9 Common Ways To Bork Your Local Rankings In Google

It’s not surprising that small businesses make mistakes in Google Places when setting up and claiming their profiles. It can be confusing and the guidelines even change over time. So, here’s a list of some common mistakes to avoid.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written a “what not to do” article (see What NOT To Do On Local Business Websites). But it’s worthwhile to emphasize some of the things I still see local businesses doing wrong in Google Places, since some of the more common stuff results in needless frustration and delays.

Messing Up Your Google Places Rankings - Image copyright Chris Silver Smith, 2011.

Nine Common Ways To Bork Your Local Rankings In Google

Again, do not try these at home!

1.  Use a post office box for your address

I know it doesn’t make sense – this should be alright to do for businesses which do not have physical addresses, and you may even find some competitors doing it, but Google Places doesn’t like it. If you register a new listing with a P.O. box, you can expect it won’t rank for many primary keyword combinations. (For background on this subject, read about Google Places and businesses without addresses.)

So, find a street address to use for your business. Use your home addresss (often not ideal for privacy/security reasons), or partner with another business that will allow you to share their street address, or contract with a company that provides mail service with a local address.

2.  Add directions into your street address

Including directions in the street address field (ex: “on corner with Elm Street”) can result in your map location being messed up and/or can cause Google difficulty in linking information from other business directories for your listing.

Either leave the directions up to Google’s automated map features, or include the helpful directions in the description field, if you absolutely must.

3.  Tell Google not to display your address

This often goes hand-in-hand with businesses that use P.O. box addresses, but not always. What’s confusing about this is that Google Places provides this as an option, but they neglect to tell you that it may royally affect your ability to rank. The reason is that they prefer to show business locations on the map, and their algorithm is instantly dubious of any business that obscures its office location.

So, if you’ve traditionally used a P.O. box and are thinking of switching to your home address in combination with not displaying it, then think again. Okay, theoretically, you might be able to develop enough credibility with Google Places to overcome whatever governors they have on rankings for address-obscured companies.

But in practice, this is such an uphill battle with no information or feedback from Google about your status that you might as well avoid the beating at the begining and simply don’t toggle your address display off.

4.  Use product names and place names in the business category field

It’s confounding that these are free-form, and it’s silly that Google doesn’t merely warn you if they detect a place-name in this data field for your Place page. But what Google wants here is just the business type, such as “Accountant”, “Florist”, “Attorney”, or “Electronics Shop”.

Do not put the names of products here (generally), nor your city names, even when combined with the category name. Google really hates this and it might even get you dinged!

5.  Use a call tracking number as your business’s phone number

There are folks that have a fetish for statistical data who like to argue with me over this one, but there continues to be a pretty good consensus among those of us who are expert consultants for local SEO as to our stance on the matter.

Using an alternate phone number makes it harder for Google to match up your data from multiple sources across the local ecosystem, which can reduce your ability to rank.

For most small, local businesses, rankings and performance in search results ought to trump the desire to have tracking to see where your phone calls originate. Performance is a necessity, and analytics in this case is a comparative nice-to-have!

Google has come out and officially stated not to use tracking numbers, too: “Types of phone numbers that should not be included are: call tracking numbers and phone numbers that are not specific to a business location.”

6.  Post some shill reviews in Google Maps

Getting your employees to help you in posting positive reviews for your business, and/or posting negative reviews about your competition, could result in your listing getting flagged by users and automated algorithms.

People can often sense that a review may be false, and this can result them stating their suspicion outright in their own review under your listing, for all to see, or they may report the listing to Google.

Either way, any juice you got from those reviews might get revoked along with anything else you’ve touched in Google. False reviews are against the law, too, so stay away from this dishonest, bad practice. Instead, harness the power of reviews in acceptable, positive ways.

7.  Make radical changes to your business name, address or phone

Changing your address or business name in Google Places is highly risky to the stability of your rankings. Google canonicalization algorithms may struggle to match up your data from across the Web afterwards, and it could even cause your listing to get flagged as potentially compromised or as an attempt to manipulate.

Expect a few weeks of disruption to your rankings at minimum, assuming you can change all the various citation references out there to match. If you can’t get them to mostly sync up consistently, then expect longterm ranking impact and perhaps also ongoing problems in terms of duplicate listings, too.

If you occupy a really great ranking spot, you might consider leaving it as-is.

8.  Add lots of fictional office listings in each city all over your metro area

Once you’ve poisoned the entire pond, the negative effects will eventually come back to roost with the rankings of your real, original location!

You may think you can add listings all over without Google detecting it, but your competitors will “helpfully” flag each listing and tell Google that you’re not really there. Expect to have your faux listings tank in the rankings and they’ll take your real, original listing with them.

9.  Ignore that your map pinpoint location is completely off

You may be an ADD, multi-tasking, stressed-out small business owner, but this is something you’d better pay attention-to or it can irritate potential customers, reduce your walk-in traffic, and even get your listing erroneously flagged as out-of-business before your realize it.

So, check your map location and use the tools to correct it if you’re significantly off.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be publishing this list. After all, these items result in loads of work for those of us in local search marketing. However, untangling borked business listings is more difficult than setting up a fresh, new business profile completely from scratch.

So, avoid these bad practices so that you can spend more energy on further promotion efforts, rather than trying to correct something that’s been borked!

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Local Search Column

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About The Author: is President of Argent Media, and serves on advisory boards for Universal Business Listing and FindLaw. Follow him @si1very on Twitter.

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  • http://www.brettadamsga.com Anthony Brett Adams

    Great list, I agree with all of these completely. I help clients with this pretty often, and these small things can make a big difference.

