If you’re running a law firm, large or small, marketing is usually a priority. Local search engine optimization is often a big part of that. That’s why you should understand the possible ramifications of using virtual offices to spearhead your local SEO strategy. Let’s take a closer look at what you need to know.
What is a Virtual Office?
If you’re operating a virtual office, you’re either running your office from your home or using a virtual office network. The term “virtual office” refers to a shared space. You can use a room for meetings and have your calls and mail directed to a physical location. Meanwhile, the remainder of your work stays “virtual.” There are a number of reasons why law firms may have an interest in using virtual offices. These include:
- The provision of a suitable space for meeting clients nationwide,
- The flexibility to allow associates to work from home,
- Cheaper overheads for solo and small practitioners.
On the other hand, you may want to think twice about using a Regus or Davinci location for your law firm, even if you’re leasing your own office space from them.
The Importance of a Google My Business Listing
Law firm SEO is highly competitive, and a Google My Business (GMB) listing is a vital element of local search optimization for any law firm. For a GMB listing to be successful in a certain city, your company usually needs to have a local office address in that city to be competitive. If you don’t have an address within the city limits of Nashville, for example, you are unlikely to come up in the top 3 local search results for “DUI lawyers in Nashville.” Known as the “Local 3-Pack,” the top 3 listings in local search are prime real estate for any law firm. Without a top ranking, the chances that a potential client will contact your office are greatly diminished – it’s that simple.
Lots of law firms are trying to rank in multiple cities using virtual office addresses. Often, it’s an unscrupulous or inexperienced SEO provider who encourages them to do this. Let’s take this example to demonstrate how it works:
Imagine that a law firm has an office in Atlanta, Georgia and another office in Charleston, South Carolina. The firm’s attorneys meet clients across the Southeast. For this reason, they’re keen to rank highly in local searches in cities between their two locations. To that end, they sign on with Regus virtual offices and set up a new GMB listing for every Regus office address in cities across their target area. It makes sense to them because they could meet with clients in a virtual office, if necessary.
After setting up their GMB listings with Regus addresses, their strategy appears to be working. It has the effect of making their firm seem larger, and they’re getting more prospects across their target area. Not only that, but they’re outranking small firms and solo practitioners in the Local 3-Pack who serve clients in those cities full time.
Unfortunately, five years down the road, Google suspends all the firm’s listings. This doesn’t just include the virtual offices, but ALL locations, including their Atlanta headquarters. The new prospect pipeline slows to a trickle, and the firm’s managing partner must scramble to figure out what happened.
Clearly, this is a major marketing problem.
So, why would Google suspend the law firm’s GMB listings in the above example?
Complying with the Google My Business Guidelines
Many providers of virtual office services claim that virtual offices are beneficial for SEO.
This may seem to be the case for many firms that are getting away with using virtual office addresses for their GMB listings. If you have a virtual law firm set up with a GMB listing, be aware that Google could suspend your listing at any time if it violates Google My Business guidelines. In this eventuality, the chances of your listing being reinstated are low.
Still want to take your chances? Consider that Google already knows which addresses are linked to Davinci, Regus, and other popular providers of virtual offices. Not only that, but your firm’s competitors are sure to report your listings eventually for violating the guidelines.
There is an exception to the GMB virtual offices guidelines. This applies if you’re renting a virtual office space and staffing it during your working hours. However, you still run the risk of getting your listing suspended. Should Google remove your listing, you’ll need to prove you’re not in violation of the guidelines, which can be difficult.
Should you consider using a coworking space rather than a virtual office?
What is a Coworking Space?
Unlike virtual offices, you physically occupy a coworking space during your business hours. You can include a coworking space in a Google My Business listing. This is not the case for a virtual office, which fails the Google guidelines.
While a coworking office may be eligible for GMB listings, it still isn’t an ideal alternative. While it might be a good option if you’re a solo lawyer just starting your practice, it’s still risky. Your GMB listing may end up being merged with a different business at your coworking location. This is especially likely if another lawyer is using the same address. This won’t do your marketing strategy any good.
A better option for law firm SEO
It makes sense that Google would want the businesses that appear in local search results to be relevant and, in most cases, physically close to the person performing the search. If you can’t afford a staffed brick-and-mortar office in your target city, you need to reevaluate your SEO approach.
Focus on making your site more relevant with a strong content strategy, data-informed keyword targeting, and on-page optimization. This is a far more sustainable solution for your firm than trying to achieve local SEO success with a virtual law office.