We recently learned that Google has once again "adjusted" the ways in which business information can be displayed and entered into their Google+ Local platform. As one of the biggest players in the local business space, keeping information up to date, accurate and within the guidelines of Google's version of the Yellow Pages is a necessity for any local business. When Google changes the guidelines to contradict several things that used to be in the guidelines, we, as both small business owners and marketers, raise a little eyebrow to.
Local Business Listing Evolution Rewind to Google Local Launch Google changes their "rules" on how the local search works all the time. When Google Local arrived back in ~2007, businesses could enter in their information into their online business profile. This was the quickest and easiest way to produce page one search rankings for a business within hours. At the time, a businesses could get away with putting descriptor words in their Google Local listing company name. For example, we could be listed as DTC SEO and PPC, versus Digital Third Coast Internet Marketing, our official business name. This would help searchers find us if they were looking for an SEO agency, but didn't know our company name yet. Knowing this, we were able to rank on page one in Google for "chicago seo" and "chicago ppc" with this descriptor text in our business name since so few businesses were using this practice. Enforcing Business Name Consistency with Google Places Over the next few years, Google Local changed to Google Places and it started looking at other sources of information, which we call citations. Citations are a grouping of your business contact information, such as your business name, address, and phone number (NAP), as listed on sites other than your own. If your business name or citation was not consistent in various places online such as Google Places, Yelp, Bing Local, Mapquest, and hundreds of yellowpage-like websites, your rankings could suffer. Businesses caught on and the big scurry began to list the exact same NAP in every listing. In certain cases, if Google couldn't recognize that the two business names were actually for the same business, they would create a second listing, thinking there were two separate businesses, which created more work for businesses to correct this. It later became common to have Google Places listings suspended for keyword stuffing and not following the guidelines. One of the main guidelines was to have a consistent business name listed for Google properties and other business listings throughout the web. Keyword stuffing, or adding descriptive keywords to a business name listing, no longer worked to raise rankings, and it could actually hurt them. The Next, Social Wave of Google+ Local Then Google Places became Google+ Local and everything changed again with an added social element to the general informational pages that were available for each business. Google started to get a lot better at recognizing the fact that sometimes businesses go by similar names, such as Digital Third Coast vs. Digital Third Coast Internet Marketing. This made citations easier to correct and to group together, but from a ranking perspective, a larger quantity of citations on a wider range of sources was no longer the giant factor in ranking for local keyphrases. Reviews, links, web mentions, on-page website factors, and many more features, alongside properly formatted citations started to all blend together in their levels of importance. So Taylor, Why the History Lesson? Google Gives Small Businesses an Inch to Differentiate Google's most recent rule change is that you are allowed to add one more descriptor alongside the business name. It's a helpful piece for many businesses, but it also contradicts two big components of our local search education over the past few years - consistent business information across all sources and only using your proper business name. We can distinguish our business with one descriptor, if we so choose, but only in Google. As Mike Blumenthal mentioned, it is important to note that adding the descriptor word in Google does not mean you should update your business name across the rest of the web to match. So as to avoid other future issues, it is also advised to use a descriptor at the end of the business name as opposed to the middle of the name. We wouldn't want to confuse the situation even more with Google! Given the track record of sudden shifts, a business should certainly be adding value to their website by differentiating their expert level site content, and keeping business listings consistent across sites so customers can easily find them wherever they are online. In the end, the real question is should we go with Awesome or Super Awesome as the new descriptor for DTC?