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Deploying Google Places SEO for Multiple Locations and One Website

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Our previous post on Google’s local search algorithm laid out step by step how to optimize a company’s local Google page in order to maximize rankings in the search engine results page (SERPs).  However, companies and organizations with multiple locations and/or providers have a unique set of challenges for local optimization that weren’t addressed.  Additionally, many companies with multiple locations only have one website.  Local optimization efforts for multiple locations can run into issues with Google if certain precautionary steps aren’t taken.

Deploying Google Places SEO for Multiple Locations and One Website image Google Places SEO

Google has a vested interest in not promoting spam and Google local listings for multiple locations can appear spammy if optimized incorrectly.  Below is a list of considerations that will improve the chances of a local optimization campaign being successful for those companies and organizations with multiple locations and/or providers.

Company Name:  Always make sure each location has a unique name.  Below are some examples:

  • Dr. John Dough – Cardiology
  • Dr. Jane Smith – Plastic Surgery
  • ACME Corporation – Springfield
  • ACME Corporation – Columbus

Physical Address:  It is very important that each account’s address is unique and is physically located in the city the campaign is attempting to rank for if possible.  If the geo-targeted keyword phrase isn’t too competitive, Google will display local listings from nearby towns, cities or suburbs in the SERPs.  Never use a P.O. Box.  Additionally, some organizations may have multiple providers in the same building.  When this is the case it’s still possible and recommended to make each address unique.  Here’s an example:

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  • Original Address:

ACME Health Center
1234 Main Street
Springfield, IL  62701

  • Optimized Address:

Dr. John Dough – Cardiology
1234 Main Street, Suite 1
Springfield, IL  62701

Dr. Jane Smith – Plastic Surgery
1234 Main Street, Suite 2
Springfield, IL  62701Most people’s knee-jerk reaction to adding a suite to a profile when suites don’t actually exist is negative.  However, it is critical to differentiate the physical addresses.  Otherwise, Google may think the listings are spam because they all point to identical addresses and link to the same website.  Also, if someone uses the address to mail something or for their GPS that mail piece will still get there and the visitor will have no problems finding the location.

Phone Number:  Always avoid using a toll-free phone number in this field.  The goal here is to use an area code in order to signal to Google that a business is indeed local.  If possible, it’s recommended that each phone number is unique.  Doctors for example, may share the same phone system and phone number while having unique extensions.  Avoid using extensions for differentiation when possible.

Linking URL:  Rather than linking all of the Google Places accounts to the home page of a website it is recommended to link them to prudent internal pages if unique websites don’t exist for each location.  In order to link to internal website pages it’s important to have relevant pages to link to.  In the doctor example above, relevant content to link to might be the individual doctors’ profile pages on the ACME Health Center’s website.  However, if relevant pages to link to don’t exist it’s important to create them while making sure the geo-targeted keyword phrase is included in that page’s content.

Remember, the steps above are recommended in order to convince Google that multiple local listings are not spam and to maximize geo-targeted SERP placement.  Also, consider centralizing the setup of the multiple accounts by empowering one person or agency to do all of the setup.  This makes editing and tracking the progress on account setup much easier.  However, the individual will need to coordinate with someone at each physical location in order to verify the listings via phone or mail.  For additional help with search engine optimization download our SEO Cheat Sheet.

Comments on this Article: 16

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  1. I’ve been tweeting that this article provides some really bad advice than can get businesses banned from Google Places. I started getting questions about whether the entire article was bad advice or if it was something specific. Then I realized DUH I should come and leave a comment to explain.

    The part I believe is bad advice and should be retracted so it does not keep spreading and get someone in trouble, is the part about changing the business name or Place Page title for each location.

    “Always make sure each location has a unique name” and examples are given.

    You SHOULD NEVER add city or extra words like specialties to your Google Places title. Google EXPRESSLY FORBIDS THIS. Per the rules it needs to be your legal business name. Adding city or keyword is expressly prohibited and will get you rejected or can even get your entire account suspended if you do it for multiple locations.

    The unique address advice was bad too if you are just making up suite numbers.

    One of the other reasons all the above is bad advice. Google Places rankings are in part determined by # of citations and reviews. Google only finds and counts reviews and citations when she finds an EXACT match of name, address and phone. Sometimes even an abbreviation can throw her off scent. So when you change or makeup a unique version of the name or address you are likely killing off some reviews and citations which can result in lost rankings.

