How Much Do Keywords In Your Business Name Impact Google’s Local Rankings?

When it comes to the local pack and Google Maps rankings, that number one position is highly coveted. So much so, that many businesses are willing to do whatever it takes to reach the top spot. This often takes the form of spam in the business name. But, how much do keywords in the business name impact rankings? In today’s Whitespark Weekly, Darren is discussing the power of keywords in your business name and he shares three examples of how this tactic impacted rankings for different businesses.

Video Transcript

Today, I would like to explore how much keywords in the business name impact rankings.

It’s not a new topic, SEOs and spammers have been taking action on this for many years, since as early as the late 2000’s. I remember being at MozCon in 2009 when they didn’t even call it MozCon, it was called the SEOmoz Pro Training Series. They gave me DVDs too! I still have the DVD today. Look at Rand on there. You know it’s old when you’ve got physical media from going to the conference.

Anyways, I was there at lunch chatting with these wonderful SEOs from Thunder SEO talking about local search, and we we’re laughing about how easy it was. We had clients in the local space, and we were focusing on SEO on their website, building links, and doing all the stuff you need to do. But local was so easy, because all we had to do, at least that’s what we laughed about was “Oh, yeah, you want to rank in the local pack? (Or the 10 pack back then.) You just have to put the keyword in the business name and you’ll rank.”

I had done that recently for one of our multi-location clients. They wanted to know how they could improve the rankings in those local results that were showing up. I added the keywords to the business name, and they were ranking across the whole city for their primary keywords. I was a hero! They thought I was some kind of SEO magician but that’s all I did.

It’s kind of sad how easy it was back then. Well, that was 12 years ago. Does it still work today?

Well, yes it does. It actually came up as the number two local search ranking factor in the latest edition of Local Search Ranking Factors. It tied for number one in my opinion, because if you look at the chart, you can see the top 15 factors. The top two factors almost scored the exact same, there’s only like seven-point difference between them. It’s really growing in terms of prominence. People are really becoming more aware of it because spam is such a big problem.

Read the 2020 Local Search Ranking Factors Survey Analysis to learn more about all of the factors.

Last time we released the Local Search Ranking Factors, it ranked number four and now it’s moved up to position number two in the survey results. That’s because every local pack you look at is packed with people keyword stuffing the business name. The reason they’re doing that is because it works. Let me show you three case studies that demonstrate how well this works.

Example 1 – Sterling Sky Study

In June 2020, Joy Hawkins did a really great study on this. They added the word ‘salad bar’ to a business listing that they managed for a restaurant, and the restaurant didn’t actually have a salad bar. The term ‘salad bar’ didn’t exist on their website, so they were able to isolate this just to the impact of the keyword in the business name.

They added it February or late January and they immediately shot up to position number four. They didn’t rank at all, then went to position number four. That’s a massive increase in rankings. Then they took the keyword out and dropped immediately back down to where they ranked before. Then they added keywords back in and boom, they went back up. This was pretty significant. It really showed the impact of keywords in the business name.

Example 2 – Whitespark’s GMB Study

The second case study I wanted to talk to you about is related to one of our clients. Our client was aware of how keywords can impact rankings, they had read the Local Search Ranking Factors. They wanted to add keywords to their business name to reap the rewards. Of course, we didn’t recommend doing that unless they were willing to actually change their business name. But before we embarked on that I wanted to test it myself just to make sure that they wouldn’t get suspended because we had been hearing that if you mess with the name or address, you can sometimes trigger an instant suspension on the GMB listing. I thought, well, we don’t want to risk that. Let’s test it with the Whitespark listing first.

I added the keyword ‘SEO company Edmonton’ to the Whitespark listing. You can see here in Whitespark’s Local Rank Tracker on January 5, the keyword ‘SEO company Edmonton’ was added. Prior to this date, we didn’t rank at all for this term. The day after I added the keywords, we started ranking in position 20, and then two days later, we jumped up to position 6 and we stayed there.

This is for a term that we did not rank for at all. And these results are from the Local Finder. Our local rankings jumped up 94 positions overnight. That’s pretty phenomenal, a pretty significant impact. And it wasn’t just that one term ‘SEO company Edmonton’ that increased ranking, all the other terms that we are tracking in Edmonton also went up too. If I filter the rankings by all the Edmonton terms – boom, look at this:

All of these terms that just didn’t rank, took off. We got a pretty significant ranking boost for a whole bunch of terms. The exact match term definitely had the biggest impact. It’s a pretty significant impact and in a really quick time. On February 5, the jig was up. We got one of these emails from Google that said that our listing had been updated. It was either Google’s automated system that had said, “That’s not actually your business name,” or maybe somebody reported us through Suggest an Edit on our listing. But anyways, I swear I was going to do it! I was about to take the keywords out because my test was done. It was just for the test, believe me, I’m not a spammer!

