Google Places Police

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As Google continues to expand its Local product set and its importance to businesses it must also work towards making its system more transparent. Google Local search results still continue to be the wild west of online marketing with almost zero transparency and zero customer service for those affected.

For an increasing number of local businesses a majority of their search traffic and conversions are generated from their Google Places listings but what happens when the traffic is turned off? There is no email notification to advise the account holder that anything has happened until they log into their accounts, it’s only lucky that I try to login once every 3-4 weeks that I noticed the rejected listing.

Recently I logged in to Google Places to notice that one of my client’s listings Brisbane Car Services had been rejected because it didn’t meet quality guidelines. The problem was that the detail around why it was rejected was so general it would likely confuse even the most intelligent consultants.

While Google makes it clear that your business listing must have all the correct information as they appear in the real world, and yes they reserve the right to suspend access to businesses violating these listing guidelines. The problem is it appears to be making up the rules as it goes along and shifts and blurs the lines to suit larger advertisers. It almost appears that the review team is killing off local listings….

So I took the time to follow the guidelines as to why it’s Google Places listing had been rejected following Google’s own guidelines. Following each point I checked and found that the listing had not violated anything obvious that I could see.

Only business owners or authorized representatives may verify their business listings on Google, and this listing was done with the owner’s permission.

Business Name
Google Places states that the listing must represent your business exactly as it appears in the offline world. The name on Google should match the business name, as should the address, phone number and website. Do not attempt to manipulate search results by adding extraneous keywords or a description of your business into the business name.

The business is listed as “Sunnybank Hills Car Care” which matching the trading name registered with Queensland state government. It does not include or try to manipulate search results by adding extraneous keywords or description of the business into its business name. The only question could be that maybe the domain didn’t exactly match the business listing, which is likely to rule out a majority of businesses who are unable to secure their business name as a domain name.

Business Categories
The only element of the listing that I could see that might cause the listing to be flagged was the use of custom categories, so I tested by using mainly the suggested categories.

Previous Business Categories

Newly updated Business Categories

  • Mechanic
  • Service Station
  • Tyres (not Tires)
  • Auto Repair Shop
  • Brake Shop

I have seen that Google Places has started to advise limited use of the custom categories but is it really fair that they can reject a business listing based on custom listings. The biggest issue is that many of the suggested categories are based on US English such as “Tires”, which can potentially alienate businesses in other countries.

Google doesn’t care about small advertisers
Just as Google Places doesn’t notify businesses when they have been rejected they also don’t proactively contact businesses once their flagged listings have been reviewed. The continuing closed loop points to Google being its own secret police only focused on world domination via its sponsored places at the expense of organic local results.

What does Google Places team monitor?
Google Places apparently monitors a variety of terms and formatting which may or may not be appropriate depending on their context, which even they admit because of their ambiguity, they often require a manual review. But even that statement has too much ambiguity to be called transparent.

When can my Google Places listing be flagged?
The problem is that your Google Places listing maybe rejected at any point in the future when Google decides to change its listings rules not just when it is first created. If you have optimised your listing it’s only a matter of time when Google may consider your business part of the problem and it will burn you from its Local search results.

How long will it take for my listing to be reviewed?
More problems for business as Google states that the review time is highly variable and that new tickets are generally reviewed within 4 weeks, but that is enough to hurt a business enough that it would elect to use Google’s new paid promoted places. The interesting point which shows it’s a possible commercially motivated is that Google has started promoting the promoted places via a 30 day free trial at the top of the Google Places Policies: Quality guidelines page.

It’s only a matter of time before your listing is likely flagged for a review or rejected so here is the link to lodge a support request.

Are landing pages allowed?
Reading the guidelines it appears one of the many reasons that might get your Google Places listing flagged for a review is the use of landing pages, we haven’t been using them but I’m now considering it. Landing pages offer increased conversion rates and offer a better experience for consumers but it doesn’t suit Google, unless you are a big business?
1. Enterprise
2. Avis
3. Budget
The above local listings links were taken from a Google Places result and all make use of landing pages from their Google Places listing, and I even think it improves the result and should be encouraged.

