Does Renting a Virtual Office Hurt Your SEO?

A virtual office provides an actual, physical address and services related to traditional offices minus the high overhead costs of long lease or regular administrative personnel. Employees can work from anywhere in a virtual office while still having access to phone answering services, a physical mailing address, conference rooms, and videoconferencing services.

How Do Virtual Offices Work?

Virtual offices serve consumers as a single entity but do not have a physical location. This type of configuration is widespread among startups and small enterprises looking to cut costs.

Some of the more well-known companies that offer virtual offices globally include:

1.    Regus

2.    Davinci

3.    Office Evolution

4.    Allied Offices

5.    Sococo

6.    Alliance Virtual Offices

7.    Intelligent Office

8.    Opus Virtual Offices

9.    Northwest

10. EOffice

11. Servcorp

Virtual offices serve consumers as a single entity but do not have a physical location. This type of configuration is widespread among startups and small enterprises looking to cut costs. The growth of virtual offices has been aided by the development of web-based office productivity software and services, such as videoconferencing.

A virtual office may deliver a mailing address, phone answering, and videoconferencing services. As a result, a small company may appear larger than it is. Virtual office providers can also provide users with a physical address (or several) at which they can meet with clients. Occasionally, it can offer a virtual office user a sense of status if the address is a well-known area or street. Using a professional phone answering service can have the same result.

Can Your Virtual Office Hurt Your SEO?

Yes, it’s possible that your virtual office can become the bane of your local SEO efforts.

Google does not list more than one business in the same category at the exact location.  So, for example, if there are two personal injury lawyers in the same office, Google will only show one of them; the others will be filtered. So while your business may still appear on other websites like social media platforms and business directories, appearing on the local pack on the SERP may no longer be possible.

Surprised? Google released the algorithm update that caused this change to local SERPs years ago – specifically, in 2016. Google released the Possum update in 2016, and many business owners thought they’d been wiped out of the local three-pack and the Local Finder service.

It turns out that they weren’t indeed removed. Instead,  Google began filtering search results after the Possum update so that the local three-pack will only display one business for specific categories.

Since virtual offices cater to multiple businesses, there might be at least one other business in the same physical structure (and on the same street), and that puts your Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business) at risk of disappearing or “playing possum.”

Google did not solely set out to filter results using one criterion. Other types of businesses are affected, too. However, the Google Possum Update significantly impacts businesses in the exact physical location.

The goal was to prevent the search engine from offering nearly duplicate content in the local three-pack. As you may know, local search is among the best features of the search engine, and Google’s engineers have been finetuning local search for years.

Does Possum effectively delete ‘duplicate’ results because the other businesses are in the same building? No. But you lose potential exposure because not all customers will look for similar businesses in the exact location. Ultimately, having a virtual office and having other businesses in the same category may harm your ranking in local SERPs.

The 2016 Possum update also affects businesses located outside of city limits. Possum served as an equalizer to these businesses, as they can appear on local search results as if they were proximate to the city center, for example. The result was clear – these out-of-the-way businesses can potentially benefit from the advanced algorithm and additional exposure, which Possum reduced the exposure of the same businesses located in the same location/s.  

Possum will also filter results from businesses with multiple locations but with a single owner. Google will display only one, and the rest – you guessed it right – will play Possum. Other physical locations of the same businesses are still technically searchable, but they won’t be prioritized in the SERP. So, suppose someone was looking at Google Maps. In that case, those individual pins will still appear on the map. They will still be able to view uploaded photos, reviews, and any additional metadata available for each location.

If this is the first time you’ve encountered the Google Possum update, I’m sure that you’re worried about your business. Unfortunately, if you have a virtual office listed, there’s no guarantee that your business will always appear.

Based on observations, Google seems to have a sub-algorithm that flips businesses in the exact location for each search. As a result, results are rarely the same, as the goal of the search engine is to provide as much variety as possible in its SERPs.

SEO experts also observed that on top of location, SERPs also show more diversity depending on the keyword used by customers. The order of the keywords and additional terms in longtail keywords may produce different results. There’s no natural way to know but to test yourself.

Try different keyword combinations and see when your virtual office appears on local results. If your virtual office never appears, it’s possible that you need to start optimizing your listing so Google can rank it better for essential keywords. While it’s good that your business appears in the dropdown list, not appearing on top means your competitors are getting all the exposure and not your business.

As of this writing, there are still a lot of fluctuations in local results. However, like every other aspect of SEO, it’s essential to continue your keyword research and don’t forget to test, test, and test. Experimenting with different variables and metadata can frequently help your business surface.


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