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GMB Clarifies Guidelines on Virtual Offices

*Updated December 2019 to include another change to the wording used in the eligibility requirements that went live back in October 2019.

We were recently alerted on Twitter by Kerry that Google has added four VERY important words to the eligibility requirements around virtual offices on Google My Business and Google Maps.

The four words are “BY YOUR BUSINESS STAFF” as in:

If your business rents a temporary, “virtual” office at a different address from your primary business, do not create a page for that location unless it is staffed during your normal business hours by your business staff.

*October 2019 Change: Google once again changed the wording in the guidelines.

“If your business rents a temporary, “virtual” office at a different address from your primary business, do not create a page for that location unless it is staffed during your normal business hours by your business staff.”

Was changed to:

“If your business rents a temporary, “virtual” office at a different address from your primary business, don’t create a page for that location.”

However, Google only made this change under the main “Address” section of the GMB guidelines.

Under the “Service-area businesses” section of the guidelines it looks like this:

Why is this update important?

This particular rule seems to be one that most business owners have a tough time grasping. Most business owners think that having the virtual office staff on-site is enough since they can forward calls and book appointments. This update finally makes it explicitly clear that this is not enough and you must have your own staff on-site in order to qualify for a GMB page at a virtual office.

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Colan Nielsen

Colan started in the local SEO world back in 2010 and is also deemed a product expert by Google as a Top Contributor on the Google My Business Forum. He is a contributor to Moz’s famous Local Search Ranking Factors survey and is a former Google MapMaker Regional Lead. Read Colan's full bio here.

This Post Has 61 Comments

  1. Interesting.. but how is Google going to determine whether or not the member of staff is paid by yourselves, or by the virtual office operative? Surely they can’t determine if it is your business staff or not.

    1. I agree that it’s really hard to prove which is why I would suggest just avoiding virtual office locations period. I’ve found that normally it’s very hard to convince GMB to reinstate a listing if it shares an address with a virtual office service.

    1. Hi Greg, They pretty much have done this without explicitly saying so. Even if you have your own staff on-site you are still more than likely to get suspended at some point.

  2. This article is helpful to me as a virtual business owner and I am sure many other businesses that have not heard of this before. I have in the past used a PO box as an address for GMB, I am glad I know that I cannot use this anymore. Thanks for the info!

  3. As someone who has an international staff and uses Wework offices it sounds like it is appropriate to use the address if we have staff there that are willing to receive customers. Is there a way to reduce suspension risks by self reporting staffing contact info for each branch to Google? Or are there other options? As a rapidly expanding company that has to hire the talent where it can get it co location is a really good option. It does not seem like we should be penalized on search.

    1. Hi Ron, using a known coworking space or virtual office will always be risky even if you are using it in accordance with the GMB guidelines. To lower the chance of your listing being suspended I would upload photos and videos to your GMB and website that make it clear that you have your own staff at these locations.

    2. The only real evidence Google looks at are things like photos & videos. If you have an area in the wework that is “yours” that you are at constantly every day that you’re listed as open – that would be allowed. The problem with most coworking spaces is that people work at them at random hours and not consistently and that type of set-up is not allowed on GMB.

      1. It’s important to know the best way to submit for reinstatement and what to provide Google. Yes, Google will ask for pictures and videos but it’s also important to know what pictures and videos to take. Make sure to take pictures outside the building (outside signage a bonus) and inside the building (take pictures of the entry, offices, suite numbers, and signage). For video, it’s best to video from outside the building and entering your building (showing signage and all office spaces). I’d recommend doing this with your mobile phone, so Google sees all the required EXIF data details. Organize this data into individual offices on your Google Drive and include the links for each location separately when submitting your details. Very important to provide the link under “Additional Information” before submitting reinstatement otherwise you will prolong the reinstatement process. If you already submitted reinstatement, you’ll want to track each submission order with their confirmation ID so you can submit the required and correct Google Drive link. Once verified, it’s more difficult for others to flag or edit your profiles but don’t be surprised if your GMBs go down again later. The benefit of taking these steps, you’ll have the proof saved on your Google Drive already to resubmit if needed.