Are you allowed to use call centres?
Google has been cracking down on the use of campaign phone tracking solutions and they prefer the individual location phone number is used. For my client that can try calling the phone number listed and speaking with the mechanics direct if they are unsure.

Google Places now being policed by big brother!

  • Don’t use keyword friendly business names
  • Don’t use names like 1800 Flowers
  • Don’t use URLs in names like
  • Don’t list if you are in a business park
  • Don’t list if you have multiple locations
  • Don’t use phone tracking numbers unless supplied by Google
  • Don’t use keywords Google doesn’t like

Google’s Policy of Allowed Terms

While I understand that Google has constantly blocked search agencies from showing in the search results, I did find it interesting when my Google Places notification was updated to reflect that “this listing does not comply with our policy of allowed terms”.  The notification shown below has disappeared since the screenshot below was taken last night, so great to see once again a complete lack of transparency by Google Places.

So you understand they are only trying to protect the consumer, and its likely that I must have been really pushing the boundaries of all moral and ethical standards and generally spamming the system beyond what a normal person would. The terms that you must ensure you avoid at all costs or risk having your Google Places account rejected is:

  • Marketing Consultant
  • Marketing Agency
  • Advertising Agency
  • Internet Marketing Service
  • Website Designer

You can see from the list above that there is very little that is not specifically relevant to my consulting services except maybe the website designer, if this is not a clean cut example of Google stomping down business using its free local service.  All of the above categories are the suggested categories and are not customised to take advantage of keywords I want to show in Google Local results, but I admit I did recently create a second account using all customised terms for the fun of it both are under review.

What you can do?
There is actually very little you can do besides lodging a request via the support form and wait around 4 weeks, until then apply for a business loan and start buying Google AdWords traffic to keep the local search traffic flowing to your website. Google has plans to dominate the world and if you don’t play nice expect to have your hand bitten…

David Iwanow

David Iwanow

Director of Strategy at BlueGlass
David has joined BlueGlass London as Director of Strategy having spent the last 3 years in Amsterdam, Netherlands working with the ebay classifieds group as... Read Full Bio
David Iwanow
David Iwanow
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  • KC SEO

    Google Biz listings suck to deal with, and Google is not helping the situation – got it!

    • David Iwanow

      yep, you notice the google adsense is showing google places ads… need to refine the context analysis before placement…

  • jacobstoops

    You're dead on with this. I've been complaining about how poor Google's customer service is regarding Google Places for quite some time. They actually suspended my company's account when we tried to move our listings from one login to another when a key person left the company. Even though we did things by the book, they still dinged us. It's been over 7 months and we've requested that our account be un-suspended several times. Seems like the light is on but nobody's home?!?

    • David Iwanow

      Yep… but did you try the link above to request a review and wait like 4 weeks? I did hear that technically if you have a Google account manager they might be able to help you move the accounts.

      Not being the one to encourage it but did you try using a new email with a new domain?

      • jacobstoops

        Yep, I just did that today. Unfortunately, we just used a different email address from the same domain. Our Google account manager has been very unhelpful to this point.

  • Lou

    You hit on one of my bigger frustrations David. I also have had accounts suspended for no clear reason, and no clear path to follow to get it resolved. Thanks for voicinng my frustrations and for your research and advice.

    • David Iwanow

      thanks Lou, maybe the comment above might resolve some past issues

  • Kate Morris

    They are trying to find the balance between the spam that has been taking over Places and Customer Service. I'd rather have less spam myself. But the lack of detail happened a lot in Organic Search too. Hopefully stories like these will spur some action on their side.

    • David Iwanow

      @DavidKyle points out that the listing did violate guidelines. Words that appear in the title or categories must never be in your desc.

