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6 Ways Google Is Making It Really Hard for Service Area Businesses in 2023 — and What You Can Do

Service Area Businesses face unique challenges when ranking in Google Business Profiles and Google Maps. Learn why and what you can do if you manage SABs.

Many restaurants (42%) added or expanded delivery services during the pandemic, and many tasted so much success that they reevaluated their brick-and-mortar needs altogether. But restaurants weren’t the only businesses that grew service areas and bulked up delivery offerings. So did auto repair shops, furniture stores, technology retailers, paint studios, healthcare offices, and more. 

Now you can have a mobile mechanic fix your car in the office parking lot or a repair technician come to your home and replace your cracked iPhone screen. You can even have a complete painting kit delivered to your home and enjoy a coordinated painting class with friends over Zoom. Talk about a pARTy! 

Many businesses that used to operate only out of a storefront now operate inside a service area, or out of a building and delivery vehicle. And now they’re dealing with some new digital challenges. 

In Google Business Profile terms, these are Service Area Businesses (SABs) and Hybrid Businesses. And in 2023, Google is making it hard for them to appear in search results. Why, and what can you do if you’re one of them? 

What Is a Service Area Business? 

Service Area Businesses do not have physical storefronts where they interact with customers. SABs have team members who visit customers at their homes or elsewhere. Examples of SABs include electricians, pest control providers, plumbers, contractors, in-home health assistants, and delivery-only ghost kitchens.

What Is a Hybrid Area Business?

A Hybrid Business accepts and interacts with customers at a physical storefront but also has team members that visit customers at their location. Examples of Hybrid Businesses include restaurants with dine-in and food delivery, appliance stores with delivery/repair options, and pet groomers with on- and off-site services.

Service Area and Hybrid Businesses face unique challenges regarding Google Business Profiles and Google Maps.

6 Challenges for Service Area and Hybrid Businesses on Google

1. Businesses with physical addresses rank better in Maps than SABs.

Businesses with a physical address often rank better in Google Maps and Google Map Pack than those that do not display their address. That’s because proximity is a key ranking factor. Google favors businesses that are closer to the searcher. SABs are inherently challenging to position in this equation since a service area could include five cities around a searcher. Google favors the known result — the black-and-white, brick-and-mortar business right down the road from the searcher.

How can you get around this? If your business technically has a physical address, you can add the address to your listing and hide it from customers. Including a physical address, even hidden, could assist with your proximity relevancy.

2. SABs don’t get a pin marker on Maps.

Service Area locations don’t display a location pin on Google Maps, which means you may lose searchers who prefer to browse the local map when looking for a business. Okay, I can’t fault Google for this one. If you’re using Google Maps, you intend to visit a physical location. You want directions to walk, bike, drive, or take public transportation somewhere. When it comes to Service Area Businesses, there is technically nowhere for you to “visit.”

How can you get around this? If you’re going to stay a Service Area Business, you can’t. Invest in Local Services Ads (specifically for service area businesses) to appear in more search results.

3. SABs still have to limit their geographic spread.

You can only choose up to 20 cities, counties, or zip codes to serve from each Service Area listing. And there can only be one Service Area business profile for each metropolitan area served. To ensure the entire service area is covered, you’ll want to choose zip codes that sit at the outer limit of your service area. Simply inputting cities or zip codes covered doesn’t guarantee local search or Google Maps visibility.

How can you get around this? If you serve more than 20 cities, counties, or zip codes, you’ll want to create individual (and unique!) content pages for each locality you serve. That way, you’ll appear in organic search results when people search in those areas. Does it sound like a heavy lift to create hundreds, if not thousands, of unique local pages sound like a heavy lift? GPO can help with Local Pages.

4. Limiting your geographic spread can be…a gray zone.

Google recommends that the boundaries of your Service Area profile are no more than about a two-hour drive from where your business is based. Uhhh, how fast do you drive? And what about traffic? This one is a bummer, and again, the best way around it is to create individual content pages for each locality you service. That way, you control the message, the locality, and ultimately — how your website appears in search.