  • http://mikemunterseo.com/ Mike Munter

    Hi Chris,

    Re: point #3 in your post

    I’m getting ready to work with a home inspector client who is physically located in a small town 20 miles from a major city. He ranks in Google Places in the small town but not in the major city. Everything I am doing (description, tags, website, anchor text backlinks, etc) is mentioning that he serves the big town and I am getting ready to turn off the address in Google Places and indicate the service area being the major city. (This is what Google recommends).

    Do you have experience with this situation and can you further advise how to get my small town home inspector to rank in the major city he services?

    Thanks
    Mike

  • http://silvery.com Chris Silver Smith

    Mike, as I allude to in #3, this doesn’t seem to function as Google recommends nor as one would expect it should. It’s something that Google is conservative about in order to try to protect against spam, so one seems to need to devote even more efforts at beefing up other ranking factors to overcome the apparent algorithmic reticence — particularly trustworthiness factors.

    You’re better off having a local street address which can be listed for the business, in most cases. But, if you want to fight the uphill battle, refer to our other Search Engine Land articles on Local SEO tips for elements that you’ll want to beef up to augment chances of ranking for a Service Area.

  • http://www.windingroad.co.nz JohnHS

    Hi Chris, so a 1-800 number needs to be backed up with the local version, near the address?

  • http://silvery.com Chris Silver Smith

    JohnHS, a phone number with a local area code is considered more optimal than a generic 1-800 number. It seems that Google user experience testing has found that consumers prefer to see an obviously-local phone number when selecting businesses in search results. So, using the local, direct number as the primary number for the Place Page would be best, then list the 800 number as the secondary phone #.

  • http://www.localseoguide.com Andrew Shotland

    Nice one as usual Chris. While I agree with every one of your points i am looking at some fake listings in a major metro that have been there for at least a year so while I would never recommend you do this, it does seem to work at least some of the time. At some point Google will toast them, but for now some spammers are getting rich at the expense of other more legit locals.

  • http://www.weaversites.com H.H.

    With recent major changes in Local profiles and how they are displayed, this is very timely information. In the past year I’ve had to do a lot of Local listing damage control for clients. You would not believe the amount of outdated or incorrect information is out there, and how difficult it can be to correct it. Do it right the first time and then stay on top of it. Not to mention, those Local profiles are extremely valuable marketing channels! Very nice column, I’ll spread it around.

  • http://www.weaversites.com H.H.

    @Mike Hunter, I face this very same problem often in the geo-location of my clients. The only city/metro area that gets any cred here is Asheville NC yet SO many businesses are located in very nearby towns and zip codes. In the case of a Home Inspector, within the Google Places profile you can specify that your client serves customers at their locations, then identify the service area covered by your client. That will definitely help.

    In my area, Western North Carolina, most businesses have a customer base that is truly regional in nature. Google Places (and the equivalents) really stink at recognizing REGIONS. A home inspector is actually better off than most in that you can define a service area in their Google Places profile.

    You may also want to consider augmenting organic with PPC that’s targeted at the regional level. That’s one of the few tools we’ve got in this situation.

    Also, take advantage of any possible quality listings (such as chamber of commerce and the few remaining credible online directories) to mention the service area.

  • http://www.weaversites.com H.H.

    Sorry for all of a sudden getting involved in this discussion but it’s a huge issue in my area.
    I have a question: do any of you run into a situation where the local postal service will ONLY deliver mail (such as a Google Verification Letter) to their P.O.Box and will NOT deliver it to the business’ actual street address? This is a common problem in my area.

    This is where I do make use of the alternate delivery address options when submitting a Google Places (local ) listing. But what the heck do you do when the zip code is actually different? It happens a lot here. You ultimately end up in a Mobius loop of trying to verify a business that is physically located in Zip Code A but the post office will only deliver mail to the P.O.Box in zip code B.
    Argh – there has got to be a better verification method!

  • http://www.andreamoro.co.uk/ Andrea Moro

    I’m sure a reference to their official guidelines is worth too

    http://www.google.com/support/places/bin/answer.py?answer=107528&hl=en

  • http://silvery.com Chris Silver Smith

    Andrew, I think all those fake listings are just one flagging away from getting tanked in the SERPs! All it takes are a couple of tattle-tale competitors and…

  • http://silvery.com Chris Silver Smith

    H.H., the situation you describe of a locality that ONLY has P.O.Box addresses is a nightmare for Google Places rankings! Where is that?

  • http://seocowboy.co.za Bryan Casson

    Can’t say I agree with the P.O.Box point. I use a P.O.Box and Google simply took out my PO box and took the closest street and made that my address. I rank very well in places in all major keywords for my location

  • http://silvery.com Chris Silver Smith

    Bryan, I think you have actually made my point.

  • http://www.landofjacks.com L.J.

    Local listings are a hot topic in SEO lately, but I haven’t come across any advice for nationwide businesses. My company does business all over the country, is it worthwhile making a local listing? Should I be looking to get my business listed in other cities around the country (maybe by doing “office shares” where you get a physical address)?

  • http://www.brettburky.com brettburky

    Hello Chris,

    First off great post I had no clue about the tracking numbers…I always did that with Kall8, now I won’t anymore.

    I have a situation where I’m doing a doctor practice and there is 10 doctors all under the same roof. I have hesitated creating the local accounts with all the same address, as I thought this might be a red flag. Last thing I want is them to get their listing delisted at my ignorance.

    Do you have any suggestions for this?
    Your reply is greatly appreciated.

 

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