Setting up a Google My Business listing for a virtual office or private mailbox has always been a touchy subject. For a long time many companies got away with it, and some still do, but recently we have noticed Google suspending numerous virtual office listings. Since this is a huge concern for many businesses, we’ve answered a few common questions that explain what you need to know if you have a virtual office.
What Does Google’s Guidelines Say About Virtual Offices?
Google has changed their guidelines several times, but currently they state that an acceptable address must have the below qualifications:
- Use a precise, accurate address to describe your business location. PO Boxes or mailboxes located at remote locations are not acceptable.
- P.O. Boxes are not considered accurate physical locations.
- If your business rents a temporary, “virtual” office at a different address from your primary business, do not create a page for that location unless it is staffed during your normal business hours.
Google’s vague reference to “staff” may lead to the assumption that as long as someone is working at the address it meets the criteria. This is a defense many use to justify why their virtual office would qualify. However, if you define “staff” as employees at the company, it is a different story. In most cases the “staff members” at a virtual office are simply receptionists that come with the rented space, not the employees of the specific business. Therefore, if the people in your virtual office are not employees on your payroll – hired specifically for your company – than your virtual office space does not quality as an acceptable business location.
Think about it from Google’s perspective. They want to provide the best experience for the user. This means listing businesses that people can visit during the stated hours to meet with someone employed with the business, not an office someone is just paying for to climb search results in that city. Google basically wants to prevent businesses from renting dozens of offices in various cities just to establish an online presence in those areas. This practice hurts the businesses that have legitimate full time offices in these same cities.
Additionally, Google wants to provide the most accurate information to potential customers. Most of the time businesses who rent virtual offices may not be working at this office space every day, but only meet clients there on a case by case basis. If this is true, put yourself in a customer’s shoes. They first find your listing on Google and see your office hours state you are currently open, but when they go to your office, you are not actually there. This is not helpful to the customer and is instead misleading.
What Are Other Reasons Google May Suspend My Local Listing?
There are other criteria that may lead Google to suspend your local listing, including:
- You use the same phone number for all of your offices.
- This one is very important. Google asks that your phone number represent your individual location, meaning it is a local number (not an 800 number).
- You add keywords to your business name.
- Use only your real company name. Do not include descriptions in order to help rankings.
- You created duplicate listings.
- One listing per address only.
- You used a vanity URL (one that forwards to a different domain).
- Use your direct website URL only.
- Your business is not local or you do not have a physical address.
- There is an option for service area businesses. If you do not meet customers face to face in a city then you should not have a local business on Google.
- Google incorrectly marked your listing as spam, but you did not violate any rules.
- Sometimes Google’s spam filter suspends legitimate listings. In this case, you can usually request the suspension to be lifted without issue.
For more details check out this article which goes in depth about common reasons for suspensions.
What Should I Do Now if I Have a Virtual Office?
Depending on your situation, determining if you should keep your virtual office ultimately comes down to a business decision. There are two main options to choose from:
- Ride it out. Keep your virtual office and see if Google suspends it. If they don’t, continue to keep using it.
- Get rid of your virtual office and only utilize your main office location. If you do not have a main physical office, invest in one.
Both options can be risky. We generally recommend keeping your virtual office if Google hasn’t suspended it, but as Google begins to crack down on more of these; it may be a better idea to stop using it altogether.
If you are a PaperStreet SEO client please contact us if you are closing a virtual office, changing addresses, or need consultation of your virtual office location.