Many local online marketers and small business owners are seeing this message from the Google Local Business Center:
This appears to be replacing the “System Error” message that previously was used by the Google LBC to notify an account owner that their access had been blocked, and their listing removed.
The most disturbing aspect to the “Account Suspended” status is that the account owner is unable to access their account and correct violations—leaving the account owner to beg for help and guidance on Google’s help forum.
Personally, I believe there are just as many account owners that don’t know that they are doing anything wrong as there are spammers. When a small business owner that has little or no experience with local search marketing sees all the spammy listings currently published, they just assume that keyword stuffing is the right way to go.
To avoid having your Google Maps local business listing suspended or flagged, adhere to the following standards:
Google Quality Guidelines: Represent your business exactly as it appears in the offline world. The name on Google Maps should match the business name, as should the address, phone number and website. Do not attempt to manipulate search results by adding extraneous keywords into the title field, and do not include phone numbers or URLs in the title along with your proper business name.
Best Practices: The best practice, at least currently, is to include your core service keywords but not locations or other descriptions in the name of a business listing. Below is an example:
Anamorphics Graphic Design
Anamorphics Inc, Phoenix Graphic and Web Design
Google Maps relies on community policing, and it is only a matter of time before this listing is reported by a competitor and suspended. The Google LBC includes a “Description” field to describe your company/organization with keyword-rich copy, offering 200 characters of space.
Google Quality Guidelines: When entering categories, use only those that directly describe your business. Do not submit related categories that do not define your business. For example, a taxi company might properly categorize itself as “Airport Transportation,” but it would be inaccurate to also use the category “Airport.” Also, please use each category field to enter a single category. Do not list multiple categories or keywords in one field.
Best Practices: The best practice is to create specific, accurate, keyword-rich Category descriptions (you can create up to five unique terms or phrases). Do not use a geographic modifier such as your city or state in the Category fields. Do not use multiple, unique phrases/keywords in one Category field.
Google Quality Guidelines: Don’t spam or post fake reviews intended to boost or lower ratings.
Best Practices: Posting fake reviews of your own business is a quick way to lose your listing and destroy your business reputation online. The best practice is to encourage customers to post their positive experiences as they happen.
Do not encourage customers to publish all their reviews on the same day of the year—it appears unnatural to Google (and prospective customers) if all your reviews occurred within a five day window, right?
Here is a particularly egregious example, also implying that handicapped customers receive a discount for being handicapped. Hmmm…
What if a competitor is publishing negative reviews to your business listing?
Google Quality Guidelines: The reviews themselves are not created by Google. If you feel that a particular review of your business is inaccurate, we recommend that you express your concerns to the webmaster of the site on which this review was posted. If you’re concerned about a review that was submitted through Google Maps, click the Flag as inappropriate link found under the review, and submit a report. If the review is in violation of our Google Maps policies, we’ll remove it.
Best Practices: If you suspect a competitor has posted a negative review, the best practice is to actively encourage your customers to post honest reviews about your business. This will serve to dilute the effect of the questionable review.
Ideally, you would like to have loyal customers simply flag the questionable review as inappropriate, stating the reasons why, and then going on to post their own positive experience.
If the negative review emanates from a business listing in a directory like Yelp, create your free Yelp business account and engage the reviewer publicly and directly. This is key to joining the online conversation about your business and managing your online reputation.
Engaging unsatisfied customers builds trust within Yelp’s community. If the Yelp’er then edits their negative review, because you met or exceeded their expectations, it will also impact the accompanying review published in your Google business listing as well.
Multiple Business Listings
Google Quality Guidelines: Create only one listing for each physical location of your business. Do not create more than one listing for each business location, either in a single account or multiple accounts. Service area businesses, for example, should not create a listing for every town they service. Likewise, law firms or doctors should not create multiple listings to cover all of their specialties.
Best Practices: Common sense—creating multiple listings will eventually get you suspended. Below is a typical example.
Local search marketing in Google is a rapidly evolving industry. Best practices today may be wrong or obsolete tomorrow. The main thing to remember, especially with regard to Google, is to use common sense. Do not do anything that is obviously spammy or would appear unnatural.