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No. 696
October 14th, 2010

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Thoughts on Business Titles

Google (actually Maps Guide Deanna) recently authored a post on its small business blog outlining best practices for business titles.  In the first paragraph they state that “We want to help you make the most of your business listing,” and they go on to state clear examples of spam for a business called “Fly Fishing Frankie’s”

  • [Example title violation] Professional fishing travels
  • [Example title violation] Fly Fishing Frankie’s Ltd. – fishing, cutter travels, eating crabs
  • [Example title violation] Fly Fishing Frankie’s Ltd. entertaining cutter travels
  • [Example title violation] Fly Fishing Frankie’s Ltd. Fishtown
  • [Example title violation] Fly Fishing Frankie’s Ltd. in Market Place Shopping Mall
  • [Example title violation] Fly Fishing Frankie’s Ltd. (555) 555-5555
  • [Example title violation] Fly Fishing Frankie’s Ltd.
  • [Example title violation] FLY FISHING FRANKIE’S LTD.
  • [Example title violation] **!!**Fly Fishing Frankie’s Ltd.**!!**

Again, I think anyone who came across these would see them as clear examples of spam.  Other than the one that’s in ALL CAPS, the one with the phone number, and possibly the one that just says Fishtown, they’re also not likely to accrue citations because they contain so much extraneous information it’s going to be very difficult for Google’s algorithm to match up similar business listings across the web.  And the one that says Market Place Shopping Mall is likely to merge with what is surely a more authoritative stand-alone listing for the mall proper.

But I think the post largely misses the point by the very sample business title it chose — “Fly Fishing Frankie’s” — this is a GREAT business title in-and-of itself! It’s short, distinctive, has personality, and gives searchers a sense of what the business does.  Not every business is so lucky.

For instance, what if Frankie had been a little less web-savvy and started his business as just “Frankie’s,” which a lot of business owners actually DO?  Not only would that business title not get him any bonus points in the local algorithm, but fishing-inclined searchers coming across his listing in search results would be less likely to click because a) their keyword would not be bolded on Frankie’s listing and b) they wouldn’t know what “Frankie” sold.  Liquor?  Hardware?  Bowling shoes?  Hard to know without that descriptor.

If Google had really wanted to “help businesses make the most of their listing,” I think the advice they should have given would read:

“Think about how your business will appear in search results–not just on our site but across the web and on mobile phones.  Are people likely to click on a business title stuffed with keywords? No. By the same token, they’re not likely to click on a person’s name, either, when the titles of other businesses listed next to you are more descriptive about what they do.  So make sure that you take this into account when naming your business–both on our site and in the offline world.”

Changing subjects slightly, the location keyword thing is interesting to me because I still see it showing up EVERYWHERE, for businesses of all sizes.  But especially for enterprise brands, presumably with verified bulk uploads for multiple locations in major cities, it seems like this would actually HELP searcher experience.  See this example from Macy’s:

Personally, I actually find it helpful to distinguish which Macy’s I’m looking for by its business title rather than having to look back-and-forth at the map to figure out where each address is located (after all, they’re all in Miami).

Then there are these kinds of examples from Hertz, Dollar, Avis, Budget, The Fairmont, Best Western (maybe?), Hilton, and Renaissance which seem far more manipulative in their intent…

With so many of Google’s organic guidelines, it seems like intent is key to determining what is and is not spam.  Yet in Local, the line is a little blurrier.  It seems to me that Google could solve this problem quite easily, however, by removing the ranking weight given to geographic keywords in the business title.  They obviously have an extensive list of geographic places from Wikipedia and other sources for which they could apply this metric, let instances which could actually help users (like Macy’s) remain allowable, and not provide any benefit to businesses whose intent may or may not be a little darker.

To recap:

#1 – Business owners, don’t spam your own business listings — Google’s or anyone else’s.  You’ll either get flagged or actually hurt your ranking potential by polluting your own NAP information.
#2 – Business owners, incorporate yourself in the offline world using a descriptive keyword (like “Fly Fishing”) and get used to referring to yourself in ALL of your marketing and even non-marketing materials using this keyword–online AND offline.
#3 – Google, please enforce your spam standards equally across the board for businesses of all sizes.
#4 – Google, please consider that location keywords are not necessarily bad for searcher experience (although I certainly don’t recommend using them!).

And in full disclosure, none of the brands named above is either a client or a competitor of a client; they’re simply national companies I came across after searching for about three minutes.

