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Dear Google, Stop Using Business Name as a Local Ranking Factor

UPDATE: based on the many thoughtful and intelligent comments below, I’m downgrading my recommendation to Google to simply stop putting so much weight on the business name as a ranking signal. I can see that there are some benefits to using it in the algorithm.

My main complaint is that you can go into GMB and add a keyword to the business name and see an immediate and significant increase in rankings. That shows me that Google is giving this signal too much power.

I recommend reading through the excellent comments below.

Notice anything interesting in the screenshot below?

All of these results have some synonym of “bellevue dentist” in the business name.

The business name is one of the strongest local ranking factors and it’s starting to piss me off.

 

Question:

Which business deserves to rank higher in the local search results for the term “seattle plumbing”?

Business Name

Links

Citations

Reviews

Pipe Masters, Inc.

High quality, no spam.

100% consistent. Listed on the top sites.

Plenty of positive reviews.

Seattle Plumbing Pros

Mostly directory links and blog comments.

Inconsistent and way overdone.

A handful of spammy looking positive reviews, and a few real looking negative reviews.

 

Of course, Pipe Masters, Inc. should rank higher, but because of the heavy ranking weight Google puts on the business name, Seattle Plumbing Pros would be more likely to rank, and Pipe Masters, Inc. won’t even break into the local pack.

The example above is fictitious, but back in the days of the descriptors, we saw many examples where keywords in the business name had a huge impact on rankings. You’d add the descriptor, and they’d jump from position 32 in Maps to position B in the local pack. Now, they’re stripping descriptors automatically, and when that happens, the rankings tank.

 

Google, Here’s a Quick Fix

Hey Google, I have a suggestion. Rather than bother with all this descriptor stripping, just stop using the business name in the local ranking algorithm. It’s a stupid factor to consider anyway. Just because a business happens to have keywords in their business name doesn’t mean they’re a better business to rank for the term.

If you stopped using the business name, you’d eliminate the problem of people spamming this field, and you’d get better results because REAL businesses that have non-keyword stuffed names would be able to surface into the local pack.

Come on. Just do it. Please? Otherwise, this is gonna be me the next time I see a local pack crammed with keyword spammed business names, and you wouldn’t want that, would you?

What do you think? Should Google stop using the business name as a local ranking factor?

AUTHOR

Darren Shaw

Darren Shaw founded Whitespark in 2005. The company specialized in web design and development, however, Darren's passion and curiosity for all things local search led Whitespark to focus primarily on local SEO in 2010 with the launch of the Local Citation Finder, followed by the Local Rank Tracker.

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  • Hi Darren,

    Interesting point, however have you considered the other thing that those businesses have in common – the “plumbing” in their domains. And yes, while the weight of the exact match domains have been admitted to be decreased as a ranking factor, I guess it’s an interesting observation that is worthy of keeping in mind. With on-site factors influencing more and more local rankings we might watch for such details too.

    On another note the businesses in the plumbing sector are often abusing the kw optimization and it is only normal to see kw stuffed business names as this is considered a general practice. If you take “wedding planners dallas” for instance – just a different niche off the top of my head, you’d see businesses like “After Yes”, “As you wish” which have no kw in their titles (well, only a “wedding” in their URL 😉 This time businesses with “wedding planner/ing” in the business name are way behind- exactly where they should be, if judging by their citation profile.

    Kw stuffing your business name might be a nuisance but its weight might be devalued as it happened with the EMDs, I’d further look up the local based inbound links when determining the strength of a business in the pack, I hope you’d agree:)

  • Totally agree Darren!

    Your examples just mainly had the word Plumbing in them, which many plumbing companies have.

    Check a bunch of large metro competitive keywords and often the top 3 are all City + KW or KW + City business names and domain names.

    Here a couple examples where they rank high in the 7 pack and have both city + KW:

    bellevue dentist 6 out of 7
    bellevue chiropractor 5 out of 7
    beaumont dentist top 3

    That’s just a few examples. I could go on and on. And it’s not fair!

    Now there are lots of EMDs/PMDs that don’t rank at all either. So EMD is not the magic bullet, but it sure helps.

  • Actually I copied those examples & #s from a few days ago.

    Just checked and “bellevue dentist” is now 7 out of 7. 🙁

    But the “beaumont dentist” pack totally changed and there is only 1 now.

    Anyway thanks for putting this out there Darren! I just did a bunch of sharing. Hopefully Google listens!

  • Darren Shaw

    @Nevyana: You make a good point about the domain name. It’s another strong factor that also frustrates me. I don’t think the domain should be given so much weight either. I just changed the screenshot from the plumbing one to the “bellevue dentists” one that Linda mentioned above. It better illustrates the problem.

