Are service area businesses that hide their address at a disadvantage on Google Maps? Businesses without an office for customers to visit should hide their address, according to Google, but many don't.

If you check the Google guidelines, it's stated pretty clearly that service area businesses should hide their address on Google Maps.

If you’re a service-area business, you should hide your business address from customers.

  • For example, if you’re a plumber and run your business from your residential address, clear the address from your Business Profile.

Anyone that works in local SEO can tell you that plenty of folks are ignoring this rule. Are listings that ignore this guideline benefiting from higher rankings?

Does hiding an address hurt your rankings?

Although I haven't seen a comprehensive study on this, people have reported that their listings dropped in rank shortly after hiding their address.  I hope I can dig into this phenomenon, and show whether or not there's a real penalty to hiding your address.

To study this, I gathered ranking data on 1,278 plumber listings across 10 different cities.

With enough data, we can compare similar listings, and attempt to isolate the address as a variable.  We'll group listings according to some of the most important ranking factors, such as review count and rating.  

There are obviously other factors at play as well, but I hope we can make a useful comparison with this process.

Getting carried away with scanning for plumber listings.

What are the risks of failing to hide your address?

In the other half of this experiment, we'll try to gauge the risk of using a residential address.  To do this, I'll use the Spam Patrol feature of Persuaded.io to detect GMB listings that are using a residential address.

Although this doesn't directly gauge the risk of a suspension, we'll be able to see how commonly this is happening, which should provide a sense of how (in)frequent enforcement tends to be.

Looking for the oldest review on each listing can also act as a useful proxy for the age of the listing itself.  This will provide another indicator of hard suspensions – if residential listings tend to lack older reviews, it may show that Google is suspending them at a higher rate.

So what did we find?

Here are some of the basic overview findings before we dig deeper:

  • Out of 1,278 listings, 254 had a hidden address.
  • The median rank for listings with an address on Google Maps was 67.
  • The median rank for an SAB on Google Maps was 74.
Checking the results for plumbers in Philadelphia.

When checking the top 3 locations (averaged across the scanning grid) for the ten cities in this study, a SAB appeared only 3 times – that's 1.18% of the 254 SAB listings found.

Listings with an address displayed, however, appeared 27 times, giving 2.63% of those listings top billing.

How many times do SAB listings end up in the Map Pack?  Listings with an address seem to perform quite a bit better here.  When scanning in a grid, SABs rarely seem to appear in more than 2 or 3 Map Packs.  

The best performing SAB result in Philadelphia.

Is there any explanation for the lower SAB rankings?

Although the study could be bigger, there does seem to be a tendency for hidden address listings to rank lower.

It wouldn't be very thorough, however, to jump straight to concluding that hiding your address is going to tank your listing.

Can other factors, such as reviews, explain the difference?

Let's take a look at how review rating, as well as quantity of reviews, differs between the two types of listing. On average, the SAB listings in this study had a rating of 4.16, and 64 reviews in total. That's compared to a 4.07 and 87 reviews in total for listings with an address.

The website associated with a GMB listing is also an important factor.  Just as a quick check, how many listings don't have a website at all?  For listings with hidden addresses, 69.29% had a website, whereas 52.73% of listings with an address also had a website.

These factors don't seem to point to an obvious reason.  Yes, the SAB results tended to have slightly fewer reviews, but their ratings were higher, and they also had a website more frequently.

How many listings with an address are operating from a residential address?

Amazingly enough, 380 of the listings with an address are operating out of a residential address, according to USPS data.  Another 88 addresses can't be found at all in the USPS database.  And finally, 13 of the listings appear to be claiming a virtual office as their address.

Listings that are potentially violating GMB guidelines.

That puts us at 481 addresses, or almost half of all the listings with an address, that seem to be in violation of Google guidelines.

Just out of curiosity, what happens when we break down their rating, reviews, and ranking according to the type of address they're using?

Address Type Avg. Rating Avg. Number of Reviews Avg. Rank
Commercial 4.30 124 29
Residential 4.02 56 34
Hidden 4.16 64 40

Listings using a residential address had fewer reviews and a lower rating on average, and yet seem to rank higher than hidden address listings.

What does it all mean?

It's hard not to conclude that hiding the address has a directly negative impact.  I will hedge somewhat, and admit that I'd like to do a larger study that digs deeper into other factors that could be at play.

Aside from the ranking impact, it's also clear that abusing the address guidelines is a regular occurrence.  Somewhere between a third and half of all listings seem to be in violation.  Just from the sheer number of listings doing this, it's hard to imagine that Google is enforcing this very strictly.

The caveat here, as always, is that Google can change its behavior overnight – so don't take a lack of enforcement today as a guarantee for tomorrow.