For years, Google has required that the business name (which is the listing’s title) used in a Places listing be the name that the company is know by in the real world. The guideline stated: “Your title should reflect your business’s real-world title.”
This did not necessarily mean you had to use your legal business name, but rather the name that people around you call you by. When in doubt, it was safe to use the name as it appears on the sign outside your business and on your business cards or the name to which your postal mail is usually addressed.
At one time, Google enforced this rather strictly, but recently became rather lax. It’s no wonder, since Google was strongly considering the ammendment that it now publishes. “In addition to your business’s real-world title, you may include a single descriptor that helps customers locate your business or understand what your business offers.”
It appears to have been prompted by multi-location businesses concerned about searchers being able to distinguish one location from another when they all have the same name. You can understand, for instance, how being able to differentiate between a Subway that’s on the north side of town and one that’s in the downtown area would be useful to people seeing several Subway listings in the search results.
Unfortunately, like most “guidelines” (really rules) Google gives us, there is a great deal of room for interpretation, so there are more questions than answers regarding this rule change. However, we have received clarification that a single descriptor can be more than one word when it is the name of a location, like Los Angeles or Grand Junction.
I don’t know anyone who has tested how far they can push this for non-location terms. For instance, lawyers may wish to add a descriptor like Criminal Defense or Family Law. There don’t appear to be any automated filters to prevent what we used to think of as keyword stuffing the business title and unfortunately, there is some evidence that doing so can positively influence rankings for those terms. We don’t know at what point human reviewers may become part of the approval process but there is likely to be a surge in keyword-rich business titles in the near future.
In my opinion, this change was a terrible idea on Google’s part. Using your business name as it appears in the real world is a clear and logical requirement. This change opens too much up for interpretation and manipulation and the ones who are going to jump in and try to take advantage of it are those trying to manipulate Google. Google needs to ensure that the business title has no effect whatsoever in local rankings in order to prevent this. Otherwise, we are very likely to see many more listings like these in the Google results (all of these rank well for their main terms)