Google has always kept their cards close to the vest regarding local ranking factors. They never get into specifics.
Also, I’m not alone when I say that the “description” or “introduction” field of your Places page doesn’t seem to influence your rankings for the better (although extreme keyword-stuffing can get you penalized).
It’s for those two reasons I’m puzzled by a pair of emails that apparently came from the Google Places support staff.
Dan Hiestand of Chico Car Care kindly forwarded me these two emails yesterday. I’m including them in their entirety, just so you have context. (Italics added.)
Date: Tue, Jul 29, 2014 at 8:08 AM
Subject: RE: [7-7403000004210] Google Local Help
This is Juan with Google at our Ann Arbor, Michigan location. I hope you are having a great day!
Thank you for letting us know about the issue with the category being incorrect.
I went ahead and made the changes to reflect: auto repair shop.
You may need to give it up to 24 hours to see the changes on your end. If for some reason the changes are not showing after 24 hours, then please respond back to this email and I will have our technical team look into this for you.
I took a look at your listing, and I wanted to suggest something that may potentially help your listings ranking, You can add more content to your introduction using valid content that is relevant to your business. Its very important to link parts of your website to the introduction, and if you have any kind of social media website such as Facebook or Twitter we recommend that you link those into your introduction as well.
I hope this information has been useful! Let me know if you have any other questions.
Have a great day!
Just a fluke? I don’t know. Here’s email #2:
Date: Tue, Jul 29, 2014 at 9:16 AM
Subject: RE: [6-5472000004265] Google Local Help
Thank you for contacting Google My Business! My name is Tiffanie, I am a part of the Ann Arbor, Michigan support team.
I received your email and I would be more than happy to assist you! Per your email I understand that you would like your categories updated.
I have removed air conditioning repair from your list of categories, and Auto Repair is already listed there. It is important to log into your account and make sure this category has been removed to ensure the information does not revert back.
Since you took out the time to contact us I would like to provide you with some tips for your Google Plus Page. By editing your introduction field to include more products or services that you offer can make your page more relevant to more types of searches and be a positive influence on your ranking.
For your page specifically I highly recommend you optimize your introduction section. I see that you have a few sentences about your description. This is a great start and it’s very informative to potential customers who visit your page.
The system actually uses this section when it’s looking for potential search terms to trigger your page. It’s always a good idea to add relevant phrases. Including search terms and even location terms gives you a much better chance to show for these specific phrases.
If you have any other questions or concerns regarding this issue please feel free to respond to this email.
Weird. The emails seem to be from Google, all right.
What do you think?
Do you think those Google support-team members accidentally said to much? Do you even believe them?
Have you gotten similar feedback from Google Places support?
Please leave a comment!
Great post Phil. I’m going to review our introductions, make some edits and follow that advice.
On the other hand, how is this method different from keyword stuffing???? 😀
Want me to answer that, Dave? 🙂
With the recent algo update and now that descriptions are being indexed, I’m wondering if Google is (or may) begin using the description as a way to better understand what the business does.
Per the Google quality guidelines, categories are suppose to describe what your business is whereas the description can be used to describe what your business does. For businesses that do not fit under the preset categories, the description (if the Google support people are correct) could be a way to get your services found in local search.
Interesting thought, Alex. I’m not seeing it, though. Maybe in edge cases (as you mentioned)…maybe the description gives Google the necessary clues.
Casey Meraz says
Very interesting stuff. Time to run some test 😛 Has anyone seen anything yet that would indicate these changes have a positive effect?
Good call, Casey. I’ve seen no evidence a good description makes a difference in terms of rankings. But that’s just me.
Linda Buquet says
Yes, very interesting… In the past Google management has come right out and said the description is not a ranking factor. Wonder if this has changed with Pigeon?
But I can’t make sense of this update. It’s supposed to be more about traditional organic factors, but check Chesapeake Account. (Purposely low competition, low optimized niche I was researching to try to reverse engineer the algo.
The A and B spots. No site, which shoots the organic theory.
Both unclaimed G+ L listings too, so no descriptions.
Given the info above though I’m going to check another market looking at descriptions to see if there may be something to this.
Good call, Linda: it could be that GP support described the role descriptions play post-Pigeon, which may be different from before.
Linda Buquet says
Meant to say I’ve seen a few questionable comments come from that Ann Arbor group, so I wonder if that’s new outsourced support or something possibly?
Interesting. Thanks for the tidbit, Linda 🙂
I had the exact same thought – that these emails are being outsourced, hence the slip up in revealing too much about ranking factors. I have dealt with overseas support teams before (phone/email), and the language used is very similar – overly polite and scripted.
