• http://docsheldon.com Doc Sheldon

    A very timely piece, Chris, and well presented. Many of us have clients in this position, and quite often find ourselves in this situation for our own businesses. Google’s inconsistency just invites more abuse, and exacerbates the problem.

    Obviously, this isn’t the only area in which Google treats some sites differently from others, and I realize that some issues aren’t as easily addressed (or as high a priority for them) as we might think. Still, I think the steps you outlined would go a long way toward eliminating a lot of the incentive for abuse, and would help provide better search results for the users.

  • ebpowel

    As a GIS professional, I feel this issue should be viewed from a strictly technical point-of-view: If an address, defined as a physical location (spatial information) derived from geocoded address information, does not exist, the business CANNOT be placed on a _map_ using the geometric primitive of a point (a single set of {x,y,z} coordinates with no area nor volume). “Service areas”, as the name implies, uses the 2-D concept of an area (or polygon) and would more appropriately contain such information, but would stored using a different mechanism are far more challenging to create automatically.

    This should, in no way, impact the ability of such a business to be found using a keyword search (e.g., business type, location) assuming that the appropriate location keyword(s) is/are registered with the search engine.

    Seems to me this article makes a mountain out of a molehill.

  • http://silvery.com Chris Silver Smith

    ebpowel, you’re just a little bit behind on the historical timeline for this.

    In general, I’d agree that you can’t place a pinpoint on a map for an item which does not have location coordinates. This was exactly how Google Maps operated initially.

    However, Google has increasingly transformed the product into also operating as an online business directory. So they’ve trained consumers to search for businesses using maps and using the regular keyword search interface, including for businesses which traditionally might not have a physical location such as tradesmen like plumbers, electricians, contractors, etc. This is a case where the technical evolution of the product has happened very rapidly, affecting everyone’s ability to process and solve some of the dichotomous dilemmas which result.

    Back to the point: people are searching for and expecting to find the businesses in the interfaces paired with the maps. I don’t consider it a big deal whether the business is displayed by icon on the graphic map, necessarily — the more important issue is whether the business is allowed to be present in the Google Places database, and allowed to rank equivalently along with other similar businesses in the same category.

    You’ll have to forgive the slight blurriness of terminology used — because when we say “Google Maps”, we’re talking about the entire interface which pairs listings of items along the side of the map with the graphic map itself.

    It’s not at all a molehill — there are many thousands of businesses affected. Consumers may not be able to select from the full number of options for the service they’re seeking, reducing competition in the marketplace, and perfectly fine businesses struggle with getting presence in the paradigm. For a sense of scale, try to estimate how many businesses operate via post office boxes, and you’ll quickly see that this is not a minor thing at all.

  • ebpowel

    “the more important issue is whether the business is allowed to be present in the Google Places database, and allowed to rank equivalently along with other similar businesses in the same category. ”

    Other businesses that operate in retail/professional services (e.g., have a actual storefront that a customer is going to visit for some reason), is the actual location of the business actually important? As an example, the contractor who installed my windows last summer was based at the other end of the state. The location of their shop/factory was really irrelevant since we are within their service area.

    Contractors in general really don’t need specific location tags – they are coming to your location to perform the work. As such, if their pages are laid-out to contain the service area (county, city, etc) they should be located based on the keyword search.

    If there is an aspect to the spatial database to contain “service areas”, that would almost require the business to submit a service area map to Google. Otherwise, Google would have to guess based on Cities/Counties serviced and use a buffer/dissolve approach – a computational and thus time intensive task.

    It almost becomes a chicken-or-the-egg type problem – how is Google to know what they aren’t told?

  • http://silvery.com Chris Silver Smith

    ebpowel, I think you’re missing the points, because you’re perhaps not up on what’s already going on in Google Places/Maps.

    Google allows businesses without physical addresses to appear in Google Place Search and in Google Maps. They allow businesses to specify “service areas” – polygons overlaying the areas where they offer service. They also will allow those businesses to suppress the display of their street addresses. So, this is established.

    Also, they allow those contractor-types of businesses which traditionally do not operate out of storefronts to have listings in Google Places/Maps. So, what you’re arguing is a nonissue — Google already displays businesses that don’t have addresses, and they display businesses based on proximity and self-disclosed service areas.

    The question/point of my article is: Google displays some companies which have only PO Boxes, while new companies that try to register with them are disallowed from ranking. So, this is not fair. They also are allowing companies with no street address location to be displayed — so long as they don’t use a PO Box address. There are plenty of companies appearing and ranking which use private mailstore addresses which display a street address and suite number — while there is not actually a physical storefront operated by the business.

    So, the issues at hand are: Google needs to apply their rules fairly and evenly for local business listings, and they also ought to really find a new way to police for businesses trying to set up false location listings. They should not blanket-deny businesses merely due to them using PO Box addresses.

    Sorry if I somehow did not make all this clear in the article itself.

  • http://annalytical.com Anna Bourland

    Another side to this issue would also be consideration of those who share locations. There are several reasons people do this – a couple examples are multiple real estate agents in the same office, or people who are sharing a space, such as a photographer and a wedding planner. The trend of sharing work spaces has been increasing. As Google “Maps” becomes less of a mapping service and more of a business directory, it needs to account for lack of brick and mortar address, and businesses sharing the same location.

  • http://www.coinso.com/ PureSheer

    Good stuff, Chris!

