As small businesses embrace the use of virtual office space as their main or and additional location from which to run their business, many are running in to problems with Google Local Pages penalizing them for not having an actual storefront address.
Simply stated, it is against Google’s policy for customers to use virtual office addresses as the address of their business. The actual guideline is as follows:
“Do not create a page or place your pin marker at a location where the business does not physically exist. P.O. Boxes are not considered physical locations. Your business location should be staffed during its stated hours.”
While virtual offices are not specified directly in the above guideline, our experience has been that virtual office addresses are technically a violation. Many legitimate companies have been and continue to be successful with virtual office addresses, but because so many entities utilize Google Local Places to try and spam the system by leveraging “virtual addresses” to game the algorithm, it’s generally only a matter of time before a business using a virtual address gets taken down and banned from Google Places. This is unfortunate because it harms those customers who may be utilizing addresses for legitimate business purposes. Unfortunately, even though virtual offices are staffed with an employee of the virtual office, Google still considers a virtual address a violation of the policy.
The Reason For the Policy
Many businesses use virtual offices all around the country as a front to appear as if they do business in a given city or location. This is a spam tactic that has resulted in Google cracking down on all businesses – even the ones who rent space at virtual offices and truly do use it for interfacing with customers.
The following notice was sent to an attorney who did create multiple Google listings for his business throughout the country.
It appears that you have created duplicate listings with the same contact
information at locations where your business does not appear to exist.
Businesses that operate in a service area, as opposed to a single
location, should not create a listing for every city they service.
Businesses that operate in a service area should create one listing for
the central office or location and designate service areas.
The Google Team
What Does This Mean for Virtual Office Clients?
What this really means for businesses that use virtual office addresses is that the safest bet for is to use a home address as the business address and hide the address. Whatever address the business is registered under with the IRS is the address that should be used for Google Local.
Parallel Path has heard specifically from Google that listings at a virtual office are not allowed. But the Office Complex/Executive Suite itself would be allowed to have a listing, as long as it’s a staffed walk-in office. What this means is that the virtual office company is allowed to have a Google listing, but their clients are not.
If a business chooses to use a virtual address, there are some considerations that we recommend that will likely result in at least short term success.
- Make sure that the name, address & phone number (NAP) for your company matches on Google, your website, and any other citation that you have on the web. It will be very easy for Google to catch a person using a virtual address if the address on the website doesn’t match the website on Google+.
- Work with your virtual office provider to create a suite/mailbox combination. For example, if the virtual suite is 100, and your business’ mailbox is 43, the address should be Suite 100-43. This address is the the one you should use as your primary business address everywhere it is listed.
- Chances are that as long as you follow the suggestions above, you probably won’t get penalized by Google. Local bloggers in particular have been very vocal about “spammy” tactics, including using a virtual office. Virtual office addresses have been used for years on Google Local with seemingly no repercussions.
- Businesses should NOT have multiple virtual offices around the city or country with multiple Google Local listings. These are the businesses that are easiest for Google to find, and the ones who will get every single one of their listings banned (including their “true” office listing).
If Google does crack down on a business’ virtual office address and penalizes them, the business will be flagged and banned from Google Places. Business’ using virtual office addresses should utilize multiple local listings sites so that if Google does ban their local listing, they will still have other avenues for customer generation.
To fully comply with Google Quality guidelines, small businesses who use virtual office services should use their home address on Google local listings and hide the address to protect their privacy.
If the business owners do choose to use the address provided by a virtual office, use a unique numbering scheme which will give each client a unique address. This address should match what the virtual office’s client uses as his or her business address on websites and other citations throughout the web.