Notice anything different about local three-pack listings, Google Maps or your local optimization lately? You can count on Google to update their ad policies just as often as their search algorithms.

This week, Google has added paid listings to local search results, dropped Maps from their search partners, and continued to ramp up their suspensions and penalties for local listings that abuse their guidelines.

Here’s how to make sense of the changes:

Ads are now on local listings

Google rolled out their first local listing ad, which displays directly above the three-pack local listings.

The ads are limited so far, but are already being used by several major brands, offering the same information that organic local results provide – distance to the business, phone number, address and hours. Viewers also have the option to visit the official website or get directions to the location.

Ever since Google dropped the seven-pack for the three-pack when they updated the local listing format earlier this year, competition has been hot. The rules are changing as businesses can now elect to bypass the free-for-all of local optimization and pay to display their listing. Promoted posts also don’t appear as pins on the map, perhaps to counterbalance the ads’ paid presence with the organic reach.

Maps are no longer a search partner

Google also announced that Maps has gone core in AdWords, meaning it is no longer a search partner. According to Google, search partners are “sites in the Search Network that partner with Google to show ads.”

“Search partners extend the reach of Search ads to hundreds of non-Google websites, as well as YouTube and other Google sites. On our search partners, your ads can appear on search results pages, on site directory pages, or on other pages related to a person’s search.” – Google

If you’re a marketer who has previously opted out of search partners, but still use location extensions, expect to see your ad impressions, and your spending, increase for local-oriented searches. Additionally, only advertisements that use location extensions will be allowed to appear in Google Maps listings, and since Maps are now considered core, it seems unlikely that advertisers will be able to opt out.

Google suspends bad local listings

Many marketers have been noticing increasing penalties or suspensions for their local listing behavior. Google has never been shy about penalizing websites for violating their guidelines. The same goes for their local listings.

It might be time to spring clean your local marketing strategies with these updated tips for avoiding Google’s harsh penalties:

Keep your listings honest

  • This includes not overusing keywords in your business name. We use “Brafton Inc” instead of “Brafton Inc – Boston Content Marketing Agency.”
  • If, for any reason, your local business has more than one listing, you run the risk of suspension.
  • Don’t use vanity URLs or any address that forwards to a different domain.

Brick and mortar only

  • Only list your address if customers actually do business there. If you are a service-area business (like a plumber, electrician or delivery service), do not list your official address. It is of no value to people searching for you.
  • Similarly, do not list virtual offices, mailboxes, temporary location or anything without a storefront.
Ben Silverman is Brafton's Marketing Writer. His writing experience dates back to his time reviewing music for The UMass Daily Collegian at UMass Amherst. Ben joined Brafton with a background in marketing in the classical and jazz industries. When he's not writing, he's playing drums, guitar, or basketball.