Why is this post so important? Because when Google makes changes to the Google Places Guidelines, however subtle they may be – it is almost always a precursor to a coming algo change that could result in your account being rejected or sent to “Google purgatory” which is even worse! If you don’t know about “Google purgatory”, see link at bottom of this post. :-(

I need to let you know about a RADICAL new change to Google’s rules that could mean that ALMOST EVERY GOOGLE PLACE PAGE I’ve ever seen is now breaking the rules, (Including every single one I’ve optimized and I’m as white hat as they get!) But 1st, let me illustrate my point above, proving that SUBTLE guideline changes, if you don’t adhere, can eventually get you banned, rejected or left in “Google Purgatory” for months!

Awhile back, don’t remember when exactly – maybe July or so, Google added this VERY subtle change to the guidelines, then a couple months later companies started getting in trouble for violating it.

“Use the description and custom attribute fields to include additional information about your listing. This type of content should never appear in your business’s title, address or category fields.”

Small business owners just skimmed over it, because it didn’t sound like much of anything. Most didn’t even really get what it meant.

What Google REALLY meant in that subtle phrase was: Any words from your business title, address (city or state especially) or category fields CAN NEVER BE REPEATED IN YOUR DESCRIPTION or you can have your Google Place page pulled off the net and have to fight for months to get re-listed!

What happened was that not only were spammers in trouble for blatant keyword stuffing but totally innocent small business people were getting caught in the cross hairs left and right. Once Google tightened the algo that meant ABC Plumbing in Atlanta could not have a plain old normal sounding description that read “ABC Plumbing is a family-owned local plumbing contractor. We’ve been serving the Atlanta GA area for over 20 years”. (5 Google violations in that simple statement!)

SO NOW ONTO THE NEW IMPORTANT CHANGE (Sorry to ramble, but for those that don’t live Places every day like I do, you have no idea how important these changes can be until you get banned or rejected and can’t get out of purgatory. NOTE: I’ve never had a single client rejected, pending review or banned, but read numerous accounts of it happening, every single day in the Google forum.

NEW GUIDELINES ABOUT GOOGLE PLACES CATEGORIES

Categories should say what your business is (e.g. Hospital), not on what it does (e.g. Vaccinations) or things it sells (e.g. Sony products or printer paper). This information can be added in your description or as custom attributes.

Again, subtle, but VERY important if a new algo is on the way that’s going to penalize for violating this guideline. This brings up a myriad of questions and concerns for me.

1) For those that don’t know it, the category section is where you put the most important keywords you want to get ranked for. Keywords in description and custom attributes, just don’t carry much weight with the OLD Google Places algo. (With the new Place Search algo everything is different totally different and there’s a way to compensate for this guideline change but that opens a whole other can of worms I won’t go into now.)

2) “What your business is, not what it does or things it sells” Man there are so many ways to blur the lines here. Creative copy writing could get you everywhere, or maybe get you banned! Who knows how strictly Google is going to enforce this???

I’ll give you some concrete examples from the Dental clients I work with.

A sampling of main keywords (categories) many Dentists want to rank for are: Dentist, Cosmetic Dentistry, Dental Implants, Teeth Whitening, Invisalign, Porcelain Veneers. The core KW Dentist is fine because that’s what he “is.” But the rest are all PROCEDURES (as in G’s example Vaccinations). Those are things a Dentist “DOES”. So do they all have to go???

OR??? If I change Cosmetic Dentistry (what he does) to Cosmetic Dentist (what he IS), will that work? (Separate, important issue is that Cosmetic DentistRY gets a whole lot more searches!)

Google has a default category of “Teeth Whitening Service”. So if I tack the word ‘service’ onto teeth whitening and some other KWs, does that make it OK?

Instead of just the KW Invisalign, one of my Dentists has the key phrase Invisalign Dentist and he still ranks really high for Invisalign. So if we say he’s an Invisalign Dentist (what he IS) as opposed to just the word Invisalign (a procedure and brand name product he offers) will that fly???

AGAIN, WITH THE NEW ALGO, much of this can be worked out by making changes to your on-page SEO. But 3 big issues tie into that.

1) For MANY of the Dental keywords above Google is still showing the old 3 pack or 7 pack layout which is still uses OLD local ranking algo.
(Same with what I call 2nd tier KWs in other industries)

2) Most people (including most SEOs I’ve talked to – much less SMBs) don’t understand the new algo enough to know how to change their site in order to compensate for these category issues, much less all the other changes the new Place Search Algo requires. (And then even much less than that, about all the new hooks that need to be in place!)

3) Even for me it’s a REALLY big issue, because I’ve only been doing Places as a service. I don’t do organic SEO or change people’s web sites. So even though I have the new algo figured out (as of today) I have not decided the best way to help my clients with all the other changes they need. I’m not going start doing it ‘all’ and I also don’t want to have to interface with, explain, educate and cajole every client’s web master, designer or SEO to make all the changes that I KNOW this new algo requires. That would be like trying to push a rope!

INDUSTRY PEEPS – for the Internet marketers, Google Places optimizers and LOCAL SEOs that read this blog and who I talk to by email, phone or forums – #3 is a biggie. I’m in numerous forum discussions right now where many of us are trying to decide how to morph our business (if we currently only do Places) into what the client ultimately needs due to this new algo.

Sorry, I digressed again, but this change really affects a lot of things for someone like me who is in the business of trying to help companies with their Places ranking.

OK so here are the new Google Places Guidelines.

There are other important changes too, so read with a fine tooth comb. THEN read it again and try to read between the lines on any other subtle changes that relates to your situation or your Place Page.

Then go read Mike Blumenthal’s blog about this and follow the commentary over there for more important insights as the word spreads on these changes and people possibly figure some things out. Google Places Updates Quality Guidelines. Oh and a big KUDOS to watch dog Mike for catching and reporting on the new Guidelines right away.

If you are reading this and you are a Dentist or small business owner, these questions may sound like splitting hairs. However TRUST ME when I say that if you are getting good traffic and lots of new customers or new patients from Google and the phone stops ringing because you are banned, you’ll realize that these small details are not something you can overlook.

For small business people that have not learned the ways of Google Places yet, imagine it’s like finding a secret mysterious message in a bottle at the beach. You read it twice, decide it has no importance for you and throw it in the trash. Then maybe weeks later when you face the consequences of not heeding that warning, you realize that secret ominous message was written specifically for you – you just didn’t realize it at the time, because you did not stop to analyze the deeper meaning.

I’ll be talking to others and doing research about this to try to decipher Google’s deeper mystery message that’s hidden in the bottle and try my best to come up with some recommendations.

OH and in the 1st paragraph I mentioned getting a Google Places rejection or going to Google Purgatory. Read Mike’s post about that below.

Google Places – You Are Not Rejected, Not Suspended – You are in Places Purgatory

Carpal killing, signing off for now.