Virtual Offices Optimisation for Local SEO and GMB

  • Jul 17, 2018

  • by Saurabh Kumar

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Virtual Offices Optimisation for Local SEO and GMB

Google My Business (GMB) is a free and simplified dashboard that helps business owners manage and update business listings across Google. The listings include relevant data such as business’ name, address, phone number, and website. It was in February 2017 when Google updated its Google My Business (GMB) Guidelines for Service-Area & Virtual Offices. It was a whip on virtual businesses as they were plucked off. Furthermore, it devastated many online local businesses that did not have real staffed offices.

So, what are the requirements that need to be fulfilled by a company for it to appear on Google My Business list? Let us get a basic idea about Google’s local listing criteria.

What is Google My Business Listing Qualifying Criteria?

Only businesses having a physical location that their customers can visit, or a business that visits customers at their locations, are eligible for Google My Business Listing.

Few points to bear in your mind for successful business listings:

  • Avoid prohibited content
  • Represent your business information consistently as recognized in the real world. Use your brand name, do not append it.
  • Address marked on the map should be precise and accurate
  • Choose the best categories that describe your business
  • Only Business owners or authorised representative should manage your information

Google does not allow you to submit your business in GMB in the following cases:

  • For-sale or rental properties that include vacation homes, vacant apartments. There is an exception to it as it allows sales or leasing offices.
  • An ongoing class, meeting, or an event at a location that you don't own or hold the authority to represent
  • Online-only businesses aren't eligible for Google My Business listings
  • Businesses that are under construction or that have not yet opened to the public
  • Remote locations are not allowed

For the complete updated GMB listing guidelines, you can check here.

So, what is a virtual office and why are they banned from Google listings?

Let us start with the basic definition of a virtual office.

A virtual office is a location that you do not own physically, but you use the address for mailing purposes only. The customers of the business cannot come to the office during normal operational hours, only assistance over a phone is provided. Customer-facing operation hours is not assured as the office is not staffed. Coworking offices are preferred and listed.

Do you know what is the caveat?

Caveats are the numerous conditions or stipulations that are in place to prevent virtual offices from being listed in Google My Business Listing.

For Google and Bing, a virtual address is a violation of their local listing policy because it harms those customers who may be utilizing addresses for legal business purposes. A virtual address is taken down and banned.

Here is a list with some quick tips that might help you escape and get listed, may be short term success:

Details: Make sure that the name, address, and phone number (NAP) for your company matches on Google, your website, and any other citation that you have on the web. Google can easily track down a person using a virtual address if the address on the website doesn’t correspond to the address provided on Google+.

Business name: Follow brand name for consistency or else be prepared for short lived success.

The Address: Google also relies on manual “street view” analysis to detect virtual offices. This system is quite airtight, and it is extremely difficult to escape from it. Almost 99% of the time, Google will read the location as a virtual office and flag you accordingly. Thus, to avoid it, try to get suite-mailbox combination address, for example, suite 103/56. Use a unique numbering scheme to avoid being marked as a virtual office.

Phone Number: You need to ensure that the phone number you have provided is routed to you or someone to answer in case Google calls. Google does re-verification calls, and you may fail the test if you do not work on it. You need to show your promptness and eagerness if they ask to come to your location. Also, you or anyone answering Google must have answers to common questions about your business and its office like your location, business products and services, office entry points, etc.

Voicemail: Voicemail facility at your phone number helps Google understand that you are there for making business calls and also for attending customers. Also, automated voicemails to invite your customers during operation hours will help prove your identity and keep your listing safe. Try doing something similar like, “Hi thanks for calling {insert company}, sorry we missed your call. Be sure to stop in at our new location {give location} during our normal operating hours {give hours} where we {a short blurb about what you do at this location}.”

Photos: Uploading photos with signage, billboards, or adding those outside the office should work.

Description: Sound natural so and consistent to convince Google that everything is legitimate. Ensure that all these steps are in place before you create your listings.

Website Corroboration: Last but not the least, Google will also validate information on your website. Your GMB NAP information (Name, Address, Phone Number) and description must correspond to the one available on the website that is created to sell your product.

Taking the right steps in the proper direction with full precautions will guarantee decent success even for virtual offices. Google does not want you to use satellite locations to garner GMB listings. They just updated their TOS to explicitly state their issue with GMB for service-based businesses being in virtual offices.

Why did Google Update Their Policy for Virtual Listing in 2017?

Mushroom growth of local businesses that claimed their listings online, pushed legitimate businesses down and let to an intense increase in online competition. These virtual businesses, by optimizing their local SEO, started to appear on the top of local search results. It appeared to the customer/user as if these top listings in local search results conducted their business in that given city.

This was 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.

So, we advise the virtual office owners to use their home address as the business address and let the businesses use it with suite numbers for unique listings. Adding an address as a virtual address brings it to Google’s notice. Also, a business that buys a virtual address needs to double check that the address is not used by any legitimate business owner. If that is the case, just add suite numbers as it helps in rectifying the situation. It’s really a wonder how virtual office listings are approved and allowed on Google, but on the other hand, virtual listings are penalized!

Conclusion

Even though virtual offices are against Google and Bing guidelines, they have their own benefits. They do get better visibility if they share locations with other supporting businesses. To summarize, Google Business that operate in a service area should create one listing for the main office or location and designate service areas. The best option is to claim your staffed brick-and-mortar business location on Google.

About author

Saurabh Kumar
  • Saurabh Kumar

A marketing enthusiast with a fascination for technology, an interest in tinkering with data and systems, and 4+ years of experience at ebookers, Saurabh Kumar co-founded Envigo, a digital marketing agency, in the year 2007. His passion for Digital Marketing led him to launch a data-driven digital marketing solutions agency.

View posts by Saurabh Kumar

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