Generic, Local-SEO-Friendly Business Names: the Pros and Cons of Using One

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You’re considering a change of one size or another to the name your business, in the name of better local rankings.  The basic plan is to get a “keyword” and city or other place name into your name.

To make that change you might feel the need to keyword-stuff your Google My Business name, to use a fake name on your Google My Business page, to register a “doing business as” (DBA), to rename your business entirely, or to name your new business with local SEO in mind from the get-go.

The first two options aren’t wise, and the others may be wise.  Depends on your situation and on how you’ve weighed the pros and cons.  Here are the pros and cons you’ll want to weigh before you mess with your name:

Pros of a generic, “local-SEO-friendly” name:

  • You may rank for that search term (and maybe similar terms) more easily and quickly. The name of your Google My Business page affects your Maps rankings more than it should – partly because Google often isn’t good at telling brand-name searches from broader searches.  Your name also matters to your organic and non-Google rankings, to a lesser extent.
  • More-relevant anchor text in links. Any time the text of a link to your site is the name of your business, the link will contain a “keyword” and maybe your city naturally.  You won’t need to resort to shenanigans.
  • Some customers’ reviews will contain that search-engine-friendly name. The content of reviews can help your visibility, in my experience.
  • For some search terms you might be the only business that appears on the local map (in a “local one-box” result, as it’s called).
  • Maybe you just can’t think of a good name.

Cons of a generic, “local-SEO-friendly” name:

  • It’s easy for your competitors to do the same. Most will not bother or simply will keyword-stuff their names but it may take only a couple of like-minded competitors to end your fiesta.  Easy come, easy go.
  • You may get competitors’ bad reviews. Their angry customers may confuse you with your competitors.
  • Competitors may get your good reviews. Your customers can get their wires crossed, too.
  • In general, more people may think you and your competitors belong to the same organization (maybe you’re part of a chain). That can lead to confusing phone calls, annoying emails, mixed-up coupons, bad press, and more.
  • You may be mistaken easily for spam. Competitors and do-gooders may submit Google Maps edits to your name.  Don’t assume Google will make the right call on whether to apply those edits.
  • You may be pigeonholed. Maybe you want to rank for other search terms and in other cities.  Then you’ll be at a crossroads as to how to do that.
  • Citation audits may be tougher. You (or a third party you work with) may find listings that aren’t yours, and miss listings that do belong to your business.
  • Google may have a harder time identifying searches specifically meant for your business – AKA brand-name searches. Because of your generic, broad name, Google likely will hedge its search results with businesses other than yours, just in case the person wasn’t searching for your business.  When in doubt Google includes junk.
  • You probably can’t trademark your name.
  • You miss out on the benefits of having a sticky, memorable name.

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How has the name of your business helped (or hurt) you?

To what extent did you think about the search-engine-friendliness before picking it?

If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

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Can’t Fix a Spammy Google Maps Name? Try a Partial Edit

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Let’s say you have a local competitor with a Google My Business page with a spammy name like “Your Best HVAC Company Cleveland.”  You know the real name of their business is “Harry’s Heating,” and you’ve submitted the real name as an edit in Google Maps, but Google didn’t approve your edit.  Google is too thick to recognize the fake name is fake – and against Google’s own policies – so the spam stands, and your spammy-named competitor ranks artificially well.

What now?

Try editing out only the name of the city.  It’s a baby step.  Google is much more likely to approve your edit – and instantly – in my experience.  So, for a spammy listing like “Your Best HVAC Company Cleveland” you’d submit “Your Best HVAC Company” as the correct name of your competitor’s page.

Even if your first edit to the name has been “pending” for a few minutes or a few days (likely to be rejected by Google in the end), your newer, less-ambitious edit will be approved almost instantly if it’s approved at all.  It’s not stuck in a queue behind your earlier edit(s).

Why is a partial edit more likely to stick?  I’m sure there’s an algorithmic explanation (most edits are approved and rejected by algorithm), but I’d guess it’s simply because you’re asking Google to make a smaller decision.  You’re not asking Google to change the whole name of a business.

