Fluke Business Name for Top Spot in Google+Local Results?

(Update, 7/2: the business names seem to be back to normal; see comments section for more detail.)

Dino Basaldella from Sonoma County Web has asked me a puzzling question:

Why do some business that rank #1 in the Google+Local results have names that don’t reflect either their Google+Local names or their title tags?

For example:

The name of the #1 business is “All Phase Concrete.”  That’s the name of their Google+Local page.

But that’s not the name that’s showing up in Google’s search results, as you can see.  The names that show up for businesses #2-7 exactly match the names of those businesses’ Google+Local pages.

That’s the first oddity: why is the #1 spot treated differently?

The other oddity is it’s not their title tag that’s being shown in Google’s search results – which since late 2010 Google has often used instead of the name of a business’s Google listing.  The title tag of the homepage does NOT say “Phase Concrete”:

Nowhere on AllPhaseConcrete.com does it say “Phase Concrete.”  The footer reads:

Allphase Concrete
1440 Russel Avenue
Santa Rosa, CA 95403

This isn’t an isolated case.  Dino also pointed it out to me about a week ago.  You’ll see the same thing if you type in “Santa Rosa automotive repair” or “Orlando automotive repair” (for example) and look at how the #1 listing is named.

I’m stumped as to what’s going on here.

I know about Google’s policy of occasionally modifying how title tags appear in the search results.

But if that’s the case here, I’d like to know why (1) it’s only the #1 spot that seems to be having its title tag displayed in the search results rather than its Google+Local business name, and (2) why it’s being modified in a way that doesn’t make it any more relevant to the search term typed in (e.g. “Santa Rosa concrete service”).

Dino wasn’t signed into his Google account when he noticed this, nor was I when I checked on these results myself.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens if/when a different business is ranked #1, because that business will then probably have its name tinkered-with by Google and the current #1 business will go back to having its Google+Local name displayed in the search results.

Have you seen this before?  It seems new to me, though maybe I’m missing something.

How do you think Google is generating the business names it displays for these #1 spots, exactly?  Can you see any rhyme or reason?

Why only the #1 listing?

Am I just missing something?

If you don’t have any more intel than I do, please speculate!

Quiz: How Well Do You Know the Google Places Quality Guidelines?

You may not agree with them.  You may not even completely understand them.  But unless you want your business’s local visibility to take a faceplant onto hard pavement, you’d better know and follow the Google Places Quality Guidelines.

Unfortunately, you can’t follow the Quality Guidelines the same way Captain Kirk “follows” the Prime Directive in Star Trek.  The Google Places Quality Guidelines are “the book,” and you have to go by the book even when it’s inconvenient to do so, or else you risk losing customers.

But you have to know the rules in order to follow them, because many of them simply aren’t intuitive.

I like what Nyagoslav Zhekov said in a recent post, that you really need to memorize the Quality Guidelines and stay up-to-date on them.  Otherwise, the chances are good you’ll mess up your Google Places rankings—or, if you’re a local SEO, you’ll mess up your clients’ rankings.

That’s why I’ve put together this short quiz, to see how well you know the Google Places Quality Guidelines off the top of your head.  (No peeking at the link to the guidelines I put at the top of the page!)

It’s 10 questions.  Unless you score 10/10, there’s a chance you’ll shoot yourself in the foot by accidentally breaking the rules and losing business as a result

The questions are below, or you can open them up in a PDF here.

A link to the answers is at the bottom, below the questions.


Question 1:  If you haven’t opened your business yet, how far in advance can you create your Google Places listing?

a)  Whenever your website goes live

b)  About 2-3 weeks—which is about how long it takes for Google’s verification postcard with the PIN to arrive in the mail

c)  You can’t set up your listing before your business has opened


Question 2:  Let’s say you work at a law firm that has 10 lawyers, all of whom work from the same address.  What’s the maximum number of Google Places listings you can create and associate with that address?

a)  1: Only the law firm itself can have a Places page, whereas the individual lawyers can’t

b)  11: The firm can have one, and each of the lawyers can also have a Places page

c)  There’s no specific limit; it depends on how many branches of law each lawyer practices


Question 3:  What number of “keywords” is too many (and therefore prohibited) to include in the “business name” field?

a)  2

b)  3

c)  An “extraneous number” of keywords


Question 4:  Under what circumstances can you use a P.O. Box as your address?

a)  Only if you select the “Do not show my business address on my Maps listing” option, so as to hide your address from showing up in Google Places

b)  Only if you enter the P.O. Box into the 2nd “address” field, but first specify the physical address of your business in the 1st “address” field

c)  Never


Question 5:  When MUST you select the “Do not show my business address on my Maps listing” option?

