by Joy Hawkins
A few years ago, I was part of a very lengthy thread on the Google My Business forum. The main question that was trying to be addressed in the thread was this:
If I own a Service Area Business, which is not required by Google to have a staffed location, can I use a Virtual Office as my primary location? The Virtual Office address IS my primary address on all of my business documents with the state. Also, my address is hidden on MapMaker, per Google guidelines.
One of the comments, which has since been deleted from the thread, interpreted that virtual offices were okay for service area businesses given the following:
Google says: … in order to qualify a business must make in-person contact with customers during its stated business hours. Notice that it “does not” say that the in-person contact needs to take place at the address listed on the profile. A service area business like 5280 Radon Mitigation makes contact with customers at there home, during the stated business hours on the GMB profile. Therefore they qualify under googles guidlines.
Things were further complicated when the listing in question kept getting suspended and then reinstated making it unclear if it was actually violating the guidelines. This is a common pattern with Google My Business support that I deal with on a regular basis. It’s really common for one employee to think a listing is violating guidelines and suspend it and for another to disagree and reinstate it. It’s rather frustrating for those of us that work in this space to try and advocate on Google’s behalf and encourage business owners to abide by the guidelines when Google isn’t able to properly enforce them.
I asked Google to comment on the thread and Marissa (our community manager at the Google My Business forum) chimed in and clarified that it was not okay for a service area business to use a virtual office.
Since the forum has been moved and old threads were deleted in the process, I’m copying what was said below:
“After discussing with the policy team, we do not want pure Service Area Businesses to use virtual offices. Per the Google My Business guidelines, virtual offices are not allowed unless staffed during the business hours. Instead we suggest using a home address, setting the service area and hiding the address. If you have a hybrid business, meaning you have an office where people can walk in and talk to you, feel free to set the address as hybrid and then set the service area”.
Marissa Nordahl, Community & Social Media Manager, Google My Business
February 10, 2017
Back in 2017, they also updated the Google My Business guidelines. They added this part under the address section:
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.
This topic was brought up again recently on the Local Search Forum so I reached out to Google again and got them to publicly confirm that service area businesses are still not allowed to use virtual offices so this policy has not changed in the last 3 years.
A service area businesses should not use a virtual office for verification unless it is staffed by the business in question during listed hours. It looks like you’ve already noted these guidelines, but you can view them here as well: https://t.co/zSeTlHClVD. Thanks! – Ally
— Google My Business (@GoogleMyBiz) February 3, 2020
Craig Mount also shared some communication from Google My Business that shared that if you are using an address that is a company that offers virtual office services, along with normal office space, you need to prove that your location is not actually a virtual office and is staffed. You can do that through:
- Real world existence of the facility even when the merchant is not present. This includes a permanent presence on the building’s business directly.
- Proof that it’s staffed by employees of the merchant and available for walk in customers during the stated hours of operation. Virtual office employees are NOT considered to be the merchant’s employees.
- Phone number must be a direct line to the business