Wouldn’t it be better if Google fixed your spammy competitor’s name completely, so the business’s real name showed up on Google Maps, rather than the Keyword Spam Lite version?  Of course.  But there are many benefits to trying a partial edit:

1. Google may actually approve the partial edit. Clearly Google had a problem with your broader edit.

2. You’ll lessen your competitor’s exact-match-keyphrase mojo. A page with a spammy Google My Business name ranks well often not simply because it’s got “keywords” in it, but rather because Google’s terrible at telling when people are searching for a specific brand or company. Even when you type in a broad search term (e.g. “electricians in San Antonio”), Google thinks there’s a chance you’re searching for the spammy business that has a Google My Business page of that name.  Google would prefer to show you 3 businesses on the local map (including the spammer), knowing that 1-2 of those businesses won’t be what you want, rather than risk not showing you the specific company it thinks you might want to see.

3. Your competitor will have an ugly-sounding name show up in the search results. It may be more ugly or less ugly than the original version of the name (the one that included the city). But if it doesn’t rank as well (see point #2), even fewer people are likely to click, which in turn may put another damper on your spammy competitor’s rankings over time.

4. You’ll put another notch on your anti-spam belt. Your future edits will have a slightly better chance of being approved by Google.

5. Even if your competitors change their names back to include the city, you’ll become a pain in their necks. If they don’t just give up, by repeatedly adding the city back into their Google My Business name they’ll establish a longer history of spamming. That’ll be relevant information if you ever escalate the problem at the GMB forum.

6. Over time you might clean up your whole local market – at least a little bit. New would-be spammers will stick out even more, and some of the more-casual spammers may be deterred if they don’t see every other business use a spammy name. With luck, you can transform the local Superfund site into a mere town dump.

What’s a stubborn Google My Business “name-spam” case you’re dealing with?

Any war stories?

Any tips?

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How Long Does It Take for a User-Submitted Yelp Page to Rank on Page 1 for a Branded Search?

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One week or less, from what I’ve seen. A 7-Eleven opened nearby last year, but Yelp didn’t have a page for that location.  The locally-owned convenience store that used to be at that location had and still has a Yelp page.  (Nobody’s reported it as closed, and Yelp hasn’t de-duped.)  But the 7-Eleven didn’t have […]

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Scraping Gray SEO Barnacles off the Local Spam Flotilla

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“Barnacle” SEO, or the process of getting a page other than a page on your site to rank well in Google’s local organic search results, can be a great way to grab extra local visibility.  If your competitors get barnacle SEO to work for them, more power to ‘em – if they do it in […]

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What Kinds of “Contacts at Google” Can Local SEO Companies Have?

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Some local SEO companies tout “contacts” at Google who can straighten out problems (like competitors’ spam or a penalty you think you’ve received).  Sometimes that suggestion is plain untrue, other times it’s an exaggeration, and most times it’s irrelevant and won’t help you. Knowing the specific type of “contact” your company has (or claims to […]

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5 Types of Google My Business Descriptions That Go Boom

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Few business owners have used the Google My Business “description” field, now that it’s returned.  Even fewer make their description do any work. Google wiped out businesses’ descriptions when it retired GMB descriptions a couple of years ago.  Most ranged from spam to clutter.  Given the cyclical nature of everything in Google Maps, I’m sure […]

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Google My Business Description Gets the Catbird Seat

Google appears to have moved the new-ish “description” field to the top of the right-hand sidebar (AKA the knowledge panel). For the few weeks since Google reintroduced Google My Business descriptions, the description had showed up near the bottom of the sidebar.  Now it’s above even the most-basic business info, like the address and phone […]

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4 Ways to Read Google’s No-Cherry-Picking Policy on Google Reviews

Google recently added the following to their seldom-enforced list of preferences policies on Google Maps reviews: “Don’t discourage or prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews from customers.” The basic meaning seems clear enough: Google doesn’t want you to cherry-pick reviews.  Fine.  Got it. But what’s Google’s definition of “discouraging or prohibiting” a negative […]

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Google My Business Now Lets You Specify a List of Services

This is the first I’ve seen of the “Services” area in Google My Business. (Update 4/6/18: A few people saw this first a few days ago (h/t Nyagoslav Zhekov), but the rollout seems to have been tiny until now.) The input is pretty structured, as you can see. Only the “name” field appears to be required.  […]

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How Should You Ask for Online Reviews? The Pros and Cons of Each Approach

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There are no “solutions” – only trade-offs.  Your task is to pick the trade-off – or the combination of them – that works best for you.  That applies to most areas of local SEO and marketing (and life), and it applies to your effort to get more good reviews from customers / clients / patients […]

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