We recently came across this blog post by Colan Nielsen at Sterlingsky regarding virtual offices (VO) and Google My Business (GMB) in which Colan basically states that due to GMB’s guidelines virtual offices are not eligible to be utilized as business listings. As this topic is one which we as a business centre have over 20 years of experience in, we decided to write up a quick rebuttal and let everyone know how this is not necessarily the case.
Our key point is virtual staff are your staff and the business centre is your office location. From the moment you sign your agreement with the virtual office, the staff on site are authorised representatives of you and your company. They answer phone calls, help clients with enquiries, take messages, manage your calendar, handle your appointments and process your mail. All the jobs that would be done by your staff but for a lower cost as they are essentially operating as contractors for you.
We recommend reading Colan’s blog post and the exchanges he had on twitter about it @ColanNielsen.
Many people argue that a co-working space is a better option with GMB as you can have a guaranteed physical presence in the office. However this concept disregards the fact that the listing company can only be onsite at the co-working space when a desk has been booked (which may only be 1 or 2 days a month). Furthermore the co-working space provider may still need the company to sign up to their virtual office service if the company wishes to utilise their address, mail services and on-site support, meaning that the only difference is that you are utilizing a cubical or temporary desk rather than a day suite or meeting space when you’re on-site.
In essence if the information listed on Google is accurate to what is offered at the centre and you have set out detailed instructions and procedures with the office you will be able to operate the Virtual Office (VO) as if it were any other office.
For reference and also to support our argument we have even included numerous points of research and included them in our sources at the end of this article.
The idea that Google would not allow your company to list itself while operating in a virtual office is a somewhat detrimental one. From what we have found in our research, Google not verifying addresses for virtual offices stems from their attempts to cut down on the level of fraudulent listings and listings seen as unfair. After reading through the GMB guidelines and various blogs (see sources), it becomes apparent that they in fact do not refer directly to virtual offices by name or refer to the typical trading practices of most virtual office providers.
The virtual office industry is massive with Regus and Servcorp being some of the largest companies in the industry, occupying thousands of office locations around the world. They offer serviced and virtual office services to their thousands of clients around the world, all while earning revenues in the hundreds of millions. So, how could such a large scale industry be seen as fraudulent?
Our belief is that if a virtual office is set up and managed based on our guidelines below, you can utilise a Virtual office and still be following all of the GMB guidelines, here's how.
How To Guide: Use A Virtual Office For Your Google My Business (GMB) Listing
Communicate With Staff About Verification
Virtual offices and co-working spaces supply you with access to their own staff members and receptionists, to act as consultants and representatives of your company. If you have a virtual office for example, they will usually come included with an on-site receptionist and mail management services, meaning that when your GMB verification code is delivered, you can be notified and verify your office there and then.
If you are listing your new virtual office on GMB, always remember to let the office know beforehand so that the staff know to be on the lookout for your verification which usually arrives as a postcard in the mail. They need to give this to you as soon as you get it as there is a time period associated with the verification before the code expires.
Ensure that you align the business hours of the business centre you are renting from with your GMB, as this will allow them to be in sync and the staff can be there to help your customers when they visit or call. the virtual office acts as the customer front of your business, and may be a location where you meet clients frequently or where clients come to find you. With this in light, it is best to have everything designed seamlessly and coherently.
Work Out How You Wish To Manage Multiple Locations & Visitors
You may want to not list the virtual office’s address if you are a service area business. These businesses typically operate in multiple locations and have staff travel either from home, between worksites, or offices frequently; meaning customers can easily be confused if they drop in expecting to see someone and no-one is available at the moment.
- 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.
- “Service-area businesses—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.”
If you wish to cover multiple locations, we would recommend you set your GMB listing to read “visitors by appointment only” and notify your virtual office receptionist that you may have visitors. They should also be advised to follow a script when they arrive.
Example of a simple script
Client: Hi, I was hoping to see X, are they available?
Speak with your virtual office and check if they are willing to store brochures, business cards, or other company literature on site to hand over to visitors.
If you do not wish for your phone number or email to be given out, remember to clearly specify this to your virtual office in writing as verbal instructions are easy to forget or misinterpret.
Google lists that the “The phone number must be under the direct control of the business”. This rule may make you think that taking up a virtual office would be contrary to this rule, however think about it in this way. When you have a number supplied by a carrier, e.g. Telstra, Vodafone, or Optus, that number isn’t one you own either and is just a number you are renting and paying a monthly fee for.
If you are thinking too that the number you list on your GMB profile will be answered poorly by the virtual office, please feel rest assured as any decent virtual office will answer your calls in a manner matching that of any staff member you would hire yourself, with scripts being based on the procedures and instructions you supply them. You can give them a word for word script, an FAQ, forwarding instructions and even access to your meeting calendar and they will be indistinguishable from a person who works right next to you.
Still worried? Remember you can always just request that they set up a diversion to make it that the number goes straight to your own private number, be that a mobile or landline, thus bypassing the virtual office receptionists all together.
When signing up for a virtual office which you wish to use for GMB purposes, first notify the office of your intent. Then, once given the all clear, send the office a formal letter with a letterhead, detailing that they are authorised to act as a representative of your business and outline the guidelines they must follow so that your business will be complying with GMB.
At the Milton Business Centre we by default opt into acting as an authorised representative of our clients company. However, for safety purposes remember to send a letter telling them what you intend to do with the office, what you need from them, and that you wish for them to be your representative.
