How long should a business name be? Should I abbreviate my company’s name in internet yellow page (IYP) directories? If I include a city name or keyword in my business name, will it make it ‘too long’? Will a long business name look ‘spammy’ to business listing websites?

online listings optimize local Before gaining experience working with correcting business name/address/phone info in the major business data aggregators, I would have thought that a name such as “Wisconsin Best Blue Cheese Company Inc” was a perfectly acceptable name format. Little did I know that this sort of company name could cause a conflict with SEO best practices for business name format among the IYP directories and major data aggregators.

Local Experts Weigh In

I have gathered some insight from a few experts on the subject and will include them here along with my commentary.

Some business owners and internet marketing professionals have wondered why some of the major aggregators limit the company name length. One marketing firm, LocalStrong, asked InfoGroup about this  via twitter:

InfoGroup’s response seemed fairly straight forward, but antiquated and geared toward a physical mailing system rather than a modern digital marketplace:

That is understandable, since the major aggregators sell or rent their lists of business NAP info for offline marketing purposes, the data should ‘fit’ on an envelope’s label sticker, right!?! That is great for them, but not so great for digital marketers who are trying their best to please Google’s local ranking algorithms which are believed to prefer uniform citations of a business’ name.

As the theory goes, the more ‘same’ your business listings are across multiple citation venues, the better your chance is at ranking above your competitors in the search engines (if all other ranking factors are equal, such as citation quantity, citation venue quality, backlinks, social metrics, etc, etc.)

How to Please Google, Yahoo or Yelp

So what happens when you have chosen a business name that ‘fits’ in some venues but gets truncated or abbreviated in other venues? Your masterfully crafted company name could end up being “Wisconsin Best Blue Cheese Co Inc” on some venues or “Wisconsin Best Blue Cheese Co Incorporated” (such as in Yahoo Local, where ‘Inc’ is spelled out in it’s entirety if it comes at the end of the company name, but not if it appears before the last word. The same sort of thing happens with the word ‘Company’, where it can get abbreviated to ‘Co’ if it comes before the last word in the business name in Yahoo Local.) Perhaps in this case it would have been better to not be called the ‘best’ blue cheese company in Wisconsin but rather just “Wisconsin Blue Cheese Co Inc”, because that fits better… but you will still have a different name appear in Yahoo that way, which isn’t the end of the world though, because I’m sure the search engines know that ‘inc’ and ‘incorporated’ are the same thing! 🙂

In a comment on a post in the “Google and Your Business” Google Product Forums called “Do Abbreviations Across Citations Matter? Does Capitalization?”, Michael Bryant mentioned that, rather than conform strictly to Google’s guidelines, only, it would be best to format the business name according to the most limiting service.

“I see a few complications with using long-form in place of abbreviations. Some services (Infogroup/ExpressUpdate comes to mind) limit the Business Name and Business Address fields to 30 characters.”

“Since Google (and other services) receive a sponsored feed from many data brokers, I feel it’s important to first conform business name and address to the most limiting services (again, in my experience this is Infogroup). I’ve seen numerous clients with stray listings due to this admittedly obscure issue. The only resolution I’ve found is conforming Google listings to the Infogroup/Acxiom listings, and not the other way around.”

There are other name-limiting factors than just InfoGroup. Other IYP venues, such as Google Local or Yelp, are known to employ spam filters on business names, which may be triggered based on the length of a business name.

Name Length and Spam Factors?

In a comment on Nyagoslav Zhekov’s blog post entitled “How Google Might Be Determining If A Local Citation Is Spammy or Not”, Phil Rozek said:

I think it all comes down to “threat #1”: Google’s heavy reliance on “trusted” data-providers. There is a certain threshold of spammability […] below which one can get away with quite a lot. Part of that threshold is the length of the business name: InfoGroup and LocalEze cut you off around 30 characters, so you’re out of luck if you’re trying to stuff in a *lot* of keywords. But even if your name is totally bogus and not blatantly spammy (like with a gibberish name that just happens to include a city name), if you’re under that ~30-characters threshold you’ll probably be OK – for better or for worse.

Similar story on Yelp: your name is unlikely to pass Yelp’s sniff test if it’s long, but even a bogus name can get published if it’s short enough and not blatantly spammy (e.g. an exact-match, city-specific local search term).

I think there should be a certain amount of “play” or “give” on Google’s part in accepting or trusting a given business name, simply so that businesses with horrible “official” names have a chance to brand themselves online with their real-world business names (e.g. the ones on their business cards). Which is legitimate, and which Google generally doesn’t seem to have a problem with. But obviously this does leave the door open for spammers. It just seems like a balance that Google has yet to strike.

Regarding the name length limit, Phil Rozek went on to tell me via a personal email reply: “… LocalEze didn’t used to accept more than 27 characters: If you entered 28 you’d get an error message. InfoGroup allowed a couple more. Not sure whether that’s changed, though.” In a blog post comment on his own website, however, he stated: “Actually, recently LocalEze started allowing business names of up to 100 characters.”

As you can see, it is hard to please all the players in the local citation arena. What works for one might not work for the other in terms crafting the perfect business name. Certain words (such as ‘company’ or ‘inc’) may trigger abbreviation or may force a longer name in some venues. But it seems best all around to try to keep the company shorter instead of longer, if possible. Longer business names can be truncated at times which can cause variation in your citation data, which could also lead to IYP venues creating duplicate listings. if the name differs enough from data source to data source.