It’s a question I constantly think about, especially in terms of how to counsel our current and prospective clients. Now, upfront, I will admit to being a bit of a skeptic. Google’s guidelines are what make the most sense for them in running their business, not what makes the most sense for our clients’ businesses. I’m a big believer that our obligations are to our clients and not our benevolent overlords at $GOOG, so we set out to do a test on a specific part of the guidelines that I have long been skeptical about: Categories.
Google has changed it stance on categories more then it has changed the name of its local product. From allowing custom categories to not. From allowing 5 categories to 10. They are constantly moving the cheese. Here is the state of categories right now:
Google is explicitly telling you that using the fewest number of categories to describe your business will get you the “best results”. Further on they clarify that not only should you also use the fewest categories as possible, but they should be specific and not solely based on keywords:
Now to me this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but whatever, lets test it out.
We have a client that uses multiple categories for all of their locations, and to me that has always made sense. It was something similar to:
Primary Category: The type of dealership (Toyota Dealer)
Category 2: Used Car Dealer
Category 3: Car Repair and Maintenance
Category 4: Auto Body Shop
Category 5: Tire Shop
These categories are all things that the business does, so why not have them as categories? However, in a world where you want to use the fewest and most specific categories and not choose categories based on keywords they all seem to be covered by “Toyota Dealer”.
So we took 5 locations and set the primary category to whatever make of car the dealership sold and removed the rest. Based on the Google My Business Guidelines I should expect positive performance at best and neutral performance at worst right?
So far the results are not good.
The locations are down drastically in terms of total keywords ranking and the amount of keywords towards the top of SERPs. Here are the most relevant raw numbers:
36 in position 1
End of Test:
243 Terms ranking at the end of the test
16 in position 1
72% of the terms we were tracking disappeared over the course of the test and they lost 56% of their terms that were ranking in position 1. Not really what I would call “best results”.
If you are an SEO and not taking everything you read, even this post, with a grain of salt then you need to start now. This is an industry where best practices often are not and in a weird way we are all just resellers of some other company’s product (Google.) That means you should be testing out tactics before recommending them to clients and making sure you start rolling things out gradually. How else would you learn that despite what it’s guidelines say, Google is not very good at “umbrella categories”? Most important after this test, we know to always recommend caution to clients when looking to make drastic changes to their Google My Business categories.