Google just made some small, but important clarifications to their Quality Guidelines for local listings. The clarifications are related to some situations that weren’t previously covered, or were covered obscurely, by the guidelines.
The first clarification reads:
Do not create a listing or place your pin marker at a location where the business does not physically exist. P.O. Boxes are not considered accurate physical locations. Your business location should be staffed during its stated hours.
- Exceptions to the above are self-serve businesses such as ATMs or video-rental kiosks. If adding these locations, you should include contact information for customers to get help.
We already knew that post office boxes, or virtual offices were not allowed to be placed as business locations on Google Maps, but I feel this rule comes mostly in relation with the ongoing confusion with service-area and especially home-based businesses. What is meant by this rule is that it is perfectly fine to display your business address, no matter what kind of business you are, as long as when you state, for instance, that your working hours are from 9 to 5, if someone decides to visit your “office” within this period, there would be a person to open the door and serve the customer. This clarification also sheds light on how important “community units” such as ATMs or video-rental kiosks should be displayed on Google Maps. Obviously these types of businesses cannot have on-site staff 24/7, and at the same time if they hide their business addresses from public display that wouldn’t make sense. Now Google states that as long as there is contact information where anyone could get served at any time (presumably), everything would be fine.
The second addition to the guidelines also comes to explain how Google would like to treat the service-area businesses, and specifically covers the ongoing topic of hide vs. display business address for SABs:
Businesses that operate in a service area should create one listing for the central office or location and designate service areas. If you wish to display your complete business address while setting your service area(s), your business location should be staffed and able to receive customers during its stated hours. Google will determine how best to display your business address based on your inputs as well as inputs from other sources.
This rule pretty much repeats the one above, but what is more interesting is the statement that Google (not the business owner) will determine the way a business address is displayed publicly. What might be meant by this is that even if you decide to display your address on Google Maps, if Google decides otherwise, or if Google finds that your address is hidden on other sources around the web, then the address might get hidden (and vice versa). This means that you must be very accurate in how you display (or not display) your business address not just on Google Maps, but also anywhere else across the web. It is to be noted that not all business directories allow for the address to be hidden. Here is a great list Phil Rozek compiled with business directories that have a hide-address feature.