Google Updates, Re-Updates Quality Guidelines

Clipboard with Checklist and Red PenGoogle got all the local search experts talking last week with the release of an updated (and then re-updated) set of Business Listing Guidelines. Google hopes the new rules will help cut down on the amount of spam popping up in local search. But have they made things even more complicated for small business owners?

Grab a pen and check out what’s new, what’s concerning and what small business owners should be aware of.

Mike Blumenthal did an excellent job breaking down the changes in wording when Google performed its update last week and broke out five main changes. The top three are strict rules, while the bottom two are labeled “best practices” by Google.

  1. Your business name on Google Maps must be your full legal business name [since removed]
  2. PO Boxes do not count as physical locations.
  3. A property for rent is not considered a place of business. Please create one listing for the central office that processes the rentals.
  4. Use a shared, business email account, if multiple users will be updating your business listing.
  5. If possible, use an email account with a domain that matches your business URL. For example, if your business website is www.giraffetoys.com, a matching email address would be you@giraffetoys.com.

It was that first guideline (which has curiously since been removed) that caught many local search experts and SMB owners to raise an eyebrow. Obviously, Google was trying to deter overzealous business owners from stuffing their listed business names with keywords, but it almost present some serious problems. For example, may SMB owners don’t use their full legal name as their company name and instead go by a dba. By forcing them to use the legal name, it would seriously affect their rankings.

Some commenters on Mike’s blog even noted that they weren’t sure of their full legal name because they operate under a different one. At the time, it wasn’t clear whether Google would accept a dba as a legal business name as the new guidelines made no mention of it.

Then, as quickly as the change had come, it was reversed with Google removing the wordage altogether. And then they wonder why businesses get confused.

The rest of the changes made by Google still remain and look mostly trust-related: Google wants to make sure that businesses aren’t creating PO Boxes to make it look like they have multiple locations. They want to be able to tie specific users with updates. And they want branded emails when possible to make things seem more legitimate.

If you’re a small business owner, these are definitely changes you’ll want to be aware of. I’m a little disappointed that Google won’t allow SMB owners to use a PO Box as their main address (again, there’s so much ambiguity its difficult to know if ALL PO Boxes are against guidelines or just ones set up for multiple locations). With so many SMB owners working directly out of their home, it makes sense that they wouldn’t want to make that information public.

If you haven’t read the new Business Listing Guidelines, I’d start on Mike’s blog and then read the hard version yourself from Google. However, seeing how fast Google can change the game making new guidelines and the removing them, it’s also really important that SMB owners become more pro-active about blocking and tackling. Make sure that your site is equipped to compete regardless of spur of the moment changes by Google. These things are going to become more important than ever.

The more you know, the better off you’ll be.

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Lisa Barone


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

9 Reactions

  1. The PO Box requirement has a very easy workaround for home-based businesses: Get a UPS Store (or similar) Box. These show up as actual addresses and have less restrictions on what can be shipped there. As an added bonus, most stores will set you up with a key code so you can get your mail 24/7.

  2. Joel Headley of Google has indicated that Google is going to provide an alternative to the PO Box:

    Joel:
    PO Boxes have proven unverifiable and are called out as such.

    We’re working on providing the right solution for businesses that need to hide a home address, however.

  3. Thanks for the heads up on the info, It’s definitely good to know before you go.

  4. Great post Lisa.
    It is very important for small business owners to understand the guidelines.

    But, it’s also important to know that Google invests a marginal amount of effort in enforcing their local search guidelines.

    That is why I think there is no value in going crazy about how often Google updates their local search “rule book”.

    Building web citations and looking for ways to facilitate reviewing is what we should be crazy about.

  5. What is dba standing for?

    Todd Allison: I see on your homepage that you have been located in Manchester, NH. I studied at Southern New Hampshire University (New Hampshire Collge) between 1997 – 2000. I look forward to visit New England soon again. Good tip on the UPS service regarding post office boxes. Mailbox Etc. / FedEx must have similar service with a physical address.

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