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Guidelines for Representing Your Business on Google

The guidelines for representing your business on Google are like the “Bible” of Google Business Profiles (GBP). They are referred to and studied more than any other article in the GBP help center.

According to Google:

To maintain high quality information on Google, follow this list of guidelines for local businesses. These guidelines can help you avoid common problems, including changes to your information or, in some cases, removal of your business information from Google.

In other words, the guidelines inform us of what we need to look for, and look out for, as a business profile manager, if we want to stay in Google’s good graces.

We highly recommend reading the guidelines at least once per year since Google is constantly modifying them.

Here are the highlights from the guidelines that we have found to be the most critical to be aware of.

Business Name

We know that the business name is a ranking factor. Here is what Google states about the business name:

To help customers find your business online, accurately represent your business name. Your name should reflect your business’s real-world name, as used consistently on your storefront, website, stationery, and as known to customers.

Address

Google’s worst nightmare is customers showing up at an address on the map and the business isn’t there. Getting the address right and following the rules is critical. These are the most important things to remember.

  1. P.O. boxes or mailboxes located at remote locations aren’t acceptable.
  2. Create your Business Profile for your actual, real-world location.
  3. Businesses showing their address on Google should maintain permanently fixed signage of their business name at the address.
  4. If your business rents a physical mailing address but doesn’t operate out of that location, also known as a virtual office, that location isn’t eligible for a Google Business Profile.

Service Area Businesses

The address guidelines above are for brick-and-mortar businesses. But what about SAB’s? Here’s what Google has to say.

  1. Service-area businesses, or businesses that serve customers at their locations, should have one profile for the central office or location with a designated service area.
  2. Service-area businesses can’t list a “virtual” office unless that office is staffed during business hours.
  3. If you have different locations for your service business, with separate service areas and separate staff at each location, you’re allowed one profile for each location.
  4. The boundaries of your profile’s overall service area shouldn’t extend farther than about 2 hours of driving time from where your business is based.

Website & Phone Number

Your website and phone number are how customers get ahold of you. Google wants to make sure that they are listed correctly.

  1. Provide a phone number that connects to your individual business location, or provide a website that represents your individual business location.
  2. Use a local phone number instead of a central call center helpline number whenever possible.
  3. Do not provide phone numbers or URLs that redirect or “refer” users to landing pages or phone numbers other than those of the actual business, including pages created on social media sites.

Categories

Getting your categories right is one of the most critical parts of a successful Google Business Profile. Here’s what Google says.

  1. Use as few categories as possible to describe your overall core business from the provided list.
  2. Do not use categories solely as keywords or to describe attributes of your business.
  3. Select categories that complete the statement, “This business IS a…” rather than “this business HAS a…” The goal is to describe your business holistically rather than a list of all the services it offers, products it sells, or amenities it features.

Guidelines for Chains, Departments, & Practitioners

Near the end of the guidelines, Google has a dedicated section for chains, departments, and practitioner listings. Here are the highlights.

Chains

  1. Maintain consistent names and categories across all of your business locations to help customers quickly identify your business on Google Maps and search results.
  2. All business locations within the same country must have the same name for all locations.
  3. All locations of a business must share the one category that best represents the business.
  4. Virtual food brands are permitted with conditions.
  5. If your business location combines two or more brands, do not combine the brand names into a single Business Profile. Instead, pick one brand’s name for the Business Profile. If the brands operate independently, you may use a separate profile for each brand at this location.

Departments

  1. Departments within businesses, universities, hospitals, and government institutions may have their own Business Profiles on Google.
  2. Auto dealers and healthcare providers have specific and separate guidelines.
  3. Publicly-facing departments that operate as distinct entities should have their own page.
  4. The exact name of each department must be different from that of the main business and that of other departments.
  5. Typically, such departments have a separate customer entrance and should each have distinct categories. Their hours may sometimes differ from those of the main business.

Practitioners

  1. An individual practitioner is a public-facing professional, typically with their own customer base. Doctors, dentists, lawyers, financial planners, and insurance or real estate agents are all individual practitioners.
  2. Business Profiles for practitioners may include title or degree certification (for example Dr., MD, JD, Esq., CFA).
  3. An individual practitioner should create their own dedicated Business Profile if:
    • They operate in a public-facing role. Support staff should not create their own Business Profiles.
    • They can be contacted directly at the verified location during stated hours.
  4. A practitioner shouldn’t have multiple Business Profiles to cover all of their specializations.
  5. Sales associates or lead generation agents for corporations aren’t individual practitioners and aren’t eligible for a Business Profile.
  6. If the practitioner is one of several public-facing practitioners at this location:
    • The organization should create a Business Profile for this location, separate from that of the practitioner.
    • The title of the Business Profile for the practitioner should include only the name of the practitioner, and shouldn’t include the name of the organization.
  7. If a practitioner is the only public-facing practitioner at a location and represents a branded organization, it’s best for the practitioner to share a Business Profile with the organization. Create a single Business Profile, named using the following format: [brand/company]: [practitioner name].

So What?

Keep in mind that these are guidelines. Google seems to intentionally avoid the word rules. Keeping an eye on the guidelines and understanding them should allow you to have a better understanding of what Google thinks is best for their users (and your customers).

With that said, in addition to reading what Google writes, always watch to see what Google does in the wild. That is the key to success.

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Colan Nielsen

Colan started in the local SEO world back in 2010 and is also deemed a product expert by Google as a Top Contributor on the Google My Business Forum. He is a contributor to Moz’s famous Local Search Ranking Factors survey and is a former Google MapMaker Regional Lead. Read Colan's full bio here.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Hi Colan,

    Thanks for sharing this. I have some questions regarding SAB#3, “If you have different locations for your service business, with separate service areas and separate staff at each location, you’re allowed one profile for each location…” How do you set these up and get Google to accept them? Would you need a different phone number or website for each one? Any tips?

    1. Hi Rich,

      The best practice would be to use a unique phone number and ensure the service areas do not overlap.

  2. Thanks, Colan. Would you use the same address for all locations, if there is no owner at the other locations, just employees? The business I’m thinking of has mental health coaches for a specific population in various metros around the US. It is not franchised. There is one owner of the entire company.

    1. I would look into setting up the coaches as practitioner listings. If you’re wondering if a person is allowed a practitioner listing, ask yourself if they do the following:

      Have a direct relationship with customers where customers would request them by name (such as a hairdresser).

      Have schedules that sometimes vary from the normal hours of the business they work for.

      Have a business category in GMB that accurately describes what they do.
      Have their own prices set.

      Sometimes work out of different locations.

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