      That would appear to confuse most users, try explaining to your client that the description, title and categories must be unique, its hard enough letting clients allow you to setup Google Places and now compound it with technicalities…

  • Robert Enriquez

    Your LBL is UNIQUE and you cannot use it as an example in this article

    The “Sunny Hills Car Care” sounds spammy

    Naming your business after the city you’re in…..doesn’t sound unique 🙂

    The other thing is that you have 2 titles on the site (Brisbane being the other one)

    I dont believe you created that site but it looks spammy (even the copyright footer part)

    Now if your LBL said Joe’s Body shop or Joe’s Car Care then you would have a case.

    I’m guessing that Google AUTO flagged your lbl since it was looking for city names in the title

  • Mary Bowling

    Google doesn’t seem to get the point that if they want small businesses to use Places, they have to make the listing process easier and totally transparent. When you think about it, most of the spam that’s on Places was created because of Google’s lack of guidance about what was okay and what wasn’t in the past and the spam continues only because Google not only allows it, but rewards it.

    Yes, Google Places pretty much sucks, but there is good news, too – it sucks now less than it used to!

  • Menachem

    The most frustrating thing is when your listings get rejected and you CLEARLY SEE spammy results ranking above you, or in the 7-pack.

  • Christina Keffer

    Don't list if you're a hospital with multiple buildings
    Don't list if you're an autonomous doctor's office in a hospital complex
    Don't list if you're in an office building
    Great post.

    • David Iwanow

      Thanks Christina I was going to add the serviced offices to the list, but there are so many other don't do's….

  • Mabuzi

    Its called the Google void… non one answers.
    A tatic by compeittors is to flag your listing as closed, improper content, reviews and spam.
    Our Places Page ranked number 1 for 2 years for 3 search terms until 6 months ago. Now every month as our listing climbs back to 1 or 2 images or the listing is flagged and it gets the dreaded needs action. Most of our reviews have disapeared and today again I see images are flagged on the Places or have disapeared.

    I know Place pages get hijacked but continously flagged for inapropriate content.

  • Rscott

    Sorry I meant to say rookie question

  • Andy Kuiper – SEO Vancouver

    Seems odd this business has no anchor text back links for “Sunnybank Hills Car Services” – all were for “Brisbane Car Services” “Brisbane Car Repairs” and “”
    I agree Google Local Places has a long way to go at 'getting it right' – just not so sure about this example.

  • Neiv bar

    About the article itself, we really don't know what google is drumming up for the future but a lot of the things we are complaining about require human contact/interaction from google with the public as the only remedy. This does not particularly bode well with google's current theme of I create and you learn to live around me. I agree with Robert in that you using Brisbane right away sets off a red flag and is probably the reason why you were taken off. you probably just confused the system's address. A lot of times we create our own flag within a listing. I had a client who wanted to go try doing multiple locations within a 50 mile radius. Because he did not customize the radius coverage circle, his coverage circles overlapped and it looked like his radii created the olympics rings on the map. He was taken off less than a month later. We put the listings back up again a month later with the radius feature turned off and we were back in business.

    Moral of the story, don't submit flags to google. Putting brisbane in there is no good.

  • Robv3

    Google should just end of live Google Places. It's completely useless for searching services. Too much fraud and legit companies can't get posted. I've been trying to claim my listing for a year. Always goes pending. Never comes out. What a mess.

  • ComputerArmy

    One thing I have noticed is that they give the top listings on places that use the paid ads. I have never really had a problem I have been in the first position for on multiple keywords for almost 2 years now. I do the same for my clients. I am not sure if I do something others are not doing or if its just luck but I have many companies first on the local listings. Hell I even beat out GeekSquad and BestBuy and officedepot. I put the names as one word not to give them free press lol. Good luck to you all I know I don't really have any advice to give really but just food for though. Seems to me that there must be a common thread causing the listings to be pulled.

  • Patty

    Great article. I have been trying to put up a couple listings and keep running into the same issue. “This listing does not comply with our policy of allowed terms”. I found a way around this and it is not really “cheating” but it will get any listing past this obstacle. I am wanted to run it by someone and see what they think.

  • Jim the oil tank guy

    Curious if you know what is a deciding factor (or factors) whether a search term brings up a places listing (versus just the traditional organic SERPS)

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