Many small businesses operate out of home offices. It’s a smart way to save money when you don’t need much space, as is often the case in the world of ecommerce. There’s only one problem – if you’re working from home, you’re not about to put your address online and that’s going to hurt your SEO rankings.
Your business identification, often described shorthand as Name, Address, Phone Number or NAP, is the top factor considered in SEO ranking and without it, your company may find itself on the bottom of the barrel. And while business owners have developed workarounds, Google is making it harder than ever to slip under the radar.
Why NAP Matters
In the age of ecommerce, why does Google care so much about physical data like a business address? The simple answer is that, regardless of where or how you do business, they want to be sure you’re a real company. And that’s why businesses not only want to see your NAP posted, but it needs to be consistent. Having inconsistent NAP citations will also hurt your rankings, and while that’s an incentive for physical businesses to keep their data up to date, it just makes things difficult for digital-first businesses with private addresses.
For a while, one of the best approaches for home-based businesses hoping to sidestep the NAP requirements was to rent virtual office space. Virtual offices, sometimes referred to as Regus offices after one of the companies providing this service, generally allow multiple businesses to share a single suite that none of them really use. The Google Possum algorithm, however, can detect a shared suite and pushes those businesses down in local rankings, if not across the board.
The Google My Business (GMB) guidelines require that any address be fully staffed during business hours, which is why you can’t use a virtual office address for your online business. It’s one thing to have an individual business address that no one visits – an office all your own – but Google isn’t interested in playing games with potential frauds and fakes.
Updating your NAP is, in the best of cases, a chance for businesses to recruit local customers and it makes sense that when looking for a product, buyers would prefer a local business when trying to buy in-person. That’s why Google filters results by proximity when users search for a business or product. It’s also why, in the past, home businesses didn’t worry about hiding their addresses online; no one was coming to the business address anyway because all business operated online.
So if using your business address is so important to outcomes but home businesses are essentially ineligible when it comes to this SEO feature, what can small businesses do? Many balance out Google-based losses by selling on additional platforms, rather than just through their personal website. Other simply rent an address in the local sales zone despite that fact that it isn’t a physical business. It’s not an ideal solution financially, but if it boosts sales enough, the added expense can be worth it.
While we tend to think of Google as a champion of businesses with clear rules that apply to all companies, failure to play by their particular rules can destroy your SEO standing, especially as a local business. So do your homework and keep a close watch on your rankings. If you compromise one SEO factor, you’ll have to make it up in other areas if you want to keep your business in the limelight.