a)  If you work from home, rather than at an office or store

b)  If you don’t meet your customers or clients in-person at your business location

c)  If your “service area” encompasses more than one town or city


Question 6:  To what extent must you use a number with a local area code as your primary phone number?

a)  You absolutely must use one, always—no exceptions

b)  You should use one “whenever possible”

c)  It doesn’t matter what the area code is, as long as your street address is local


Question 7:  What is the maximum number of custom categories you can specify?

a)  1

b)  4

c)  5


Question 8:  Which of the following custom categories would Google deem acceptable?

a)  “Sedation Dentist”

b)  “Sedation Dentistry”

c)  “Sedation Dentistry w/ Nitrous Oxide”


Question 9:  Let’s say your business has 12 locations and 12 Google Places pages (one for each location); under what circumstances can you use the same website for each location?

a)  Never; you need to have a completely separate website for each Google Places page

b)  You can use the same website only if you have a different landing page for each location / Google Places page

c)  You can always use the same website for each Google Places page, and you can even use the same page of your website for all your Places page


Question 10:  Which of the following are you NOT allowed to put into the “website” field?

a)  A shortened URL

b)  A forwarded domain (i.e., a website name that forwards to another website)

c)  The URL of your business listing on a third-party site (e.g., Yahoo, SuperPages, etc.)

Take a second to jot down your answers (how old-fashioned, I know), and then check your answers here.

Note: the Quality Guidelines change from time to time.  If and when Google changes them significantly, I’ll update the quiz to reflect the change(s).

The Real Character Limit of Your Google Places Business Name

How long your Google Places "title" can/should beReady for your daily Google Places pop-quiz?

1st question: do you know the maximum number of characters you’re allowed to use in the “business name” of your Google Places page?

80 characters, you say?  Bingo!  The business name (AKA the “Company/Organization” field) can contain up to 80 characters.

2nd question: does that mean it’s OK to use up to 80 characters to name your Google Places listing?

The answer is NO.

According to Google’s official guidelines, your business name simply should be your DBA and should not include extra search terms (“keywords”).  I’m guessing that your official business name by itself is nowhere near 80 characters long.

Therefore, if you’re even approaching the 80-character limit, you’re probably trying to cram search terms into the business name—which also means you’re flirting with a suspended listing.

Google Places business name--aka title, aka Company/Organization field

Now for the $64,000 question:

Under what circumstances should you NOT use your official business name for your Google Places listing?

The answer: if your official business name is more than 40 characters long, you should abbreviate it to 40 characters or less before you use it as the “business name” of your Google Places page.

Why 40 characters or less?  You may know that a BIG factor in your Google Places ranking is whether or not your basic business info—name, address, phone number—appears uniformly on every business-directory site your business is listed on.

This means if Google Places.com has you listed as “Acme Dynamite Co.”, you’d better not be listed on Yelp, CitySearch, AngiesList, etc. as “Acme Dynamite & Booby-traps,” or “Acme Dynamite, INC.”  Your name needs to appear consistently, everywhere it appears on the Web, right down to the punctuation.  If it’s not consistent, you lose credibility in the eyes of Google, because there’s a little uncertainty about what your business is actually called.

It can be tough to get all your info listed consistently, because different sites have different rules regarding the name of your business listing.

But here’s the kicker: you can’t be selective about which sites list your business and which don’t.  These websites that list local businesses are like a huge gossip mill: whatever info one of them has about your business eventually gets spread around to all the other directory sites.

Therefore, you have to make sure your business name complies with ALL of these sites’ pesky little rules, or else inconsistent info about your business will float around in cyberspace.  This can hurt your Google Places ranking.

In terms of the maximum character length of your “business name,” you’ll be fine as long as you work within the rules of two sites in particular: AngiesList.com and Kudzu.com.  AngiesList.com has a 50-character limit for your business name, and Kudzu.com lets you use only 40 characters.

AngiesList = 50-char. limit on business name; Kudzu = 40-char. limit

Even if you never list your business on these sites, what can happen is they’ll receive data on your business from other websites, and will chop off the end of your business name if it exceeds 40 or 50 characters.

This is open for debate, but I’ve found that AngiesList.com seems to have more influence over Google Places rankings than most other sites do—including Kudzu.com.  That’s why you need to make certain the business name you use is less than 50 characters, so that you’re compliant with AngiesList.  And to the extent you’re dead-serious about getting as visible as possible, you should make sure your business name is less than 40 characters.

Keeping your business name 40 characters or less is easy, especially if you’re following the rules of Google Places and not trying to throw keywords in there.  But it’s also easy to miscount—so I suggest that you do a quick count just to double-check.

