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using phone verification, changing your business address (note: some of the ideas shared in these articles are already outdated, because of the fast pace in which local search develops).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.