Google’s Problems with Virtual or Satellite Office Locations

Although businesses may have many legitimate reasons to utilize a virtual office, also referred to as a satellite office, Google frowns upon their use in Google+Local/Google Places. According to Google’s guidelines, business listings must have a unique address and phone number. Many providers of virtual offices (which include UPS, Regus, and many more) promise that you will be provided with a unique suite number and telephone, but business need to be careful to ensure this is the case. Even with a unique phone number and address, Google has issues with listings that do not conduct face-to-face business at a location (unless specified, which ruins the point of the office), or that do not have staff on hand at least part of the day at the specific listing.

How did these offices come about? Once it was determined that the distance from a business to the city’s centroid, or center point in Google’s eyes, was a ranking factor for certain searches, businesses began buying up virtual offices closer to the city’s centroid in an effort to rank higher for a given term. While Google has downplayed the importance of distance to the centroid, businesses haven’t slowed in their aggressive use of virtual offices. This is essentially spamming Google Maps with listings that are not always serving clients at that specific location.

Google doesn’t specifically outline this issue in their Guidelines, but recently we heard this straight from a Googler’s mouth. We had worked with a Google support member to help clear up an issue with one of our clients’ Adwords Express campaigns, which had been paused due to our Places account being marked “Suspended”. Many internet marketers have been through this hell, having to clean up listings or waiting weeks or months at a time for any updates to be made from Google’s end. As most of us know, Google provides outstanding customer support for their paying customers that utilize Adwords or related services such as Adwords Express, however at the same time they provide little to no support for other Google services such as Places.

We decided to take this as an opportunity to speak with a Google support member about the Express campaign being paused, to see if they could somehow help us sort out the issue with our Places account. We figured once that was cleared up, the Express campaign could be activated again.

So, we reached out to Google Adwords Support, and were connected with a very nice and very helpful team member that understood our issue. After a few back-and-forths, the Googler reached out to another employee within the Places team, who then forwarded the following questions to us:

  • Are any of the locations in this account by-appointment only locations?
  • Are any of these offices which do not have the ability to take customers coming in from the street?
  • To clarify further, are there any offices they rent only by appointment to make it easier for their clients to meet them?
  • Are there any offices that are not their permanent location (i.e. they don’t have staff there at all most of the week?) (The bold emphasis was provided by the Googler.)

To help clarify the questions, the team member followed with: “Again, I know these questions may seem odd, but the goal is just to ensure that the client is representing locations where the business permanently exists and not appointment-only locations rented on an hourly or quarterly basis. ”

Notice that Google didn’t use the terminology for “virtual” or “satellite” office. Unfortunatley, our client had been utilizing two by-appointment only offices that were essentially the definition of a virtual office. We responded truthfully and deleted the two “offending” listings from our account. They then responded with the following:

“I’m glad to report that you’re now operating within our guidelines after having removed those listings. We’re only concerned with showing the permanent physical locations for businesses that advertisers have the authority to represent and are not meeting-only locations, so we really appreciate your efforts here!”

The account was cleared up and we were able to run our Adwords Express campaigns again, while also having our business listings published live once again.

The big takeaway? No, it’s not to call Google with all of your problems. Rather it’s that Google doesn’t specifically outline all of their issues with using virtual office locations in Google Maps in their Guidelines document, but they certainly are looking out for these listings and are looking to pounce on them once found. Be careful when your business or client is moving forward with virtual offices!

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