Having worked with law firms over the last two decades, one of the more common questions we receive centers around the idea of real office space versus virtual office space. Before we answer this month’s question, let’s define the two different types of spaces.
A real office space is not only where you regularly work, it’s also a space that is yours and yours alone. The address is solely associated with your law firm. It isn’t shared with other law firms, or even other types of businesses. It’s where you show up to work each week, where your staff shows up to work, and a location where official correspondence is sent and received in a timely manner. If a potential client visited this type of office, they would be able to speak with an official employee of your firm.
A virtual office space is not associated with one business. It is solely an address that a law firm uses as a means of presenting office space in a location other than where it’s actually located. It is not a space where you or employees of your law firm regularly travel to in order to conduct business. While the specifics of your contract may allow you or employees of your law firm to meet with potential clients at a specified time, potential clients cannot just show up to this space and speak with an official employee of your law firm.
Having said that, our question is…
Q: Can I strategically rent out virtual office space to help my firm rank in more cities?
A: No, virtual office space will not help you rank in more cities. Google knows whether or not an address is a virtual space. Think about it – how did you come across the address for rent? You probably Googled it, right? And the address popped up somewhere near the top of search? Google knows that the space is virtual! Aside from that, Google references public records to help verify that a business is located where it claims it is.
There really isn’t much more to it than that. While some law firms are allowed to meet with clients at virtual-office-space conference rooms, it’s inaccurate to present that space as belonging to a specific law firm. Obtaining virtual office space as a means of manipulating search results is not only disingenuous, it’s also against Google Guidelines.
According to Google, “in order to qualify for a Google My Business listing, a business must make in-person contact with customers during its stated hours.” So, let’s take SLS, for instance. Our stated business hours are Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. If a potential client shows up to our office during those hours, even unannounced, that potential client will be able to speak to an actual employee of SLS Consulting, Inc. If we were to open up a virtual location in New York, and we listed the same business hours, a potential client would obviously not be able to meet with us. Heck, if we opened up a virtual office space across the street from our current location, we wouldn’t be able to meet with people unless the space was staffed with SLS employees.
For Google, ineligible businesses include those that consist of “an ongoing service, class, or meeting at a location that you don’t own or have the authority to represent.” Now, many law firms claim that having available meeting space qualifies as having a legitimate office space. It would, if the meeting space was blocked out during the same time each week. If that were the case, though, it would also need a representative from the law firm present during specified business hours to meet with potential clients. Then, and only then, would you be able to make the argument that the office space is indeed legitimate – provided the conference room was designated as its own space and recognized as such by the U.S. Postal Service.
Wait, what’s that you’re asking? How can a conference room have its own individual address if it’s part of a larger office? Well, it can’t. Thus, a conference room cannot legitimately be labeled as office space. Remember, it all comes down to how Google defines a business location. If you’re attempting to look for loopholes to game the system, Google has likely already thought of it. That wasn’t always the case, but it is now. If you want to open up new office locations to reach a larger audience, you’ll need to staff that location in order for it to be eligible to display on Google Maps. Otherwise, AdWords is a good option that may work just as well.
Now, if it’s off-putting for a potential client to work with a law firm that isn’t even located in the same city, that’s something the law firm is going to just have to accept.
Establishing a strong local search presence takes a lot of work, particularly if you’re opening up new offices. If you need assistance with building your law firm, look no further than SLS Consulting, Inc. We can help set up a firm foundation that is 100% Google-compliant and will pay dividends for years to come. For more information, please call (323) 254-1510 today.
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