Have Google Places Descriptors Been Grandfathered in?

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It’s been exactly one week since the latest revision of the Google Places My Business Quality Guidelines.

Of all the changes, arguably the biggest change was that Google put the kibosh on “descriptors” – words that you could add to the name of your Places page.

Some people abused the short-lived provision, but many used descriptors wisely.  Now Google’s saying nobody can use them.

To what extent has Google enforced its new rule against descriptors?  Only partially, it seems.

Of the six clients of mine who are using descriptors, only one might have taken a hit.  He only started using a descriptor within the past couple of weeks, right before Google threw the wet towel on them.

The other five clients – two of whom have multiple locations and multiple Places pages with descriptors – are ranking as well as ever, as of this writing.

Sure, Google is full of surprises, many of them bad.  But what I have not seen is a crackdown like the Great Service Area Inquisition of 2012.

Should you use a descriptor now if you weren’t using one before?  No.

Should you remove the descriptor from your Google Places name if it doesn’t seem to be helping you in any way?  Yeah, probably.

Should you remove the descriptor even if it’s seemed to help your rankings?  I wouldn’t – at least not now.

I have a two-part theory:

  1. Even Google is unlikely in this case to punish businesses that followed the old rules for descriptors. (I assume you were following the spirit of the rules.)
  1. Google is even less likely to punish those businesses if they seem to be quality results – if searchers tend to click on them. As Darren and I have preached recently, searchers’ behavior seems to be a huge influence on rankings.

That’s just my guess, but it explains what I’ve seen so far.  It’s all subject to change, of course.  Google might crack down on descriptors in one way or another, or only go after the abusers, or do nothing.  Who knows?

What’s been your experience with Google Places descriptors recently?  What do you think Google will do – and why do you think that?  Leave a comment!


  1. Completely agree with your two part theory, Phil. I don’t think Google will be cracking down anytime soon. They *just* gave us descriptors in February. To pull the rug out now would be a major dick-move. I guess we’ll see!

  2. interesting observations – and likely correct, given it was google who initiated the descriptors as being ok –

  3. I advise watching and waiting. Descriptors definitely helped some of my clients rank – just like EMD’s still do – despite Google’s published guidelines. I’m not removing them until I see some evidence that they are hurting listings.

  4. Great post Phil. I am seeing Google do a ton of automated edits within the GMB dash lately. My guess is that is the new “penalty” for descriptors and other minor infractions. So not a penalty at all per se, but rather a swift edit to get rid of the descriptor or category that isn’t relevant enough according to the new guidelines.

    • Thanks, Colan. That makes sense as one possible next step on Google’s part. On one level it would fit in with my theory that Google is taking historical click-through data into account to determine which businesses get to keep descriptors. I guess removing the descriptor from what seems to be a popular Google Places result would be another way to test the relative quality of that result.

  5. avatar Terry Van Horne says

    Hmmmm the use of clicks in SERPS is neither new nor unexplored David Harry and I have been talking about this for literally years in the Dojo. Clicks analysis of SERPs were a huge part of the Universal SERP algo and it is not new… Clicks were used by a few engines in the late 90’s… of course as soon as SEO’s figured it out and began spamming it the engine was done like dinner. Ya’ all should have kept your mouth shut as it takes all the benefit away from those who actually did the work to figure the stuff out! Share it privately not where any idiot can pick it up and spread it like it was mustard on spam!


  6. Phil, great insights. I don’t think Google will be cracking down on descriptors in names, despite the spammy use of them currently. For my clients, I advise them to add descriptors only if it appears in their official legal name or they have a Doing Business as…

    It’s extremely easy for anyone to remove descriptors for spammy competition in local results. See my blog post here: http://cleverlyengaged.com/blog/3-ways-conduct-ethical-seo

    • @Corey

      I’ve heard that Google has removed some descriptors, but I haven’t seen them remove my clients’.

      FYI, if it’s a descriptor or in some cases part of a DBA then it’s not a “descriptor.”

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