  4. Can anyone cite one example of a business that has been banned by Google? I can’t and I report the same companies week after week after week. Google doesn’t care. In fact, I think they encourage it. They want so much competition, whether it be local or distant, competing with one another that they are allowing people to set up virtual offices. They don’t want anyone succeeding in Organic without a lot of effort. There are companies whose sole strategies are setting up virtual offices in every city with not employees to game the system. In the industry where we compete, 50% of our competition uses virtual locations. These companies get reported on frequently. Public reviews get left and Google even takes down the reviews indicating that they are virtual locations.

    1. Hey Chad, Google takes down listings at virtual offices all the time. Are you referring to Google taking action on a business as a whole including their legit locations?

  5. Thanks Colan for writing this. I know i’m a little late to the game but I almost tried to set up a GMB with a post office so i’m glad I came across this information. It definitely would have been a waste of time. I will definitely keep using your website as a resource. Thanks again!

  6. Does anyone have an opinion as to why virtual offices are considered bad by Google? I am an attorney that has provided satisfying, effective services to my clients using virtual offices. I just cannot understand why that is a problem in any regard whatsoever??

    1. Hey Kevin,

      The main reason is because Google doesn’t want a user showing up at the address on the GMB listing only to discover that nobody from that business is actually there. The guidelines do say it is ok as long as you have your own staff present during the business hours. The virtual office staff doesn’t count.

  7. Google took down four virtual offices. I regularly see clients at all offices, but I a lot of competing business are still there at the same office location. WTF?

    1. Hey Rod,

      If the other businesses aren’t using the locations in Google compliant way you can report them using Google’s Redressal Form.

    2. Rod,

      Yes, Google does a pretty terrible job at enforcing this uniformly. They generally only act on whatever listing was reported.

  8. I understand that Google wants an employed representative at the listed location during the posted business hours. However, Google should have an option for marking your business as “Appointments By Request”. I have a virtual office, where I have meeting space available as needed. So I most certainly can and do meet clients at that location. With much of my industry (marketing) going virtual, I foresee this becoming more and more of an issue.

    1. Hi Dana, figuring out a good way to reflect by appointment type businesses on the map has been on Google’s roadmap for a long time and I’d wager we might see some improvements in 2020 if I was a betting man. For now, you can add a blurb to your business description or Google Posts to communicate you are by appointment only. You can also ask GMB support to remove your hours from your GMB listing.

  9. Not exactly virtual office, but a client of mine offers industrial training and for this he leases space from a business that offers the exact same service. So essentially, it’s two different businesses with the same offering operating from the same location. How do I help Google understand that these are two different businesses and not the same company listing under different names?

    1. Hi Anand, it can be tricky especially if the GMB categories are the same. Is that location your client’s official business address?

  10. What If someone want to have multiple virtual offices at a single address, would he have to add a physical mailbox for each virtual location for the postal service to deliver to.

  11. I have a home based business and live at the location. Yet GOOGLE suspended my GMB for a second time for not meeting they’re formatting guidelines. I am not going to pay for an office when I run a carpet cleaning business out of my house.

    1. Hey Joe,

      Homebased businesses are eligible to have a GMB. Did you remove the address from your dashboard?

  12. So the less savvy businesses will have to pay for visibility away from their primary location.
    This update won’t change much for spammers as virtual offices have been shakey for a while.

  13. What’s the difference between a virtual office and a second or third location? Both have staff, are a physical location, operate under normal business hours, and allow customers to visit?

    1. Hey Ryan,

      The main issue with virtual offices is that it is not staffed by the actual business. It is staffed by the virtual office staff. Google doesn’t want this. What Google wants is for someone to walk into a business they found via Google Maps unannounced and be able to interact with staff from that business.

  14. Have you had any experience with real estate agents and how their offices are setup? Many have an address with their broker (ex: Re/Max) but may use their individual name since they are the agent. The offices are open during regular hours and have a receptionist.