    Regarding your comments about the plumbing (or dentistry) industry, I agree that these industries are more abusive than others, but it doesn’t change my main argument, which is that it doesn’t make sense to put so much weight on the business name. In fact, I think it doesn’t make sense to put ANY weight on the business name. Exact match domains shouldn’t be given so much weight either.

    By using any specific screenshot, I’m not saying that it’s ONLY the business name that’s giving those businesses their rankings, I’m just pulling an example of where this is being abused. The problem is that I’ve seen time and time again how tweaking the business name will cause a massive jump in rankings. It’s just an open invitation to spam.

    @Linda: yeah, plumbing isn’t the best example, because, as you mentioned, it’s typical for plumbing companies to have “plumbing” in their business name. It was late last night when I grabbed that screenshot and I didn’t put much thought into it. 🙂 Your example of bellevue dentists is perfect, and I just updated the post with it. Thank you!

  • Thanks for writing this Darren, we’ve been talking about this issue for a long time. The majority of our clients are service companies and unfortunately it’s one with the most spam. I have quite a few examples where our stats seem to be better overall, but we’re outranked by partial emd’s.

    We’d love to get our clients to buy in to branding across all markets, but it’s been a difficult sell when they see citynamekeyword.us ranking A on the maps.

    On another note, we’re seeing completely different map packs in the morning than we are in the afternoon. It looks like they are shaking something up, specifically with hvac contractors in our region.

    Thanks again for your insight.

  • We do see a ton of crappy local sites and some outright spam that ONLY seems to rank based on business names and/or URLs. I think it’s gotten worse since the Pigeon update, but that’s just my opinion. But as SEO’s all know, if it works, we’ll do it to death, so it’s become a self-fulling cycle of legitimate businesses following the spammers down the this road out of self-preservation – at least until Google whacks it.

    I know I have named half a dozen of my own businesses over the years and in some cases I felt that location+service or location+plus would be the best name because it tells prospective customers where you are an what you do in no uncertain terms. A name like Glenwood Mobile Mechanic, for example, makes the scope of the business much clearer that something like Cowboys and Engines, which is a real mobile mechanic service in my area.

    I do think that it’s helpful to searchers when it’s easy for them to tell where the business is and what it does by its name and/or URL, so I’m not convinced that it should be entirely discounted as a ranking factor.
    If someone in Aspen has an overflowing toilet and needs their drains jetted and sees a list of business names that include Aspen Plumbing, Emergency Drain Cleaning of Aspen, Aspen Drain Cleaning, Mike’s Drain Cleaning and Mike’s Services which one would most of them be most likely pick based just on the name? Google doesn’t give folks much to go on in the local packs, especially for service area businesses. We see the name, URL, city, phone number and stars, which makes the name pretty darn important in making a decision.

    It would be interesting to see some data on the click through rates for businesses with descriptive names as opposed to those that you can’t tell what they do by their names. Maybe Google uses that in it’s ranking algo?

  • Darren Shaw

    @Mary: you make some good points about a descriptive business name being helpful to the searcher. I can be swayed to think that Google shouldn’t completely drop it as a ranking factor, but I still think they’re giving it way too much weight. They should at least reduce the impact it has.

  • I agree that it seems to me and most SEOs to be extremely overweighted right now and it doesn’t seem to be improving since Pigeon.

    But I am suggesting that maybe Google knows something we don’t know about user preferences and behavior and may just be reacting to that.

  • Darren – I was about to say business name should matter a little, and then @Mary said it better than me, so I won’t 🙂

    What about this though? I generally tell small business owners that Google is putting much more value on “other people” talking about you online – solid backlinks, reviews, feedback, etc. So, as long as that is holding up then the business name and/or domain itself should NOT be enough to eliminate the benefits of engagement. As long as that hold, I wouldn’t mind Google giving “good” names a boost over a not-so-good name. But only if the two companies were equally engaging online.

  • How do we know that business names with keywords in them aren’t getting a huge boost from high CTR and low bounce? People are far more likely to click on a business that is so clearly named and perhaps persist through a less-than-stellar website experience since they already know the business is in their area and does exactly what they are looking for. I wish my clients would be so clear in their name choices. If a business named “Joe’s Place” was lucky enough to rank for anything, it’s difficult to say that the CTR wouldn’t suffer greatly on the confusion factor alone.

  • Good point everyone. 2 more thoughts to throw in the mix.

    1) For businesses thinking about rebranding. It’s hard to make your name stand out and be memorable when all are so similar like the new screenshot above. It would be easy to get confused. “Which Dentist was it again that I found and wanted to call? Was is City Dentist or Dentist City or Dentistry in City or City Dental???