5. SAB results tend to attract spam. Bummer.

Results for Service Area businesses tend to include more spam than other industries, and Service Area businesses/listings are more prone to getting suspended. A spam Google Business listing is often the result of people trying to game the system for ranking purposes. Spam typically happens in health, legal, and home services. Examples of spamming include keyword stuffing in the business title (think, “DUI Attorney Nashville” when the registered business name is really “The Carlson Law Firm”) or a duplicate listing showing up multiple times in the same geographical area.

How can you get around this? Keep the business title in your Google Business Profile the exact name you registered with the government. Even if you don’t try and game the system (and you shouldn’t), Google could still suspend your listing. Don’t raise suspicion with Google. And if you have the opportunity to keep your Google Business Profile listing as a standard, brick-and-mortar one, do it and communicate your service area offerings to customers in Google Posts, your Business Description, and through owned website content.

6. Hybrid businesses must have permanent signage.

A Hybrid can show a physical address and select service areas, but it MUST have permanent signage at the storefront. Without permanent signage, the business can only be a Service Area Business and cannot display an address in its Google Business profile. Vinyl signs/banners are not considered permanent signage. A Hybrid must also have employees on-site during business hours.

How can you get around this? You can’t. Get an actual sign, get employees on-site, or don’t set your business as a Hybrid.

General Optimization Tactics for Service Area Businesses 

Optimization tactics for Service Area businesses are similar to regular Google listing optimization

  • Pick the correct primary and secondary categories.
  • Upload images to your Google profile continuously, and encourage customers to do so. 
  • Post Q&A and respond to customer Google Q&A.
  • Engage customers with weekly Google Posts.
  • Encourage Google reviews and respond to them in a highly timely manner.

Creative Optimization Tactics for Service Area Businesses

Innovation is one of our Core Principles here at GPO! We take care of many Service Area Businesses and are always looking for new ways to get their listings found in local search, the Map Pack, and Google Maps. 

Try the following ideas to increase the local content relevancy and uniqueness of your Service Area Businesses in Google Business Profiles.  

Include geo-modifiers in your Google Posts.

Google reads EVERYTHING! Assume Google is also reading and ingesting your Google Post text, so help it indirectly understand where you operate. Include cities, states, zip codes, or neighborhoods in your Google Post copy.

Google Business Profile page screencap of CORT Events -- an example of a service-area business.

Check out this example from CORT Events. See how they speak to their services in the context of their area? If you offer furniture and decor for events like CORT Events, highlight the whole area you cater to for such services. For CORT Events, that’s the entire state of Washington.

Include geo-modifiers in your Products.

If you already have a local product feed set up with Google, you will not be able to do this tactic. If you don’t have a product feed, then get to it!

Local content example with service description with image and descriptive text -- an example of quality content for an automotive brand. This business offers mobile oil changes throughout the Baltimore area. See how they included this info in one of their Product offerings? 

Link to a unique web page.

This creative tactic is the most important one of all. Link your Google Business Profile to a specific web page for your service area. Do not link to your homepage. Google looks for local relevancy signals everywhere, and links are how it understands the web. 

The unique destination page should include the following:

  • Unique copy about your products and services (don’t copy and paste from the main site!)
  • Relevant geo-modifiers, such as City, State, Zip Code, and Neighborhood, woven into the copy
  • Local images with rich, local alt text and unique image names
  • Unique title tag and meta description

As straightforward as these Google Business Listing techniques seem, they can be challenging when managing more than one SAB listing, especially if you’re a team of one or two people. How about doing all these tactics for ten listings, let alone 200? 

That’s where GPO and our Listings Distribution services can help. We develop and implement custom listing programs for our clients with thousands of locations. Our product ensures data accuracy across the most popular local search sites, including Google, Bing, Apple, and Facebook. And our people are the beautiful, creative brains behind the unique web page copy, Google Post copy, Product copy, and more. We do it all, and we do it well. Get in touch today to learn more. 

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