Updated Rules for Google+Local for Business Listings

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.

Google Local Search Results

Google Local Search Results

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I suspect that there are unpublished guidelines, too, that are not visible to us.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

 

Business Name:

  • 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.
service areas in Google local

Designating a service area for your Google Local business listing

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.

38 Responses to “Updated Rules for Google+Local for Business Listings”

  1. Great info Mary. I always forgot to check the forum and this is a reminder that I need to.

  2. I had some ‘violation’ issues I had to deal with recently.

    I run a solo, service-area business. However, I also, on occasion. deal with face-to-face customers at my home/office location. Google apparently only deals with absolutes, and will not allow a listing unless certain unpublished conditions are also met.

    (quoted from various emails with local-help@google.com)

    ” In order to display your address at a residential location you must have a sign displaying your business name and allow customer walk-ins anytime during your operating business hours”,

    “Only locations that have regular store hours and accept walk in customers ‘off the street’ are allowed to have their address shown”,

    “Residential addresses or locations that require appointments are not allowed to show their address”.

    Through many requests, I was never pointed to where these ‘rules’ are posted or available. Arguing the point was like having a conversation with an auto-responder. Since I need my listing, I eventually just gave up, and hid my location. It’s been several days, and I’m still waiting for my listing to be reactivated.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Ron. I haven’t seen that email, yet. Any chance you could email a copy of the thread to me at marybbowling@gmail.com ?

      It’s unfortunate that all of the rules that Google works from aren’t published and publicized. It would make it so much easier for legit businesses to do what’s required of them.

  3. Hi,

    I just wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing. If I have to list my address as my residential address, I do not have to show it? I have just received my google card with the code on it, can I still hide my address? Thank you very much

    • @Kristin
      Yes, you can hide your address at any point:
      Check this -> I deliver goods and services to my customers at their location
      But do not check this -> I also serve customers at my business address

  4. Thanks for the great insight Mary. It’s so important to not only understand the quality guidelines, but to be able to read between the lines. You have done an excellent job of accomplishing that here!

  5. Thanks, Colan. I’ll try to do a better job of keeping this post updated with changes in the future.

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  7. We have a number of clients who are realtors and therefore use their cell phone number rather than the floor number as they don’t trust whoever is answering the phone:) How can this impact their Local Listings?

    Thank you

    Pamela Ravenwood
    • Mike Blumenthal May 9, 2014 at 3:03 am Reply

      Phone number is key to the NAP consistency and keeping the cluster of data that Google has about a business intact. As long as the same number is used EVERYWHERE it doesn’t really matter whether it is a land line or a mobile number, Google will accumulate and store the data successfully.

  8. I had setup a Google places listing for my service area business and was approved. I used my UPS store mailbox as the address. This was last year before it was really clear how to use G Places and all these policy updates.

    How do I correct this. It seems my G+ account is now linked to the G Places account. Should I delete both the G+ and G Places accounts and start with a new G+ account only?

  9. Mike Blumenthal May 9, 2014 at 2:54 am Reply

    @Joe
    1- You must know by now that UPS store mailboxes are not an allowed address.
    2- I assume that your listing is still acitve?
    3- If it is then you should update it with your home address and hide that address.
    4- Deleting things never really works in Google. They keep track of it all and it is best just to get what you have corrected
    5- Places and Plus are married at the hip. There is no just a G+ anymore.

  10. When you have multiple people at the same office address with different phone numbers, do find they are competing with each other to show up in local search? Wouldn’t it be better to pool all the reviews and citations for the business to help the overall business rank?

  11. Well in my knowledge the first few search results are probably from the well known large national directories followed by lesser known local directories. The potential customer will click on one of these search results and then select the business to call.

  12. Hi,
    I run the websites for a lawyer who specializes in multiple areas – family law, injury law, criminal law & drink driving, and we have separate websites for each of these specialties
    I want to create a google places listing for each of these websites / specialties, but have only one physical address & phone number.
    Can you please tell me how i can do this.

    I notice there are many other law firms that appear in multiple google places listings for each of their specialties, and they all use the same address and phone number, and all point back to the same website, so i am guessing it can be done – I just can’t figure it out.
    Many thanks for your help in this frustrating exercise!

    • Tracy
      A practice can have listings for different lawyers but not different listings for each specialty. Doing so runs the high risk of having your listings suspended.

      Here are the Google Guidelines:
      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.

  13. Thank you Mary for your kind information! You have offered very brief information about guidelines and rules of Google+ local business listings. You should be aware of each Google business listings rules that are described in this informative post.

  14. PLEASE HELP ME…I’m tearing my hair out trying to work out why my business will not show listed in local towns.
    If I search ..Pest control Keniwlroth we come on the list as B (map) along with other co’s.
    If I search Pest control Coventry or Warwick ..we do not get listed..every other man & his do do !!.
    Also if I search ‘wasps kenilworth’ we are not listed either …but the others are …even companies that are not local.
    No pin drop on the map.
    I so very much need to get this sorted as the wasp season is almost upon us.
    Any help appreciated.