    2) More advantages to these EMDs I don’t think anyone has mentioned:

    A) Natural backlinks with naturally occurring KW anchor text. Anyone linking to them by name, even things like the local media, will be using KWs in the anchor.

    B) KWs in reviews. “I love the whole team at Bellevue Dental…”

  • Jason

    Remind me why Pipe Masters Inc should rank higher again?

    Take this excercise a step further:

    Seattle Plumbing Pros is a small family-run business. The company doesn’t do a lot of marketing on account that most of their business is word-of-mouth, and reviews are hard to come by because most of their customers tend to be a little older. The links and reviews they do have are weak thanks to an SEO recommended by a family friend that overstated what he could do. That said, they have tons of experience, are efficient, reliable, and have very fair prices.

    Pipe Masters on the other hand is a branch of a regional franchise. They have only been in business for a few years, so they have to be more aggressive with their marketing. On average they do a good job, but have to hire less experienced plumbers and try to do more jobs in a day, so they aren’t as reliable or efficient. They are also much more expensive.

    I know this is a bit of a silly extrapolation but its my silly way of highlighting the point that, as SEOs we need to be careful when we say a certain site of business ‘deserves’ a certain ranking. It makes sense in the moment but blinds us to the larger objectives that searchers and search engines are trying to accomplish

  • Darren Shaw

    @Scott: absolutely. That’s what I want too. Two equally weighted businesses should be given the same opportunity to rank, regardless of the business name. I don’t think a business name with a keyword in it is a better name than one without.

    @Adam: that’s a really good point. I’m sure they are getting some benefit from that, and it makes sense to users and Google to give them a benefit from that. The case that irks me is when we go into GMB and add a keyword to a business name, they instantly jump from page 3 in maps to position B in the local pack. That’s BS, and shows that Google is putting way too much weight on this signal. A simple change like that shouldn’t have that power.

    @Linda: Yeah, another good point about the anchor text in keywords in reviews. When we look at a local pack like the screenshot I posted, there are certainly many other factors influencing those rankings, not just the business name itself. My main gripe is when you see such a huge direct impact to rankings when you add or remove keywords from business names in GMB. It shows that this signal has way too much power on its own.

    @Jason: sure, in your example, it’s tough to say anything about which business ‘deserves’ to rank. My goal with this post was to point out that business name alone shouldn’t be given so much weight. At the moment, it’s a shortcut to rankings, and I don’t think it should be. If it’s Google’s objective to display quality businesses, then putting so much emphasis on the business name, as they do now, isn’t helping them with that goal. I’d say it’s hurting their results because it encourages spam.

  • If you’re seeing evidence like that from simply stuffing keywords into the Google My Business dashboard, then your wider argument is totally valid — and a real bummer. What terrible incentives. The businesses most likely to do that kind of stuff are the ones with no real reputation to lose.

  • Your animated gif cracks me up cause I totally relate. I’m with you Darren and, though so many thought-provoking good comments here, I don’t completely agree with all, particularly about the user benefits for location+service names. You’re searching in Bellevue, so wouldn’t you expect those to be Bellevue dentists? I have never ever chosen a business over another because they had a city name in their business name. And this also goes against everything you learn in marketing school. Where’s the differentiator? They all look alike! Linda’s point about brand confusion is right on. Frankly, I will NEVER FORGET Cowboys & Engines (nor will Mary apparently ;). That brand name is indelibly written in my subconscious forever more and all it took was one exposure. Thank you for the smile, Mary. If I saw that in the lineup, I’d click. So I’m not convinced that click data says otherwise – unless it’s because Google never gave anyone else a chance. And isn’t that an interesting thought. They force behaviors because of the limited choices they give based on their keyword matchtype algorithms. And then make assumptions on that. Perhaps Google should send their software engineers to business school where they will learn that there are “rooms” (dating myself) full of market research and data that just might be more accurate and more valuable than what they have to work with in their vacuum of click data that they control. And wouldn’t that be interesting if they incorporated that data into their own. If they did, maybe we’d see Cowboys and Engines somewhere in that 7 pack. As it is, they aren’t even giving them a chance, and that’s not only not fair, it makes no sense at all which is my nice way of saying, it’s stupid. I say let the Cowboys and Engines out on the battlefield. You got my vote, Darren.

  • I’m not sure if Google is necessarily weighting the name itself too high. I think the problem is the signals Google are looking at from NAP listings for instance now include keywords for the businesses in main areas like the Title tag and H1. This means if 2 companies have the exact same listings but one includes keywords, Google is probably viewing them as more relevant and ranking them higher.