    Additionally the following can be counter productive, but it depends on the situation. “Additionally, some organizations may have multiple providers in the same building. When this is the case it’s still possible and recommended to make each address unique.”

    1st off they should not have made up unique addresses, or added suite #s. It can throw off citations or cause duplicate listing.

    But also in small practices I don’t recommend breaking out each provider at all. It just divides up the trust points and hurts the ranking. Merging and purging to create one strong listing is typically the best strategy.

    Hope this helps!

    Linda Buquet

  2. I agree with Linda. This post should be removed as it will cause more problems than it solves.

  3. local seo says:

    I agree with Linda, I work with a clients all over the county and now the ones i advised not to cheat Google are paying the price. (Example Los Angeles Appliance Repair”, a big no no when your real name is abc appliance)Mostly in areas like los angeles they once were ranking number one and now disappearing over night.

    Now I’m left with the dirty work cleaning up their mess ;)

  4. Linda:

    I’m glad you left your comment and you’ve brought up some very valid points. In fact, I must apologize for not being more clear. I’m not advocating being deceitful at all and could have done a better job at addressing the line between white hat and black hat.

    As SEOs it’s our job to act as librarians by organizing internet content appropriately so it can be placed on the correct shelf.

    The two examples I’ve given are indeed legitimate because they are clearly communicating to Google that there is a difference between the businesses and/or location.

    The Doctors themselves are indeed there own businesses and there are tens of thousands of examples all over Google Places to corroborate this. Here is an example: http://bit.ly/pgcQdb

    However, at the same time many of these Doctors share office space or fall under the roof of a center or clinic. By not properly organizing the fields I mentioned above only one Places account will be displayed. This is not only bad for the clinic, but it’s bad for all of the Doctors, their areas of expertise and Google users themselves.

    As SEO’s we sometimes forget about the users. . .

    By properly organizing each Google Places account for each Doctor and the Clinic all of the parties can be accurately displayed in the SERPs. As SEOs (librarians), we must make content clear to Google by clearly showing the difference between the accounts. By not doing so, the accounts would absolutely look spammy to Google (Places stuffing). I’m not advocating keyword stuffing at all.

    I would argue that the above is a white hat example. There are many others, such as franchises and independent businesses and brokers that share office space and may share a website.

    You also brought up trust points. What your talking about, I’m assuming, is the 7% of branded search signals which SEOmoz identified in their 2011 rankings report. Those points are important, but for the regular organic SERPs, and still only 7% out of 100. However, the Google Places pages themselves provide brand signals to the pages and sites they link to. If you couple each Places page with its own listing in Localeze (Google uses Localeze.com to verify their data) and LinkedIn you essentially create many many more trust signals than any one Places page ever could.

    I’m surprised you brought this point up. Haven’t you ever purposely broke up web properties to go after more keyword phrases, take up more space in the SERPs (SERP Domination) or SERM? You know, microsites, landing pages, blogs, and other web properties with unique URLs? This is a common practice for good SEOs. In fact if you couple it with a Social Media Infrastructure the branded search signals can be great. I’ve seen many clients own over 80% of their primary, secondary and tertiary keyword phrases in the SERPs utilizing this very strategy.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t write about the black hat way to use the recommendations above. A bad SEO (librarian) would indeed use the advice above to mislabel and purposely mislead Google and users. If that is the intent, then it is black hat. However, if you’re honestly trying to clarify to Google the differences between the entities so that people can find what they are looking for (this is a librarians job) easily, then your doing your job as an SEO.

    What your advocating is if you share a building with someone you shouldn’t get your own Places page. Why would Google want that? It doesn’t help their users, but rather limits their user’s choices. . . When they start limiting their user’s choices is when they will dramatically lose market share to Bing. . .

    I look forward to communicating further with you in the future Linda. I’m sure we agree on many more things than we disagree :)

    @CPollittIU

  5. Hi Chad, thanks for replying a clarifying. I totally knew you were not suggesting anything black hat or spammy. I think you just may be coming from a place of organic SEO and basic logic, neither of which necessarily jives with the actual Google Places algo. ;-)

    Have some counterpoints, not meant at all to argue at all, but to share my viewpoints in the hope it will help readers.

    IMO does not matter how pure the intent or if it’s white hat or not. With all the quirks in Google Places, 2 things are very certain.

