When Breaking Google’s Guidelines Is Almost Necessary with GMB

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A couple of months ago I was helping a physical therapy business on the Google My Business Forum that was filtered out of the local results on Google because of the Possum algorithm update in 2016. When I saw she was filtered, I went through my normal checklist to figure out what areas her listing was weak in. I also went through the list of the businesses in the Local Finder to determine which listing was responsible for filtering her out.

Who is Causing Them to be Filtered?
The Local filter actively filters listings if they have:

  1. The same phone number
  2. The same website URL & business name
  3. An address that is close (proximity) to an already-ranking business

In this case, the culprit was a completely different physical therapy business down the street (about a two minute walk away). I was able to confirm this because once this business got unfiltered, the other business instantly got filtered as a result. They didn’t appear together in the list at any point.

What Were They Missing?
There are hundreds of local search ranking factors, so pinpointing what they are weak on is not always an easy task. In this case, I did an analysis and noticed that the majority of the ranking businesses had the category “Physical Therapist” and this business didn’t have it. They did have “Physical Therapy Clinic” which you would *think* would be enough, but wasn’t.

There are almost 4,000 categories in Google My Business and not having the right ones is often a simple mistake to make.  Proper category associations is a huge ranking factor (#3 on the list).

Once they adjusted their business categories, they became unfiltered but were only in position #6 which isn’t high enough to make it into the 3-pack.  

Should They Break the Guidelines?
Having the product/service keyword in the business name on Google My Business is the #8 ranking factor and when the majority of the top ranking businesses have it and you do not, it leaves you at a massive disadvantage.  In this business’ case, the #1, #3, and #4 listing all had “Physical Therapy” in the business name. For some of them this was actually legitimately a part of the business name, and some were just keyword stuffing. The competitor that caused them to be filtered initially was also jumping on the “let’s-add-tons-of-keywords-to-my-title” train.  

The problem with adding keywords to the business name is that it works phenomenally well and there is currently (at the time of writing this) no penalty for those who do it. If I wanted to add

“Best Friggen Local SEO Company Ever” to the name of my listing on Google My Business, it would most likely help me rank better and go unnoticed until someone reported it. The algorithm does not appear to catch these infractions even though they are strictly prohibited in the guidelines. The only way they appear to get corrected is if a user edits the listing on Google Maps or reports them in the Google My Business forum. Even in these cases, the business owner can just go back and add the keywords in the next day via the Google My Business dashboard. There is no permanent way to keep the name from reverting back.

So with this considered, the business owner must have decided that it was worth the “risk” and added “Physical Therapy” to the business name. The result? They went from 6th to 2nd in 48 hours.  

Possum is making it more competitive for local businesses, since it’s now possible for a competitor to “beat you” at Local SEO and actually keep you from showing in the results. In cases like this, it is even more crucial for business owners to be aware of what their competitors are doing and how it’s impacting them.  

I’m not saying you should run and go add keywords to your business name but in this case, I think the business owner’s decision is justified and I can’t blame them for using this strategy. Hopefully Google will either adjust their algorithm to downplay the impact of keywords in the business name or issue some type of penalty for businesses that deliberately add keywords to impact ranking. Despite what you may have heard from Google’s PR team recently, spam is still a very big problem in Google Maps.

Joy Hawkins is a Local SEO expert who is a Google My Business top contributor. Joy is the owner of Sterling Sky, in Canada, and is the author of the Expert’s Guide to Local SEO, which is an advanced training manual for people wanting a detailed look at what it takes to succeed in the local SEO space.