Latest Revision September 2016
Google Local Business Listings
Google local business listings can appear in 3 places in the search results for Google: in Google Maps, in the local pack and within the localized 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I suspect that there are unpublished guidelines, too, that are not visible to us.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 with my comments in blue.
In September 2016, Google added the paragraph below to the beginning of it's guidelines. Google has been publicly embarrassed multiple times over its inability or lack of commitment to keep spam out of the local results. They've recently ramped up efforts and this may be one more warning before it takes further steps.
In early summer 2015, Google made some major updates to its business listing guidelines to provide specific direction to marketers.
Guidelines for Representing Your Business on Google
We've come up with a list of guidelines for local businesses to maintain high quality information on Google. Following these guidelines helps avoid common problems, including changes to your information, or, in some cases, removal of your business information from Google.
For best results using Google My Business:
- Represent your business as it’s consistently represented and recognized in the real world across signage, stationery, and other branding.
- Make sure your address is accurate and precise.
- Choose the fewest number of categories it takes to describe your overall core business.
Note: Brands, organizations, artists and other online-only businesses should create a brand page instead of a local page. Brand pages follow the Google+ page content guidelines. Learn more about the difference between brand and local pages
In order to qualify for a local Google+ page, a business must make in-person contact with customers during its stated hours.
The following businesses aren’t eligible for a local page:
- Businesses that are under construction or that have not yet opened to the public.
- Rental or for-sale properties, such as vacation homes, model homes or vacant apartments. Sales or leasing offices, however, are eligible for verification.
- 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 the page for their business within their "Introduction" field.
Notes: Sales offices that are in model homes that will eventually be sold are NOT eligible for a Google business listing.
Not all businesses are eligible for a Google local business listing and 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.
Only business owners or authorized representatives may verify and manage their business information on Google My Business. If you wish to share management access to your listing with others, you can add a manager.
Note: The 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.
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.
Note: You should always own your own listings and provide access to others, as needed. Do not allow others to own your business listing(s).
Additional guidelines for authorized representatives
Any individual or company that manages business information on Google My Business for a business that they don’t own is considered an authorized representative. Examples: a third-party SEO/SEM company; a friend of the business owner; an online ordering, scheduling, or booking provider; and an affiliate network provider.
Authorized representatives must:
- Never claim a business listing without express consent from the business owner.
- Never make false, misleading, or unrealistic claims.
- Never use harassing, abusive, or untrustworthy tactics with potential or existing customers.
- Always work directly with the business owner to complete verification. Learn more about verification
- Always ensure that the business owner understands what Google My Business is and where Google My Business data is used. Authorized representatives should share the following resources with the business’s owner:
- Always keep the business owner informed about which actions the authorized representative will take on the business listing.
- Always follow Guidelines for representing your business on Google. Note that the phone number and website for a listing should always be the single, authoritative phone number and website for the business and be verifiable by the business owner. Website content must be owned and managed by the business owner.
- Always respond to management access requests promptly, and always transfer listing ownership to the business owner immediately upon request. Authorized representatives must, whenever possible, encourage the business owner to create an account, own the listing, and add authorized representatives as managers. Learn more about transferring ownership
Failure to adhere to these policies may result in a suspension for the listing and/or account.
Note: As most people reading this probably know, there have been numerous marketing companies using sleazy, deceptive tactics to scare SMBs into hiring them. The new rules above appear to be laying the groundwork to take action against them. Unfortunately, the way we are to report these outfits is not clear.
Your name should reflect your business’ real-world name, as used consistently on your storefront, website, stationery, and as known to customers.
Any additional information, when relevant, can be included in other sections of your business information (e.g., "Address", "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.
Throughout the examples below, names or parts of names in italics would not be permitted.
Your name must not include:
- Marketing taglines.
- Not acceptable: "TD Bank, America’s Most Convenient Bank", "GNC Live Well*".
- Acceptable: "TD Bank", "GNC"
- Store codes.
- Not acceptable: "The UPS Store - 2872"
- Acceptable: "The UPS Store"
- Trademark/registered signs.
- Not acceptable: "Burger King®"
- Acceptable: "Burger King"
- Fully capitalized words (with the exception of acronyms) or unnecessary spaces.
- Not acceptable: "SUBWAY"
- Acceptable: "Subway", "KFC", "IHOP", "JCPenney"
- Business hours information, including closed/open status.
