Last week Google Maps released an updated set of quality guidelines, the effects of which are starting to be felt by local businesses. While many local SEO practitioners are still combing through the previous guidelines to identify what has changed, we can see that one thing is clear; Google is continuing their quest to clean up the Internet and reduce unnecessary clutter.

 This is likely a follow up to the recent Panda and Penguin updates, both of which sought to encourage quality content, and now Maps is following suit.

So what has changed?

1 – Descriptors are NOT allowed.

Pages have previously used descriptors to provide users with additional information as well as for SEO value. Descriptors are key terms used in the name of a page. For example “BirdBrain Logic – Digital Specialists”, the term “Digital Specialists” is a descriptor. In this latest update, ONLY the real world name is allowed.

2 – Virtual offices are not allowed.

A virtual office is effectively a business that exists online with a website but has no notable location. Previously businesses would indicate an arbitrary physical address (for example a PO Box) in order to support other SEO activities. These changes will put a stop to that, with virtual offices only allowed if they are supported by an address where at least one employee works on the business.

3 – Businesses should be listed in their specific category and NOT the overarching, general category.

If you sell sandwiches and you’re listed as a food outlet, watch out! This change is likely designed to further distinguish between different categories and deliver more specific results to search queries.

4 – Two or more brands at the same location must pick one name.

Now this is going to cause a stir amongst business owners. SEO technicians are scrambling to come up with a remedy for this change. It is unclear why this has been implemented, our best guess is that it’s to reduce complexity and clutter in the search results by limiting the number of businesses allowed to be located at a single address.

5 – Different departments within an organisation may have their own page, but they must be in unique categories.

This update appears to be conflicting with the general theme of these updates. While the other updates are shedding the number of listings, this one allows for individual departments to be represented even if they fall under the one brand name. The end goal for Google is to provide more relevant and specific results, thus categorisation is essential. The best example of this would be a department within a University; the Business School and the School of Science may be in the same building but clearly operate entirely differently and should be represented separately.
A further update regarding practitioners also suggests that individual practitioners who work in multiple locations should appear under their own name and not the practice where they work.

A final thought regarding the changes

We love that Google is sifting through the overgrown grass in Maps and continuing to reward quality and relevant content. At the end of the day Google may not be able to police all of these changes, but if our experience tells us anything it’s that following Google guidelines is the surefire way to online marketing success.