  • Agree with your plea to Google, Darren. Honestly, what this feels like to me is leftovers from the days when Google’s engine was, frankly, a bit naive. I laugh when I think of some of the early SEO tactics that worked amazingly well back in the day. I believe you’ll get your wish on this, one day, Darren. Google is still weird when it comes to weighting things like this, but I do believe the writing is on the wall that; the more data they amass, the more they are parting company with early-days rankings signals like this. You used to be able to put a keyword 20 times on a page and rank for it. Those days have become a distant memory. I think these ones, surrounding business titles, will, too.

  • well done! This is a big big problem within my locale. I have a pest control business in Brooklyn New York and there are
    So many local spammers using Google
    Places its rediclious. I hope Google reads your post and understands the truth. This has gone way overboard for too long.

  • Darren Shaw

    @Kathy: Exactly. It’s a real shame when keyword stuffed business names outrank other businesses simply because of the keyword in the name and domain. Google really should stop putting so much weight on these factors. I think their algorithm is sophisticated enough these days that they don’t need to use these factors anymore.

    @Patrick: There are other factors at play in the rankings, but we’ve done quite a bit of testing and what you see every time is an IMMEDIATE jump of dozens of rankings positions when you add a keyword to a business name. Like, jumping from page 3 of Maps to position B in the local pack, from just this one tweak. This shows us that the business name alone is a huge factor. Maybe THE most heavily weighted factor, and that’s stupid.

    @Miriam. Yes, I think you’re right. Let’s hope they do it sooner rather than later.

    @Joseph: Thank you. Let’s hope they’re reading this! 🙂

  • I own a local “niche” service company. Before I considered starting my naming my business, I had some SEO background with websites. I chose a business name that was the top keyword I wanted to rank for. It was great for my SEO efforts from the startup, but now I wish I had more of a unique “brand” name then a keyword spam name. I agree with your sentiment for the most part, for some small businesses, it is a helpful way to get off the ground online against a sea of larger businesses. Doesn’t make it right, but I took advantage of it.

  • I completely agree with everything stated in this post, a few of our competitors are managing to secure decent local pack listing just because of their business name.

    I do not see how a business name containing relevant keywords makes them a reliable ‘go-to’ company? What makes them better over everyone else just because they have relevant keywords in their name? Come on Google…

  • Dan

    Yep, I agree with Brett above.

    Not sure why Google would even consider this? Pretty stupid if you ask me!

  • I’m fairly certain map-ranking results have more to do with the centroid…

  • Hey Guys,

    I’m old school SEO still trying to understand the entire local SEO ranking factors….I know they are similar, but tricks like this drive me nuts! I changed the name of one of my clients that was not ranking at all (very good content, links, etc.) and now I am. It should not be that easy 🙂

    Matt

  • This was my client’s old listing Smith & Smith PA. I changed it to this:
    Smith & Smith – Personal Injury Attorneys. The listing was no where to be found in the local pack. After I made the change – about 3pm yesterday, we are now on the first page in the 5th spot. Amazing & scary. Does that name violet TOS?

    Thanks!

  • I don’t believe Google should stop using the business name as a local ranking factor. To many businesses rely on the business name to allow customers to actually know what the business actually does. This also allows businesses to be seen in the search results on the local pack because not all businesses show on the top ten results.

    Plus, companies have already built millions of links to some of these local search links. Removing the emphasis on local placement would be a huge game changer for companies and would definitely make an impact on the businesses that rely on the local search for most of their business.

  • Darren Shaw

    @Craig: no, they really don’t.

    @Matt: yes, that name is against the guidelines. This is exactly what I’m talking about. It should NOT be that easy to spam.

    @Ty: yeah, I think there is some user benefit to using the business name in the ranking algorithm, I just think they give this factor WAAAAAY too much strength. The case that Matt mentions above is exactly what I’m talking about.

  • I see your point and I believe you are right . I would like to be able to share an image of the local ranking results of an ex client of mine on google.co.uk. Just type in ” landscapers Bedford” and you’ll see Reeves Home and Garden (no landscapers in the company name) rank at position 2 in local ranking results and at position 3 in organic ranking results. The number one in local ranking results is actually a company which includes the keyword in their brand name:) But I believe that adding keywords to company names, will (it may already is) be seen as a spam technique and will be penalized.

  • I completely agree with this post. We run a law firm in Milwaukee and it is incomprehensible to us why a local competitor site ranks at all. The site is not responsive and their is no mobile version. The link profile is absent. Their citation profile is very limited. Their business name includes “Family Law” so they rank very well. Google needs to fix this. The local pack should move closer to the traditional organic algo, but include a few factors such as user interaction with G-MAPS, presence of an address, ect.