Google My Business Service Area Locations: How it Works and What You Need to Know

Until last October, Google had a completely different approach to businesses listing their location on Google My Business. Companies were required to register a physical location and then a service area around the company in terms of a radius of space they would like to serve.  There were options, from a 1-mile radius to a 100-mile radius, depending on how far each business was looking to reach. 

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However, in October 2018, Google rolled out a new way of inputting locations for businesses. This update is designed with service-based businesses in mind.  The October update gets rid of the service area as a radius, and instead, you are asked to choose specific locations that you would like to serve.  You could pick an area as small as a zip code or as large as an entire state.  You are also no longer required to make your location’s address public, which is crucial for home-based businesses.  In the past, there were issues with people showing up at homes and expecting operational companies where there were none, so this update aims to solve that issue. 

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Still, depending on the type of business you run, there are many ins-and-outs and details to know regarding your location and choosing your service area as effectively and efficiently as possible. 

So, let’s start with the different types of businesses and how you will want to make specifications for each type of business. 

One business with a physical location

As would be expected, operating one business with a physical location is the simplest and most straight forward way to input information in the “Locations” tab of Google My Business.  All you need to do is enter the address of your physical business and then input the services areas you would like to target.  If you live in a small area, you’ll want to make sure your service area includes your city, as well as all surrounding areas you would like to target.  Keep in mind; you don’t want to expand your reach too far, as that will not lead to growth in clientele.  

One business with multiple physical locations

If you have one company with various locations, you will want to create different profiles for each of the locations, differentiating them as much as possible.  You will want to provide the physical addresses on each of the profiles. Separating each business’s account is especially important if there is only one phone number, as you do not want Google to think that you are creating duplicate businesses to try and increase rank and traffic.  Make sure that you are specific in your service areas for each location, as well, to optimize traffic across several regions. Remember: if you only have one physical location, it is against Google’s Guidelines to create more than one Google My Business profile just to increase traffic.

One service-based business

If you run a service-based business, like a plumber or electrician where you go to people’s homes, then listing an address on your Google My Business profile is a bad idea.  For example, if you end up listing your home address, people could show up there and think it is a business, which could look bad and result in a loss of customers.  Therefore, you will need to list an address to verify your business, but you can hide that address from public view, instead only choosing desired service areas.

Something to keep in mind is that if you do not have an address listed, your business will not pin on Google Maps, which could decrease your ranking for searches like “X business near me,” as people cannot then go to that business. If you are a service-based business that can travel long distances, be sure to include every possible region you can serve.  You have the option to choose towns and cities, but you can also choose to serve entire counties and states, as well.  Doing this will make your service area broader.

From a search traffic perspective, adding the whole state of Massachusetts would show customers that you travel and service a wide area, but it is still unclear if it makes a difference in terms of search traffic. In fact, it may be more useful to add each city within that state individually.

One service-based business with multiple “locations” 

It is outlined in Google’s Guidelines that you are not permitted to have numerous locations or profiles for a singular service-based business.  The only way you would be allowed multiple listings is due to geographic diversity.  For example, if our web design firm had designers in 4 other states that could go and help businesses design websites in those states, we would be allowed one listing for each of the states we serve.  Therefore, if you are a service-based business that serves many areas in the same state, you should be sure to include all the possible services areas, so that way, your reach will grow.  

What else do I need to know?

Now that you have an understanding for what kinds of businesses exist and may want to claim Google My Business listings, we can go more into the details of Locations and why it is a section of Google My Business that can be difficult to master. 

1. Google My Business does not automatically prioritize you

As mentioned above, just because you have listed yourself as a service-based business available to a large area does not mean that you will be prioritized across that entire geographic region.  Google splits up which companies are listed in which location depending, not only on the service area, but also criteria such as relevance, distance, prominence, and personal interests.  If you have not provided a physical location to Google, then they especially will not act to prioritize you in cities with a high concentration of physical businesses looking for new clients.