It is worth noting that in recent years CoWorking spaces have become more mainstream and many new entrants don’t even provide telephone services to their tenants. In these locations it is harder to argue that the staff member is really an Authorised Representative or that the company is indeed located at that office as the coworking spaces staff and more importantly the tenants clients may not have a consistent means of contact with the companies employees. Our traditional approach suits many professionals like Lawyers, Solicitors, accountants and even software teams that need a more comprehensive approach.
Request a virtual office suite number
During the sign up process for a virtual office, request that your account be allocated a suite number as part of your business address. The virtual office is in essence a non-physical version of the executive suites being housed and offered in the same business centres which you hire the virtual office. The office may have a range of suite numbers which can be used by virtuals and no one else.
A suite number can come in handy as GMB has a habit of batching or purging businesses if they have the same address. This is a problem which can be faced by co-working spaces, virtual offices and serviced offices as typically their tenants will just list that they are on X Floor of Y Building and nothing more.
Listing a suite followed by floor and building address then matching that with your unique phone number will help differentiate yourself from everyone else on the floor and thus avoid GMB’s moderator.
Request a directory board listing
Often when trying to list your business on GMB the system will request a proof of occupancy, be that a robot calling, photo of the building, or a number/letter combo delivered via Australia Post.
One form of ID that is often requested is that of a directory board listing as this is physical proof of your occupancy of a certain location. To pre-empt this and to help your clients locate your business when they visit, place a request to have your name added to the board and have a photo of the board taken once the new name is added.
This will typically involve a one off fee or a monthly subscription but will be worth it in the long run for not just you but also your clients.
While the points above may be extensive, somewhat daunting and maybe a little over the top, they are just some of the strategies you can utilise to have a business listing that is both legitimate for your clients and valid with GMB. The system is largely automated and can easily strip businesses of their verification if they catch a whiff of someone no complying with its guidelines and so for your own sake it is best to be as thorough as possible.
While on the surface a virtual office can be seen as a bit of a dodgy business strategy they are just another form medium to which businesses can operate in our increasingly disconnected world. People do not need to always operate from a physical location anymore and they need the ability to be flexible with their office environment, as such co-working spaces and virtual offices have come into being to help fill that market demand.
Sources & References:
Our Fellow Serviced Offices -
- Servcorp 2018 Annual Report - https://www.servcorp.com.au/media/19932/servcorp_2018-annual-report-asx.pdf
- Servcorp 2017 Annual Report - https://www.servcorp.com.au/media/16125/servcorp_2017-annual-report-web.pdf - Servcorp 2017
- Davinci Virtual Offices Blog - SEO Benefits with a Virtual Office - https://www.davincivirtual.com/blog/4466/seo-benefits-with-a-virtual-office
- Lexington Blog Article - The importance of having a virtual office for SEO purposes - https://www.lexington.es/blog/en/the-importance-of-having-a-virtual-office-for-seo-purposes/
- Start Hub Blog about the benefits of GMB - https://starthubcenters.com/how-google-my-business-is-helping-your-business-succeed/
SEO Blogs -
- Hubspot Blog - The Ultimate Guide to Google My Business - https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/google-my-business
- Clever clicks (Twitter) blog article 7 Key Local Ranking Factors - Local SEO - https://cleverclicks.com.au/blog/7-key-local-ranking-factors-local-seo/
- Nichequest (Twitter) blog about this very topic - https://www.nichequest.com/is-a-virtual-office-legitimate-for-google-places/
- Adfers guide by Joshua Hardwick (Twitter) about SEO & GMB - https://ahrefs.com/blog/local-seo/
- Moz Blog about GMB and Co-Working Spaces by Miriam Ellis - https://moz.com/blog/are-coworking-offices-eligible-for-google-my-business-listings
- The Clickhub (Twitter) blog article about a GMB update in 2017 - https://theclickhub.com/gmb-update/
- FAQ Business Training blog about GMB - https://faqbusinesstraining.com.au/google-my-business-top-tips/
- Paperstreet (Twitter) blog post about GMB & Virtual Offices - https://www.paperstreet.com/blog/google-suspending-virtual-office-local-listings/
- Local Client Takeover blog about a GMB Update in 2017 - https://localclienttakeover.com/2017-local-updates-1/
- Pocket Insights (Twitter) guide to GMB - https://www.onqmarketing.com.au/google-my-business-help/
- How to Get Online (Twitter) blog about Virtual Offices - https://howtogetonline.com/virtual-office-business-address.php
- A Servant’s Heart (Twitter) blog about Service Area Businesses and Virtual Offices - https://eldersell.com/online-marketing/home-care-local-seo-service-area-businesses-vs-virtual-offices/
- Envigo (Twitter) blog about Optimising your Virtual Office for SEO & GMB - https://www.envigo.co.uk/blog/search-engine-optimisation/virtual-offices-optimisation-local-seo-and-gmb/
- Parallel Path blog about Virtual Offices and GMB - https://parallelpath.com/blog/virtual-addresses-and-google-local-places-pages
- IBIS World Serviced Office Leasing - Australia Market Research Report 2018 - https://www.ibisworld.com.au/industry-trends/specialised-market-research-reports/specialist-engineering-infrastructure-contractors/serviced-office-leasing.html
- Business.com Blog - 5 Reasons You Should Consider a Virtual Office by David Shiffman - https://www.business.com/articles/5-reasons-you-should-consider-a-virtual-office/