- Not acceptable: "Regal Pizzeria Open 24 hours", "Sears Outlet (Closed)"
- Acceptable: "Regal Pizzeria", "Sears Outlet"
- Phone numbers or website URLs, unless they reflect your business’s consistently used and recognized real world representation.
- Not acceptable: "Airport Direct 1-888-557-8953", "webuyanycar.com"
- Acceptable: "Airport Direct", "1-800-Got-Junk"
- Special characters (e.g. %&$@/") or irrelevant legal terms unless they are part of your business’s real world representation
- Not Acceptable: "Shell Pay@Pump", "Re/Max, LLC", "LAZ Parking Ltd"
- Acceptable: "Shell", "Re/Max", "LAZ Parking", "Toys ’’R’’ Us", "H&M", "T.J.Maxx"
- 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", "Safeway Supermarket Food & Drug", "Midas Auto Service Experts"
- Acceptable: "Verizon Wireless", "Safeway", "Midas", "Best Buy Mobile", "Advance Auto Parts", "JCPenney Portrait Studios"
- Location information, such as neighborhood, city, or street name, unless it is part of the real-world representation of the business. Your name must not include street address or direction information.
- Not acceptable: "Starbucks Downtown", "Macy’s Union Square", "Holiday Inn (I-93 at Exit 2)", "U.S. Bank ATM - 7th & Pike - Parking Garage Lobby near Elevator"
- Acceptable: "Starbucks", "Macy’s", "Holiday Inn Salem", "U.S. Bank ATM", "University of California Berkeley"
- Containment information indicating that your business is located inside another business (whether or not the businesses are part of the same organization).
- Not acceptable: "Chase ATM (in Duane Reade)", "Apple Store at Stanford Shopping Center", "Benefit Brow Bar - Bloomingdales", "Sam’s Club Tire & Battery (part of Sam’s Club)", "Geek Squad (inside Best Buy)"
- Acceptable: "Chase ATM", "Apple Store", "Benefit Brow Bar", "Sam’s Club Tire & Battery", "Geek Squad"
In February 2014, Google announced that it would allow the addition of a "descriptor" to the business name in Google listings. In Dec 2014, this was rescinded and only the real world business name is permitted for use, again.
Read the additional guidelines for listings of chains and brands, business with different departments and professional practices that may be entitled to separate "practitioner" listings, if any of those sitatuions applies to you. Don't assume anything.
Use a precise, accurate address to describe your business location. PO Boxes or mailboxes located at remote locations are not acceptable.
- Make sure that your page is created at your actual, real-world location.
- Use the precise address for the business rather than broad city names or cross-streets. P.O. Boxes are not considered accurate physical locations.
- Suite numbers, floors, building numbers, etc. may also be included. Information like cross-streets and nearby landmarks should only be included in regions where the official street address doesn’t accurately pinpoint the business's location.
- If you need to specify a mailbox or suite number within your physical location, please list your physical address in Address Line 1, and put your mailbox or suite number in Address Line 2.
- 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.
Note: Over the years some businesses have tried to fool Google into believing that they have office, store or shop locations where they do not. Google can check up on these and suspend them if they are not staffed during the hours they state as being opened in the listing.
- Do not include information in address lines that does not pertain to your business’s physical location (e.g. URLs or keywords).
- Do not create more than one page for each location of your business, either in a single account or multiple accounts.
- Individual practitioners and departments within businesses, universities, hospitals, and government buildings may have separate pages. See specific guidelines about individual practitioners and departments for more information.
Service-area businesses--business that serve customers at their locations--should have one page for the central office or location and designate a service area from that point. 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 business information as well as information from other sources. Learn more about service-area businesses.
Note: If you work on location, but also have a place where your customers come to see you, you may choose to either show your business address or to hide it. If you ONLY work on location and your customers do NOT come to your place of business, Google will hide your address for you.
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 central, call center helpline 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, including pages created on social media sites.
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!
Provide your regular customer-facing hours of operation. If applicable, you may use your current seasonal hours as your regular hours. You may also specify special hours for particular days, like holidays or special events.
Certain types of businesses shouldn’t provide hours, including those with varied hours (like schedules for different types of activities, including showtimes, worship services, or classes) and those that operate only by appointment. Examples of business that shouldn’t provide hours include, but are not limited to: hotels and motels, movie theaters, emergency rooms, or schools and universities, transportation services, airports, places of worship, event venues, and natural features.
If your business has departments (see “Departments”), provide the business hours for each department on that department’s separate listing, and provide the business hours for the main business on the main business’s listing.
