Following my own advice on this very blog, I was updating a company’s presence on Google Places today (previously Google Business Centre; basically, the interface that you update if you want your business to appear on Google Maps).

The company in question is a language school which offers exam courses, including a well-known (in the TEFL world) product known as IELTS. As this is a unique selling point of the school, of course, I wanted to mention it.

Well, it turns out Google wasn’t having it. “Excessive capitalization is not allowed”, it told me, in a strident error message, clearly mistaking the well-known acronym IELTS for a SHOUTY MESSAGE IN CAPITALS. Well, I’m as opposed to poor style as the next pedantic apostrophe obsessive, but frankly, Google, I thought, I’ll be the judge of what constitutes excessive.

It was a small moment, and I overcame it by referring mysteriously to ‘exam courses’ in the end – but there’s a message there for us all (isn’t there always?). Examine your interface, because what seems a reasonable restriction to you may well be a serious impediment to trade for your customers. If you can, get a user group to try out all your website’s functionality, and feedback their exasperate – and do so regularly.

Having said that, I’d be pretty sure Google does much the same. Maybe they just can’t account for every eventuality; maybe they’d rather alienate one language school, but still, have the benefit of cutting down on listings which use capitalized, shouty imperatives to BUY NOW SALE ON TODAY, or whatever. Your customer base, however, is smaller, and almost certainly more uniform. Make sure you aren’t inadvertently annoying them.