No. 696
October 14th, 2010

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.