Local Search

Should You Add City to Your Business Name at Google My Business?

By May 20, 2017 May 21st, 2017 7 Comments

Should you add city to your business name at Google? This question recently came in from John Simonson from Webstream Dynamics at the Local U forum (paywall):

A (small) multi-location retailer who just starting using Yext was told by a Yext rep to append to their business name their city so to distinguish between their various locations.

[Business Name] + [City] [Business Name] + [City] [Business Name] + [City] …

Note: Addresses and phone number are different for each location.

Do you agree or disagree with that local seo strategy?

My answer:
Currently it is against Google's GMB guidelines.

And currently Google is not in any way shape or form enforcing those guidelines. It is an active discussion on the Google GMB private forum but Google has yet responded with clarification.

What do you do as a Local SEO? How do you counsel the client?

The question confronting a client is, given the lack of enforcement, will Google punish the business in some way if they decide to enforce this? If you think that Google will not punish the business then its fine to do this with no risk. If you think that they will punish the business for rule violation, then it should be assessed on a risk reward basis. I have no idea which way Google will land on this.

From where I sit, the obligation of the Local SEO in this situation is to inform the client of the facts, the possible downside risks and let them decide as to the course of action.

Here are the Google guidelines as they currently are written in reference to adding City name to a listing:

Including unnecessary information in your business name is not permitted, and could result in your listing being suspended. Refer to the specific examples below to determine what you can and can't include in your business name.

Throughout the examples below, names or parts of names in italics would not be permitted.

Your name must not include:

  • Service or product information about your business, unless this information is part of its real world representation or this information is needed to identify a department within a business (see "Departments"). Service information is best represented by categories (see "Categories").
    • Not acceptable: "Verizon Wireless 4G LTE", "Midas Auto Service Experts"
    • Acceptable: "Verizon Wireless", "Midas", "Best Buy Mobile", "Advance Auto Parts", "JCPenney Portrait Studios"
  • Location information, such as neighborhood, city, or street name, unless it is part of your business's consistently-used and recognized real-world representation. Your name must not include street address or direction information.
    • Not acceptable: "Holiday Inn (I-93 at Exit 2)", "U.S. Bank ATM - 7th & Pike - Parking Garage Lobby near Elevator", “Equinox near SOHO”
    • Acceptable: "Holiday Inn Salem", "U.S. Bank ATM", “Equinox SOHO”, "University of California Berkeley"

As you can see the current written guidelines explicitly prohibit the practice and suggest suspension as the penalty.

Current Google practice in this situation, when the name violation is reported by the public or a local guide, is to change it back to the normal name and do so without any penalties.

Unfortunately this is leading to a whack a mole situation with smaller, spammier players who then go and change it back. And so the snake chases his tail.

Google has generally looked the other way with larger players and has also often rejected edits to smaller businesses.

Google's stated goal is to create a map product that conforms to the real world. Thus the initial and clearly stated reason for the ban on using city in the name if it isn't normally there.

BUT the real world is a bit messier than that.

And when you view a list of locations under a brand search for a multilocaion business, it might be helpful to the searcher to see more clearly where each of the stores is located. That same argument however does not really apply to plumbers who are looking to manipulate for their personal gain. And to a large extent these folks are, in my opinion, creating a situation that Google is likely to respond to with increased enforcement. Whether they, in that scenario, ignore or make an exception to large brands is another question.

Obviously the problem is much larger than just whether a business should add a city to a business name. All too often businesses also include everything in their business name including the kitchen sink. And all too often, as Joy Hawkin's has recently pointed out, it's a quick way to success at Google.

This case though interested me as even large scale providers, like Yext, are encouraging the practice. And on the Google side, this has been going on, in one form or another since its inception (see my 2006 post on the topic).

What do you tell your clients?

What do you think Google should do?

This is cross posted here and at my blog.

7 Comments

  • Hani says:

    Hi Mike, great article! As SEO experts, it’s our responsibility to educate our clients on the right way to manage their online presence including their GMB profile. Unfortunately the world is not so black and white and people are taking advantage of Google’s lack of enforcement.

    Sooner or later, Google will penalize those who are not playing by the rules. I believe it’s just a matter of time.

  • As a company working exclusively with enterprise brands, we enforce the business name rules outlined in the GMB guidelines with our clients. For us, data accuracy/legitimacy is a primary concern and something we take very seriously. We go to great lengths to ensure the accuracy of our clients’ data, which we’ve found leads to much better integration of the data with local engines/aggregators. When Google brings down the hammer in future, which I believe they inevitably will, we do not want our clients to be on the wrong side of the fence. Some businesses legitimately have the city in their business name, which makes this difficult to enforce, but I would expect Google to enforce it in future or at the very least, to make the business name less of a ranking factor.

  • Hey Mike,

    Great post, this topic has a lot of debate and I don’t believe there’s a right or wrong way currently. As Google mentioned, it’s against their terms of service. As Sara mentioned above, many businesses have the city / or service in their legal name so not sure how they’ll be able to enforce this in the future.

    We’ve played a bit with this for some of our sister companies (as any good SEO tests and tries to break things) and in most cases Google lets it slide. We’re also very cautious if deploying something like this in a legitimate fashion to a client. I wrote a post on this about 6 months ago and in my personal opinion, especially for big box stores or franchises, it was actually helpful including the area. From my post: “That being said, in the past, if you had multiple locations, we found it good user experience to name your business on Google Maps by using the name of your company, and include the GEO modifier or area modifier since most users looked for a specific location, or something in their immediate area (north, south, southwest etc). We did not view this as spam, or trying to game the system, but simply offering a better user experience based on how users looked for things in Google”

    Source: https://www.adster.ca/blog/google-maps-schema-local-seo-how-best-to-deal-with-multiple-locations

    The only issue we’ve come across, was when there was an issue with GMB that couldn’t be rectified in the back-end, we had to escalate it to the forums and a moderator made us remove the city from the name. Google also can’t enforce the citations you build, and what’s contained in the metadata and directory itself.

    I do agree with Sara, that eventually, they’ll enforce it in the future, but if it’s only a matter of updating your GMB name when the time comes, your citation footprint will still have the GEO in the name which likely shouldn’t hurt you.

  • Mike Blumenthal says:

    I think, in the end, is if you are going to do it then do it legitimately (and this applies to enterprise as well)… add the name to the website landing pages, answer the phone with the modifier and do the citations with the geo-modifier.

    If it is good enough for Google then it is good enough to do fully and with integrity.

  • Ali Salman says:

    Great article….definitely a short cut and quick way to rank but not a long term solution for sure.

  • Great article Mike, thanks for the insight. It’s not a black and white issue and I can definitely see the benefit of including a location within the GMB name.

    As Sara pointed out, Google will enforce their guidelines at some point. To ensure that we aren’t caught up in helping a number of different clients make adjustments to their GMB profiles when the hammer comes down, we have decided that it is in our best interest to follow the guidelines.

  • Dennis Ottey says:

    Googles TOS do not seem to prohibit abccompay-Denver | abccopany-Boulder | abccompany-Golden.
    The example from the TOS above:
    Acceptable: “Holiday Inn Salem”, “U.S. Bank ATM”, “Equinox SOHO”, “University of California Berkeley”
    I have been on the phone with Google and discussed a client’s 15 location business. It helps customers decide quickly on the location nearest them.
    Am I missing something? Google staffers on the support line and YEXT endorse exactly what I am doing.

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