Our rankings dropped almost immediately check this out.

After the name was changed, we rode it out for a couple days, but then dropped, and then it fell right off a cliff.

  • Keywords in the business name = Awesome rankings.
  • Keywords not in the business name = Nada. No rankings.

It is kind of shocking to see how much keywords in the business name are still driving rankings today, 12 years after we laughed about it at that MozCon lunch table. All the other Edmonton terms tanked too. If I go to the Edmonton terms, they all fell off a cliff just basically ranked for a bunch of terms then took the keywords out, we are no longer ranking for any of those terms. It’s kind of pathetic how much that had impact.

Example 3 – Legit Business Name Change Study

Based on this test, our client felt confident with updating their business name to include keywords. They didn’t just put the keywords in their business name.

Keywords in the business name, the legit way:

  1. They updated their name with the Secretary of State
  2. They updated their business license
  3. They updated their website, citations, and information across the web
  4. They updated their signage
  5. They took photos of their updated signage

They went all in! The benefits of changing your business name were so great that they went all in on it.

Let me show you what kind of impact this had for them. We are tracking about 24 locations. You can see that their visibility back on January 16th – they had about 274 keywords ranking in positions 1 to 3 and hitting the local pack on those.  Look at the improvement after we made the change. Now they have 520 keywords ranking in positions 1 to 3. You can see a massive impact across all their locations and across all the different keywords that we’re tracking. That a 31% improvement across visibility score.

If you narrow it down to their number one money keyword – the keyword they included in their business name change – you can see the impact is even greater. Prior to the change, they were ranking in positions 1 to 3 for 10 of those locations. After the change, they’ve got 24 of their locations ranking in positions 1 to 3.

Basically, it pushed almost all of their locations into the local pack for the primary keyword that they’re tracking. It’s kind of phenomenal what kind of impact this has. I’m a little bit flabbergasted by it. It’s a bit too much. I really hope Google solves this problem. Again, it’s important to note that this company went legit. They actually change their name everywhere.

The thing is that because this works so well, spam is a growing problem in local search, particularly with keywords in the business name spam. We’re seeing keyword stuffed business names all over the search results these days.

I see it in Facebook groups too. I see comments like this all the time, like this guy who says, “I added my city to my GMB name and my GMB ranking moved from position 28 to number 5, overnight,” and you know this jives with the case studies I just showed you.

People think, “Oh, you’re going to get suspended.” But then you hear stories like this about this guy who replied saying, “I’ve been trying for a year to take down these garage door repair listings, and Google just doesn’t take it down.” This person says, “It works! I implemented the same and now they’re all number one.”

It’s a problem because Google’s not policing this. The SEO agencies and savvy business owners have to do the dirty work for Google. So, they’re the ones out there reporting this. It’s kind of given rise to this whole new industry of spam fighting.

It makes sense, because if you report the keyword stuffed business names, then they’ll be removed from the results when their keywords get out of the business name and then your business will go up in results. It’s actually a pretty smart ranking tactic.

Okay, let’s wrap it up. The question we’re asking is, How much the keywords in the business name impact ranking? The answer is a lot. I think I’ve shown that in a number of case studies here. In Whitespark’s case, we went up 94 positions. What other thing can you do to increase your rankings 94 spots overnight? There’s pretty much nothing.

Am I going to recommend that you go and put keywords in your business name? No, I’m not saying that at all. Do not go and add keywords to your business name in Google My Business because,

  1. It’s against the guidelines and can definitely get your listing suspended, and
  2. It’s unethical. There’s a big problem with this. People think it’s a harmless activity. But it’s not really harmless. When you do this, and you overtake real businesses that are playing by the rules, you’ve now taken over that spot from them and push them down, sometimes they may have been in the local pack. But since you broke the rules, now, you’ve actually pushed them out of the local pack, that hurts their business. It’s not really a harmless activity, you have the ethical implications of this as well.

And now, this might be a controversial stance. But if you do it legit, I actually think it’s one of the smartest ranking tactics you have. If you do it the way our client did it, where you actually change your real business name. And I mean, changing it everywhere. You’ve got to change it at the Secretary of State, change your business license, change your website, change with the phone company. People forget about that one and it’s important. Call the phone company and say, “We have a new business name.” Because it has to actually appear like that on your utility bill. This is really important because these sources end up on the web, they end up in Google’s database, and Google references those and so you have to have all have to have it changed properly, everywhere, online and offline.

