their locations” under the “Service Areas and Location Settings” section of your dashboard, and then select the “Do not show my business address on my Maps listing” option.
Note: Google doesn’t want to show the locations of businesses that only go to the customer because it doesn’t want the customer driving to your warehouse or home office to try to conduct business with you. Instead, it shows your listing with a service area displayed on the map. This is the area you designate as where you are willing to travel to provide your services. Some of the types of businesses affected include carpet cleaners, plumbers, roofers and document shredders. Many home-based businesses also fit into this category. This one trips up a lot of people and hiding your address is not optional.
Google wants to have listings for individual “practitioners”, as long as they have their own phone numbers and interact directly with the public. Those listings should reflect the actual hours that particular practitioner regularly spends at that location.
If you have an large organization with many different departments, each is entitled to its own business listing on Google, but don’t create a bunch of different listings just for the sake of having more listings. Think of this as a way to provide additional, reliable information about your organization to the public. If your university, for example, has a separate phone number and office for admissions, then it makes sense for the Admissions Department to have it’s own listing with its own address, phone number and Map pin. But if all of the administration for the university is housed in one building and all calls are routed through a single phone number, then a separate listing for the Admissions department doesn’t make sense and should not be created.
- Businesses with multiple specializations, such as law firms and doctors, should not create multiple listings to cover all of their specialties. You may create one listing per practitioner, and one listing for the hospital or clinic at large.
Note: This describes how Google would like companies and those associated with those companies to be listed, but it’s still pretty buggy and doesn’t usually work the way Google or business owners want it to. At this time, it’s probably best to NOT set up any practitioner listings. If you choose to do so, perform more research before you get started.
- Do not include information in address lines that does not pertain your business’s physical location (e.g. URLs, keywords).
- Anytime the address for your business changes, you’ll have to verify again. You also won’t be able to update the business’s name until the verification process is complete.
Website & Phone: Provide a phone number that connects to your individual business location as directly as possible, and provide one website that represents your individual business location.
- Use a local phone number instead of a call center number whenever possible.
Note: Google wants the person who sees your listing to be able to call and speak to someone actually there at the business location. While big brands often list call center numbers, local businesses can help to prevent confusion and listing merges by publishing their local phone with the area code as their primary number. Put your toll free number as a secondary number in your listing.
- 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.
Note: Point the link in your listing only to your own website. If you have more than one location, point each listing to a unique page on your website about that location. Beware of marketing companies who try to persuade you to point your link to a page on their website instead of to your own website. If you don’t have a website, get one!
Categories: Select at least one category from the list of available categories.
- Categories should depict what your business is (e.g. Hospital), not what it does (e.g. Vaccinations) or products it sells (e.g. Sony products or printer paper). This information can be added in your description.
Note: You may choose a primary category – make this the most important one for your business – and up to 9 additional categories. Use as many as you can that are truly applicable to what you do and/or sell, but do not include anything iffy.
Other Items of Note
Illegal activities: Fraudulent or illegal activities aren’t tolerated on Google and may result in account suspension and removal of listing information from search results.
Ineligible Business Models
- Only businesses that make in-person contact with customers qualify for a Google Places listing.
Note: You only qualify for a listing for your business’ actual physical location and not for anywhere else. If you do not deal with customers in person at that location, such as at a warehouse, storage yard or ecommerce business, you do not qualify for a local business listing.
- Businesses that are under construction or that have not yet opened to the public are not eligible for a listing on Google Places.
- Rental or for-sale properties, such as vacation homes or vacant apartments, are not eligible to be listed on Google Maps and should not be verified. Instead, verify the listing for your sales or leasing office or offices. If you have a property with an on-site office, you may verify that office location.
- You can’t create Places listings for stores which you do not own, but which stock your products.
- You also can’t create a Places listing for an ongoing service, class, or meeting at a location that you don’t own or have the authority to represent. Please coordinate with your host to have your information displayed on their Place Page within their Description field.
Marketing, promotions, or other contests
- Any promotion, marketing, contests, or other giveaways should clearly link to the terms of the activity and provide clear guidelines and qualifications. All such promises, given or implied, should be adhered to.
Disclaimer: Google reserves the right to suspend access to Google Places or other Google Services to individuals or businesses that violate these guidelines, and may work with law enforcement in the event that the violation is unlawful.
Don’t be surprised if you see businesses that violate these guidelines ranking well in the Search results. Only Google knows why, but it’s probably because its listing hasn’t been reviewed lately. Don’t let the fact that someone else is getting away with something prompt you to do it, too, unless you are willing to deal with the possible consequences, which can include poor rankings, listing removal and/or account suspension.
Because they can and do change without warning or notification from Google, check these quality guidelines again before you create any new business listings at Google+.
UPDATE: April 3, 2013
Googler, Jade W provided this information in the Places help forum:
Website guidelines update for chain businesses
Google Places for Business bulk user? We’ve made some clarifications to our guidelines for the way you can list websites:
- We do not allow URLs that allow redirection, though adding tracking parameters to your regular URL for the business or the business location is allowed.
- What the user clicks on the URL you provide, that URL should also show up in the browser URL bar when your page loads, and that URL should be off the official top level domain for your business.
While this was published in the forum, it does not appear in the guidelines themselves, which is a common problem with the information we get from Google. Although this seems to be specifically aimed at those doing bulk uploads of multiple locations, I infer that none of the URLs that you place in your Google business listings should be routed through redirects.