    1) She has her rules and will clean your clock IN SPITE of good intentions. When the rules say don’t add city or keyword to titles she means it! There is no exception for multiple locations or side comment about her being forgiving if there is a good reason.

    The algo is largely programmed to catch and remove spammers, scammers, fake listings, etc. When you add city or keyword to title you are doing the exact same thing the spammers do and the algo DOES NOT KNOW YOUR INTENT is to carefully and appropriately try to “organize” Internet content. Trust me when I say users that follow this advice, however well meaning will likely either get pending review, rejected, suspended or a ranking penalty.

    2) The other thing that is certain about GP is she is a very data-centered beast and is easily confused.

    Using your example of the real business name being ACME Health Center and you say the Optimized listing should be: “Dr. John Dough – Cardiology”.

    If you Google the real business name in quotes +city you may find 6,000 results in Google. This VERIFIES to Google the algo, this is a legit biz and Google has ‘trust’ in the listing. If you Google “Dr. John Dough – Cardiology” +city, there will likely be 0 mentions because he is not listed in that format anywhere. This is what Google looks at in part. Zero mentions = zero trust.

    Reviews and citations will not be an exact match of that version of the name, therefore will not add up to help that Drs. ranking. Worse yet, Google will usually make a duplicate for the Drs. “real” name which will hurt the ranking even more.

    She’ll likely find mentions of John L. Dough M.D. but not his name with a dash and specialty. To the algo (which is a software program, not a human with reason) adding – a specialty keyword to title is the same as other businesses that add an extra keyword to their name. It’s considered by Google to be KW spam.

    “You also brought up trust points. What your talking about, I’m assuming, is the 7% of branded search signals which SEOmoz identified in their 2011 rankings report…

    I’m surprised you brought this point up. Haven’t you ever purposely broke up web properties to go after more keyword phrases…”

    No sorry, not talking organic at all. Trust points is a “Lindaism” I use to encompass some of the most important ranking factors in the PLACES algo, which are things like # of match citations and number of reviews. Again those trust points are based on when G finds an EXACT match of name, address and phone.

    I’ve done organic SEO for over 11 years and the divide an conquer strategy you mention works fine for organic. But it can backfire as a Places strategy. Places is just a totally different beast and has much more restrictive rules than organic.

    “A bad SEO (librarian) would indeed use the advice above to mislabel and purposely mislead Google and users. If that is the intent, then it is black hat. However, if you’re honestly trying to clarify to Google the differences between the entities so that people can find what they are looking for (this is a librarians job) easily, then your doing your job as an SEO.”

    If you read my stuff you know I’m as white hat as they come, so I didn’t even think of black hat interpretation when I read it. I just thought it was well intentioned advice coming from someone who likely had more experience in SEO and maybe didn’t know Google Places rules and exactly how the algo works.

    To do Google Places right I feel you need to have the user in mind, as you said AND you need to use logic and be a good librarian, as you explained – but you ALSO need to understand and use specific GP best practices AND know how GP thinks.

    All the best,

    Linda

  6. I have to totally disagree with Linda here. Googlebot is in fact not truly a female. It’s common knowledge in Local SEO circles that Googlebot is a transgender spider. MSNBot is total girl though.

  7. transcribe says:

    I personally like your articles because it gives insight on Google optimization techniques and this time,its about multiple location for a website.

  8. Linda:

    Touché – Great counter points! I have found that there are two types of SEOs out there – Google purists and Google realists.

    It is clear that you are a purist. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, my search mentor, Jeremy at Slingshot, is a proud purist. Your stance above is that of a purist and my stance above is that of a realist. Let me explain. . .

    Purists take everything that Google says as doctrine and if anyone questions it it is blasphemous. On the other hand, a realist takes Google’s recommendations with a grain of salt because Google has a vested interest in protecting their algorithm. A realist looks at what Google says, looks at their own results, looks at other’s results, and pours over copious amount of data to come to their own conclusions. I’m in this camp.

    If Google’s recommendations were gospel the vast majority of geo-blended results would not include all of the “rule breakers” that they do. The truth is Google has a difficult time trying to define whether a word is a company name, is stuffing or appropriate. Besides, symbols such as “-” are ignored by Google.

    The reason I take the realist position is because of the many examples I’ve come across since 2002 which fly in the face of what Google tells us. Here are some examples:

    1. Google claims not to follow no-follow links. However, Google reserves the right to follow no-follow links. You can clearly see some of them in Google Webmaster Tools. Additionally, how would Google capture social signal data if it didn’t follow no-follow links?