Mohammed ALAMI says
Good tip by adding links to social media in Description so they can Map reviews all over profiles. Thanks for sharing. Description we all know is critical for SEO as intro Copy.
Thanks, Mohammed. Not sure I see it the same way, though.
Edward Langer says
I think that maybe they are giving a little more information than typical, but it also has been my agencies experience in dealing with Google Partners that there are very different approaches to digital marketing dependant on your consultant? so this may be the same with these two support staff.
Darren Shaw says
My gut tells me that this is misinformation from Google reps. We have heard directly from Googlers (Joel Hedley at Local U events) that the description field is NOT considered in the local ranking algorithm. Mike Blumenthal has mentioned it in at least two posts I’m aware of:
I like the idea of adding a couple of relevant links to the description, but that’s more for users than the algorithm. I will continue to recommend against adding the city name to the description since it has been known to cause a penalty, and now I’m gun shy.
You nailed it, Darren. My thoughts exactly.
Matthew Hunt says
Hmmm…. very interesting. I am surprised at these recommendations from Google and that they are even telling us what would improve local rank. It does kinda obvious advice, but I just find it interesting they are offering any advice.
Yeah, for me, that’s the second puzzling thing: why are they giving advice on rankings…
Greg Gifford says
OK… I totally agree with Darren – we’ve heard right from the source that descriptions don’t matter, and we *know* that adding cities into the description can pull a penalty. Most likely, we’re looking at misinformation here.
BUT – up until a few months ago, you had to have your exact business name or risk a penalty, and now they let you add the single descriptor. So, it’s always possible that they changed their mind (it *is* Google we’re talking about here, they change their mind about what to call Places every 2.3 weeks)
And, notice the dates on the emails – they’re after the Pigeon rollout… so it *could* be new information that’s legit.
I still feel like it’s incredibly unlikely though. ESPECIALLY if they’re flat out telling people to do it, it’s totally inviting Spamathon 2014. And the fact that they tell you to add “location terms” is crazy – we know that used to cause a penalty, and if it’s changed, I’m sure that Joel or Jade or SOMEONE would have let us know, right?
You hit the nail on the head, Greg.
Mike Blumenthal says
My first thought is that it is over aggressive phone reps trying to do
more than their pay grade and trying to keep customers happy by throwing
them a bone.
In the past whenever they have said something like this it has often
proven to be untrue and when I bring it up with Google a directive
goes out telling them to stop
I think it unlikely to be true but easy enough to test
Thanks, Mike. “Errant phone reps” was my first (and best) guess, too.
Blake Denman says
And this is when having a couple of test listings come in very handy. Let the spammy (I mean, “informative”) introductions begin.
Very interesting series of comments overall. The growing consensus is that this was an “errant message”. Could be. It would be nice if somebody from Google came here to clarify. After all now, Google gives VERY FEW specific messages at all. Most actions come from guess work and experimentation.
Now we have a situation with older messages, an algo change, and NEW messages “post algo change”.
What gives google? Are you pushing businesses into penalties, are you giving new advice? Which advice works. Its one thing to be mum. Its another thing to give contrary advice. Can we get clarity???
Clarity would be nice.
here is a head’s up. I contacted into G local.
“Support reps shouldn’t give “ranking advice”
Especially if its wrong.”
Looks like a false alarm.
Or a cover-up 🙂
“Or a cover-up :)”
the entire thing is a stupid game of purposeful non communication and mystery generated by Google. The consequences are that one set or another of directions can dramatically screw up the leads, visibility and ranking of a business. All for “google’s “game””.
I’m pretty damn old. I’ve been overseeing and operating some smb’s for a while. In a general context smb’s have never been so subject to being whipsawed by a third party at such a severe level. Okay, in the US, groups like the Mafia would do this. They were subject to criminal prosecution.
Its an extraordinary levy put on businesses from an entity that is not subject to oversight by any other source. Unprecedented.
Yeah, it is a chess game. Google vs. Google.
Google Places phone support told me specifically to get keywords in the description.
I can believe that.
James Blackburn says
What I’m finding super frustrating with local lately is the discrepancy of categories between businesses. For example, some companies in one town near me where I have a client that is a landscaper have “landscaper” as their company business. They’ve had a Local page for a few months longer than my client. Now, my client can’t select that category at all. So when someone searches for landscaper, they find his competitors that seem to have an unfair advantage.
Has anyone else seen this issue?
That’s kind of off-topic, James, but a good question.
Are you concerned about which one category is showing up publicly on the Google Places page? That doesn’t affect rankings (if that’s the “unfair advantage” you’re referring to).