Google recently warned small businesses about the dangers of hiring SEO agencies that violate Google’s business listing quality guidelines with Tips for a Safe Google Listing:
Business owners are a busy group, and there are many third party companies out there who can help manage a page. Most of these companies use fair and rule-abiding* strategies to help manage your online presence. There are some, however, who might be breaking the rules, which can ultimately hurt a listing.
(*Please note that although Google refers to them as Business Listing Quality Guidelines, they are really rules!)
Rule-breaking occurs for many reasons:
- Ignorance of what is within the guidelines
- Misinterpretation of what’s within the guidelines
- Loose interpretation of the guidelines with the goal of finding loopholes to take advantage of
- The desire to rank well in Google regardless of the rules for business listings
Ignorance of Business Listing Quality Guidelines
While small business people are at a definite disadvantage here, there really is no excuse for anyone who bills themselves as an SEO to be ignorant of the rules. Google certainly doesn’t always make it easy for for us to keep up with changes, but that’s our job and we just need to do it. An SEO not staying abreast of changes at Google is like an accountant not staying current on the tax codes. There’s really no excuse for it!
Any “regular” SEO company that claims the ability to run successful Local SEO campaigns had better understand the differences and know about all the extra things that are needed to rank in the Local Packs, as well. That includes a full understanding of data management, location prominence, Local Search website best practices and of, course, current knowledge of Google’s rules.
Misinterpretation of the Rules
Misinterpretation of the guidelines is somewhat more forgivable, since Google certainly doesn’t always make it easy to understand what the heck it’s talking about. Messaging has been vague and in many cases has little meaning to anyone outside of is creators.
Fortunately, this is drastically improving. More and more guidance is now being given. As new business listings are set up, messages explaining what to place in certain fields appears and many of the wrong things people tend to do in their listings are prevented via this process.
We’re also getting more useful advice in the help forums and support for local listings has become much more responsive and helpful. SEOs should know how to get the clarification they need from Google and should be able to find the answers to their and their clients’questions. Again, it’s our job!
Some people are just prone to this kind of behavior. They like to debate, they think everything is up for negotiation and they often believe rules are there to be broken or at least skirted around. These folks haunt the help forums relentlessly questioning everything, explaining why their listings should be exempted from the guidelines and generally making it tough on the Googlers and Top Contributors who respond to questions.
Google is is continually closing up many of the perceived loopholes in its guidelines. It’s also spending more time communicating with businesses and their representatives and making rules much clearer so they are not quite so open to interpretation. While this probably doesn’t have much of an effect on the debaters of the world, it does help the rest of us understand what is permissible and what is not.
Rankings Are Worth the Risk
It’s been estimated by Mike Blumenthal that about 80% of the queries for local business terms are made at Google. This makes ranking in Google enormously attractive and some companies are so desperate for new customers, they will take the risk of breaking the rules to do so. For some enterprises selling high value products or services, such as luxury cars or class action lawsuits, the rewards they can reap from ranking in the Google Local Packs is almost irresistible.
Some SEO’s specialize in these types of clients and are continually playing a game of cat and mouse with Google in an attempt to rank well for local queries. While this is against Google’s rules, it’s not usually illegal (although some of what some of them do may be illegal). They risk losing their Google business listing, having their account suspended and may be prevented from creating another listing for that business. Their website may lose all it’s ranking potential and may even be removed from the Google index.
If the payoff is high enough, the business can get a new name, create a new website and do whatever else is needed to get back into the game quickly. As long as the client is aware of the risks involved, the SEO is simply providing the services the customer wants from them. But in this type of relationship, the risks must be clearly and repeatedly conveyed.
Unfortunately for all of us, there are agencies that take these kinds risks with a business’ online presence without the client’s knowledge and agreement. This can be disasterous!
To help to prevent this, take the time to do your due diligence:
- ask for and then check references
- check how long the company’s been in business
- search online for comments and reviews about the company and its principals
- check their website to see if it tells you who they are and where they are – if there’s nothing on the site about the people behind the company, why is that?
- hire them for a trial period before signing a long-term contract
- avoid those that beat around the bush and won’t reveal their tactics to you
- avoid those that cold call you, especially if they try to mislead you into thinking they are from Google
- avoid those that send unsolicited email offering SEO services
- run away as fast as you can from any that guarantee rankings
As with most things in life, it what a marketing company tells you sounds too good and/or too cheap to be true, it probably is. Buy beware!