Multiple sets of hours
If your business has multiple sets of hours, refer to these guidelines for particular industries:
- Banks: Use lobby hours if possible. Otherwise, use drive-through hours. An ATM attached to a bank can use its own separate listing with its own, different hours.
- Car dealerships: Use car sales hours. If hours for new car sales and pre-owned car sales differ, use the new sales hours.
- Gas stations: Use the hours for your gas pumps.
- Restaurants: Use the hours when diners can sit down and dine in your restaurant. Otherwise, use takeout hours. If neither of those is possible, use drive-through hours, or, as a last resort, delivery hours.
- Storage facilities: Use office hours. Otherwise, use front gate hours.
Note: I think Google is making assumptions about what searchers wish to see - such as lobby or drive-through hours for a bank, for example - that can cause real problems for the customer and the business. If I want to get into my safety deposit box or talk to a loan officer, drive-through bank hours aren't of any use to me. It would make much more sense to enable us to post separate hours for particular services.
If your business has seasonal hours, use the following guidelines:
- During the season in which you’re open, set hours that reflect the current season's opening hours. You mayset special hours for holidays, temporary closures, or other events.
- When your business is out of season, remove all opening hours, so they appear as unset. Set your opening hours again at the beginning of your next open season.
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.
- 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
Select categories that complete the statement: "This business IS a" rather than "this business HAS a ." 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. Discover common categories
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. Google can also detect category information from your website and from mentions about your business throughout the web.
- "Papa John’s" offers pizza takeout and delivery but does not offer on-premises dining. It should use the category "Pizza Delivery" and additional category "Pizza Takeout" (instead of the less specific "Delivery Restaurant" or "Takeout Restaurant").
The following types of co-located businesses should each have their own page. If you need to use both categories for the same business location, create two pages instead. Be sure to use a different name for the second business (also see "Departments").
- A Restaurant/Cafe/Bar inside of a Hotel/Motel
- A Pharmacy inside of a Supermarket/Grocery Store
- A Gas Station next to a Supermarket/Grocery Store
Note: This guideline can be pretty darn confusing, but if you only select categories that clearly describe what your business actually is, you should be fine. You may choose a primary category - make this the most important one for your business - and up to 4 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. See the guidelines for specific examples of appropriate category selection, but be careful about taking this guideline too literally. If you have a car dealership, for example, don't assume that Google will know that you sell used cars and repair and service vehicles and sell parts.
Chains, departments, and individual practitioners
Chains and brands
Maintaining consistent names and categories across all of your business locations helps users quickly identify your business on Google Maps and search results.
All locations must have the same name unless the business’s real world representation consistently varies from location to location. All locations must also have the same category if they provide the same service.
All business locations within the same country must have the same name for all locations. For example, all Home Depot locations should use the name "The Home Depot" rather than "Home Depot" or "The Home Depot at Springfield".
There are two exceptions to this policy:
- If you have multiple types of business--sub-brands, multiple departments, or various types of operations such as retail and wholesale--these distinct entities may also have a distinct name so long as it is consistently applied to all locations of that business.
- Acceptable name variations: "Walmart Supercenter" and "Walmart Express"; "Nordstrom" and "Nordstrom Rack"; "Gap" and "babyGap"
- If some of your locations consistently use a different name in the real world - on their storefront, website, stationery etc. - these locations can use this different name.
- Acceptable name variations: "Intercontinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco" and "Intercontinental New York Barclay"; "PFK" (for locations in Quebec) and "KFC" (for locations in the US and rest of Canada)
All locations of a business must share the one category that best represents the business. If you have multiple types of locations (e.g. sub-brands, multiple departments, or various types of operations such as retail, distribution center, and office), this rule only applies within each of these sub-groups.
- All "Gap Kids" have the category "Children’s Clothing Store"
- All "Goodyear Auto Service Center" have the category "Tire Shop"; they also all have the category "Auto Repair Shop"
- All "PetSmart" have the category "Pet Supply Store"; some locations may have other categories ("Pet Store", "Dog Day Care Center")
Two or more brands at the same location
If your business location combines two or more brands, do not combine the brand names into a single page. Instead, pick one brand’s name for the page. If the brands operate independently, you may use a separate page for each brand at this location.
- Not Acceptable: "KFC / Taco Bell" or "Dunkin' Donuts / Baskin Robbins"
- Acceptable: "Taco Bell", "KFC", "Dunkin’ Donuts", "Baskin Robbins"
If your business sells another business brand’s product(s) or service(s), use only the name of the business, excluding the name of the brand being sold, which cannot have a page for this location.
