5 Things You Should Not Do on Google Places

by Nyagoslav Zhekov April 5th, 2012 

I've previously discussed things that you should do when it comes to Google Places – getting rid of duplicates, using phone verification, changing your business address (note: some of the ideas shared in these articles are already outdated, because of the fast pace in which local search develops). Now I focus on what you should NOT do in order to prevent additional Places headache.

The most important thing that everyone who meets for the first time face to face with Google Places should do is read the Google Places Quality Guidelines. As a Top Contributor to the Google Places Help Forum I spend a decent amount of time reading through threads and stepping in where necessary. From my experience a big part of the penalized listings did not confine to the guidelines not because the business owner wanted to purposefully manipulate the search results, but rather because of ignorance. If you start using Places as a marketing tool, and even worse – if you use it as your main new customer acquisition channel, you must read the quality guidelines letter by letter and memorize them BEFORE you create your listing.

Unfortunately, there are also a lot of business owners and SEOs that use spammy techniques in order to gain temporary benefits from Places. Google is getting better at busting and penalizing them, but best of all – the search engineers are trying to make sure that these black hat techniques do not help as much as previously in ranking well in the organic search results. Latest algorithmic and guidelines changes defend this argument.

Here are 5 of the most commonly encountered anti-guidelines deeds (conscious or unconscious) that I encounter while researching the Google Places search results:

1. Adding Keywords To The Business Name.

It is annoying when you know that your competitor has added some keywords to their business name on Google Places and they rank very well because of that. You see them being there, on top, week after week, and Google doesn't seem to care. Why should you be the fool that is playing by the rules and lose business to them? Because your competitor might already be banned, but they and you still don't know it. Account suspensions and listing rejections on Google Places usually happen in bulk during an update that Google rolls out every few weeks. A user might have been banned long ago, but this would go live just at the next update. If a listing is ranking well for a very competitive keyword and the account associated with it gets suspended, it takes at least a few months for the listing to regain similar positions. Do you want this to happen to your listing? If I were you, I'd prefer waiting for my moment quietly following the guidelines, and from time to time reporting the unfair competitor.

2. Using A Fake/non-physical Address.

This is so 1 month ago, before Google reportedly improved their local search algorithm. Previously it was a trend for businesses (especially service-based ones), and SEOs alike, to rent virtual offices near the city centroid and use them for their Google Places optimization purposes. I blame Google for that, as the search engineers practically didn't leave any other option. The power of "distance to centroid" for city-level local searches was so massive that in many verticals and locales it was impossible to even think of ranking in the top 7 Google Places results if you are more than 2 km away from this geometrical city center. After the recent changes, however, that anomaly changed drastically and now it is possible to see even businesses located in the suburbs at position A (depending on the vertical and the searcher's intent of course). Furthermore, as creating a listing at a place where the company does not have a physical office is against the Quality Guidelines, I'd recommend you stick to the good old white hat tactics.

3. Manually Moving The Map Marker Location.

Driven by the same vicious purposes as using fake/non-physical address, some business owners (and mostly SEOs) found an easier way to manipulate the search engine. Google measures the distance from a point of search (or designated location) to a business location based on the position of the business's Google Places listing's map marker. As with the practice of using a fake address, this has become less important in the last few weeks, and as Google learned about the spammy tactic, they "criminalized" it.

4. Keyword Stuffing The Business Categories.

There are two main types of keyword stuffing the business categories on Google Places – adding multiple keywords per category field (you have 5 fields maximum), and adding location markers to the categories. Both are against the Quality Guidelines. From my experience neither of both helps so tremendously that it is even worth taking the risk. Another thing to remember regarding categories is that Google recommends you use words that describe your business as a whole, not the products or services you offer. If you are still unclear about how to pick your categories to simultaneously make Google's moderators happy and bring benefits for yourself, you might find these 13 tips useful.

5. Listing A Business On Google Places.

Yes, that might be a mistake, as Google does not allow certain business types to get listed on Google Places. According to their rules "only businesses that make in-person contact with customers qualify for a Google Places listing." This means that if you have an e-shop, online tutoring site, or you are a web designer, SEO, or offer any other kind of not-necessarily face-to-face service, you might fall into the group of companies Google does not want to see Place'd. Additionally, you cannot add rental properties (beware realtors), and you cannot list your business if it is "an ongoing service, class, or meeting at a location that you don't own or have the authority to represent." These two are rather obscure, as Google did not give any examples whatsoever too many examples, but in general it seems that Google Places is not the right place for non-business locations, as well as for businesses that do not have at least a relatively permanent location.

These are just a few among the many violations business owners and SEOs tend to do when working on Google Places. However, making sure you do not practice these would most probably spare you the wrath of the Google Places mod, even if you have done some minor fouls.

See also:

Nyagoslav Zhekov

I believe local-mobile-social is the future of Internet marketing. I specialize in local search marketing. In my daily job I help businesses succeed online.

Local Search Marketing Blog

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21 Responses to “5 Things You Should Not Do on Google Places”

  1. [...] 5 Things You Should Not Do on Google Places, Search Engine People [...]

  2. [...] 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, [...]

  3. [...] 5 Things You Should Not Do on Google Places (searchenginepeople.com) [...]

  4. Larry says:

    Terrific post! Believe it or not but I was looking for this sort of information, and info on Google Places is usually very hard to find. This is a gem of a post, so kudos!

    There has been a shift in Google's strategies, and the recent changes mean more focus on location or geographically relevant results. Having your business up on Google places is, important, nay .. imperative!