  15. Wendy there are hundreds of ranking factors in the Google Local Algorithms. It’s not possible to zero in on what you might need to do here. I suggest starting with the Local Search Ranking Factors Survey http://moz.com/search-ranking-factors/survey to try to understand what you might need to do to increase your rankings for the locations that are important to your business. You may also wish to consider hiring a local UK SEO firm to help you.

  16. From reading this blog and other info, I thought I had everything setup correctly.
    This is my google+ page https://plus.google.com/111068424210783631715/posts

    In the upper section it does not show my street address and only shows the city. If I click on the city, it goes to google maps. The pin it shows is not on my home as I moved it on purpose because it was pinpointing right on my house.
    What I thought I should see on the map is a big 35 mile circle to indicate my service area, but that does not show.

    Also if I go to google maps directly and enter “MrHoni Photography” in the search field, it will display my business name followed by my street, but doesn’t display the street address. I don’t want it to display the street, just my business name, city and a service area.

    • Mike Blumenthal July 7, 2014 at 9:50 am Reply

      @Keith
      On the old Maps and in the Knowledge Panel it will show the service area. It does not show service area in the new Maps. However because your business name is in violation of naming guidelines, it is unlikely your listing will show in a Knowledge Panel.

      • This is my business name:
        “MrHoni Photography – Pet Photography and People Photography San Jose, South Bay and Mid-Peninsula”

        I thought I read that is is good to put your location. I’m pretty sure I had first used “MrHoni Photography – Pet Photography and People Photography” and then added on the locations.

        Are you saying the rules indicate I should not have both and just pick either “Pet Photography and People Photography” or “San Jose, South Bay and Mid-Peninsula”?

        Also, what/where is a Knowledge Panel?

        • Mike Blumenthal July 7, 2014 at 1:58 pm

          Keith
          The key to the guideline from Google is “Your title should reflect your business’s real-world title”. That means that your website, the way you answer your calls and the yellow page ads should all be the same as your Google name (plus one descriptor).

  17. Keith, These are the official Google guidelines for a business listing name:

    Business Name:

    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”.

    These are my comments on a change that took place to this section in Feb:

    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.

    It is best to refer directly to the source – the official guidelines – whenever you have question about them.

    • So you think either of these 2 “MrHoni Photography – Pet Photography and People Photography” or “MrHoni Photography – San Jose, South Bay and Mid-Peninsula” would fit within the guidelines?

      thanks.

  18. Hello,

    I have an existing Riara University google + account and I have recently added a google +
    business page and a google + university page. But the info that I added in the business page doesnt appear on the side bar during a google search for the university. What might be the problem?
    Kindly help or advice

    • @Paul
      The Knowledge Panel (as the information to the right of the search area is called) doesn’t show on all branded searches.

      It is not clear exactly what criteria Google uses to show the panel but like most things Google there seems to be an algo that factors in trust, relevance to the query and prominence of the entity.

      Things that might make it appear more regularly:
      - getting more followers. I would suggest setting a goal of 100-200 over the next 6-12 months.
      - try to get some G+ followers with authority
      - Making sure that your location is listed in the relevant directories that Google looks to for validation and enhanced content
      - Increase the likelihood of your map listing appearing by including a Google map of your location on your site.

  19. I have 2 Google+ accounts for my company. I put one together a year or two ago. Then, I asked someone to get it verified. But, what they did was created an entirely new google plus page for my business. I would rather merge these into the business one. Is there a way to do this?

    Also, I own a cleaning company where we have ONE physical location, but the customers never come here. We service about 10 zip code areas. I notice the franchise competition get to have all their locations set up as local and maps etc, but, the “small business, non franchise owner” can not. This seems a bit unfair.

    Thank you,
    Shawn

    • @Shawn
      Each location can have one verified local page and as many brand pages as they want. There are some limited options to get one a brand page converted to a local page if they are in the same account. Local pages can’t really be deleted but Brand pages can be. So long story short can’t advise you without knowing what kind of pages they are.

      Franchises are constrained by the same rules as independents- one listing per location. If they have more locations then they are eligible for more.

      It is difficult to be seen outside of your immediate area though. In that case the only options are Adwords and organic optimization.

  20. Google is showing only one verification method to me (i.e. via mail), not the alternate one – phone call. Why is it so? Any idea?

    • @Rajeev
      Google has more trust in verification that has occurred by post card. While it is slower and less reliable for the business, if Google doesn’t have complete confidence that a location exists they will only show the post card option and not the phone or ams option.

  21. This may seem off the subject but can’t find a solution anywhere else. There is a company that is using our physical address as their own, and we can’t figure out who to report this to? We are getting their mail as well. Every search on google lists our address as theirs, which is totally incorrect. Help?

  22. Yes. We are Artist and Craftsman Supply. We have 23 locations across the country (I am the e-commerce manager in Portland, Maine). Our Los Angeles store (one of two), is located at 1660 S. La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles 90035 There is a company called Quaker Garage Door Repair that is listing our address as their own and it is coming up on every search engine. Our LA store is also receiving their physical mail as well. We have tried calling them and never get a response. Advice? Thanks…

  23. http://www.artistcraftsman.com Their company does not appear to have a website.

  24. Susan, Use Google’s call back support feature to get help with this.
    Go to this url https://support.google.com/business/?hl=en#topic=4539639 and click on the contact us link at the top right.

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