Virtual Offices and Google: These Two Don’t Mix

Services: Law Firm Website Design . SEO . Internet Marketing . Law Firm Marketing Guide . Content Marketing . PPC

Many law firms are looking for cost-effective options for their law office space needs. Virtual offices like Regus (now IWG) and Davinci Virtual are popular because they are easy to set up and affordable. In the world of law firm digital marketing, however, there is a large concern that law firms should know before they set up virtual offices: it is a direct violation of Google’s terms of service, and it can have significant consequences for your Google My Business listings and local rankings.

Google My Business (GMB) is a critical component for local search engine optimization (SEO) and thus, how you are ranked locally. It allows firms to manage their online presence, including their exact location, their times of business, online business/customer reviews, and contact information.

With that in mind, Google has strict guidelines for creating and managing GMB profiles.

Understanding Google’s Penalties for a Virtual Office

One of the most important considerations is that setting up virtual offices with providers like Regus and Davinci Virtual – and using this listing for your GMB listing – is a direct violation of Google’s guidelines. Google requires that businesses have a physical presence at the address listed on their GMB profile. This means that you must be able to receive mail, meet clients in person, all at a constant and continual level at the address used. This cannot happen at a virtual office, and is then, violating Google’s guidelines. An example of their heightened strictness – presumably with combating virtual office listings – there is an increased frequency of Google asking for video verification for listings to even appear, so it would be important to have clear permanent signage showing your firm exists in that location.

If Google uncovers that a law firm (or any business) is using a virtual office as its physical address on GMB, it may remove the listing from Google Maps entirely. This can have major effects on your rankings, your exposure, and even with reputation management, especially if that listing is completely removed. If this does occur, it can then heavily impact rankings and reestablishing that “trust” with Google can be a tough road ahead.

In this worst-case scenario, Google can even suspend your GMB account for violating its guidelines. This can result in temporary or permanent loss to even log in to your GMB profile. The long-term ramifications of this can be severe. Bluntly, it is not worth the risk.

How to Circumvent the Virtual Office Dilemma

Our recommendation instead of turning to virtual offices would be for your law firm to consider other options that comply with Google’s guidelines:

  • Rent space from another (non-competing) law firm. Connect with a peer within the legal industry. Perhaps they have a portion of their office that can be rented out, ostensibly with your firm then setting up as a separate “suite” that can then be used by your firm. This is generally a win-win as your peer’s firm can collect rent (also sometimes even cheaper than these virtual companies) and your firm has a listing within that location.
  • Co-working spaces can sometimes work as a solution too as several co-working companies may be able to provide physical addresses that complies with Google’s requirements.
  • Some law firms have even used from home offices as an option for a local listing, as long as you are comfortable with the physical address on GMB profiles, which would then adhere to Google’s guidelines.

PaperStreet has been cautioning the use of virtual offices since 2016. Earlier this year, we again posted an article on “Can I List My Business on Google Maps Using a Virtual Office?” further cautioning of this infringement on Google’s guidelines. Unfortunately, we are still assisting firms who have chosen to attempt the virtual office path and there are several firms who now either have penalties placed on their accounts or worse, suspensions.

PaperStreet aims to educate clients on Google’s best practices and the possible repercussions if their guidelines are not followed. We can submit support tickets to Google and upload any documentation our clients provide to us, but we don’t make the final call if Google listings get verified. Ultimately, deciding to use a virtual office space comes down to a business decision and how much of a risk the firm is willing to take.

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