- Not Acceptable: "Staples / UPS", "America’s Tire / Firestone"
- Acceptable: "Staples", "America’s Tire"
However, if the business location is an authorized and fully dedicated seller of the branded product or service (sometimes known as a "franchisee"), you may use the underlying brand name when creating the listing.
- Acceptable: "TCC Verizon Wireless Premium Retailer", "U-Haul Neighborhood Dealer"
Note: Google appears to have modified its guidelines to satisfy some of the exceptions sometimes needed by big brands. Don't try to interpret these rules to apply to single-location, single brand businesses in an effort to try to get more listings.
Departments within other business, universities, or institutions
Departments within businesses, universities, hospitals, and government institutions may have their own pages on Google.
Publicly-facing departments that operate as distinct entities should have their own page. The exact name of each department must be different from that of the main business and that of other departments. Typically such departments have a separate customer entrance and should each have distinct categories. Their hours may sometimes differ from those of the main business.
- Acceptable (as distinct pages):
- "Walmart Vision Center"
- "Sears Auto Center"
- "Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Dermatology"
- Not acceptable (as distinct pages):
- The Apple products section of Best Buy
- The hot food bar inside Whole Foods Market
For each department, the category that is the most representative of that department must be different from that of the main business and that of other departments.
- The main business "Wells Fargo" has the category "Bank" whereas the department "Wells Fargo Advisors" has the category "Financial Consultant"
- The main business "South Bay Toyota" has the category "Toyota Dealer" whereas the "South Bay Toyota Service & Parts" has the category "Auto Repair Shop" (plus the category "Auto Parts Store")
- The main business "GetGo" has the category "Convenience Store" (plus the category "Sandwich Shop") whereas the department "GetGo Fuel" has the category "Gas Station", and the department "WetGo" has the category "Car Wash"
Note: 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.
Individual practitioners (e.g. doctors, lawyers, real estate agents)
An individual practitioner is a public facing professional, typically with his or her own customer base. Doctors, dentists, lawyers, financial planners, and insurance or real estate agents all are individual practitioners. Pages for practitioners may include title or degree certification (e.g. Dr., MD, JD, Esq., CFA).An individual practitioner should create his or her own dedicated page if:
- He or she operates in a public-facing role. Support staff should not create their own listings.
- He or she is directly contactable at the verified location during stated hours.
A practitioner should not have multiple pages to cover all of his or her specializations.
Multiple practitioners at one location
If the practitioner is one of several public facing practitioners at this location:
- The organization should create a listing for this location, separate from that of the practitioner.
- The title of the listing for the practitioner should include only the name of the practitioner, and shouldn’t include the name of the organization.
Solo practitioners belonging to branded organizations
If a practitioner is the only public-facing practitioner at a location and represents a branded organization, it's best for the practitioner to share a listing with the organization. Create a single listing, named using the following format: [brand/company]: [practitioner name].
- Acceptable: "Allstate: Joe Miller" (if Joe is the sole public-facing practitioner at this Allstate-branded location)
Note: 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. Some businesses want to eliminate existing practitioner listings because they compete with the business listing and/or the listings of other practitioners. However, if Google finds info about them elsewhere, it will recreate the listings. Other businesses try to create as many practitioner listings as they can , thinking they can get more listings ranking in the local packs, which is difficult to manage and can actually backfire.
Other Items of Note
Fraudulent or illegal activities aren’t tolerated on Google and may result in account suspension and removal of listing information from search results.
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.
Note: Don’t be surprised if you see businesses that violate these guidelines ranking well in the Search results. Spam is rampant in Google Maps and Google doesn't seem to be doing much about it. 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 - if not tomorrow, then at some point in the future.
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.
More on Service Area Businesses
Although it is not published within the guidelines, Google has a 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 don't have a storefront that customers visit.
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.
Add a service area
- Sign in toGoogle My Business and choose the listing you’d like to manage.
- ClickInfo at the top of the page.
- Click the Address
- In the window that appears, select the box next to "I deliver goods and services to my customers at their locations."
- Enter your service area information. You can set your service area based on the zip codes or cities that you serve, or on a given area around your location.
- Select the box next to “I serve customers at my business address” if you want your complete address to appear on Google and your business location is staffed and able to receive customers during its stated hours.
Note: Your service area is the area you designate as where you are willing to travel to provide your services. Some of the types of businesses that are SABs 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.