    2. Google claims that a proper 301 redirect will maintain 100% of the link juice in the link. However, many SEO researchers have found that 301 redirects actually cause a loss of up to 25% of said link juice.

    3. Here’s a simple one – many of the data points in Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics contradict each other.

    4. Google clearly has different algorithms for different industries. Do a geo-search for any city in the US and “web design.” See any Places results? No, because the algorithm is different for that industry.

    5. Google has preached for years to ALWAYS provide valuable unique content in order to do well in search. However, until Panda was released Google didn’t have a good way to enforce this rule.

    Through my work with local search I see some of these same contradictions between what Google recommends and what Google actually does.

    There are many more examples like the ones above and I’m sure you could come up with a list too. This is why I take the realist approach.

    One of the examples you give above is verification via other web property signals with exact-match company names. In my previous posts on local search I always bring up Localeze. The exact-match company name dilemma you describe is easily overcome by pairing a Places deployment with a Localeze.com deployment.

    The reason being is that Localeze has over 200 partners which subscribe to their data (http://bit.ly/owqYwm). As you can see, some of the properties listed are impressive (The page lists 100+, but they have over 200 now). That alone (in most cases) will more then make up for any holistic or organic mentions missed.

    Additionally, most of the review sites subscribe to Localeze data. By being listed their using the exact data used on a Google Places account their will be little if any loss of reviews. Besides, any local client I work with is given a custom designed cut sheet to hand out to their best clients which not only steers them to the proper review sites, but also provides clear instructions on how to do it.

    The formula I describe above mitigates your purist argument. I say this based on my own results since the major local algorithm change in the last 12 months.

    With that said, I do indeed respect your position and understand why you’re saying what your saying – I just disagree.

    Glad we met Linda! I wish you the best. . .

    @CPollittIU

    ps: Getting ready to go on Army active duty shortly and will be virtually unplugged for three weeks in the field. I don’t want you to take my lack reply offensively. Would love to continue our convo when I get back :)

  9. lol..

    I have to totally disagree with Linda here. Googlebot is in fact not truly a female. It’s common knowledge in Local SEO circles that Googlebot is a transgender spider. MSNBot is total girl though.

    GoogleBot is a clone.. at has both male and female versions… lol.

  10. @Andrew – LOL. Good one!

    Chad, I understand and agree that those are ways to get the job done for a client. There are many variables and advanced strategies that can work.

    I don’t consider myself a purist but a realist. I see tons of businesses get banned in Google Places every day for adding keywords, especially geo keywords to their name on their Place page. I also fix Places that did that, change to their real name and see them instantly move up in the rankings. So to me – it’s reality.

    And so even though your further explanations make sense and you CAN use Localeze to “support” the new made-up version of the business name – that was not explained in the original post.

    You used absolutes and said “always” change the name and it’s “recommended” to change the address. You didn’t explain the potential risk of a Google ban or loss of ranking by following the advice. Nor in the original post did you explain the fact that IF you make those changes, you have to take extra steps to cover your tail when you change core data.

    So that was my primary concern. Having people take that advice as gospel, without knowing the potential consequences and without understanding the big picture as well as you do.

    So point made. I promise not to continue to beat a dead horse – at least while you are gone. ;-) And Andrew I’m really trying to get over my bad habit of calling her “she.” :-)

    Have a great tour of duty Chad and stay safe!

    Linda

  11. Sandy says:

    What a fantastic read on a Saturday night :-) thanks to all for every contribution

    @Linda, even though I’m not actively involved with Google places optimisation at present, I would have liked to have added your blog via Google +1 but alas, no button from what I can see?

    Sandy

  12. Kathy Long says:

    For the life of me I can’t find it now, but there is a Matt Cutts video somewhere where he advises each professional in an office to have their own Place page. This includes real estate agents, doctors, attorneys, etc. So that is perfectly fine. How they do that and not game the system is the question.

    Here’s how I see Google. It is simply trying to return the best results. That’s it. And when you think about it, it’s really SEOs who have made up the bulk of the 10 commandments, not Google. Google just keeps saying they want to return honest, ethical, reliable, and quality results. So I make that my goal.