  • Hi David,

    I absolutely agree with you. It is important that we follow Google’s standards when we create/claim business listings. I also agree on the part where you said that it would be useful to show the city name in which a business that has multiple locations in the world, so we can better distinguish them, and verify that it is in fact in the city we are looking in.

    Great article!


  • David – thanks for calling Google out on this. I’m growing weary of explaining to clients why they shouldn’t keyword stuff their local listing titles, when their competition is doing it and getting away with it. I’m surprised G hasn’t decreased the weighting of the business title completely – you’d think they have enough info about a business from all other sources that they wouldn’t have to rely on a business name.

    BTW – 2 posts in a single day?!? You’re on a roll – keep it up! (and thank you!)

  • My company works with a lot of companies who have had names for a long time, but not the good ones, as you point out. In many cases, our clients are building contractors who are turning towards energy efficiency, and the flow is something like: “I am not getting enough business as a contractor, so I’ll get trained in building performance (BP) or home energy rating systems (HERS)”. Then they rebrand as “BP this” or “HERS that”. Then they get some domains. They register their business in the small town they live in, not the one they do their work in. Then they print business cards and stationery.

    Then they call us for their web marketing.

    I wonder: would we be better off giving them tough love, saying: get an address in a town where people will hire you. Get a business name that doesn’t involve an acronym no one has heard of. Get a business name and domain name together that contain a location. Make sure your name stands out, contains a popular keyword or two, and is not easily confused with other companies, especially local ones.

    This would not be a winning business strategy for us, most likely, because few clients want the first thing a new vendor telling them is that they messed up, completely.

    The quality of the services provided by our clients most likely has little to do with their web savvy, and this is certainly true of so many local businesses. Yet Google is providing an implicit benefit to those companies lucky or clever enough to know this.

    Is Google simply causing a new variant of companies who gamed the Yellow Pages with “AAA Home Repair” in the olden days?


  • @Tom, I agree with you 100% that Google would do well to turn down the keyword-in-business-title portion of its algorithm. However, for some niche keywords/categories this may be difficult to do where business title might equate somewhat to relevance. It’s hard for an outsider to know without analyzing the oodles of data that Google has at its fingertips. Certainly the geographic keyword filter would be a snap, however.

    @Jim, It does seem strange that Google seems so schizophrenic about enforcing clear instances of business title spam. Certainly a maximum character length for the business title field (which I suggested at least a year ago) would seem to be in order.

  • David, I think one of the key points you make is that multiple location bulk uploads seem to be immune to a lot of the Local Business Listing quality guidelines. This is good if you have 10 or more locations, bad if you do not.

  • Really great technical way to look at the keyword debate with domain names. Often people get so keyword focused that they end up being flagged as spam. I am all about the brandable domain and marketing with keywords

  • We struggle with businesses that call themselves Motor Inn’s. In the offline world, some think a Motor Inn is more classy than a Motel, but as a search term Motor Inn is bad. So, I wonder when you can add to the title or even change it to use a term like Motel, or can we hope that Google makes the connection and gives equal weight to Motor Inn and Motel???

    One way we’ve wondered if it helps is to add the franchise name, i.e., The XYZ Motor Inn Best Western Motel? Is this a false name? How do you link a business name to a Franchise and not violate?

  • Hi David, Interesting blog as usual. I’m finding Google’s new algorithm really affecting one client of mine. The listing has been ranking for a couple of years, but as of last week was rejected. Nothings changed on the listing. The business name is “My London Stylist” – Would I be right in thinking the new algorithm is throwing up a flag for this name is the main search term is “personal stylist london”? The strange this is that although the business is not listed in the local positions, it’s now 1st on the organic listings, where as before it was about 7 or 8.

  • This is an interesting post. In a related matter, I believe technically speaking that sole proprietors who use their personal name as their business name can change their business name by adding keywords to their personal name and have the combination name still be considered their legal business name, in most jurisdictions, even without registration. There are some qualifications to that, for example, in most areas they must include their last name in the business name. Based on what you said, people using this strategy should be consistent in using this combo name so that their name is recognizable across the web.

    Given this loophole, what is the ideal number of keywords to include in a business name and have it aesthetically please surfers? I have companies that I registered from the days before Google cracked down on name field stuffing who have as many as five or six keywords in their name field and yet still get about 8% click response on Google Places. Even when a keyword stuffed name begins to lose aesthetic appeal one must still consider the mathematical ratio between rising impressions versus decreasing clicks. For a while it is worthwhile going for the rising impressions until the decreased percentage of clicks due to the loss of aesthetic appeal becomes severe; because, in the meantime the product of impressions x percentage of viewers clicking the listing, i.e., total number of contacts, will continue to rise.