Google’s rules for local business listings are notoriously and unnecessarily confusing. Always have been. All the more so now, given that some business owners have to know and follow both the guidelines for Google Places and for Google Plus.
You can learn the rules by reading them, or in the School of Hard Knocks. But even the former isn’t as simple as it sounds: Google’s guidelines change frequently, they’re not all on one page, and different types of businesses have to follow different sets of rules.
So I’ve rounded up every single violation – or “crime” – that can get your Google listing dinged or whisked off the map. Some of them are clearly stated in Google’s sundry rules, but others aren’t. Some of these are harder to atone for than others.
You still should read Google’s “quality guidelines.” This is just meant to be a quick but comprehensive list of all the no-nos. Think of it as an anti-checklist.
Violations common to Google Places and Google Plus business pages
(You need to follow these no matter what, regardless of whether you have an “upgraded” Google+Local page. Here’s more info on the difference between the two types of pages. Thanks to the ever-astute Nyagoslav Zhekov for helping me make these rules as clear as possible.)
“Business name” field
- Including “keywords” that aren’t part of your official business name
- Including city names that aren’t part of your official business name
- Including slogans
- Including a URL (unless the official business name is “example.com”)
- Including a phone number
- Including banned words – unless they are officially part of the business name
1st “Address” field
- Entering an address other than the one in which your business is located
- Entering a PO Box, UPS box, or other fake address
- Mentioning landmarks
- Mentioning buildings in which your business is located (e.g. a mall); do this in the 2nd “Address” field
2nd “Address” field
- Inserting city names
- Including anything but the city in which your business is physically located
- Including more than one city (even if you’re on a city line)
- Using a toll-free number, unless it is your main phone number
- Entering additional phone numbers; click the “Add more phone numbers” link if you’d like to enter alternate numbers
- Entering a domain that forwards to another domain
- Entering a shortened URL
- Including any of what Google considers naughty words
- Keyword-stuffing the description with the categories you specified in the “Category” fields (below)
“Fix incorrect marker location” option
- Moving the marker to a place on the map other than where you’re physically located
- Moving the marker (even a little) closer to the center of your city
- Creating more than one listing for the same business (don’t try to “fool” Google with different DBAs, slightly different addresses, etc.)
Violations specific to the Google Places “Dashboard”
(You also need to follow these rules regardless of whether you have an “upgraded” page, but because Google is transitioning away from the Google Places “dashboard” and toward Google+, these rules may become obsolete pretty soon.)
- Specifying custom categories that describe your services rather than your business itself (e.g. “Cosmetic Dentistry = bad, “Cosmetic Dentist” = good)
- Including more than one search-phrase in custom categories (e.g. “Cosmetic and Sedation and Implant Dentistry” = bad)
- Including city names in custom categories
Service area & location settings
- Not “hiding” your address IF you travel to where your customers are located, rather than the other way around. (More detail here)
“Photos” and “Videos” areas
- Uploading anything that doesn’t comply with the Google Places guidelines on photos and videos
Violations specific to Google Plus “Local Business” pages
(You only need to follow these if you have an “upgraded” Google+Local page.)
- Including too many keywords
- Including too many links, or too much keyword-rich / exact-match anchor text
“Photos” and “Videos” areas
- Uploading anything that doesn’t comply with the Google Plus guidelines on photos and videos
By the way, those aren’t even all the things that can hurt your rankings; just infractions that won’t even give you a chance at those rankings.
I was thinking of calling this post “The Wrath of Google.”
Google’s rules are a hard reality – even more so than Khan’s genetically-engineered pecs. If you don’t know and follow the rules, you may not be a happy camper later.
Are there any rules I missed? Any stories you’d like to relate about the Wrath of Google? Leave a comment!
Susan Walsh says
Great post as usual Phil! I think you covered them all, but I’m not the expert… getting there. I passed Colan’s test on Google+ Loca/Places for Business (whatever it’s called), but did get 2 wrong. This helps a lot since you are keeping on top of “‘Google’s rules and regulations”! I’m keeping this one in my Evernote along with some of the other article’s you’ve done.
Thanks for the compliments and for stopping by, Susan!
