More threads by Travis Van Slooten

Jul 18, 2012
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I have a client who has a service-based business serving a large city and surrounding suburbs. His physical location is in a north suburb of this city. As a result, his Google+ Local page will only show up in the 7-pack for his own suburb but never for the big city.

He wants to rank in the 7-pack for the big city and I told him the only way that will happen is if he has a physical location there. He has a friend who runs a cabinet making shop in the big city. He's thinking he might be able to share office space with him. I told him this probably won't work but I would check.

If I'm correct in saying that probably won't work, what do I tell him.? Keep in mind, he'd have a number that would be "local" to the big city and he would be able to get mail there. How would Google know? (these are the questions I know he's going to ask me)

He said if that won't work, he would get a virtual office in the big city - like a Regus office or something. I assume this would work but I'm not sure.

What would you advise this business to do? He's willing to do whatever he has to in order to make this work so I just want to make sure I give him the right advice - especially if it's going to cost him a lot of money to get an additional office.

Travis Van Slooten
Hi Travis,

Here's my take: I think your client will certainly need an address in the city (ideally near downtown) plus a strong site (cross-linked to Google+, fully optimized, fresh content, and plenty of backlinks). The standard online and offline factors apply.

If the client is really ready to do what it takes, the ideal solution is to rent a small, un-shared space near downtown, and use a unique local phone number. If all the work is done at customer's locations, then the quality of that space doesn't matter much. I know that's a significant investment, but how much business is being lost by not having having first-page visibility?

The second choice would be a shared space, and the third choice virtual office space (because of the physical address shared with many others).

We tried the virtual office angle in our state capital for a client 90 miles away. In a nutshell, it worked to a degree (second-page visibility), although I think that was due in large part to client's reluctance to fully engage the process: to build-out their site properly, ask for reviews, participate online, etc.

Hope this helps!

Thanks for the reply! So in theory if we do everything else right and have a location as close to downtown as possible - having a shared office space or virtual office space shouldn't be a problem...right:confused:

Travis Van Slooten
If it's a virtual office, meaning they aren't really there during business hours they could get busted and lose their Place page. I personally would not do it for a client. Because technically they aren't located there and this whole thing is designed just to game Google. So technically it's not kosher.

But if you've totally explained and they still want to??? Again I wouldn't personally. BUT if I did I would get their signature on a big disclaimer saying you warned them that they may pay you for all the this work and pay for the office and it could all fall through. Do all that work, build the ranking, start getting reviews, then lose it all. It's a reality and a huge risk.
Hi Travis,

As Linda indicated, virtual offices are potentially risky, which is why I suggested that path as the last choice. Our client's experiment dates back to over a year ago, and things have changed since then. I would also be reluctant to use that method now. Read this and this for deeper insight. If everything is strong (listings, citations, site optimization and content, and backlinks), your client has a shot at some degree of visibility in the city, depending on the competitive landscape, their actual location, and so on.

But if that's not enough, then I think the best solution is to establish a small, real office within a reasonable distance to the city center, with its own address and land line, and actually use it for business. The shared office might also be an option, but the closer you can get to a unique NAP, the better I think.
I did a bit more research . . .

Although I don't see any specific written reference to virtual offices in the Guidelines, here's what Google employee Vanessa wrote on March 26:

"If you have a 'virtual office' that is staffed during designated hours (e.g. so a customer can drive up and receive your services there during those hours), then that's a legit use of Places. If you're just receiving mail there or only accept 'by appointment' that's not a legit use. . . . Offices must be permanent, customer-facing physical locations. Virtual offices do not meet the Google Places quality guidelines."

So, it looks like virtual offices are just not going to cut it going forward. Ignoring the Guidelines represents too much risk to the listing.
Michael, thanks for those last 2 posts. That quote from Vanessa is what I had in mind but didn't have time to go dig it up and those other 2 posts you linked to were great too.

I think it depends on the competitiveness of the niche and how the serp appears for the keywords you're targeting. Many serps now show organic listings above the Local results, a much better place to be for most service businesses in my opinion.
Good quote from Vanessa, thanks...

Wouldn't hiding the address bring it in-line with quality guidelines? After all, the hide address feature is there for just such cases where a customer cannot pop into a business unannounced.

This would be the case with plumbers, electricians, Realtors, painters... there's a huge array of businesses that don't meet clients at an office, so why not have mail service "virtual" space. If they're hiding their address, I don't see the problem.
Hmmm just read this article here:

Getting A Virtual Office For Your Google Places Page Is Risky Business | Search Influence Internet Marketing Blog

Makes perfect sense, but I guess this leaves your struggle service provider without any options. Virtual offices are great because they're inexpensive. Renting business space is pricey, so they're really alienating a lot of honest business owners by restricting the use of VOs.

In my experience, few small business owners like this want to share their residential address online, and I would image residential addresses are flagged in just the same way by Google, no?

What do you do for the small start up contractor that can't afford office space but wants a legit G+ Local listing?
service contractors can use their residential address and simply check Do Not Show My Address on the Map - or whatever it says.

Google does not want you to open virtual offices if that's not where you're business is, ie. bad customer experience. hiding the address for a VO is not what they have in mind.

what would stop me from having 1, 2, 5, 50, 500 offices around the city, state, country? just me and my phone and 500 locations raking in the dough.
The problem is, hiding the address on G+ Local doesn't help much when you have to create dozens of citations around the net to even rank well. So while the address isn't showing on G+ Local, it needs to be on your website, in Yelp, Yellowpages, etc. So much for privacy.

As far as having dozens or hundreds of offices around the country... that can't really happen if you don't service those areas. As a plumber, I wouldn't bother opening a VO across the country because I just ain't gonna drive that far for a customer.

I appreciate the response, but there has got to be a better way.
As far as having dozens or hundreds of offices around the country... that can't really happen if you don't service those areas. As a plumber, I wouldn't bother opening a VO across the country because I just ain't gonna drive that far for a customer.

Ya but it does happen. There are lots of online lead gen sites that do just that or try to, so they can sell leads to all the plumbers in various markets.
That's right. I had forgotten about them. I've had several people ask me about that practice and I am always quick to suggest they find another business model.

Would love to hear some alternatives for those that don't have office space, though. Can't do PO Boxes, can't do VOs... what's a small business owner to do?

What about industrial space? I've met many business owners that set up shop in these industrial places because the rent is so cheap.
there's nothing wrong with hiding your address and setting the service area to be the center of town.

ah. right. yes, citations for a home based business is an issue that cannot be dealt with. we definitely have that issue. still, as I stated before, organic listings are showing up in some results higher than the local pack and I agree with Linda that much of the local pack ranking is heavily influenced by the organic ranking.

Which makes me wonder what local seo is now really all about.

i personally think the whole thing sucks.
Hmmm hard to know what to do if you can't have citations in the mix. Well I have a client that will NOT have an address, so I will not be building citations for him, yet, I'll be doing his G+ Local listing and trying to rank locally. I'll be experimenting with some on-page tactics, and I'll share if I find that anything works well.

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