Categories - Grey Areas


consultant

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What's the consensus on broadening categories versus keep a smaller tight list. For many businesses there isn't a business category that hits the nail on the head and there can be multiple that somewhat fit. Is it better to be stringent about which ones you choose, or, go ahead and build a big list as long as honestly there is at least a partial match/overlap with the businesses' products or services across multiple categories?
 

Nikki Brown

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The most important category to have correct is the primary. You need to have the right primary category to rank for your most important keyword. If you're not sure what that category should be, take a look at what your top ranking competitors are using as their primary and consider doing the same.
After that, I believe that the more (appropriate) categories you have, the higher your chances are for ranking for different keywords. Google associates certain keywords with specific categories so if you don't have the right categories listed, you likely won't rank for those keywords.
 

mborgelt

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I agree with Nikki. Categories are important but they aren't the "end all be all" of telling Google about your services. Make sure your primary category is the most relevant for your business and then find any others that may be relevant. After that make sure your site explains your services in detail.
 

consultant

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Ha. One of the businesses I work with, there is not category for it, it's a new industry that does a variety of things and after exhaustive searches in multiple cities the primary categories of the 3-pack listings are all over the map. I mean like 6 different categories with almost equal distribution. That's why I asked this type of question in the first place.

There is a strong correlation between the search keyword(s) being in the category names. So I would say it is more important to determine your keyword(s) with highest conversion/roi rate and make the closest matching category name to that keyword to your primary. Of course in most cases that will be the one most relevant to your business but not necessarily in all cases.

But it does display the category most relevant to the search. So my strategy would be to make sure each of your primary keywords appears in a category name. How much emphasis Google places on your primary category from the perspective of search result ranking, I don't know but it could be NONE. For all I know the primary category could be just for what they display in your knowledge graph or GMB listing, not in the 3-pack or local finder result, they display the closest matching category to your keyword search there.
 

Phil Rozek

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Yeah, the importance of categories is overstated. High-ranking businesses mess them up all the time. Your visibility depends mostly on other things (e.g. service-specific info on your GMB landing page and relevance of the sites that link to you).

@consultant, don't pick categories that seem like a stretch. Provided that, I wouldn't say it matters much whether you err on the side of many categories or of few. (There is no "consensus.")
 

consultant

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I've found one other person I would consider a Local SEO expert that is claiming they are getting better results then they use fewer categories. They believe the more categories you include the diluted your GMB page becomes.

I would be surprised if Google is essentially "penalizing" you for using too many categories!
 

Phil Rozek

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@freerunr, yeah, mostly. If Google left that out, people would go bananas in picking out irrelevant categories.

I'd say it's also meant as a counterweight to the fact that Google lets you pick 10 categories. No business on earth needs all 10 categories to classify itself.

It's another of GMB's apparently intentional contradictions, which allow a "know it when we see it" and "when we feel like it" kind of enforcement of the rules.
 

consultant

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This is something fairly easy to test. While I can't say I've done EXHAUSTIVE testing, my initial testing indicates there's no clear indication that having the keyword in the primary category versus the subcategory provides any significant ranking benefit. At this point I have the following opinions (could change with more testing):

(a) Choosing a primary category is for distinguishing which category to display on you GMB public profile (appears on the right in some search results or in Local Finder when user clicks on your business. ) So choose the category that you realistic fit in that has the largest potential customer base.

(b) Conversely with (a) choose multiple subcategories that have each of your keywords in them. For some businesses it may be one or none, for others it could be nine. But just make sure they are core keywords and you only need it to appear in one category.

(c) Google's suggestion to choose the fewest number of categories is purely to try to maximize the quality of their user's search experience by not listing businesses that are irrelevant or semi-irrelevant to a given category.

At this point I put the theory that less categories = higher ranking into the basket of probable myths along with small (Street versus ST) inconsistencies in your NAPs causes lower rankings.
 
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Colan Nielsen

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This is something fairly easy to test. While I can't say I've done EXHAUSTIVE testing, my initial testing indicates there's no clear indication that having the keyword in the primary category versus the subcategory provides any significant ranking benefit. At this point I have the following opinions (could change with more testing):
I can say with certainty that the primary category in particular and the "additional" categories in general have a MAJOR impact on ranking. I've seen many cases where changing the primary category had a devastating effect on ranking. And I've seen many cases where adding an "additional" category caused a listing to rank for something that it wasn't even in the top 50 results for.
 
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That's why I made it a point to say I didn't do exhaustive testing. I'm currently focusing on one client with 20 locations and did some testing and didn't see a big difference. So obviously YMMV depending on a variety of factors.

So what you are saying is don't pick the primary category that is most appropriate for your business, pick the ones you see your competitors who are ranking using? That's what your slide said. I think that's a bit off because there are other ranking signals that vary from competitor to competitor other than the primary category they selected. I spent a couple hours doing searches in 20 locations and there was no clear winner on what category the local pack was using. There was only a clear pattern that categories with names containing the words I searched for appeared more often but it was of course not consistent due to the other ranking factors at play. You could have all three listings in the 3-pack not using the optimal primary category for ranking but the reason they are there is because they have strong signals in all the other factors. But it's probably the exception to the rule of course.