    As a Google Maps high-level-friction user from the Locksmith industry, i can say that we used to use PO boxes (heaps of them). After we saw that Google does not except them anymore & kicking out our listings, we’ve inserted the USPS physical address. Along with the company name- we got all letters & it worked fine.
    The reason Google doesn’t treat everyone equally is pretty much clear to me (at least in the Locksmith field): In order to be above Google’s radar you shouldn’t create many listings with the same domain (yes, yes, I’m talking about heavy spam like we “all” locksmiths are doing). Google cleaning up listings that shares the same domain. Hence, even after we used the USPS’s physical location, we got kicked out b/c Google ‘linked’ between all our listings throe the domain.
    BTW- that’s why you can still see listings with PO boxes in their addresses & many other addresses like abuses.
    Google “kicking-out” algo knows how to read amounts of URLs & not PO boxes (in most cases).
    Of course, using UPS or other store’s addresses (even if you have their premonition) is still considered as spam. The guidelines says it clearly.

  • http://www.Weberest.com Weberest

    The problem with the businesses serving customers at their locations like movers, plumbers etc. is huge. We have great problems with Google’s guidelines and I think that there is another approach to be taken for all those businesses. I think pinpoints are not a good solution at all. Maybe displaying the coverage area or even not displaying the map will be a lot more appropriate.
    Definitely treating these two completely different types of business operation the same is wrong and the user experience is not as it is supposed to be. I see a lot of scam listings against in guidelines especially with the moving companies breaking the guidelines and reporting the problem to Google is as if I am writing a letter to Santa.
    Also the pinpoint proximity of such businesses makes people prefer the closer location which I think has nothing to do with the quality or cost of the service.. so once again it is not the best approach. In my opinion Google has to rethink these scenarios and come up with a new way of displaying these results – maybe something completely new..

  • http://www.seomagician.com Phil Busk

    I’d love to see a study of how many people really even look over at the map. I think they see a company that stands out and call the phone number or visit the site. Maybe what they need to provide is a zip code or area code overlay that gives an indication of the general service area of the company. There are plenty of legit businesses out there that either don’t have a physical address or they have two businesses running out of the same office; which is a potential nightmare on Places.

    Your idea to partner with a related company is ok except for the risk of Google blending the two Places pages if indeed the other company has one.

  • http://silvery.com Chris Silver Smith

    Phil, you have a very good point about there being a risk of Google blending two companies together who use the same address. We’ve indeed seen this occur before.

    One option for that case would be to specify a suite number when adding the second address, to keep them differentiated.

  • http://www.glocalseo.com GlocalSEO

    Hi Chris,
    You forget to mention one important issue. Now Google rank unverified business listings if that business has organic presence . this is injustice to SMB’s and verified business owner. So many unverified junks are coming from local directory and google ranking those junks because they have organic presence .Google must do something about it.

  • http://silvery.com Chris Silver Smith

    GlocalSEO – it is concerning that data from business directories which have inferior listing verification may be feeding into Google. Do you have a particular business category/location combination in mind?

  • Randy Reed

    You can search Google for businesses on a global level address or no. No need to be on Google Maps (Google Places now). When you go to a map program, you are looking for listings on a MAP. Why would it make sense to shop listings on a map that do not have locations? Is it just me? Again, why go to a map to find a business that has no location? It’s a map folks. From a customer’s perspective, driving to a postal box is fairly useless endeavor.

    In California we have a serious problem with locksmiths pretending to be at address that they post on Google Places. When you drive there it may actually be a pizza parlor or an intersection of two streets, some even use freeway on ramps. The state of California requires that all locksmiths be licensed by the state. They also require a real address for the business to be licensed. The state also requires that all advertising for locksmiths must use their licensed address. It is simple here – this means that in California a locksmith can not operate out of a po box or a private mail box. Yet, Google promotes these locksmiths on Google Maps with their fake address.

  • Locksoflox

    Great story Chris. The whole “don’t be evil” doesn’t seem to apply when it comes to providing unfair discrimination against smaller businesses. Neither does it seem to apply when providing an avenue for fraud and scams.

    PureSheer, I think that you’re mistaken. The “locksmiths” that spam google are the ones that attorneys general around the country are successfully suing. You can find information about them at: http://www.aloa.org/pdf/pressroom.pdf

    They’re generally the ones that quote a little old lady 39 bucks to open her condo, then stick her with a 400 dollar bill because they know they can scare it out of her. Most honest locksmiths wouldn’t associate themselves with the spamming “locksmiths” by using the same advertising tactics (tactics which violate consumer fraud laws in many states).

    The spam that you’ve been creating is the reason why the word “locksmith” is currently black balled by google.

    Again, thanks Chris.

  • http://www.sugarfreemedia.co.uk SEOSmith

    I couldn’t agree more. Many of our clients have the same issue and it is very difficult to explain the peculiarities of Google Places. The same also applies to businesses that have 2 offices in different cities. They should be seen as local businesses as they servce the local area but Google makes this very difficult.

  • http://silvery.com Chris Silver Smith

    Randy, there is indeed a basic oddity about listing/showing address-less businesses in a map-dominant interface. However, Google has long done it, along with other, earlier internet yellow pages and mapping organizations. I think it’s necessary because consumers have now been trained to use map-based local search interfaces for all local business lookups. The issue is not quite as bizarre with the local listings now being displayed in the regular search results (under Google Place Search) with the map relegated to the right sidebar.

    The issue of Locksmiths and others using false addresses has become critical. As you point out, though, exxing out PO Boxes doesn’t stop them from using false addresses at all. If it’s against local law for locksmiths to display PO Box addresses, Google might be able to incorporate that to supporess those particular listings under new business rules added into their algorithms.

    Locksoflox, I suspect that some perfectly fine locksmiths have likely felt it necessary to try to use the same blackhat practices used by unethical/criminal locksmiths — just to compete. The issues under that business category have escalated by a gargantuan degree!