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Long Awaited Google Places Quality Guidelines Changes

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Google just made some very long awaited changes on their Places Quality Guidelines. They are closely related to the business location and give answer to some of the most frequently asked questions. Here are the changes:

Now:

Do not create a listing or place your pin marker at a location where the business does not physically exist. P.O. Boxes are not considered accurate physical locations. If you operate from a location but receive mail at a P.O. Box there, please list your physical address in Address Line 1, and put your P.O. Box information in Address Line 2.

Before:

Do not create listings at locations where the business does not physically exist. P.O. Boxes are not considered accurate physical locations. Listings submitted with P.O. Box addresses will be removed.

Google Places Location Spam

Both additions are very important by themselves.

The first one bans people from using the very widespread map location marker exploit, which allows them to place the pin near the city center without changing the business address. Since I first mentioned this black hat tactic in September last year, there were many reports for this abuses in various cities and niches. Now Google moderators can completely legitimately suspend accounts that do not abide this rule.

The second addition is one that I have also written about in a verification workarounds article. Now Google recognizes this tactic as an official way to verify your listing by postcard in case you do not receive mail at your physical address.

What is your opinion on the changes? What else do you think should be added?

  1. Phil Rozek
    Phil Rozek02-08-2012

    Hey Nyagoslav,

    Awesome post, as usual.

    Time for a little pontification, as usual:

    1. I don’t see the merit in Google’s keeping the “move marker” feature around at all. I think we’d both agree that since summer/fall of last year, Google has encouraged more use of the “Report a problem” feature–in other words, working through “the system.” Given that, if the marker is in an inaccurate location, why wouldn’t Google at this point simply tell people to *report* cases of inaccurate marker placement. Sure, ostensibly Google will be cracking down on black-hat marker-manipulation, but enforcing that policy seems to be more work and less foolproof than simply having people report inaccurate marker placement.

    2. The line “If you operate from a location but receive mail at a P.O. Box there” makes no sense to me. Aside from black-hat cases, the whole reason people get PO boxes in the first place is if they can’t receive mail at their place of business. So why on earth would people have a PO box “there,” at their place of business? And if they do receive mail AT a PO box that’s AT their place of business, why would they even mention the PO box in Google Places, given what a quality-guidelines quagmire PO boxes are?

    I get what Google is doing on a basic level: trying to cut back on black-hatters. I’m clapping softly now. However, in terms of making steps toward better enforcement, or even in terms of clarifying the rules, I don’t think Google has accomplished a damn thing. But because I’m a “glass half-full” kind of guy, my hope is that the slightly stronger anti-black-hat language is accompanied at least by greater responsiveness to people’s reports of marker-manipulation.

    • Nyagoslav Zhekov
      Nyagoslav Zhekov02-08-2012

      Thanks for the comment, Phil!

      I believe this is a good inclusion in general. Of course there are many things that could be fine-tuned but for now this could do the job to justify suspension of accounts that disobey the map marker rule. I believe this way it is much “scarier” for the potential spammer, than if they just know they might get penalized in case someone reports them and in case the moderators notice it.

      Regarding the PO box rule, I believe the wording is misleading, but generally it’s a great inclusion, too. Once that has been pending for long time now.

  2. Jo Shaer
    Jo Shaer02-08-2012

    It’s good that it stops the outright lying about your location but it’s still open to interpretation. It seems to penalise business owners who offer local services that don’t require a physical office and who don’t want their home address plastered all over the internet.

    • Nyagoslav Zhekov
      Nyagoslav Zhekov02-08-2012

      Thanks for the comment, Jo!

      Yes, it is not too clear a rule, but I believe it would not affect businesses that hide their address. Let’s wait and see :)

  3. e.panko
    e.panko02-08-2012

    Hey Nyagoslav,

    Great post as usual! Seems to me that the new place bug that people are reporting on the forums:

    Photos not appearing on your places listings:
    http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Places/thread?tid=4ef5a658eb566d93&hl=en

    Has some sort of connection to the location marker black hat trick.

    Please let us know if you have noticed this bug and if there is any connection (as I suspect) to the location marker misplacement.

    Have A Great Day!

    • Nyagoslav Zhekov
      Nyagoslav Zhekov02-08-2012

      Hey Elad,

      There are many bugs that came after the last update (Jan 12). I believe Google are making a lot of internal changes, but I don’t think the images bug and the map marker guideline update are directly interconnected.

      I believe Google is/will be rolling a new update as soon as possible, because the withstanding bugs were too many this time.

  4. Petar Georgiev
    Petar Georgiev02-08-2012

    Hi,
    I wanted to share the changes in the nice market that I’m particularly interested in. We were trying to rank for “computer repair las vegas” and even though we rank organically in page 1, the 7 pack was always ahead of us on Google SERP results. The top spot we achieved in Google’s Maps and Places vertical search engines was near page 5, so creating citations become our top priority for the last two months. As of today Google doesn’t show Blended results for “computer repair las vegas” so the whole 7 pack seems to be gone for that niche. Luckily we are at first page position 5 for “computer repair las vegas”, but more surprisingly Google Maps and Google Places search rank us at page 2 position A which is a jump of more than 30 positions.
    Good Day

  5. Matthew Hunt
    Matthew Hunt02-09-2012

    Nyagoslav,

    We’ll see if they actually monitor marker changes – hope they let us report on it.

    As for PO Box addresses. Still be hard for them to get rid of that spam.

    In right direction though.

    Matt

    • Nyagoslav Zhekov
      Nyagoslav Zhekov02-10-2012

      Matt,

      The guidelines have been changed slightly yesterday. I also think it is hard to get rid of the spam, but I also think Google themselves are responsible for it to some extent, as the distance ranking factor doesn’t make sense in many cases.

  6. Jim Ryan
    Jim Ryan02-09-2012

    Good! Now maybe Google can take broad (algo) sweeping action against 411 Local – the king of black hat spammers.

    • Nyagoslav Zhekov
      Nyagoslav Zhekov02-10-2012

      Jim, have you had experience with a company using black hat techniques?

  7. Spencer Belkofer
    Spencer Belkofer02-15-2012

    Excellent post as always!

    A quick question…Do you (or anyone) think PO boxes will be more difficult to rank than a “traditional” location, i.e. they’ll be less trusted?

    When working on a new location with a local presence but no local address, would you find a PO Box as close to the city center as possible or use something like the UPS Store further away from the city center?

    Thanks again for all the great posts

    • Nyagoslav Zhekov
      Nyagoslav Zhekov02-16-2012

      Hey Spencer,

      Actually PO boxes are allowed only if you need to verify your listing according to these guidelines (they were further updated the next day). Google “officially” allows businesses to use only physical locations, where they are present, for their listings. The workarounds are unofficial options, if I could call them so.

      Cheers,
      Nyagoslav

  1. Google Places Updates Quality Guidelines on the Use of PO Boxes | Understanding Google Maps & Local Search02-08-12

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