    • Thanks, Larry!

      It is true there isn't as much info for Google Places as for other online marketing tools, but I believe there is a good reason for that – Google generally doesn't share much info about the product :)

  5. Jonny Ross says:

    Nyagoslav

    Good advice! so many businesses do it so wrong! part of my initial SEO work is generally fixing local listings!

    do you find businesses dont even know they can add their listing too? I love working for those clients!

    Jonny

    • Thanks, Jonny!

      I rarely have the chance to communicate with such businesses, unfortunately. Most of the people that come to me already know at least a bit about Google Places and local search.

  6. Reima says:

    I am using a name Coolkids – children clothes and shoes

    I think it is very close to OK, I had problems with previous listenings, they were more keyword stuffed and even contain brand names of clothes. It causes declines of my adword ads connected with that listing, since I change to current name, there were no problems with ads.

    Do you think I should change it to avoid account penalties?

    • Hi Reima,

      As long as this is your actual business name, there should not be what to worry of. If it isn't – then there will always be the threat of penalty.

  7. matthew hunt says:

    Nyagoslav nice post! yet again a keeper for those needing GP tips.

  8. Lucy Kelly says:

    Okay, these are some great tips! I'm glad by learning these tips by visiting this page. I'll keep in my mind these steps and will never do on Google places. Thanks

  9. Nigel Kay says:

    Good Advice, but I disagree with #2: Many Service businesses operate in multiple cities and have their central location in one city.

    I agree that P.O. Boxes are against the rules, and UPS Boxes are grey hat – but I think you need to dig deeper to understand the reason why. Google does this to prevent SEO companies from claiming fake listings with P.O. boxes and leasing them to real local companies.

    If you are a real company, IMHO, Its fair game to set up a "Virtual Office" or "Accounts Receivable" location that can receive mail and confirm the pin listing so that you can have a Google Places listing in multiple nearby cities. My Clients are making a killing off being listed in multiple cities – Just make sure you have a separate Address, and Local Phone Number for each city!

    • Nyagoslav says:

      Hi Nigel,

      Thank you for your comment.

      As I mentioned in the article, everything else other than a physical location is against Google's Quality Guidelines and therefore if such an address is put on a listing, you always risk suspension.

      If you actually dig deeper, you will find the right reason why Google sets this rule. They do not see Google Places simply as a kind of IYP, but much more like a Foursquare/Yelp kind of tool – where people socialize. That is why they want only actual business locations on Google Maps, and that is why they introduced the new rule to hide your location if you do not serve customers at it. It is all about user experience and not about what businesses' goals are.

      The bottom line is – the only legitimate way to represent yourself on Google Maps as servicing a larger area is to add this in the description and to set "Areas Served". I am very well aware that these do not affect the rankings as per current, but this is what Google allows and this is what a business' long term strategy should be focused on. Moreover, with good website local SEO, you might not even need Google Places that much.

  10. Kathy Long says:

    Thanks, Nyagoslav,
    Your 'can't list a rental property' comment really caught my attention. Search for "santa cruz vacation rentals" as an example and that's all you see in Places and has been that way for years. The first is a directory using a vacation rental address in their Google Places, others are individual properties, and one is a parked url only. My client who manages Santa Cruz vacation rentals would love to be in those positions but Google chooses not place her there because her office is several miles from town.

    When you see this year after year, you have no choice but to do the same.

  11. Kathy Long says:

    Another comment, regarding Point 2, this is where I see the most despicable abuse. I've seen attorneys in northern california have 100's of offices all over the state, and because these firms clearly have the money to fund those virtual offices, plus pay for the SEO to support them, that puts the smaller firms that really do reside in those cities at a distinct disadvantage. I'd love to see Google require address business verification from a business license. At least that might make it a little harder for those businesses to scam their way to the top in locations where they don't deserve to be.

    • Nyagoslav says:

      Hey Kathy,

      Thank you for your comment!

      You are right, it could be frustrating to see the competitors being listed while Google not allowing it. Here the problem is definitely at Google. However, as you know, currently there are ways in which you can beat the Google Places listings in both rankings and CTR, so that is why I start repeating more often that there are a lot of alternatives to Google Places right now + one should not put all their eggs in the same basked, especially if it's as fragile as GP. That being said, I think as long as the guidelines forbid it, it is no problem to report and remove these listings that show up for "vacation rental [city]". I'd rather go that way + work on the website, than create a listing and work on ranking it, while it may disappear tomorrow.

      Regarding your second point, this might make you happy: http://productforums.google.com/forum/#!category-topic/business/V438SBzbQek

  12. I just wish Google will actually update their reasons why a listing is not being accepted… the reasons are lame at best, give no "REAL" answer and does not actually give you the reason.

    Plus their "spam" words….. recently added a client listing. "Pine Street" was listed as spam… but "pinestreet" not???

    But yes al the basics here as to what one should do, nice reminder.

  13. [...]  5 Things You Should Not Do on Google Places [...]

  14. [...] 5 Things You Should Not Do on Google Places (Nyagoslav Zhekov, Search Engine People) [...]

  15. Mark Hallam says:

    If I add a business with a place name as part of its name, will it get penalised? I am at the getting a pin stage after changing my details on a verified account? How many more opportunities will I get to fix this?

    I have found that there are just too many uknowns for a newbie/average joe. The places form should actually make suggestions via ajax or some other technology so that average joe does not get penalised for simply not understanding what can't be included.