That's why I say pick the category that has the keywords in it for your most valuable search query (highest volume or conversion rate or ROI or customer lifetime value, or all of the above.) In some cases (including this client I'm working with) what words your highest value potential customer is using to search doesn't even partially match the category name that is most appropriate for your business. It's in the minority of cases but it happens.

On your slide show your Tip #4 says "you need to find out who filtered you" Does Google really provide you that information? I would think that's impossible to find out.
 
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I can say with certainty that the primary category in particular and the "additional" categories in general have a MAJOR impact on ranking. I've seen many cases where changing the primary category had a devastating effect on ranking. And I've seen many cases where adding an "additional" category caused a listing to rank for something that it wasn't even in the top 50 results for.
I 100% agree with Colan on this. Here is a real example I shared last year of a consulting client of ours who hired us to figure out why his ranking tanked overnight.
And today, doing some preliminary checks, after making some category updates yesterday to a certain client's page (removed two generic ones, changed the primary one), it's now displaying for relevant queries where it hadn't been at all previously (but I would have expected it to). The only other edits we made to that page were updating the description to remove the business name and a couple geo terms (just in case it looked spammy), and deny a public edit suggestion to remove the Appointment URL. But I don't think either of those would have had such an impact, because the business was already displaying for other relevant queries.

Basically, this is just validating what Joy and Colan said :)
 
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What's interesting to me about this is that I wouldn't expect Google to give so much weight to the categories as to allow such easy manipulation by Local SEOs. This reminds me of the earlier days of Google when us SEOs could easily manipulate the SERPs, and so Google made the algo more complicated effectively making it much harder to game the system. (Yes I know all the mantras about "creating compelling content" yada yada but in the end it all really amounts to gaming the system - people just don't like to publicly admit it.) So I would expect a somewhat similar pattern as they evolve their local algo. I would expect maybe less weight on category name keyword match and more weight places on organic ranking for that keyword and proximity to search location intent. I think that's been the case thus far to a degree and can see it possibly being taken further by Google.
 

JoyHawkins

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So what you are saying is don't pick the primary category that is most appropriate for your business, pick the ones you see your competitors who are ranking using?
So in this case, the business was an HVAC company and technically many categories exist that describe what he does. Air Conditioning Repair was his main keyword/Driver-of-calls and he had synced his GMB account to Yext which changed his primary category from "Air Conditioning Repair Service" to "Air Conditioning Contractor" which are really similar-sounding but the difference it makes to ranking is huge. Once he disconnected from Yext and also changed his primary category back, his rankings restored overnight.

On your slide show your Tip #4 says "you need to find out who filtered you" Does Google really provide you that information? I would think that's impossible to find out.
No, Google absolutely won't tell you that. Just to be clear, tip 4 was referring to a totally different case/client. I have an entire section in my guide about the filter (how to tell if you're filtered, how to get out of the filter etc) but generally it's listings that either are in the same building as you, or are right next to you and share the same category.
 
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I can say with certainty that the primary category in particular and the "additional" categories in general have a MAJOR impact on ranking. I've seen many cases where changing the primary category had a devastating effect on ranking. And I've seen many cases where adding an "additional" category caused a listing to rank for something that it wasn't even in the top 50 results for.
I'm wondering if adding an additional category that is related could negatively impact the main category.

Example
Main Category: Dentist
Additional: Cosmetic Dentist

Then you go in later on and add Teeth Whitening

You seen any impact on the main or other secondary categories losing or gaining in rankings because of another category that was added?
 

Colan Nielsen

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Tyson, we've done some testing around category dilution and have yet to see it have a measurable negative impact.

Where it could start to become a problem is if you're adding additional categories that aren't actually relevant to the services the business provides.
 
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... he had synced his GMB account to Yext which changed his primary category from "Air Conditioning Repair Service" to "Air Conditioning Contractor" which are really similar-sounding but the difference it makes to ranking is huge. Once he disconnected from Yext and also changed his primary category back, his rankings restored overnight.
@JoyHawkins It sounds to be like when his primary category was "Air Conditioning Contractor" the category "Air Conditioning Repair Service" wasn't one of his GMB additional categories. The reason being you couldn't add that as a primary category if it was already listed as an additional category. Note I don't call it a "subcategory" because they really aren't subcategories. So if people were searching for air conditioning repair, it would not surprise me at all, if none of his categories had those words, if you then added it, as a primary OR as an additional category it would make the huge difference you are describing.

My question is, what happens to his rank when you don't remove the "Air Conditioning Repair Service" but just move it into one of the additional categories and replace the primary with something else?
 

JoyHawkins

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I checked my notes and unfortunately can't confirm if it got completely removed or just moved down to the secondary so I'd say for this case, I don't remember. However, I run into this all the time and am very confident that the primary category holds more ranking weight. Here is another example I pulled up. This is a attorney we work with who practices both insurance law & personal injury law. I advised that he switch the categories on his listing to make personal injury the primary category and insurance attorney the secondary because he focuses more on personal injury. This was the result. The ones that were green and went up were all personal injury terms. The insurance attorney term is the one that went down and is red.

primary-category-png.3464


Honestly though, every time I hear someone share a story about how something impacted ranking, I always go and test it myself. It's super easy to test anything related to categories so I'd just suggest you test it and see what happens.
 

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