The Most Obscure “Rule” in Google My Business – a Nasty Surprise

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A few days ago I wrote about a tricky issue I seem to have figured out based on a hunch: that having two or more Google My Business pages in the same service area can cause problems if you need to owner-verify one of the pages.

When I was troubleshooting with my client, I couldn’t remember where I saw that overlapping service areas might be an issue for Google.  That bugged me.

Turns out I hadn’t gone totally senile (yet), and that at one point I must have seen this MapMaker thread (or one like it), where MapMaker editor Gregg “Flash” Gordon wrote that:

It is important to note that there is only one listing permitted per SAB per urban area and per location. [Emphasis added.]

Here’s a screenshot (click to enlarge).

As of today (April 4, 2016), that “per urban area” part is not in the Google Places Quality Guidelines:

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

Nor is it in the Google My Business Quality Guidelines, nor in “Service-area businesses on Google” guidelines, nor in “Address entry guidelines,” nor in any other document I know of.  It’s certainly not in any documentation a business owner will ever run across.

It’s not even mentioned by any of the Google My Business Forum “Top Contributors” in my 2014 post on “What’s Missing from the Google Places Quality Guidelines?

Apparently, the only people who know about this dumb, buried “urban area” rule are Googlers, MapMaker editors, and maybe Top Contributors at the GMB forum.  Fine.  Whatever.

But what in tarnation constitutes an “urban area”?

Is it a small town?  Is it Manhattan, or the Five Boroughs of New York City, or the Tri-state area?

What if you’ve got two locations of a business in the middle of nowhere – where the definition of “urban” is the dirt road between the church and the general store?


If it’s a rule that’s actually enforced – especially a mushy-worded one like this – it should be present and visible in the rules that Google expects the average business owner to read.  Period.

I guess Google has had bigger fish to fry, like Mic Drop.

Did you know about the “urban area” rule?  If so, where did you read it or hear about it?

Have you seen it enforced?

Leave a comment!


  1. I can’t speak on behalf of the other GMB TCs but since Service Area businesses are a GMB thing, not a MapMaker thing and we’ve never heard of this rule, I don’t think it’s a rule. Google generally doesn’t hid policy from us. Let me know if you want me to ask them about it.

    I know lately I’ve seen an insane amount of SABs with multiple listings which I have always assumed is never allowed. I’m starting to think either they are allowed or Google really doesn’t care about this as much as I thought they did.

    • Thanks for the intel, Joy.

      I’ve got some confirmation of this rule, but I’m not at liberty to say from whom. (Just email me if you’re curious.)

      What I don’t like is that there is anything resembling a rule that’s not right there in black and white in Google’s Quality Guidelines.

    • And yes, I’d appreciate if you can confirm this 🙂

    • I can 100% confirm this as we have had a multi-location client with thousands of locations come to us to help them resolve a suspension because of this exact issue.

  2. Mic drop… lol 😉

  3. An SAB came to me with 3 locations already in place–2 of which were underutilized. We optimized all 3 making him highly competitive across a wide service area. Who wouldn’t do that–and why? In the real world consumers seeking immediate or emergency service make proximity a high priority.

    • I’m with you, Chris. Having multiple SABs in a service area isn’t spammy, if they actually have valid locations there. Hell, it doesn’t even stop Google from ranking multiple SABs in the same service area for the same search term – especially if it’s a big ugly company, like a ServPro or a U-Haul or something.

  4. avatar Dave Oremland says:

    Thanks for the update Phil, and the additional insights from Joy. Such an interesting insight from Joy as it relates to Flash’s description and the often weird world google creates. Not unusual. In rereading Flash’s comments though he referenced a service area that could be as large as a state, as one example. So, if Flash’s explanation becomes a rule, my assumption would simply be that one can’t have 2 SAB’s in an area, wherein the area is defined by the geography of the Service Area for the first.

    ….or something like that. Anyways I’m interested to hear more about this as I have one of these situations coming up.

    Nice find, Phil.

    • My sense is that there are some internal, ostensibly anti-spam rules that business owners just aren’t supposed to know about. Flash opened the kimono a little bit.

  5. I am new to this process. I need a more clear understanding of this rule. I have separate brick and mortar locations in California such as San Jose, Sacrament, and one in Sandiego how will this rule apply and what do I need to do?


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