Service vs. Storefront Business on Google Maps
Google distinguishes between businesses with a storefront (e.g. retail and restaurants) and those that offer services off-site at a client’s location (e.g., builders and general contractors).
Importantly, these types of businesses (storefront vs. service) show up differently on Google Maps. Businesses with a storefront show up as an actual location icon on the map, whereas service businesses show up only in the search results, which appear in the sidebar to the left of the map on desktop monitors and below the map on smartphones.
Search Listings to left, Map listings to right:
Some businesses offer a combination of on-site (storefront) and off-site services; an example would be a restaurant with delivery options. Or, an excavating business might have a physical office at the base location, where clients can meet with company staff. The office constitutes a storefront, even though the excavating services are provided off-site. In this case, a business listing on Google can be a hybrid listing, and the business can appear both as a physical storefront located on the map and as a service area associated with the listing. (This information was provided by the Google call center in March, 2017.)
Note that the service area for a business does not need to correspond to the business location.
Storefront Listings for Service Businesses
A business with a place marker on Google maps has an enormous edge over businesses that appear only in search results. Thus, from a marketing perspective, service businesses should consider maintaining and staffing a physical office location whenever possible.
Note that Google requires that all physical locations be prominently marked with a sign visible to the public. The business listing should also indicate the storefront hours, and during these hours, the office should be staffed. Many service business offices in my area are family-run, and are staffed by a spouse. See listing guidelines here.
I asked Google about using a shared office space as a physical location for a business, as many shared office spaces offer all of the services that would be provided in an independent office space, such as secretarial support, information, appointment scheduling, etc. (as one would find in a doctors office for example). Twice I was told by Google reps that shared office spaces are valid storefronts, as long as there is outside signage and a distinct address (entrance, suite, office number, etc.), but once I was told that the office must be staffed by direct employees of the business (not outsourced secretarial staff). I was not able to confirm which answer was correct.
Storefront Listings in Malls and Box Stores
Small businesses inside of malls and big box stores can also be listed on Google (e.g., in Costco, Sams Club, etc.). My understanding is that these businesses should not refer to the mall or the box store (although Google may add that information), but should be listed simply with the business name and with the address. Ideally, the address is distinct from that of the mall or box store (e.g., with a suite or store number). At a minimum, the business must be able to receive a verification postcard at the address listed for the business or mall.
Search Result Listings
All businesses, but especially service businesses without a physical location, should pay special attention to the position (ranking) of their business in Google map search results (the search results appear to the left of the map on desktop views and below the map on smartphone views).
The position of a business in search results is generally determined by the extent of on-going activity on the listing, including activity such as
- accumulation of active reviews and responses to those reviews
- regular addition of new photos (e.g. every quarter)
- ranking for relevant keywords
- an appropriate service radius (large enough to target possible clients, but small enough to be competitive)
The bottom line: keep your listing active!
Google Map Maker: A Guide for Service Area Businesses
Google My Business Community – The Official
More Information and a Word of Caution
As of posting (March 2017), you can call Google Business directly at 1-844-491-9665. This number gives access to the India call center, which handles most inquiries and sets up lisint. While gathering information for this post, I called Google five times, and at one point was transferred to the American call center, which gave me slightly different information than what was given in the India center. When I called back to clarify, several times they refused to put me through to the America call center, and then reluctantly said I would get a call back, which I never did. There may be some internal misunderstandings, which I hope are not represented here, but I cannot guarantee you will get the same answer always (I didn’t), or that things won’t change.
If you have questions about your listing, I think it’s best to register your business or make changes to the listing while on phone support, as activity on these calls is tracked and changes are officiated.
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