- Not all businesses have or need a physical address, especially small businesses.
- Some online-only businesses use virtual addresses for official purposes and wonder if this is a good solution when trying to rank in local searches.
- Local searches in Google require real physical addresses. You can be penalized for using a virtual address in Google My Business.
Using a Virtual Business Address for Local SEO
These days, most marketers know that no business is successful without a thoughtful and effective search engine optimization strategy. However, if you have a small, local business and you don’t have a marketing degree, you might think SEO strategies are just for big companies with a lot of resources, large offices, or multiple storefront locations who are competing with one another for highly valuable keywords.
The truth is that small businesses have just as much to gain from an effective SEO strategy as large corporations. By focusing on local SEO, small businesses can drive qualified local traffic, leads, and build a loyal and reliable customer base.
One of the major roadblocks for many small businesses looking to develop and implement an effective local SEO strategy is their address. For small businesses with a storefront, office, or other kind of physical location, there’s usually no problem. But what if your business is run out of your home?
There are a lot of kinds of businesses that don’t need and don’t have a physical location. Despite this, search engines – Google especially – typically require an address to prove that your business is a “real” business, which can put some small business owners in a bind. Many people are wisely concerned about submitting their home address to the general public.
Small business owners who want to take advantage of the traffic and revenue afforded to them by local SEO have a few options. To understand which option is best, it’s helpful to understand a little context about local SEO.
Local SEO basics
When you search, search engines typically customize the results you see on the search engine results page (SERP) using the information associated with your signed in account, your IP address, and other factors. This way, when you execute a search on Google or use a voice assistant, they can provide results that are relevant and helpful to you, wherever you are.
In addition to the normal list of results, Google will also typically display what’s called a local 3-pack. To get the most out of local SEO, you want your business to show up prominently in both places. However, the two types of listings work a little differently and have slightly different requirements. That’s where the virtual business address comes in.
What is the difference between a local 3-pack and a normal local listing?
Google’s local 3-pack displays at the top of the page for most local search terms. This includes queries containing “near me” or “in [location].” The local 3-pack generally displays a map with pinned locations, 3 listings with business name, star rating, and address.
For some businesses, like restaurants, you’ll see a picture. Other types of businesses will display a link to the business’ website or directions to their location. For businesses without a physical location, you can see where the challenge comes in. Google’s local 3-pack sources information from multiple places, including from searchers, but primarily the information comes from Google My Business.
The other type of listing, here called a “normal local listing,” is just a search engine result that’s relevant for a local query. The way your business’ website is set up, its content, how many links it has, etc. will determine your position in this type of ranking.
Using Google My Business
In order to set up a Google My Business listing, you need to provide your business’ name, address, and phone number. Google also recommends providing hours of operation, website, primary category, photos, and much more.
If you want to show up in the local 3-pack, you usually need to provide an address. If you’re uncomfortable with sharing your home address, which is understandable, then you might be inclined to provide a virtual address.
What is a virtual business address?
While some companies use PO Boxes, there are companies that provide virtual business addresses and phone numbers, which make it appear like your business has an official location. There are many reasons why a company might want to set up a virtual business address. For example, maybe a company is made up of employees that all work remotely. It would still be a good idea to have a central “location” or professional business address to provide to clients.
Should I use a virtual business address for local SEO?
Using a virtual business address or PO Box in Google My Business is against Google’s guidelines. If Google discovers that your address doesn’t represent an actual storefront, office, or other professional setting, they will remove your listing. For businesses that may not have a physical location, such as plumbers, babysitters, photographers, etc. but still take place in the real world, Google gives you the option of hiding your address and providing a service area. Google prohibits online-only businesses from having business pages.
TL;DR: Using a virtual business address is a liability which can cost your business a place in the most lucrative spot on the SERP if it’s discovered by Google.
The good thing is that service area businesses show up in the same place as businesses with physical locations in the local 3-pack. Instead of providing directions to your business’ location, Google will just link to your website.
If you want to use a virtual business address on your website, you should. Google’s guidelines for business addresses don’t extend beyond their own services. Outside of the Google My Business sourced areas of the local search engine results page, the criteria for ranking well are slightly different. If your website is well-optimized, with authoritative, organic backlinks, and high-quality content, you should expect to rank whether you have a virtual address or not.
Have more local SEO questions?
As a small business ourselves, we take pride in being able to put ourselves in our clients’ shoes when it comes to local SEO. Reach out to the Redefine team today with your local SEO questions.