Getting only 2 questions wrong is pretty darn good, by the way…
Jody Murphy says
Hi Phil – This is great info. Thanks. I’m still so confused re: what’s Google+ Biz page vs Google+ Local page and what is an “upgraded” page and how to you know if your page has been upgraded. Oy vey! This is the page I think has been upgraded … but can you tell? If so, how? https://plus.google.com/u/0/101402242397480640979/posts. Big Mill has a Google+ Local page too (or at least they used to), but it looks like all roads now point to this one spot. If so, that’s great. Not sure how it happened. Glad you’re the expert. It’s turning me prematurely gray! LOL. Thanks.
I’ve added a link to a great thread in Linda Buquet’s forum that helps you tell the two types of pages apart.
But yes, that page for Big Mill has been “upgraded.”
Casey Case says
As always Phil, great info. I had a client recently who had the “forwarding url” issue and didn’t even realize it – it was nothing nefarious, but they had changed their url and hadn’t updated their Google+ Local listing. Fortunately, we caught it before they got hit for a violation.
Thanks for your compliments.
I’d say forwarding is a misdemeanor. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a listing get pulled only for that, but when in combination with other no-nos it can get you in trouble. My hunch is that it’s also a slight negative ranking factor.
John Payne says
Phil, thanks again for another very helpful post.
Also, thanks for including the links to further sources- that’s unselfish, and very useful.
Sure thing, John – and thanks for your compliments.
Phil Britton says
Good stuff Phil. Thanks for organizing this list.
You got it, Phil!
Tamhas Buchan says
One more tip, if you broke all these rules a long time ago and it’s all worked out in your favour, whatever you do, DON’T EDIT YOUR LISTING. The moment you do, all the rules will apply, and all your cheats will become worthless! Count your blessings and don’t go tweaking!
I definitely see your point, and do agree that sometimes it’s best not to rock the boat. But it just depends on what guidelines you’re breaking. If you’ve got a couple of non-compliant categories, or you put your suite # in the first “address” field, then it may not be worth changing them – especially if they’ve been that way for a couple years and may have been grandfathered in. However, if your business name is stuffed full of keywords, or you’re not “hiding” your address, then that could be a time-bomb that you either have to fix now or fix later.
Donna Duncan says
Excellent post, as usual.
One quick question. When you recommend not keyword-stuffing in the description field, are you specifically saying to not use your keywords MORE THAN ONCE?
I would say that you should not repeat the search terms verbatim that you use in the category fields. Google’s rules on this issue are a bit gray: some categories / search terms just don’t have a synonyms, like “Dermatologist” or “Dentist.” Plus, Google isn’t saying whether you shouldn’t repeat all your categories or any of your categories; for instance, is it OK to repeat 1 or 2 of the categories verbatim, but not all?
Therefore, my approach is just to make sure it reads naturally. If the description happens to contain a couple keywords that I used as categories, fine. The description simply doesn’t matter for rankings, so the most important thing has always been to write it for humans.
Donna Duncan says
That’s a great clarification. Thank you!
We work with a national franchise company of SABs, and I’d like to add a few “crimes” we’ve learned about over the past year. First, we’ve talked with the Googler handling our local accounts, and we were told that three digit suite numbers throw up a red flag and must be verified, if the business is an SAB. Second, for SABs, a domain email (not free mail) is essential, and that domain email must be associated with the main domain not a redirect to that main domain. Third, the same Googler that told us about the three digit suite number violation, also told us that Google will search street view for a business sign for brick and mortars. If they can’t find one, they will call you to determine the location of your business.
Thank you for sharing your information. With the vagueness of the initial guidelines for Google Plus for Business (which have since been clarified considerably), it’s important that we share these Google “life lessons” to help others avoid the “crimes” you mention.
Interesting. Thanks for the great info and perspective.
A few things I’m not 100% clear on:
a) Is the Googler who’s been helping you an AdWords rep?
b) As you know, any time you enter or change an address, you have to re-verify your listing. So is there some additional layer of scrutiny for SABs with 3-digit suite numbers? I’d also be interested in learning more about why it’s only 3-digit suite numbers; it’s certainly possible to enter fake addresses of other shapes and sizes.
c) I’m not sure about the domain-only email address. I’ve never seen or heard of a penalty for that, and it’s not written in Google’s Quality Guidelines.
Tina Gleisner says
Wow, finally a resource to help me fight all the google battles as that’s what it feels like most days
Yeah, it can be a grind, all right.
Ben Hawkshaw-Burn says
It would be good to see this updated, do you think its still current?