HOW TO AVOID A GOOGLE MY BUSINESS PENALTY:
A REAL LIFE CASE STUDY

broad core algorithm update

Recently, a major franchise for junk removal found itself on the wrong side of Google’s regulations and as a result they ended up having their entire franchise – nationwide, ENTIRE FRANCHISE’s GMB’s suspended. We’re talking thousands of franchise locations across the nation with literally no Google My Business listing showing when someone searches for them.

Who was the franchise? 

Junk King

How did we see this? 

We have multiple clients in the junk removal space and noticed that Junk King’s GMB’s stopped showing up in search results. Yay for our clients! Oh Dear GOD for Junk King’s…This happens when you fall behind or violate Google’s GMB guidelines.

We checked out their locations through indexed sites like yp.com and other online directories and saw right away what was going on. Right? (We can’t find them in the GMB and we know they HAVE to be submitted to the aggregators hence they would be findable in other vertical directories – so we searched YP).

And guess what we uncovered? They were geo-modifying their franchises (in order to rank better of course). These Junk King GMBs had city modifiers on their profiles (we spot checked – of course their are too many to check all). This is slightly mis-leading. The business name is Junk King, but each franchise’s GMB had themselves listed as “Junk King Denver” etc… In some cases, this CAN be how your business is named – even in franchising, but that is likely NOT the case with Junk King – even if these franchisees are purchasing Business names such as Junk King of Denver.

We believe this use of Geo Modifiers is against the rules. We know why they did it. Every Tom, Dick, & harry mom & pop is doing it AND probably getting away with it. However, at the size of Junk King it’s best to do these things inline with Google Policies and this, from first glance, looks to be against their naming requirements.

Let’s look at how this happened and how you can avoid this.

 

Geo Modifiers: What are they?

Geo Modifiers are location specific keywords that you include on your website to help Google understand that your business and services are related to that specific geographic areas – for most businesses this is city specific information that signals you are a good option for search results when someone is looking for the goods and services you provide, specifically in your area.

 

Think of the conversion funnel, I’m broke down on the side of the road, I need a tow truck. I don’t research yesterday what I need today. I look. I find. I buy. For Service businesses, home services, disaster, and many other spaces – the GMB is nearly EVERYTHING. I would think junk removal is highly dependent on the GMB. So it really would make sense to have GEO-modifiers in the name.

Geo-specific copy is a best practice for local businesses and local pages. BUT the GMBs have rules – and no one is above those rules forever.

Where to use Geo Modifiers?

Simple Answer: On the page, in the copy, but not within your business name, directories, social medias, or backlinks – ESPECIALLY NOT the Google My Business Listing Name.

Why not? Google considers adding a geo-modifier to your GMB listing a form of keyword stuffing.

Keyword stuffing: A quick history lesson

Keyword stuffing is adding keywords that you’re trying to rank for to content that it really shouldn’t be listed with. The whole SEO industry started here – the page that mentions junk 10 times was worth more than the page that mentioned it 7 times. So it became a stuff fest – visible and invisible stuffing! Thank God times have changed.

Key word stuffing - Writing the same thing over and over

An older example of keyword stuffing would be when businesses would just list keywords over and over on web pages within their website. The strategy was quantity not quality and it worked very briefly.

So Google came out with some guidelines (algorithm updates…the new norm) because their goal is to provide the best possible search experience for their users.

The guidelines forced content creators and businesses to focus on quality instead of quantity, and the result was a better search experience for Google users.

As Michael Scott would say: Win-win-win – we all win.

This filtered out sites using what we call in the business “Black Hat SEO”. Yes, this term developed after the fact – but for-real these SEO’s were NOT thinking of the end users first. Sales first – client experience way, way, way down the line.

People who use shady tactics to trick search users into visiting a site by using black hat methods to try to manipulate search results are the fodder of the next algorithm update.

Guidelines From Google

Google wants your business to win – that’s why they put their expectations and rule books right out in the open so that you can make sure you put yourself in the best possible position to show up in search results.

See Google’s guidelines for representing your business on their support site here

So where did this franchise go wrong?

This particular franchise did not maintain consistent names across all locations.

By adding a different city to the end of each GMB franchise name, they made it unclear if this was the same business, or a different business than the main franchise.

Here’s what Google says:

Google-Guidelines-For-GMB-Geo-Modifiers

The other key phrase here is “All locations must have the same name” – Google takes NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number, Website, Hours, & Category) very seriously.

When you add a city name to a GMB business’s name and it’s not a part of the official, legal name – that won’t fly. If you are a mom & pop YOU”RE PROBABLY GETTING AWAY WITH IT…if you’re a 1000+ franchise – you’re getting caught.

And that’s exactly what ended up happening – a massive penalty which resulted in thousands of GMB profiles disappearing.

That’s a lot of money from leads that doesn’t show up for every hour that those GMB profiles are popping up.

Other Best Practice For Service Area Businesses

Another way that franchises and really any service based business can get in trouble here is with their address.

Service based businesses defined by Google, are: “businesses that serve customers at their (the customer’s) locations.

So your business may not have a storefront, but instead is a service-business that goes to the customer, or even a home-based business. But in either case, you don’t really want your address known to clients.

What do you do? Ah La Junk King. To make it trickier – Google DOESN’T want these types of businesses using UPS stores, P.O boxes, virtual offices, and other shared spaces.

So what do you do? Well if you spot check Junk King you’ll find their addresses are confirmed to big plots of grass, high schools, and any other structure that they can get a postcard to (in some cases they were probably phone verified) for proximity purposes.

Since the GMB is more and more proximity first. What do we do then!? These businesses are encouraged to use their home address and HIDE it.

Disadvantage? Well ya!

What if you don’t live near the neighborhoods you serve, live farther than the next guy in your territory or not even in your territory?

This is obviously, something Google will have to answer better as small businesses and franchisees continue to cash in on the valuable GMB.

GMB-Guidelines

So when you go to edit or add your business address information, you actually have the option to list a service area and hide your actual business address from being publicly shown on your GMB.

hide Location on GMB

How people got their business address messed up on GMB

Some businesses, in spite of being a service based business thought they’d lose out unless they had a publicly listed address (and this could be true) – don’t lose your GMB – just flip it to hide address. It is not worth the risk.

Google doesn’t care what the location of your business is, they just care that if you list a business address, that it’s staffed during normal business hours in case someone visits that location.

Why?

Because remember – this is about Google’s search users experience. Plus, Google’s rules are usually behind reality. Clearly, these rules don’t make sense for everyone – but a perfect fit is only an update away’ish.

It makes sense if you’re an algorithm – “they” don’t want to send someone to a location if no one’s going to be there to talk to them, that’s bad information – you make Google look bad for having inaccurate information and they have to correct that. Obviously in the REAL WORLD – we know service companies aren’t brick and mortars.

How to set up your Google My Business the right way

We actually created a comprehensive guide for setting up your GMB the right way here. 

And if you don’t have time for the deep dive and have 10+ locations, need an audit or other, contact our team at Nozak Consulting.

We’ve helped hundreds of businesses grow by leveraging search and ensuring that we meet and exceed Google’s ever changing expectations for SEO.

 

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Dave Victorine, Lead Web Developer

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Hi. I’m Dave.

I’m the lead web developer here at Nozak Consulting.  I learned front end web development through Treehouse online. I’m Yoast SEO certified and completed SEO training from Ahrefs as well.  I build websites for businesses that want to improve their position within search results and be found be the right customers.

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