    If a listing like this is suspended, would they be able to change to service based and get reinstated?

    1. In this case if you were suspended you would be able to get reinstated because Google allows multiple real estate agents to be at the same address because that is the way the business model actually operates.

    1. Hey Scott,

      My recommendation would be for a service area business to use their home address (and hide it) and for a business with a staffed office to use that.

      1. Here’s a scenario. A service business (consulting) has been around for 10 years. Six years ago it changed its business & mailing address (what’s written on contracts) to a UPS store address. Three years ago it started paying for a registered agent in the same state as the business, but in a different city. The registered agent was more so the business could be added to the database.

        The rationale for moving to UPS is the business owner wants to stop getting mail at the home address, which was the business address when the business was first started 10 years ago. Also it doesn’t want the owner’s home address to be on anything regarding the business that might be publicly accessible.

        So if the home address is used for GMB and then hidden, will mail (or people) still come to the owner’s home inadvertently because of the GMB listing?

        1. If you hide the address (by clearing it) in GMB, no one should be able to see it other than Google so you shouldn’t receive any mail other than the postcard Google sends to verify it. Also, it shouldn’t be listed anywhere publicly so people shouldn’t show up.

  15. Looks like they changed it again…! I never ending story!

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

    1. Hi Bruce, “virtual” is listed a couple of times. You need to click on the “Learn More” drop-down in the “Address” section of the guidelines.

  16. I’m hoping that with COVID causing more businesses to rethink how they do business, Google will rethink their stance on ‘virtual’ businesses. Not ever business that operates virtually is illegitimate or trying to ‘game the system’. I’m a coach that works completely virtually and offer a great service that I’ve never seen offered anywhere I ‘live’. I move around a lot (because I can, and enjoy travel) and don’t have a single address to list. My business still deserves to have reviews listed on google from my happy clients, but I’m left out of the game because I use technology in my business. Frustrating.

    1. Hey Jolyn,

      Google My Business was designed for local businesses so I’m not sure your business type would even make sense to have a listing. It would only rank within a small radius around the address you use for verification. I totally get wanting a listing to utilize the reviews feature and agree Google should consider branching out reviews to non-local business types but I have a feeling it might be a different product if they ever launch it.

  17. One more question on this because I’m not sure what to do. I have a service business with two GMB locations (both verified). One is a virtual office (with reviews and more traffic) and the other is not. Is Google going after businesses that it has previously verified? And if so and I decide to close down the GMB page, can I transfer the reviews to the other GMB page? Thanks for any tips!

    1. You should be able to get the reviews moved no problem. I would suggest doing that. If someone reports the listing, Google often suspends both the real one in addition to the one that’s against guidelines.

  18. I have an in-home therapy business in multiple states and we service clients who live within driving distance from our therapists. We don’t want to use the therapist’s home address because the therapist may leave our company after some time and then we would need to change our address. What do you suggest we do? Thanks!

  19. This is interesting, I see a LOT of SEO companies using this technique – staffing Regus offices to have GMB listings. I think some must have a representative that works on location there. Makes a compelling argument for remote working.

  20. We were conducting an experiment. We registered a company in GMB to a virtual mailbox address. The company was moderated, but after some time the status was lost…

    1. Hi Eugen, when you say “company was moderated, but after some time the status was lost…” can you clarify what you are referring to?

  21. Ok so I have a home services business that does all jobs at the customers home. Currently I have my original location in PA based from my home. I plan to start opening other locations in other locations around the country, and obviously I wouldn’t need an office at all since people either call, text, or email, or even communicate via my website to set up the jobs. What is your recommendation for me to be able to have a GMB at each location? Also is there a way to tie all of the GMB locations’ reviews to one place for every GMB to show? Thanks, Henry

  22. Yes. This is no-doubt a clear notion for all the brick and mortal as well as online & virtual offices that they should provide proof of their official business in terms of their staff and team.

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