Aug 112013

Service-Area Business Google MapsGoogle 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.

  5 Responses to “Small But Important Clarifications to the Google Local Quality Guidelines”

Comments (5)
  1. Great write-up, Nyagoslav. Thanks!

    Maybe it’s just my thick skull, but I don’t think Google has cleared up much of anything. I had a different reading of “Exceptions to the above are self-serve businesses such as ATMs or video-rental kiosks.” I think that refers to the “Your business location should be staffed during its stated hours” part, not to the part about physical locations. I wish Google made it clearer exactly how much of “the above” the part about “exceptions” applies to.

    Therefore, I’m not sure that Google is telling us anything new about what types of addresses are and are not acceptable, or whether they need to be “hidden.” Maybe I’m missing something, though.

    The issue of how Google determines whether your address should be hidden is odd, too. I’ve found that very few business owners hide their addresses in theirs citations. The only ones who do are really, really concerned about privacy, but those people usually have hidden their Google addresses already, so their getting whacked by Google probably wouldn’t be an issue. I would think that the businesses that Google might want to sniff out and penalize would be service-area businesses that don’t hide their addresses on their Google listings, but it’s owners of those businesses would have hidden their addresses in their citations. So I think those sites would be slim pickings for Google, and Google couldn’t really use them to determine whether an address should be hidden. I think “inputs from other sources” probably refers to some other bits of third-party info, or maybe to input from MapMaker RERs.

    BTW, thanks for referencing my post!

    • Hmm… the part about Google determining how best to display your address is a little strange. I wonder if they’re just moving to eliminate that ridiculous hide address rule altogether and this is some sort of interim step…albeit a strange one.

    • I don’t think the main goal of Google is to penalize businesses. Their main goal seems to be to provide high quality user experience. And for the user experience to be high quality, Google needs to provide accurate and sufficient information. In the case of service area businesses, or home-based businesses, the problem is that if a potential customers visits the location displayed on Google Maps, and they don’t find anyone (or at least no one related to the business) there, that would be poor user experience. That is the background of why Google wants these addresses hidden and that’s what they’ve been trying to clarify with the new guidelines, but I would definitely agree with Phil that it might not be the perfect clarification :)

  2. Thanks for the update. & Thanks for sharing

  3. Good stuff - thanks for sharing this great info !!

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