You also have to think about it because even though you’ve done it right, you’ve changed your business name officially, you may still get reported. You may still have to defend that that’s your actual business name. In order to do so you’re going to need proof. In the case that you get suspended, you should have your business license ready, your phone bill, and updated photos of your outside signage, so that you can say, “This is actually our business name.” And if it actually is, you’ll get reinstated quickly. You don’t have to worry about a suspension.

Hopefully, this is a short-term tactic though, because Google is putting way too much weight, way too much emphasis on keywords in the business name. It’s a massive problem right now. I hope they fix it because it just creates this unfair advantage and it really encourages spam. Google’s not doing anything about the spam. If you’re not going to do anything about the spam Google, then please get out there and fix your algorithm so that it doesn’t impact rankings so much. It’s not cool, Google.

Alright, so I hope this was helpful. Please let me know what you think this is a controversial topic. You probably have some thoughts on it. Let me know what you think in the comments. If you have any questions, add those to the comments too. As always, please subscribe to our YouTube channel, follow me and Whitespark on Twitter, LinkedIn, and other places. If you’re looking for help with Local Search, we have an amazing team of experts that specialize in GMB Management and Citations, as well as fantastic software you should check out. That’s all for now. See you next time.

What do you think of keywords in the business name and the rampant spam in Google Maps? Let us know below!


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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9 comments on “How Much Do Keywords In Your Business Name Impact Google’s Local Rankings?

  • This is interesting. I always edit listings that impact my clients listings but I have one that Google will not change. It has ‘double glazing’ plus the town name. My theory (unproven) is that they won’t change listings of companies who are paying for ads. However, what I have noticed is they only rank for terms related to double glazing and none of the others.

  • Thanks Darren for an insightful and wholly depressing case study!
    As you say, Google either needs a better policing of it’s GMB profiles or an algo update to reflect the business name lack of prominence. However, the latter is going to be hard since that will then make the Primary Category the highest weighting by far and then we may see an new wave of spam as people concentrate on the most popular than most appropriate category to get rank improvements.
    Also I think that the algo for local is likely too entwined with the overall search algo for it not to take the keywords of such an important entity identifier into account. So I guess I can’t see a change unless Google is forced into it by the prevalence of other search engines that may weight their algos differently.

  • Thanks for posting this Darren – I’m with you on this —> Hopefully, this is a short-term tactic though, because Google is putting way too much weight, way too much emphasis on keywords in the business name. It’s a massive problem right now. I hope they fix it because it just creates this unfair advantage and it really encourages spam. Google’s not doing anything about the spam. If you’re not going to do anything about the spam Google, then please get out there and fix your algorithm so that it doesn’t impact rankings so much. It’s not cool, Google.

  • I had a legit business name, and all the SEO’s reporting name spam to Google. I would win but it was a constant fight during which the listing would be removed and I constantly had to defend the name in a coveted niche where the business name was registered with the State. Constantly. I’ve seen the traffic, I could name names of who I think has been hunting this business. The name and brands were built from years ago. Seems Orwellian to tell people what they can and can’t name a business and then to have the SEO fleet constantly coming after you. I mean for everything even Posts. A Post will fly and then it will get rejected – I complained in a feedback window on that one, and what do you know, after a week they unrejected it! I don’t think Google nor SEO people should be in the game of telling businesses what a real name is or isn’t. People forget the journalism basics, who, what, where, when, why, and it is no wonder that some of these are helpful for the audience.

  • Thanks Darren! Small businesses that are just starting out should definitely watch this video. I don’t think Google is interested in fixing this – not even one bit. They could easily restrict character count of the business name field and disallow symbols such as -, |, /, (, ), etc… but they won’t.

  • It’s too bad Google’s Business Redressal Complaint form (to report spam) doesn’t seem to do anything. I provided screenshots to Google that clearly showed the GMB listing (only keyword stuffed without their actual biz name) didn’t match the business name on the website. No change. Fortunately, I’m still getting results for my client.

    • Hi Ivan! We’ve had success with the redressal form, but you may need to provide more evidence than just the business name on the website. Can you send photos of exterior signage (even from Google Street View) or screenshots of the business registry/Secretary of State (U.S. only)? Include as much evidence as possible in a Google Doc (set up as anyone with the link can view) and send that link to Google Support in your redressal. Best of luck!

  • I’ve noticed that when keyword stuffed names are finally fixed by Google, that searches for the same stuffed terms continue to surface the renamed business.

    eg: “Best plumber in New York” corrected back to the actual name of “Acme Fittings Inc.” still ranks for “Best plumber New York” weeks and months later.

    Messed up.

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