Video Deep Dive: Categories at Google
Mike Blumenthal


This is the 6th installment of 2016 of our Deep Dive Into Local series. For the week ending Friday, February 12th, Mary Bowling, Ed Reese and Mike Blumenthal shared their thoughts about the previous week in local. The complete video, including links and commentary on critical happenings of the previous week is posted in the Local U forums (paywall). In the second half of that video, they take a deeper strategic and tactical dive into one interesting area that caught their attention during the week.

In this discussion, we look at the impact that categories have on ranking, the Google Guidelines with respect to categories and how to possibly think about their use at Google.

Mary: Lastly, we’re going to deep dive into Google Categories, and Dan Liebson of Local SEO Guide showed us results of an experiment he did with categories at Google My Business. And Mike, you commented on this post. Can you give us your advice on choosing categories?

Mike: So his experiment was that Google’s advice is to pick the most specific category and not pick other categories. My sense was that — having had long conversations with Google about this — maybe I understand more nuance about it than he. But he’d picked Toyota and then forego things like tire changing and categories. When Google says they want you to pick the most specific category, they’re referring within one category. So, if you’re a lawyer and…well, let’s see. So you’re a criminal defense lawyer and a divorce lawyer, you shouldn’t pick lawyer, criminal defense lawyer and divorce lawyer. You should pick criminal defense and divorce lawyer. In other words, the two most specific, not the third general one. He took that to mean that you shouldn’t ever include different categories.

But if you’re also a notary public in addition to being a lawyer, even though it might be presumed that it’s a capacity of law, it’s a separate category, a separate function, and that should be an additional category. As opposed to assuming that it’s part of law because Google only assumes that criminal lawyer is part of law. You have to look at their categories hierarchically, like restaurants, you can see it really clearly. There’s restaurants, and then within restaurants, there’s American restaurants, Italian restaurants, Portuguese restaurants and instead of doing “restaurant + Portuguese restaurant,” you should do “Portuguese restaurant.” But if you’re also a bakery, you should include that alternative, not assume that Google — because the rule says it is subsumed by the category — if it’s in a different category, you want to include it. If it’s the same category, get the most specific.

And their interface on this sucks, right? Yelp does a really good job of guiding you through to the most specific category, and Google’s interface does not. “Lawyer” is at the same level in the interface selection as “Criminal Lawyer” and it should be indented or highlighted or show you the path or something, but they don’t. I’m sorry, go ahead Mary.

Mary: Yeah, it’s very, very confusing. Dan is a good local SEO, and he was confused by the instructions. You can see how a small business has no idea of what they should be doing as far as selecting categories, and I don’t think that it’s clear at all. You know, the example he used was a car dealership that provided all the typical car dealer services: new cars, used cars, tires, repair, everything to do with cars that happens at a Toyota dealership. But by reducing his categories from including things like tires and used cars, he was no longer found for those. So, there’s a really big problem with this in trying to —
(NOTE: Dan wasn’t confused – my bad. He was trying to prove the point that local business owners can very easily get confused by Google’s instructions and that doing what Google tells you to do may not always be wise.)

Mike: When I look at those categories, I think of car dealer and a sub-category as Toyota . I don’t see even “used car dealer” as a sub-category of car. In other words, Toyota and used car are two sub-categories of car dealer. You should have both because they’re different. You just shouldn’t also have car dealer. And then I see tire replacement as a totally separate category and you should have it, even though logically… Again, this is a failure of their interface.

Mary: Right.

Mike: It’s a terrible UI and they could resolve this problem and force compliance, that if you chose “used car dealer,” you could only choose Toyota , you couldn’t choose “car dealer,” for example.

Mary: Right.

Mike: That would be the way to do it. It’s just laziness on their part.

Mary: The upshot of this is he was trying to see if you could trust Google My Business guidelines. That’s why he did this experiment, and he obviously proved that you cannot. Unless you’re Mike Blumenthal and have special insight into what Google is trying to do and failing at.

Mike: When they rolled out those new guidelines, we went back at them over and over and over again both before they rolled out and after they rolled out, pointing out the inconsistencies and the difficulties of interpretation that were involved in them. I think these days, typically, what Google will do is just go ahead and change your categories if they don’t like what you’ve chosen. They won’t punish you. My attitude is pick more, don’t worry about it, and if they don’t like it, they’ll just readjust them and then there’ll be a message in your dashboard that they’ve readjusted your hours even though you’ve just set them.

Mary: Well, I would go one step beyond that and say pick your five best categories of things that you really want to rank for, regardless of what the guidelines say. And then also use the categories you choose at trusted data providers and directories to reinforce those categories.

Mike: But do understand that there is some redundancy in choosing “car dealer” and “Toyota dealer” and you are further ahead choosing “Toyota dealer” than “car dealer.” In those categories, that are clearly hierarchical and which, in other words, you want the most specific — you want as many as you can in that category, but you want the most specific ones, not the more general ones that you will do better. In other words, you’re better off showing up for “Toyota dealer” and you will also show up for “car dealer.”

Ed: Hey Mike, back to your example of Portuguese restaurants — the Portuguese restaurant category in Spokane, Washington, is wide open, so please bring your Portuguese restaurant to Spokane, open turf. All yours.

Mike: I have a suggestion with all the profits that you make on those two purchases, you can open your own Portuguese food trucks.

Ed: That’s a good call.

Mike: And you can be a category and you can take the refunds from Amazon that you already are missing from your bank account and apply them to your capital needs.

Ed: Boom.

Mike: Solution, problem solved. Mike does it again.

Ed: Handled.

Mike: I think with that we can say goodbye, and thanks for joining us for Last Week In Local. We’ll see you next week for Last Week…next last week something. Bye bye.

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