    Let’s look at Chad’s advice here. Is he trying to game the system in his advice to doctors on how to rank in Places? I don’t think so. He is simply trying to get a client to rank in a position for which they have a right. Now if a car repair shop tried to do this for having a Place page for each mechanic, that would be gaming the system. This only works if each individual in the office is an INDEPENDENT and works independently to build their own customer base.

    So what about the suite number? Is that gaming the system? Well, Chad says he’s just trying to make that INDEPENDENT stand out as INDEPENDENT. Ok, so maybe that’s a little white lie, but does it really get in the way of Google’s attempt to return honest, reliable results or is it helping? I could be wrong, but I honestly don’t think Google would frown on that either, especially since they allow multiple Place pages per location and they tell you to do that. Are they going to slap you for trying to make it crystal clear to their robot that that’s what this is? Again, I look at the intent and if it’s an honest “representation” of your business, I have no problem with it. But I also question whether or not it’s necessary. If Google tells you to have multiple place pages for the same address, then why do you have to make that address different? Isn’t a unique phone number enough?

    Chad, have you seen proof that that suite number works better than a unique phone number?

    And what about adding a title after a name? Well, again, if Matt Cutts says individuals in an office should have their own personal Place page, then it makes perfect sense that personalizing their TITLE would be fine too as long as that title is RIGHTFULLY YOURS, like cardiologist. Don’t we all put titles on our business cards? I just can’t see Google getting upset about this. In fact, I haven’t. Linda, have you?

    The only thing there that Chad recommends that I might not recommend for my clients is the addition of a city after the business name. If someone is searching for a clinic in Springfield, they already know the results are going to be location based, so adding a city in the name does appear spammy to me, particularly since this business name appears to be incorporated, and as Linda points out, that business name would not be consistent throughout the web. Can you get away with it? Quite possibly but there are other factors at play that will determine the longevity of any success you may get with that. I’d save this for the title meta tag. But that’s me. Todd, I don’t think you’d recommend these things if you haven’t had great success with them. Am I right?

    So that’s my weigh-in on all this. I understand Linda’s concern and I think it’s good she spoke up. The examples you gave here, Chad, may work well for doctors, but they won’t work for everyone, and everyone needs to know that.

    Final question for you Chad. I’m wondering why you didn’t recommend the doctor changing his title to Dr. John Dough, Springfield cardiologist? I’ve seen that used to good success or in mentioning that, will Google read this post and say, “Oops! gotta fix that!”

  13. Kathy Long says:

    As if I didn’t say enough, lest someone misunderstand me, I forgot to add that I completely agree that consistency is important. If you’re going to call yourself, Dr. John Dough, Cardiologist, it should be that way everywhere, or ACME Corporation of Springfield, it should be that way everywhere. All of this is just about creating a legitimate, unique identifier for yourself and making sure Google sees it as legitimately, consistently and uniquely yours.

  14. How is a business with multiple separate branded websites with a central location supposed to legitimately list themselves on Google Places?

    http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Places/thread?tid=6c5e17e49d55a961&hl=en

    We’d very much like to have multiple Google Places pages so reviews will show up next to the brand websites in the SERPs, but we don’t want to be listed as spam. We could use service areas as any place our company ships to, but if we start listing off entire countries then Google will probably see it as shady and penalize or ban us. Is there any accepted practice that Google won’t penalize our websites for if we either use service areas or the same address?

    Could we use different suites at the same location, or would that get us penalized? Would a unique phone number be enough?

    I’ve read through all the comments, and it still seems unclear

  15. Rick says:

    I skipped through some of these comments, so if it has already been said, I apologize. However, in relation to the question of doctors with their own biz under one roof there are a couple of things to consider (straight from the quality guidelines in Google on places listings)

    In relation to the business name:
    Some businesses may be located within a mall or a container store, which is a store that contains another business. If your business is within a container store or mall, and you’d like to include this information in your listing, specify the container store in parentheses in the business name field. For example, Starbucks (inside Safeway).

    In relation to the business location:
    Businesses with multiple specializations, such as law firms and doctors, should not create multiple listings to cover all of their specialties. You may create one listing per practitioner, and one listing for the office.

    Just thought I would throw this in since it seems straight forward and clear to me. :)

  16. Rick:

    Yeah, you should read through the comments – That is addressed. Besides, I would encourage you to read this before taking Google’s “recommendations” as gospel: http://www.kunocreative.com/blog/bid/60852/Should-We-Believe-100-of-Google-s-Recommendations-for-SEO

    @CPollittIU

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