One of the most common reasons for Google My Business listings getting suspended is the fact that the address being used is not eligible for a listing according to the Google My Business Guidelines. For many industries like car dealers, retail, retaurants and hotels, it’s very clear that you’d only have a listing for your stores because customers have to show up to your location to get the product/service they need. Where this gets murky is when you have a business that offers professional services (like lawyers or insurance agents) or home services (like locksmiths or garage door companies) and don’t require the customer to come to them.
In cases like this, businesses often want to have “multiple locations” so that they can reap the benefit of ranking in multiple zip codes & cities. I have seen many attempts over the last decade where people try to argue different incorrect interpretations of the Google My Business Guidelines. I decided to write this article to help clarify some of the most common misinterpretations I run across.
If I’m a home-based company, can I have multiple listings?
In most cases, no. If you work mainly from your house or you don’t have an office, you would be considered a home-based business and should use your home address in your Google My Business listing. Google has the option for you to hide the address (this is the default when you don’t check the box indicating customers also come to your location) so you won’t have to worry about your home address showing up publicly on your listing.
The exception to this rule would be businesses that operate separately in different states. Let’s say you own a photography company but you have photographers in different states that go visit customers. In this situation, you’d be allowed one listing per state. For California and Texas, you might be permitted more than 1 due to the states being so geographically large.
Can I set up listings using employees’ home addresses?
No. Employees are not owners and might not always work for your company. Creating listings for an address that you don’t have the authority to represent (you don’t own your employees’ homes) is against the Google My Business guidelines. When I did a poll on this earlier this year, the majority of people understood this guideline correctly.
Please vote below. Based on your interpretation of the Google My Business guidelines, are Service Area Businesses allowed to create listings using their employees’ home addresses?
— Joy Hawkins (@JoyanneHawkins) March 20, 2018
What if I started as a home-based company but then opened an office?
In this case you would still be allowed 1 listing but it should be your office location. The listing for your home address would no longer be valid. In cases like this I would recommend simply updating the address on the existing listing.
Why are franchises allowed multiple home-based listings?
There are many popular franchises in the home service space that have listings for several home-based locations in the same state. A couple that come to mind would be Servpro or Pop-A-Lock. Why franchises are allowed multiple home-based listings is often because the different “locations” have different owners and are independently set up. For example, you cannot call one location to get help for a project the other location did for you. They are often also independently licensed and have unique entries when you look them up with the Secretary of State.
In these cases we normally find that the service areas for each location do not overlap.
What qualifies as a “staffed office”?
Google is pretty clear about their policy about virtual offices not being allowed but businesses still continually claim that they are staffed and should be allowed. The biggest misconception is that the staff needs to be your own, not some service you hired. For example, if you pay $150/month to get a virtual office service that gets you a receptionist at the front desk to respond to any inquiries, this does not qualify. That receptionist is not employed by you (you don’t pay her taxes) and offers this same virtual service to many other businesses. The only time a virtual office address would be permitted would be if you could prove you had an employee there all day (during your stated hours). This is almost impossible to prove which is why I rarely see virtual offices reinstated once they have been suspended. My advice would be to avoid them.
But I heard that I could have multiple listings using residential addresses provided the service areas don’t overlap?
I have heard this as well, it’s incorrect.
How are you so certain you are interpreting the guidelines correctly?
The Google My Business guidelines do not spell out every possible case or scenario. I am extremely confident in my interpretation of them due to the fact that I spend countless hours every week as a volunteer over at the Google My Business Forum as a part of the Google Product Expert group. At the time of writing this, I’ve read over 78,000 messages there and have authored more than 5,700 replies to various threads (the majority of which are policy/spam violation related). I’m not saying this to brag but rather to explain that the outcome of watching Google make decisions on this many different, unrelated cases is that I get a very good idea of exactly what types of things Google is and isn’t okay with.
Have a question about multiple listings that I didn’t address? Please ask me in the comments.