My article on How To Get On Google Maps Without An Address  pubbed today on Search Engine Land – it outlines one of the top most frustrating issues facing some small businessmen who need to have listings in directories without including their street addresses. Google Maps, by policy, does not display listings for those who do not have street addresses, so smaller providers who might actually provide the best quality service work are left out in the cold when users perform local searches. Independent contractors (like plumbers, electricians, building contractors, etc) are the most affected by this issue, but some other businesses are also impacted.
My perception is that this lack of what is something of a standard among traditional yellow pages directories is due to Google’s desire to provide best user-experience. In a map search display, does it make sense to display items which can’t be pinpointed to the map?
My opinion is that it does make sense to do so, because Google is pushing their content more aggressively as a sort of local directory page for regular web search. Users will believe they’re being presented comprehensive directory information when they’re not. Any of the combination of ranking factors in addition to geographic proximity would argue that these businesses should otherwise be presented for these types of searches. Those businesses could have positive ratings in various services, or lowest prices, etc.
If end users knew that they were missing out on cheaper options or better service, they might get irritated — and this would impact their satisfaction perception with the Google Maps results. This is a tricky area where traditional Usability testing can miss out on identifying something which should be changed to improve the user’s overall experience. The good impression I may have with a local search interface can be seriously eroded later on when I have a bad experience with the business I chose through it…
Reading between the lines of Google’s employees when they’ve responded to the question of how to get listed without an address, it would appear that Google has kept this partly as a legacy issue because they may have originally built their system to use the street address as both part of the listing display and as the address for mailing cards to validate that the Local Business Center user should be given permission to update the listing information. If this is part of the reason, it shouldn’t be, because update authorization/validation shouldn’t have to be tied to display/keyword-relevancy.
I really hope that Google will change this paradigm to be a bit more fair for small business owners and to provide better information for consumers.
As it currently stands and as I explained in the SEL article, there is a roundabout way to get listed without an address — Google will apparently display listings without a street address if they absorb them from one of their partners such as an online yellow pages. Or, you can go rent a post box somewhere and buy your way into getting the listing representation you want/need, albeit with the necessity of having to display a street address when you’d really rather not.
It’s still surprising to me that Google would actually recommend this approach — after all, if a Google Maps user looks up a business address and then drives over to talk to someone, they’re going to be awfully disappointed to just find a mail store instead of the painting contractor they wanted to find.