Local Updates Part I: The Death of Virtual Offices?

Mark LuckenbaughLocal SEO2 Comments

virtual-office

Intro

Hey LCT. It has been quite some time so I wanted to deliver something pretty epic. Over the next few weeks I am going to be completely dissecting the local Google updates that have been plaguing both the 3 pack and the organic serps. Things have been crazy, right? It’s okay. We will help you guys bridge some of these gaps, clarify some misconceptions, and drop some bombs about what is working for us.

No More Virtual Offices Evaaarr!

This seems to be the general consensus after the newest update of the Google’s TOS pertaining to virtual offices. Before I get too far into helping you guys deal with this let me drop a link to the actual Google TOS that was updated. Here is the Google TOS at the focal point of this discussion.

 

If you check out the service area business section that was added under the address section of the above link, you  can see the exact verbiage added. Or…If you are super lazy than I will just drop it below.

 

Service-area businesses — businesses that serve customers at their locations — should have one page for the central office or location and designate a service area from that point. Service-area businesses can’t list a “virtual” office unless that office is staffed during business hours.

Some businesses, like pizzerias that have both have restaurant seating and deliver pizza to customers, are hybrid service-area businesses. These businesses can show their storefront address and designate a service area in Google My Business. If you serve customers at your address and want to set a service area, your business location should be staffed by your team and able to receive customers during its stated hours.

Google will determine how best to display your business address based on your business information as well as information from other sources. Learn more about service-area businesses.

 

Does this mean virtual offices are dead? Absolutely not. I saw so many misconstrued concerns about virtual offices not being a viable solution for GMB verification since this update that I was driven to make a post. Here is a quick screen shot from the same TOS I dropped a link to earlier.

Google TOs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sorry that picture is a little fuzzy. You can read it yourself if you wish but let’s roll forward. So, while the first part kind of makes the idea of a virtual office unacceptable there is nowhere in the ineligible business section that completely calls out virtual offices by name. They do so in the service based business section so that should leave us to believe they are not explicitly denying us the right to use them.

This makes a lot of sense considering what virtual offices actually are. In case you do not know I made this fun GIF…

Okay I will be honest..I just wanted an excuse to make a GIF. I digress.

If you take a look at the Baltimore example from the GIF, virtual offices are office buildings in which in most cases you can actually occupy physical space, enjoy co working environments, and obviously rent virtual suites. I understand in the seo community we like to assume Google flags virtual offices addresses, and that may be true, but the only real footprint is the main address of the VO itself. Otherwise they are real buildings with real office space.

Now that we deduced that virtual offices themselves are not the issue, as long as they are used within the Google’s TOS, we can push the boundaries.

The Hat Gets Black

I am all about sustainability. Having said that we want to give real answers. Many of you are probably thinking, “Okay, so tell us how we can go about getting black hat verification under these new rules.”

If you were thinking that then read on.

The truth of the matter is nothing really changed. If any of you went through our black hat map stuff in LPB and Final Frontier  then you know that Google always wanted to see GMB’s given to businesses that actually serve clients at their location. If you dig back through my training I go to great lengths to point out tons of different factors that can make or break your black hat listings.

CAVEAT: Before we continue…what we are doing is gaming Google. Be prepared to lose some of your listings. If you are not in a position to lose listings then I would not even be in the business of SEO, let alone getting blackhat GMB listings. Even some “white hat” practices have been penalized in the past. At the end of the day we are at the mercy of Google, a for profit company that really could care less if you or your client’s business ranks.

Now that we have our big girl/boy pants on let me shoot some quick facts at you guys.

When you are setting up a GMB for your black hat service based business listing we need to be convincing that the location we are entering is one that serves clients at its location. Is this clear? If you do not make some preemptive moves to make it look good then you will get listings torn down twice as quick as those that do take the time to complete these steps.

I usually like to create a specific theme and use it to complete the steps below. I go with “check us out at our new location”. The more your GMB and website tells this story the less likely for there to be an intensive review that actually gets your listing suspended.

Here is a list with some quick explanations:

Business name: If you are using spam names and stuffing keywords into the business name then prepare for your success to be short lived. Please understand I have some hypocritical listings that go against this grain but believe me, Google came for these once en masse and they will again. This is actually an entire other post I am preparing, but for the time being heed caution.

The Address itself: Not much we can do here. If the address does not pass a manual “street view” analysis, which in 99% of virtual office situations it will not, you could lose your listing. This is why the USPS method was always my favorite as I had more granular control over what my surroundings and building looked like. The idea is to have the other ducks in a row so you do not get yourself flagged for a manual review.

Phone Number: Make sure the number is routed to you or someone privy to what needs said in the case someone from Google calls. Google has drastically increased the amount of phone re-verification calls they are making and far too often marketers and business owners alike do not pass the test. If they ask if they can come to your location you need to assure them they can and that you are eager to assist them in person. They might ask additional questions about what you do at your location, entry points, etc.

Voicemail: Make sure the number on the GMB and website has a voicemail that sells your story. Something upbeat that tells people to come see you at your new location. Maybe even a brief blurb about what you do at the location without making it so obvious as to what you are doing.
We do something like this…”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}

This could be a ton of things. Your showroom that has 20 different shingle samples for your roofing product. Your office where a staff member will walk you through all of our different concrete stamps and colors for your decorative project. Let your imagination run wild.

Photos: When you are building your site and GMB you can add some photos that help articulate that your location is real and one you use to meet with customers. Some people go as far as photo shopping company signage onto windows and buildings. Finding some pictures you can add into your GMB and site and adding image descriptions that talk about the new office and what not.

Be creative and do not necessarily overthink it or spend too much time on this. Just make it look somewhat convincing.

Description: Always mention the new location and what you do at that location. Again, try not to overdo it and reiterate it to the point where it looks unnatural, but we want to have a consistent theme being articulated that convinces Google that everything is legitimate.

Website Corroboration: This should be obvious but having validating information on your website is important. Your GMB photos and description that sells our story should be there. Make it look like a real brand that would talk about a new location and really want to make an effort to get people through the doors.

Conclusion

Virtual offices are not dead. If you are going to use them for service based businesses then you need to be prepared to follow some blackhat protocol and potentially lose the listing in some cases. You win some and you lose some in the game of Google. Having said that I have a lot of these listings that are doing just fine. In some cases its not even your preparedness that affects the listing, but your competitors might report you and get you reviewed. It happens.

Take the proper precautions and you will have decent success with virtual offices still. Google never wanted you to use satellite locations to garner GMB listingsm they just updated their TOS to explicitly state their issue with GMB for service based businesses being in virtual offices.

If you guys have any questions do not hesitate to drop them in the comment section or in the Facebook group 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments on “Local Updates Part I: The Death of Virtual Offices?”

  1. Adrian

    Hi Mark. Thank you for the article and tips but I would like to ask how do you pass the PIN verification if you dont have access to the location ? Of course when you are trying some black hat stuff 🙂

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