Google Maps recently updated their local page quality guidelines.

The updated guidelines include changes for both single and multi-location businesses with a focus on creating consistencies.

The major changes include:

1) Descriptors can't be used in listings

Descriptors refers to the title of a listing where you could previously add a place or service, such as "Starbucks Downtown" or " Joe's Pizza Delivery." Google now requires businesses to use the exact name of the storefront in order to create consistency across listings. Extra descriptors, while helpful at times, can be confusing to online searchers and should only be included in the business description. One thing to note: individual practitioners with specified degrees are not considered a descriptors.

For multi-location businesses, the main business name should be used, unless location(s) in a certain demographic area have different names. For example, Panera and Saint Louis Bread Co. are part of the same business but have different names based on geographic region.

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2) Two or more brands that share the same location must pick one name

If your business is a bookstore with a coffee shop inside, you will be forced to choose the primary focus of your business: either bookstore OR coffee shop, not both. Google made this change in order to provide searchers with a clear idea of the type of businesses that are located on Google Maps. Google does not want to direct a searcher to a mislabeled small coffee shop that is really a large bookstore at the same location.

3) If different departments have individual pages, each must be labeled with a unique category

This rule applies to public-facing departments that operate as a distinct entity, such as the Toyota of Escondido Collision Center. The name and primary business should be differentiated from other departments (Collision Center vs. Sales Department) and will typically have separate customer entrances. In addition to having separate categories, each page may have different hours of operation.

The "Toyota of Escondido" dealership would fall under the category "Toyota Dealer," while the "Toyota of Escondido Collision Center" will be in the "Auto Repair Shop" category.

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4) Virtual offices are not allowed

If a you have an employee who works remotely for you out of their home in a different city, you can not list your business as having a location in that city in an effort to have your business appear bigger. Your business must have a physical location that is staffed during regular operating hours in order to be included on Google Maps.

5) Your business category should be as specific as possible

Since this new rule is a SEO best practice, I know you are already doing it!

However, if you aren't, make sure to choose specific category names instead of an overarching category in order to show up accurately in searches. Stay away from broad categories and dig into the nitty gritty of your business.

6) Solo practitioners who work in multi-location practices should display both names

Any professional that is the sole public-facing figure in a location should display both the brand/company and his/her name. Professionals who fall into this category would be doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, insurance agents, etc.

Example: [brand/company]: [practitioner's name]. Therefore, Joe Miller, the sole agent at an Allstate insurance location would use the name: Allstate: Joe Miller

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It is not yet clear how strictly these changes will be enforced, but Google implemented these changes to make it easier for customers to find your business, not to hinder your chances of being discovered. By not updating your Google Maps local listing to meet the new guidelines, your business runs the risk of being suspended - a high price to pay for not making a few quick changes.

If you haven't created a Google Maps listing yet, fear not! With the introduction of Google My Business, the technology giant has made it easier for small businesses to dominate local search from one central dashboard.Download LocalVox's free eBook to learn more.

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