In the very near future, there are going to be a lot of shocked and angry business owners.
For several years, a popular SEO hack has been to rent a UPS Store mailbox near the center of the city you want to rank well in.
For at least three years, Google has been telling business owners they can’t use a PO Box as a business address for Google Maps.
Google has said for at least two years that UPS Store or other rented mailboxes are also a no-go for Google Maps listings. Now it looks like that edict is finally filtering down into local search results.
It’s likely this filtering will roll out to large cities first, and eventually roll out to all geo-located search results. This is policy enforcement is already affecting a few search results in mid-sized cities.
The Google guidelines for Google Local/My Business Pages says, customers must be able to make in-person contact with customers during stated business hours. The only exceptions to this are ATMs, video rental kiosks (like Redbox) or express mail drop-off boxes.
Addresses that will also eventually be eliminated are “ongoing service, class, or meeting at a location that you don’t own or have the authority to represent”. This would mean co-working spaces where you don’t own the lease on the space.
Individual practitioners, like doctors, lawyers, or insurance agents who do business out of an office, and can be contacted in-person at their location during business hours are accepted by Google’s quality standards.
But the seventeen businesses listing the local UPS store as their business address will eventually be eliminated. Virtual offices are also on the chopping block. This would include where you meet clients occasionally, or where you simply pick up your mail, are also on the chopping block.
This may come sooner than you think, as Map Maker was disabled temporarily, starting in mid-May, 2015 for upgrades to the moderation system.This shouldn’t come as a shock to SEO aficionados, as PO Boxes have been a no-no since 2012, and UPS Store addresses have been getting booted since at least 2013.
How UPS Store Addresses Became Used In The First Place
The Google Map Maker and Google My Business teams have been using the Street View in Google Maps to verify legitimate businesses from scam businesses for years.
For a long time, if the verification team saw an actual storefront when they pulled up your business address, your Google Maps approval was almost automatic.
UPS Stores are usually located in shopping centers, so the Google Maps Street View of UPS Store addresses would pass most of the time. People with home businesses who wanted privacy got used to using the UPS Store for a business address, because there were no negative SEO effects.
Some savvy SEO-types figured out that setting a business address as a UPS Store address near the center of a city would increase the local search rank for that business, when the city name was included in the search terms.
What To Expect Next
Imagine for a minute that you’re Google Maps in 2015. You want to return the highest quality search results for users. You’re watching how many local businesses a gaming local search results, and that’s something you’re not going to reward the same way you did in the past.
Without a doubt, they see that each UPS Store in each city has fifteen to twenty businesses running off of the same address, and they’re thinking, “That’s something we need to fix.”
SEO is a moving target. The search engines are continually refining their algorithms. What worked two years ago might not work today.
What if you’re an online only or home-based business, and you still want to appear in Google Maps?
Alternatives To UPS Store Business Addresses
If you’re using a mailbox service for a business address connected to a Google Local/My Business Page, you might consider switching to a brand page on Google instead.
You can also choose to designate a service area for a home-based business. These are known as Service-Area Businesses or SABs. Designating a service area might require you to be re-verified by Google.
No matter what address or hours you list on your Google Business page, expect Google to check up on you from time to time. This ongoing verification may be calling you on the phone, sending you postcards, or checking the legitimacy of your storefront.