How Google divides businesses which can serve a large region is not easy to identify. It is possible that they use a grid system and break businesses up into grids to serve specific regions, but it likely depends on factors such as base location and population, as well. If they evenly split all businesses into a grid, it would not be a system that worked well for businesses that are facing large quantities of competition, as they likely would not be prioritized in target regions.

Therefore, if you are a business in a small town, you are likely getting the short end of the stick.  Most likely, your business will only show up in Google searches for “X business near me,” and your reach will likely not extend as far as you may like it to.  Additionally, if you are a service-based business, your stick is even shorter. 

2. Google still knows where you are

If you are a service-based business located outside of a city, your ability to get new business is not as high as it would be if your location could pin on Google Maps or you were located in an area with lots of competition where people were consistently seeking out your services.  This is partially because when you register a new business, you still have to input a home address to be able to verify your business.  Therefore, if you are a home-based business, Google will know where your services are located and will likely prioritize your business only in that area and ones nearby.  Thus, picking a larger service area may not result in more traffic if your address is not located near a city were many people may seek out your services.

3. Picking each city individually could be more successful. 

Here at Boston Web Designers, a service-based business, we changed our service area to include our town, county, Boston itself, and the state of Massachusetts.  Since doing so, we have seen our Google My Business traffic decrease.  It could, therefore, be more beneficial for us to label our service area with each town we could serve.  That way, we are more likely to show up for each city, instead of trying to generally optimize for the state, which probably would not help much anyway, since our business is not equally likely to be prioritized in different areas further from where we are located.    

There is not yet a ton of information on how service-area businesses with large service areas are ranked and prioritized over their entire target region, but it is a feature your business may want to test out in different combinations of zip codes, cities, counties, and states.

So what can’t I do with my location on Google My Business?

Google My Business is a free platform that helps your business grow locally and expand to the best and most extensive market possible.  However, there are certain things you cannot do to boost your rankings that you should be aware of when creating your listings and locations on Google My Business. 

1. You cannot have multiple listings for service-based businesses with home addresses

If you are a service-area business, you cannot make multiple listings for different locations using different addresses.  For example, this includes businesses that have entirely different service areas.  Therefore, if they have different service areas, it becomes very clear that you are trying to manipulate Google My Business’s Locations Services.  Thus, you may not make more than one listing to make yourself easier to reach in different cities. 

What you should do, instead, is create one listing and under “Service Areas,” make sure you list all the areas you serve, even if there is not much overlap in terms of location.  You can only have one location of a business linked to a home address if all employees are working in the same state. 

2. You cannot get more listings using employees’ home addresses

This ties in with #1 and making multiple listings of a service-based business.  Generally, you do not want to make various locations using your employees’ homes.  Because they are not owners of the company or have control over it in any way, this is not a good idea.  If Google finds out about listings of the same business from multiple home addresses, it is very likely that your listings will be suspended and will likely not be reinstated. 

While it may not be as easy to rank in many different areas by following Google’s Guidelines, your company will overall look more reputable and trustworthy if you do not break the rules.  It is always better to be safe than sorry! 

3. You cannot use a digital receptionist or virtual office to have more “locations”

By using a digital receptionist or virtual options, you are not following Google’s Guidelines.  The only way you are allowed multiple listings is by having multiple physical locations where people can obtain your services.  Therefore, having a virtual office to increase rankings in more areas is not compliant with guidelines.  Neither is the use of a digital receptionist who can answer the phone from a remote location. This is taking advantage of Google’s services in an inappropriate manner, and you should be careful to refrain.

Conclusion: “Locations” is Confusing, but a Crucial Aspect of Your Google My Business Success

Your aim should be to increase local traffic in a manner that is smart for your business but also follows the rules.  At Boston Web Designers, we understand the stress of trying to get your Google My Business profile to appear as frequently as possible.  Therefore, we will do our best to work with you to list your business location in a way that will bring in as much traffic as possible.   

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