The business category is one of the most important fields on a GMB listing. It has a significant bearing on when your listing will display in the local pack. Depending on your business type, it may also be used to determine the icon given to your business on the map, called a place label.
The category – a moving target
This section of your GMB listing is one of the most volatile sections. Google is forever tweaking the category options and advice. Google moves from suggested with free-form, to predetermined, and back around again.
Selecting a category
In its earliest form, you could enter any category of business that made sense to you. There was a pre-populated list to choose from, and you had the option to add one if nothing quite matched yours.
Then Google decided to standardise the options by drastically cut the selection to a few hundred, and disallow free-form entry. The list, however was constantly changing – a selection available one day might not be the next. This made life painful if you were creating a new listing and wanted to match your category with competitors’.
The options available were visible only two ways – by using a tool which accesses the API, or by typing the first few letters of what you thought might be an applicable category in the field.
Most recently, Google has introduced a grouping of categories. This is very similar to the way Apple serves up options. Some top level categories break down into second tier options. For example, Food & Beverage breaks down into restaunt (plus others), and restaurant refines down into even further specifications. This is much more user friendly.
It’s worth noting, this layout for picking a category is only available on new listings. Existing listings are still using the search and find method of typing characters and choose from what Google gives back.
Viewing the full category list
If you’re looking for a tool to give you the option to view all of your options, Pleper offers a good category list, and you don’t have to register to access the tool. This tool also has a very handy “related categories” link to take you to other helpful options. Keep in mind if you choose to download the list, it may be different the next time you want to use it.
If for some reason none of the popular categories seem appropriate, you can use the “search more” box to start typing categories.
Nothing quite matches your business type?
If there is not a pre-defined option which accurately describes your business, you’ll need to pick one which most closely represents what your business does/sells.
Unfortunately, the choice may cast your business into a much much larger classification, and have your business competing with others who offer vastly different services.
In that instance, leverage the credibility of your website, your top citations, and your business description elaborate on what specifically your business offers.
Recently I saw what may have been a test, allowing free-form entry of categories. At time of publishing, that is not an option.
Primary category only, or many?
Google’s documentation implies you select only one category to describe your business. If you have multiple services or clear departments, though, you can select additional categories.
Google allows up to 10 categories for a given listing. For most businesses, using that many categories not recommended.
In my experience 2-5 categories are entirely appropriate, and are helpful for getting exposure in a broader range of search results.
The primary category, the first one you choose, will be the single most influential category. The sweet spot is as specific as possible, while being as broad as possible if you’re planning on using multiple categories.
The Pleper tool mentioned earlier is an excellent way to select relevant additional categories.
More reading: https://support.google.com/business/answer/7249669