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.
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.