The other thing to keep in mind is this: even though Google says you must use your DBA as the name of your Google Places listing, that’s not quite the end of the story.  If your official business name for some reason happens to be more than 40 characters long, you’ll run into difficulty on other sites.

Cut characters off your business name until you're down to 40 or fewer

My advice is if your DBA is longer than 40 characters—even though it may be fine by Google’s standards—try to cut it down and get a 40-or-fewer character name to use in your Google Places listing and elsewhere.  It still needs to reflect your DBA as closely as possible; just make sure it’s also short enough that it won’t bring you heartache from other sites.  Pretty easy, but also easy to mess up.

Have I bored you to sleep yet?  Did you get the idea after the first couple of paragraphs, and found my subsequent rambling totally unnecessary?

Good.  Character-length limits are boring subject matter.  Half of getting visible in Google Places involves taking care of nagging “housekeeping” items like this one.

In a way, local visibility in Google SHOULD be boring: You should take a little time to plow through material like this, do all this local-visibility stuff correctly the first time around, not have to mess with it again, and spend your time elsewhere while your highly visible Google Places listing hums along quietly in the background and delivers you local customers.

The 1st Annual Google Places Freak Show

Welcome to the 1st Annual Google Places Freak Show!I spend a lot of time talking about what you should do to rank well in Google Places.  One way I do this is by focusing on patterns: I try to show you what qualities are most common among businesses that have top rankings in their local markets

But we haven’t spent nearly as much time discussing what you should NOT do with your Google Places listing.  Nor have we taken a good look at the businesses that just don’t do what the others do.

Hence this 1st Annual Google Places Freak Show.  It’s the fun-filled day devoted to the extremes of local Google—the strange businesses that you and I and customers across the country stumble across occasionally.

I want to point out here that I am NOT using the word “freak” pejoratively.  Some of these businesses just have some aspect about them that’s extremely unusual.  And I’m not passing judgment on the businesses that aren’t following “best practices” for attracting customers through Google Places: I’m just using them as examples of what not do.  Above all, I’m using the term simply to refer to business listings and not to people.

By the way, these businesses all rank on the first page of local search results, last I checked.  Most of the ones that are “extreme” in a bad way aren’t actually doing anything that hurts their local rankings in Google (which are usually quite good): rather, they’re doing things that simply might turn away potential customers who see these businesses in Google Places.

Anyway, grab some cotton candy and let’s check out some freaks.


—Lamest Photo

Boring Google Places photo: a manhole cover

This is tough.  If you’re a septic tank-installation service, what’s an enticing photo you can use in your Google Places listing that’s relevant to the service you provide?  These guys chose to use a picture of a manhole cover.  At least they didn’t use a picture of a toilet.

I think the lesson here is this: if you can’t think of a picture to use for your Places listing that “paints a picture” of the service you provide, don’t try to get too creative or abstract.

For example, if you’re in a service industry—particularly one that’s not necessarily glamorous—it’s perfectly fine to take a picture of your crew in front of your truck.  It’s better than taking a boring, abstract picture that doesn’t tell potential customers anything about your business or why you provide a better service than your local competitors do.

If you’re coming up dry for photo ideas, look at what other businesses use for photos.


Scariest Photo

Bad Google Places photo: a bare-chested guy with a tattoo

There are a lot of things wrong with this photo.  Many of them are obvious to both of us.  But here’s how I’d explain why it’s not a good Google Places photo:

It’s distracting.  It’s an effective photo insofar as it’s eye-catching—but that’s where the effectiveness ends.  But once it catches your eye, the gut reaction likely is “Eww,” not “Hey, cool tattoo.”

Worst of all, it showcases the canvas, not the art.  The owner should have taken a few extra minutes or spent a few extra bucks to take a crisp, up-close picture of just the tattoo. Potential customers want to see the craftsmanship.  They search in Google for local tattoo parlors by typing in “tattoo,” not “chest.”

By the way, I just can’t make heads or tails of the business name.  I have no idea what it means.  Do you?

Angriest Market

Local market with BAD average customer reviews

This is a very “tough room,” as standup comedians say.  The customers consistently dislike the businesses listed in the Google Places top-7—big time.

The average rating of these businesses is 2.75 stars.  The minimum average rating is 1-star, and the maximum is 5.  This pitiful average rating is the first thing that stands out about this market.

The other thing that’s unusual about this market is how motivated the customers are to leave harsh reviews.  These businesses have a total of 176 reviews.  That’s an average of 29 reviews for each listing that has reviews (or an average of 25 if you count the one business that doesn’t have any reviews).

