Local Businesses are doing what they can to get their business information in front of the eyes of a relevant audience easier and with less competition. For many, the best way to do this is through Local Listings. As with most things on Google, everyone is trying to game the system to get more business. Google understands this and has gone to great lengths to remove as much of the clutter. So, you have to do it right, or you’re going to find yourself digging out of a hole.

How You Will Find Yourself a Penalty with Google Local Listings

The issues that often occur with local listings are because a company is unaware of some of the penalties and things to avoid (not because Google has been unclear or made any mistakes). Below are a few of the mistakes that people make intentionally in order to rank:

  • Using a P.O. box address as a stress address.
  • Using an 800 number as the primary phone number.
  • Adding location-based keywords to form the names of categories.
  • Using fake local reviews or adding in fake reviews to a directory page.
  • Moving their address to the city center (even if it is located a bit out of the city) in order to earn higher rankings.

One of the biggest reasons that people intentionally make these mistakes is because their business doesn’t actually have an address (mainly contract workers). As you would image, it’s difficult to create a local listing when you don’t have an address, and so businesses end up using P.O. box addresses and home addresses when Google asks them to type in an address. The reason? Because it makes it much more difficult for Google to validate that you are actual businesses if you don’t have a business address.

The Penalties You Will See with Google Local Listings

In most situations in life, you want to follow the rules in order to avoid any repercussions. However, sometimes breaking the rules of an unfair system is the best way to get ahead (and oftentimes not considered cheating), and Google’s way of ranking those businesses with an address seems unfair.

Unfortunately, Google’s penalties are stricter in the case of local listings than regular search listings. If you find yourself penalized, you will actually find that there is not always a method available to request a review. Here it is broken down:

  • What Google says: Google’s help section says that as soon as you make the changes you need to make, your website will be put in line for a review. If that doesn’t seem to work, Google says that you should login to your Google Places dashboard and edit the listing.
  • What Google does: Many have reported to have gone six weeks after fixing their listing without seeing any change from Google, leading many to believe that you can be permanently penalized. Even if you do take the next steps by logging into your dashboard, you never get a message telling you if the changes you are making are correct.
  • Why a solution is hard: It seems that Google makes this vague in order to deter spammers from being able to simply go back and try something again under a new name. However, this isn’t ideal for those companies that may have made a mistake and just want to get out of the corner.

The biggest issue with Google local listings penalties is the idea that you can’t always just start anew. You might have tried to fix your problem, been ignored by Google, and then you’re stuck. If you start a new listing with the same other pieces of information you had on your account that is/was penalized, your new listing might be guilty by association.

Another reason Google Places listings are so confusing is because you have a dashboard for Google Places separate from your Google Webmaster Tools. This means that if you’re getting penalized for anything, it won’t all be showing up in one place.

The Solution to Being Penalized for Your Local Listings

If you do find that your site was penalized (you will see a “Needs Action!” status label on your dashboard), the best thing you can do is use a request form on the Google help page. There is no specific section that discusses penalized local listings, but some have found this to work. You need to speak with a real person if you want the issue resolved because it seems as though Google just doesn’t have an electronic system in place. This isn’t always easy and it doesn’t always work, but as of right now this is your only option.