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September 16, 2008

The Importance of Google’s Business Listings

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As a sign that it’s growing up and is getting ready to kick you in the throat for spamming, Google Maps has officially created the Local Business Center Guidelines to put it in writing what is and what is not allowed in your Google Local Business Listing. Because Google has true faith in your ability to hold to the law, they’ve also gone ahead and created a reinclusion request form for when you inevitably get kicked out for being the slimy spammer that you are.

The new guidelines include:

  • Representing your business exactly as it appears in real life.
  • List information that provides as direct a path to the business as you can.
  • Only include listings for businesses that you represent.
  • Don’t participate in any behavior with the intention or result of listing your business more times than it exists. Service area businesses, for example, should not create a listing for every town they service.
  • Use the description and custom attribute fields to include additional information about your listing. This type of content should never appear in your business’s title or address fields.

Blumenthals doesn’t seem completely satisfied with the guidelines set out by Google because they leave too much wiggle room. As he states, there’s no mention of whether or not businesses can list affiliate phone numbers in their listing or if that’s considered spam. He’s right in that there really could be a lot more explanation to what Google will and will not allow, but it’s a start. And really, when has Google ever given you the degree of information you secretly hoped for? Maybe one day that’ll change, but today it’s still Google’s world.

I’m just glad that some semblance of rule has been put into place over there. Watching spammy local search results pop up makes my skin crawl. I need local search to be as spam-free and relevant as it can be, because that’s the search I go to when I don’t have time to play around and I need answers now.

Take yesterday, for example. If you follow me on Twitter you know I took my two devil-spawn cats to the vet. At the same time. By myself. (I clearly have self-hate issues.)

Once I had the cats all strapped in and was driving on my merry way, I realized that I had no idea where the heck I was going. The only time I had been to this particular vet was well over a year ago when Jack ate a dead bird (he’s disgusting but he’s mine). All I remembered was that I had to turn by the train tracks. I forgot just how many pairs of train tracks run through Simi Valley. After three wrong turns, I realized I had no clue where I was going.

I didn’t have the phone number on me so instead I pulled out my BlackBerry (um, after pulling over and coming to a complete stop, of course) and hit up Google Maps. I typed in [simi valley vet] and was relieved when my vet’s name was the first listed on the Map, with a phone number right next to it so that I could call and ask for directions. If that listing had been overtaken by spammers, it wouldn’t have only been my two cats that were crying and howling in the backseat. I would have been right there with them. Luckily, it was still highly relevant.

But I got lucky. Because as awesome as the American Veterinary Hospital is at taking care of my cats, their local search engine optimization kind of sucks. The reason Google had their information was because they found it elsewhere. American Veterinary Hospital had never claimed their business. They didn’t go out of their way to make sure that Google had the current address and phone number. They just left it to chance. You can’t do that. Or at least, you can’t do that without risking that you’re leaving targeted customers who want to convert on the table because of your own laziness.

I can’t stress how important it is to have your business listed in Google’s Local Business Listings. It’s your gateway to users who are looking for you right now. Who want what you offer at this very moment. If you’re not there for them, they’re going to go somewhere else. Probably to your competitor down the street.

It’s also important to claim your business to protect yourself against fraud and inaccurate information. Because my vet hasn’t claimed their listing, I can click on Edit Details and put whatever I want in there.


If I was an ill-intentioned competitor, I could put in the wrong phone number, I could get rid of the Web site information, change the name so it doesn’t show up when people search for it. You want to make sure you that you claim your business and make sure that you’re providing as much accurate information as you can. It only takes a few minutes to verify that you’re the owner of that site and get the real stuff in there.

Local search is only going to take off more as searchers get more comfortable using devices like the iPhone. And the fact that Google has now established guidelines for these types of listings shows how serious they are about them. You should be equally serious about your business.

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5 responses to “The Importance of Google’s Business Listings”

  1. Burgo writes:

    And, for those looking for the Blumenthals post that Lisa mentioned above, you can find it here:

    http://blumenthals.com/blog/2008/09/16/google-maps-announces-quality-guidelines-reinclusion-option/

  2. Lisa writes:

    Burgo,
    Ah, thanks so much for pointing that out. It’s been fixed and the link inserted. :)

  3. Michael D writes:

    I’m really glad you brought this up Lisa, I’m seeing a terrible amount of map spam popping up in my industry. Everything from doctors getting PO boxes to add more locations to keyword stuffed business names. I suspect some rogue seo’s are behind the practice, likely signing up clients en mass and creating spammy listings. Researching further.

  4. Mike Blumenthal writes:

    Hi Lisa
    It isn’t that I am not completely satisfied with Google’s guidelines, it is that I am dissatisfied with Google’s approach to Mapspam and Local quality standards in general.
    These guidelines are a start but the important issue is how they are implemented and whether they are expanded and further clarified.
    Google Maps is very unlike Google organic in that the standard for presentation should be truth not just relevance. Your personal example above points out just how critical truth is when you are lost and you need trustworthy directions. If the listing had been hijacked due to your vet’s lack of awareness of the process then you would have been up the veritable creek without a paddle.
    Given that the Local listings need to be truthful, the test of these guidelines is whether Google implements them proactively or reactively. The other test will be whether Google’s explores all use cases and makes it clear whether Local is about local or about being just a marketing tool for the unscrupulous.
    If they only respond once a spam instance has been reported Local as you described it above will not work. This has been Google’s approach in organic and for the most part it works because an algo can identify relevant and spammy and provide relevant results.
    In Local that just isn’t the case. Changes to records need much more thorough vetting both algorithmically and ultimately by a human to be sure that they are accurate. Google, because of their culture, approaches most problems as computing problems and I am worried that they will persist in that approach in Local.
    Google is the one company that appears to be in the driver’s seat in pushing Local data out to the greatest number of people If Local ultimately succeeds it Google will play a large part of that.
    We can only hope that they implement high enough technical & listing review standards that Local needs to be successful. Local has the chance to be a truly useful resource but if that opportunity is lost due to inadequate standards than it will become nothing more than the snake oil salesman of the new millennium.
    Mike Blumenthal

  5. MiriamEllis writes:

    Hi Lisa,
    Yes, the problem you’ve pointed out regarding the vet not having claimed their listing is one of the chief examples of communication breakdown we see in Local. Mike recently blogged about a whole cartload of established florists whose listings got hijacked resulting in massive loss of business for them. None of the florists who were damaged had even known they were supposed to claim their LBC listings.

    Google has indexed local business information without actually alerting the businesses to this fact, and so many of them remain totally unaware of the 10-pack or Maps and how this may be affecting their business. It would be like finding out your company had a big ad in the Yellow Pages with the wrong address and phone number when you hadn’t purchased an ad at all. All you know is that, for some unknown reason, business has fallen off.

    Eventually, hopefully, such business owners wend their way to a blog like Mike’s and begin to study Local Search. Google certainly isn’t going to tell them to.

    By contrast, Yahoo! picks up the phone and calls SMBs, asking for them to purchase premium listings, etc. I was talking to a friend who has gotten 2 calls like that from Yahoo! recently. And Yahoo! also makes it extremely easy for you to talk to them about your local listing. It’s a totally different approach.

    Glad you found a vet.
    Miriam Ellis



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