So many of us are desperate to rank well in Google for local queries when we don’t have a physical location in the searched city. The trouble is that Google don’t want to show businesses that are not physically located in the searched city if they can help it. In their guidelines, they are quite clear about trying to rate the listings, especially with false addresses like P.O. Boxes:
“Do not create a listing or place your pin marker at a location where the business does not physically exist. P.O. Boxes are not considered accurate physical locations.”
For companies that have service areas, Google helps a little by allowing them to allocate a service area in the Google+ Local/Places Dashboard:
“Businesses that operate in a service area, as opposed to a single location, should not create a listing for every city they service. Businesses that operate in a service area should create one listing for the central office or location and designate service areas.”
But often, this exercise can be futile as setting a service area in a competitive industry doesn’t seem to help much.
So, what can be done?
1. Forget Local & Go Organic
When it comes to SEO, it’s often best to take the path of least resistance. Google is always improving at serving Places Pages in the SERPs, but they still often surround those results with organic listings that it sees as appropriate. National sites like Yell.com and other large local directories do quite well with these results. But, there’s no reason that your small local business can’t compete with the big guys for these queries. All you need to do is create a page on your site that targets the query, link to it from other pages on your site, build up the domain authority of your site with good external links, and you could soon find yourself on page one for these queries. The challenge Yell.com and the like have is that, while they can rank for millions of local queries, they can’t focus on specific queries . . . you can.
2. Get an Actual Address
It’s not easy — but if there’s enough business to justify it, you should think about getting a real address for your business in every location you want to rank for. As long as the value of a customer is greater than the cost of the office space as well as the marketing needed to make the SEO work, this could be a solution. There is plenty of cheap office space available if you aren’t picky. And, don’t forget to go for space as close to the city centre as possible. That way you’ll be able to target search terms like ‘office space Cambridge’.
3. Get a Virtual Address
There have been many cases over the years where businesses in virtual office space have been delisted, with “virtualness” being the likely reason. And sometimes it appears that Google will ditch anything that has a P.O. Box or suspect address. However, virtual addresses can work. Several companies use virtual addresses and rank well in very competitive markets. It doesn’t hurt that they actually use their virtual offices to meet with clients, and they include the hours that they are in them in their Places Pages. The real trick to these is knowing how to answer the questions when a Google Places rep calls to confirm that you really are using that location. The challenge Google has is that using virtual office space is a legitimate business practice, and it can be hard to decipher which businesses are really using the space from those that are just playing the game.
4. Boost the Geo-Signals On & Off Your Site
So you’ve created a page for the target location. Now you need to add customer testimonials and case studies stating the location of the work you did in the target area.
Add photos and videos and geotag them with the target location to the website. Try to get reviews on relevant review sites that mention the location. Very often, these off-site geo-signals help.
5. Think Outside the Service Area
When setting your service area in the Google Places Dashboard, you can choose to either use the “Distance from one location,” which sets your service area inside a circle with a specified radius from your location, or submit a list of areas served. Businesses use the circle radius to set their location 90% of the time. But, there may be an advantage to submitting a list of post codes instead. When you use the circle, you are saying everything within the circle is important, which may impair your ability to rank anywhere inside the circle because you have spread yourself too thin, especially as the radius gets bigger. If instead, you submit a list of post codes that are targeted at specific areas within the circle, this might improve your ability to rank for queries in those areas. Of course, this may decrease your ability to rank for queries outside of the areas.