Wanted to share some new info, recent changes and somewhat conflicting expert opinions about 2 areas of the Google Places dashboard – the description and the additional details sections. In the past many have used these sections for optimizing listings and of course some people spammed those sections. Do keywords in these fields help ranking at all any more? Does Google even look at the, now invisible, more details section? Can you get penalized for over-optimizing these 2 sections?

ADDITIONAL DETAILS SECTION

I’m starting bottoms up with the additional details section. Google stopped showing it on the live Place page, back in July 2011. But Google has told us the algo still looks at it. But I don’t think stuffing keywords down in that section like spammers used to do (and likely still do) helps ranking – at all! However I still put select details in that section.

Adam Steele asked: Do Additional Details & Description Fields Matter? He said: “I was not able to get confirmation from our handy Google Places engineer, but I did take a consensus from those fancy Local SEO pros in attendance, and many confirmed that Google NO LONGER uses additional details as a signal, and thus does not influence rankings.”

Yet Google has said several times they DO look at that section. I just am not sure how much it counts for anything these days. Back in July in the ‘old’ forum Vanessa said “The following info you provide (Optional attributes / Additional details) may not appear on your Place page, but it’s all still used to help us understand more about your business… So just because we’re not showing it, doesn’t mean it’s not helpful for us to have — it helps our system ensure that your organic listing appears and ranks appropriately on Google and Google Maps when potential customers perform searches related to your service.”

BUT IMPORTANT NEW DETAILSara Garrison at AllLocal noted that in the new Google Places Bulk Upload revamp they’ve done away with custom attributes. “While the new bulk upload tool does seem to work more seamlessly now, Google has also quietly removed more functionality from Google Places. Specifically, business owners are no longer able to add custom attributes to their business listings on Google Places.” So take that as a sign if you will.

BTW the custom attributes link in the help docs now goes to a page not found too. I checked the new bulk spread sheet. Yep, no custom attributes. So does that mean the additional details section in the Place dashboard is now just wasted space – and wasted effort if you bother to fill it in???

MY OPINION – I personally don’t think keywords in the more details section directly impacts ranking now, if it ever did. I have never focused on adding keywords to that section and in fact am careful not to repeat keywords or city down there, just in case. HOWEVER I do still add data down there that increases relevance, location trust and authority – JUST IN CASE SHE’S STILL LOOKING THERE. I’ll add additional relevant products or services that don’t repeat what’s already in categories, links to the local Chamber, BBB or industry directories and a few other highly relevant pieces of data that most people have never thought of. IF Google is looking at this section at all, I do believe some of the special details I add down there help build trust, authority and add some very important “local hooks” that I have personally seen impact ranking in certain cases. BUT I don’t spend as much time building out the more details section as I used to.

DESCRIPTION

Adam in his post above also confirmed something I’ve suspected for awhile. “As you may or may not have heard (I think Mary Bowling) tweet during LocalU… the description field in Google Places is NOT a ranking factor. This was indeed confirmed by the Google Places engineer who was present at the event. Sorry bro, cats out of the bag now. That is, you can put any god damn thing in there, and it won’t positively or negatively affect your rankings. So for all the goofs out there who think they are pulling a fast one by stuffing the description with keywords, you can stop.”

Yesterday Nyagoslav over in my Google Places forum (temporary home) responded to Adams’s post: “I’ve been saying that for a long time now. I have experimented with both fields – description and details. I’ve even gone to the extreme where I put the word Las Vegas about 500 times in the additional details, and nothing happened.”

I agree stuffing the description with keywords does not help rankings at all. But can it hurt? Is there a penalty for adding too many keywords, city or business name in the description field?

Nyagoslav in that same forum thread said “Regarding the description, I’m not sure why, but Andrew (SQLPerformance) keeps nagging about it, and I’ve told him hundreds of times it is not a factor – neither in the suspension, nor in any penalty, nor in rankings. He keeps saying one and the same untruth in the forum, and it’s sometimes very frustrating…”

Andrew recently asked in the forum What constitutes Description spam? Joel Headley – the head of the Places and Maps team replied in part: “We don’t map out our “lines” else someone figures out how go under them. Regarding penalties, think of it more as a single (sic signal) to your ranking instead of an explicit penalty. Everything that’s added to the listing that would be useful for a user can improve the ranking while other things that would confuse a user or try to dupe them lowers the ranking. (Bold by me.)

So if you take Joel’s comment literally, the description could help OR hurt your ranking to some degree.

MY OPINION – At one point I believe Google WAS suspending listings that had keyword stuffed descriptions. I still believe that listings that have too much spammy keyword repetition can get a minor ranking penalty. So I err WAY on the side of caution and do not repeat business name, city or keywords in the description. Instead I use that section to boost conversions and/or click through rate. My advice about how to craft a good Google Places description here.

What do you think about keywords or city in description?

What do you think about the additional details section? Do you still use it? Yea or nay and why?