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 AND organic 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 in either Google Maps or in the Local Packs of search results, 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 and approval 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I suspect that there are unpublished guidelines, too, that are not visible to us.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 in italics as of November 2014, with my notes about them in blue. Additions and changes made in the 6 months are written in green.
Google Places quality guidelines
Google My Business 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 My Business. If you wish to share access to your local page with others, you can so so by adding a manager.
Note: The new My Business dashboard allows you to retain ownership of your listings while enabling others to perform some functions within the listing and on the Plus pages. This can resolve a lot of listing ownership issues that have caused problems in the past. You should always own your own listings.
In October 2014, Googler Jade Wang, posted this in the Google and Your Business help forum:
Today, we’re launching business accounts, which is an improved way you can share management of your locations, for upgraded Google My Business Locations users.
Business accounts provide a safe way to share management of your locations with multiple users. Business accounts are like a shared folder for your locations–a simple way to share access to a set of locations with coworkers.
Once you create a business account, you can transfer locations in your account to any business account that you own.
You can add other users as managers to a business account. These managers will be able to manage locations in the business account simply by logging into their own accounts. Please learn more about the different roles of business account owner and business account manager in our Help Center.
Please learn more about transferring ownership of a business account, deleting a business account, and more in our Help Center.
As always, you can contact our support team for help with any Google My Business Locations issues.
Who should use business accounts?
If you are currently sharing your account username and password with other users, you should transition to using a business account as a safer way to work together. We recommend that most organizations create one business account for all their locations.
Should I be using multiple business accounts?
If you want multiple people to be able to manage all of the locations in your account, you should make one business account for all the locations.
If you want different people to be able to manage different large sets of locations, you may want to create a different business account for each set of locations. Keep in mind each business account requires a separate a spreadsheet for importing location information.
If you want different people to be able to manage different smaller sets of locations in your account, you may want to simply add these accounts as managers to the specific locations desired.
Can one business account be added as a manager to another business account?
No, currently, business accounts cannot act as managers of other business accounts.
How do I transfer locations in my account into a business account owned by another account?
If you’d like to transfer locations to a business account owned by someone else, first create a temporary business account. Next, transfer the locations to the temporary business account. Then, transfer ownership of the temporary business account to the owner of the other account. Finally the owner of the other account can transfer the locations to their account.
If locations are bulk verified, it’s important to make sure that both users are verified for the locations to remain verified on Google.
Note: While getting My Business listings out of personal accounts and into accounts “owned” by the business is good for Google and business owners, this seems like an unnecessarily convoluted process. Whenever Google introduces something new, it tends to be buggy, so I wouldn’t jump on this one unless I was claiming (or creating) a business listing for the first time or having problems.
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. Your business location should be staffed during its stated hours
- 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 pages to cover all of his or her specializations
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.
- 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.
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 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 more about service area businesses.
Google has a (new?) separate page that explains more about SABs (Service Area Businesses). It says:
Not all local businesses serve their customers from a brick-and-mortar storefront. For example, some businesses operate from a home address. Others are mobile and have no central location.
If your business serves customers at their locations, you should list it as a service area business on Google.
Note: Google doesn’t want to show the locations of businesses that only go to the customer (rather than the customer coming to the business’ location) because it doesn’t want the customer driving to your warehouse or home office to try to conduct business with you.
You will be able to set service areas based on the zip codes or cities you serve, or on a given area around your location.
You additionally have the option to indicate I serve customers at my business address. You should only select this option if you want your complete address to display on Google and if your business location is staffed and able to receive customers during its stated hours.
If you previously used the old Places for Business dashboard, you’ll notice that we no longer have the Do not show my business address on my Maps option. We will apply the correct address settings for your business based on your choices from the new dashboard and the nature of your business.
Your service area is the area you designate as where you are willing to travel to provide your services. You may also check a box that indicates that you also serve customers at your location. 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, but if you put the correct information in this section of your listing (Address), you shouldn’t get into any trouble with Google.
Note: Some verified businesses will require another round of verification for changes in address.
Anytime the address for your business changes, you may have to go through the verification process verify again.
- Do not include information in address lines that does not pertain your business’s physical location (e.g. URLs, keywords).
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.
Country restrictions: Google My Business is not available in certain countries.
Ineligible Business Models
- Only businesses that make in-person contact with customers qualify for a local page on Google My Business.
Note: You only qualify for a listing for your business’ actual physical location and not for anywhere else, even it is a city, town or neighborhood that you service.
- Businesses that are under construction or that have not yet opened to the public should not be added to Google My Business.
- 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 add business information for stores which you do not own, but which stock your products.
- You also can’t add a local page 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.
Note: Google reserves the right to suspend access to Google My Business 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.