A critical strategy for successfully running a business these days is Search Engine Optimization (SEO). You want to be findable when your target customers search for your product or services on a search engine like Google, and that’s what SEO offers. And importantly, local businesses, such as restaurants and law firms, must include their address as part of their SEO strategy since users will likely search using keywords like “restaurant near me” or law firm + location. This is known as local SEO.
We can see how important location is for local businesses and SEO. Whether you’re a big corporation or a small delivery service, you must include your address if you want your business to pop on Google’s first page when a user searches based on your service area.
But then comes the challenge; what if you don’t have a physical office but work from home? Can you use a virtual address for your local business?
Key considerations when setting up your local business online
Many businesses, such as companies offering remote services, wouldn’t need a physical location. However, Google and most other search engines require every business to have an address to be identified as a “real business.” Also, you must include an address when incorporating your business as an LLC or Corporation. Having a consistent address across your website, Articles of Organization, etc is also recommended.
This can put you in a dilemma since you don’t have a physical office address and can’t provide your home address for safety concerns and business reputation. Of course, you want to have a professional image.
Your best solution is a virtual address.
What is a virtual business address?
A virtual address or virtual office gives businesses a physical address and other office-related resources without the expense of actually owning or leasing a brick-and-mortar property. While some companies offer PO boxes, some can provide you with a virtual address and phone number, which appears to have an actual office space.
Reasons to consider using a virtual address.
- You and your team work remotely, so you do not need an actual office.
- Get to own a professional business address you can provide to clients.
- You get to have a business address even though you work from home, thus giving your business a professional image.
- Since you can’t incorporate your business using a PO box, you can use a virtual address instead if you don’t have an actual office space.
- You can use a virtual address on your website and still appear organically on Google’s first page.
- Depending on your service area, you can pick any venue with a virtual address.
So yes, you can use a virtual address for your local business. But the big question is, how does a virtual address impact your local SEO?
Business address and the local 3-pack
When you make a local search on Google, you would likely see a map with pinned locations, followed by a list of three businesses with their ratings and addresses, before the organic search results.
The map and list of three businesses are referred to as the local 3-pack. To get the most out of your local SEO, it’s excellent if your business pops up on this listing and the regular organic results.
But the two results work differently. Google will likely feature your page among the organic results if your content is well optimized for the local query, you have authoritative backlinks, your website is well set up, etc.
On the other hand, Google uses another criterion to determine whether your business is worthy of the local 3-pack. This criterion is based on your Google My Business information, including business name, address, phone, and web address.
Note that your local business wouldn’t appear on the local 3-pack if you do not create a Google My Business profile for it.
Now comes the problem: you can’t use a virtual address on your Google My Business profile.
Google My Business
Google My Business puts your business on the map. When setting up the account, you’ll have to input your business name, address, and phone number. Then, people who search locally using keywords like “Plumber Bronx” can become your customers when they find you on Google Maps or the 3-pack. That means more business for you, making the local 3-pack the most lucrative spot on the SERP.
But unfortunately, using a virtual address on your Google My Business is against Google’s guidelines. When Google finds out that the address you’ve provided doesn’t connote an actual storefront, office, or professional setting, they’ll instantly remove your business from the listing.
Although this doesn’t affect your position on the regular organic results, it impedes your SEO if you desire to feature in the 3-pack as a local business.
What do you do if you can’t use a virtual address?
For businesses that do not need a physical address but still offer real-life services, such as plumbing, babysitting, and photography, Google allows you to hide your address and use a service area instead.
So rather than seeing something like 25th ave, Bronx County, New York, users only need to know you service the entire New York, as the case may be.
Note that an online-only business cannot have a business page according to Google’s Guidelines.
You can use a virtual address for your business and appear on the organic search results. It’s excellent, and Google has no business with that.
However, using a virtual address isn’t great if you wish to feature on Google’s local 3-pack. That’s because Google My Business requires a physical address, and you may be penalized for using a virtual one.
Notwithstanding, consider using a service area and hiding your virtual address if you don’t need an actual physical location.
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