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Victoria & Vancouver SEO

Break TOS – Don’t Get Caught: Virtual Addresses

Google Places | 14 May 2012

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If you are a strictly white hat SEO, you can click away now. However, if you are an SEO who likes to think outside of the box, or at the VERY LEAST, gain insight into their competitor’s tactics, keep reading.

I am not sure what ‘hat’ you would classify the following under, but perhaps I will leave that up to Linda to come up with as she recently coined ‘red hat.’

Mine and your clients aspirations don’t always fit within Google TOS – in fact, I have many clients who thrive outside of it, hiring me specifically because they can be aggressive, while still being able to sleep at night.

The most common reasons I find people want to leverage Virtual Addresses are:

  • Office located outside metro area. They way metro leads, but don’t have the metro address to get them.
  • Expansion. Your client is an immigration lawyer with one physical office. Said client wants to expand into neighboring cities, states, maybe even countries, without the associated overhead.
  • Lead gen model. Launch a site in the service niche, get an address in a metro, collect leads and sell them.

No matter what your motivation, all three of these can be accomplished using a mailbox or virtual office/address.

Getting said address is not tricky. You can very simply call a UPS store, and rent a mail box for as cheap as $25/mo.

On the flip side, what can be tricky is getting away with it. As I am sure you know or suspect, mail boxes and virtual addresses/offices are against Google TOS. If you get caught, which is happening more than ever, they will kill your listing.

Before I dived into agency SEO, I worked for an affiliate network. At the time, we were recognized as having one of the largest and most sophisticated compliance departments around. During my stint in the compliance department, I learnt a great deal about how they caught tricksters, which I believe has given me great insight into how Google might go about it as well.

So here are some ways you can still provide for those aggressive clients, while managing both your and their risk:

  1. If you are managing multiple virtual address/office/mailbox listings, DO NOT group all the listings in the same account. I have seen too many ships go down, and more often than not it’s because 1 listing got reported, Google took a closer look and nailed them all. Why put it on a platter for them? I find a lot of agencies know this, but are too lazy to do it. 1 listing per email.
  2. Pick up some IP addresses from your neighborhood IP broker, and solely use those for logging into each account. Have one set aside for each location. If it is a Miami virtual office, use a Miami IP. Be sure to use Firefox, and between logging into different accounts and switching IPs, make sure you are cleaning your browser and your computer.

    Also worth mentioning, the email addresses you use to manage each listing, create those email addresses on the IP that you intend to use to login to them in the future.

  3. Foot prints: Do not use the same business description all across the board. Another example might be using the same URL for all your locations. It might be the easier route, but again you are showing Google all your cards.
  4. Don’t be stupid to think Google is. These are pretty elementary tactics for avoiding the knife, but there are certainly more ways Google can figure it out. Be Paranoid.
  5. Login to each account often. In more competitive niches, your competitors will know the local virtual addresses and will report you. Often times your listing will go under review, and in that case just do a null submit and your listing will be live again within a couple days.

Finally, be sure to make it very clear to your client that breaking TOS has its risks. Make sure they understand that.

Related posts:

  1. Hosting Myths Debunked: Private vs Public


  • matthew hunt


    great post! i really like this one. glad you are sharing more lately – nice work!

    i love how everyone pretends to be all white hat, but you and i both know this is not always the case. you are right it’s ok for clients to make that their call as long as they know the risks involved.

    • Adam SteeleAdam Steele

      Black/white hat are just the most abused terms in SEO – annoys the heck out of me.

      As long as you manage the risk, ie have a couple organic rankings in place in case your listing gets clipped…it’s all good. That, and just not being an idiot, and you’ll be okay for the most part.

      Thanks for stopping by Matt : )

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