Many local businesses -- and the people who market them online -- have severely criticized Google for the boatloads of rampant spam in the Google Maps Local Business Listings. For a long time, it seemed as though not much was being done about it. But now it appears as if Google was simply working quietly behind the scenes to come up with a way to combat it.
Instead of chipping away little by little to improve each of the problem areas, they're now showing us a fairly comprehensive blueprint for the future of Google Maps with their new Business Listing Quality Guidelines. Every area that sparked complaints seems to be addressed in the new guidelines. Most of our questions are answered clearly and concisely, which should eliminate quite a bit of speculation and debate.
Business Name Spam
Local listers have been spamming it up in their profiles with different degrees of keyword stuffing in their business names. Some have even created multiple listings for the purpose of ranking for different terms by appearing as multiple businesses, like Laptop World, Macbook World, HP Laptop World, and Dell Netbook World.
Google now says, "Represent your business exactly as it appears in the offline world...Do not attempt to manipulate search results by adding extraneous keywords or a description of your business into the business name."
While strict enforcement of the use of a business' official name in Google Maps could hurt many business owners who use legitimate DBAs (Doing Business As), that's unlikely to happen and isn't something to worry about.
Physical Location Spam
This has been the source of a lot of criticism and confusion. I'm glad Google has finally made it official.
Google says, "Do not create listings at locations where the business does not physically exist. PO Boxes do not count as physical locations."
This puts home-based businesses at a distinct disadvantage because, for various good reasons, many of them don't wish to publish their home address online. However, it lets them know where they stand. The use of Mail Boxes Etc. and similar proxy address services will likely surge, but Google has probably considered that as well.
In the Google help forum, this was posted by Maps Guide Linda on November 6: "Regarding addresses: The location that is listed in your listing must be the address you operate out of, so if a customer were to look up your business listing on Maps, they could drive there and find a storefront. Hope this is clear. Thanks!"
On another note in this area, Google says, "A property for rent is not considered a place of business. Please create one listing for the central office that processes the rentals." This will eliminate thousands of bogus listings that rental agents have gotten away with for so long -- one for each beach house, ski condo, lake cottage, and mountain cabin in the world, it seems.
Multiple Location Spam
Service businesses, like electricians and carpet cleaners that travel to the customer's location in multiple towns, have used a variety of devious tactics to appear as if they have physical locations in each town where they do business.
This is another area where Google is ending the guessing game by saying, "Do not create more than one listing for each business location, either in a single account or multiple accounts. Businesses that operate in a service area as opposed to a single location should not create a listing for every city they service. Service area businesses should create one listing for the central office of the business only."
Google is telling us flat out that businesses that service multiple towns are only entitled to one business listing. While that's not exactly the solution many of us were hoping for, it's certainly not unexpected either.
Multiple Services Spam
Google says, "Businesses with special services, such as law firms and doctors, should not create multiple listings to cover all of their specialties." Yes, locksmiths aren't the only Maps spammers -- even lawyers and doctors do it. They know it's wrong, but it's hard not to join in when your competitors are enjoying an unfair advantage by cheating.
Now that Google has made the Local Business Listing rules crystal clear, maybe we can all relax a little. Except the spammers, of course, who are already busy scheming away looking for new loopholes.
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Mary Bowling has been involved in all aspects of online marketing since 2003. She has a special interest in Web site usability and in search engine optimization, including optimizing all types of media for search engines. Mary has also developed specialized expertise in promoting brick-and-mortar businesses on the Internet through local search marketing. She is currently doing independent consulting and working with seOverflow and Maia Internet Consulting in Denver, CO, optimizing and marketing a wide variety of businesses and nonprofits online.
Her accomplishments include speaking at Search Marketing Expo and Search Engine Strategies conferences on a variety of topics, conducting trainings and webinars for Search Engine Strategies and Search Engine Workshops, authoring popular white papers on local search and SEO for WordPress Blogs and speaking at SEMpx' s Searchfest.
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