I’m sure there are plenty of markets out there that have sunken even lower into the smelly pits of customer dissatisfaction.  But it’s the combination of the low average rating and the high numbers of ticked-off customers that makes this market a “freak.”

It just goes to show how sometimes the bar for ranking well in Google Places can be pretty low.  I’m just waiting for a bridal shop with impeccable customer service to hang their shingle in Google Places, drum up some 5-star reviews, and squash the local competition like roaches.


Least Loved

A 1-star average customer rating

Generally, the people who are most likely to review your business spontaneously either love it or hate it.  You and I intuitively know that nobody can please everybody—which is why just about every business has at least a few bad reviews.

If your business has a few stinkers, no big deal.  Customers are used to seeing a few bad reviews.

But people are also used to seeing at least a few positive reviews.  This cab service has none.  It has a one­-star average rating.  That’s the lowest possible rating you can receive from a customer: there is no such thing as zero stars.

Maybe this is a great cab service.  But the reviews sure don’t paint that picture (just look up their reviews to see what I mean).

Most Terrifying Review

Disturbing review from a local patient

I don’t know what happened in the doctor’s office that day.

What I do know is most of us have had less-than-pleasant visits to one doctor or another at one time or another in our lives.

Patients generally heed what other patients say about doctors.  Kind of the opposite of that Seinfeld episode where the doctor offends Elaine by telling her that she’s a “difficult” patient and Jerry agrees with the doctor.

Bottom line: this doctor needs a LOT of shining reviews to outweigh this review.  The other bottom line is that you need a way to gather reviews from your satisfied customers—because one scathing review can be a deal-killer for anyone who sees it—whether the review is true or not.


Sketchiest-Looking Business

No info in Google listing and no website

No website.  No reviews.  No picture.  No contact information or name of business owner.  No apparent business location even when you take a look at the address in “Street View.”  I’m sure they know to come to you.

The listing isn’t verified, so this Google Places listing likely isn’t the deliberate work of the business owner.  Still…would you feel comfortable calling that phone number?

To get the full effect, just search for this Baltimore, umm, business in Google.


Most Disorienting Search Result

Seemingly irrelevant local search results

Where does a lady from Long Beach, CA go when she wants a manicure?  Aboard the RMS Queen Mary, of course.

If you’re from Long Beach, you probably know that the historic Queen Mary has been converted into a hotel, which now houses a beauty salon—hence the Google Places search result.

But I’m not from Long Beach and I didn’t know that.  All I knew is that my grandfather and many other people came to America aboard the Queen Mary.

So when I first stumbled on this particular search result, I just wrote it off as a classic case of lousy Google Places categorization—like when you search for “Italian restaurant” and Google shows you the local Pizza Hut.

In a way, I guess it’s good visibility for the owners of the beauty parlor on the Queen Mary: after all, seeing the old ocean liner in Google’s local business results doesn’t happen every day, and it demands a little bit of your attention.

On the other hand, when a particular business seems out of place in the local search results, people like me might not even click on the Places Page because we think it’s just irrelevant to what we typed into Google.


Runner-Up: Freakiest Business Name

A strange name for a business and a Google Places listing

It would be one thing if “Sweet Cheeks” was a cosmetics shop that specialized in selling blush.  But no: it’s a baby-clothing store.  I find this slightly disturbing.


Winner: Freakiest Business Name

"Just Another Hole" body piercing in Broken Arrow, OK

The business is a body-piercing joint.  The location is Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

What can I possibly say about the name?  It’s brilliant.


One last thing before I turn it over to the Ringmaster

As I said, all of these “freaks” rank in the top-7 of Google Places.  At least for the time being, their visibility is pretty good—and to the extent they’ve tried to rank visibly, they’ve more or less succeeded.

But there’s more to attracting local customers than just a good local ranking.  When people click on the listing, what happens?  Are they attracted, or repulsed?  Do they want to pick up the phone or leave your Google listing?

Some businesses, like “Just Another Hole,” are deliberately strange in a clever way.  But for some of the others, I wouldn’t be surprised if their business owners called me and said they weren’t getting too many actual customers, despite their rankings.  I’d tell them to pay more attention to the gut-level first impressions their Google Places listings create.

Whatever your ranking, I suggest you pay attention to how your Google listing comes across at a gut level.  Ask friends, family, or customers who haven’t seen it to take a look and give you their first impressions.  You’ll ensure that YOUR business won’t ever make it into a future Google Places Freak Show.

Do you have a “freak” you’d like to submit?

Do you have some strong opinions about the ones you just saw?

Let me know: drop me a line or leave a comment!  (I might even include it in the next Freak Show.)