Google Maps and PO Boxes – When can they be used?

Updated 11/05/09- Authoritative word on PO Boxes from Joel Headley of Google:

PO Boxes have proven unverifiable and are called out as such.

We’re working on providing the right solution for businesses that need to hide a home address, however.


The poor man’s virtual office, the PO Box, has been singled out in the new Business Listing Guidelines as they relate to your business address:

  • Do not create listings at locations where the business does not physically exist.
  • PO Boxes do not count as physical locations.(italics mine)
  • Do not create more than one listing for each business location, either in a single account or multiple accounts.
  • Businesses that operate in a service area as opposed to a single location should not create a listing for every city they service. Service area businesses should create one listing for the central office of the business only.

Poster Meleighsmith noted yesterday:

It’s too bad for people who conduct business from a home office that P.O. Boxes can not be used as addresses (I have a client that is a Therapist who does this, and doesn’t want her physical address quite so prominently visible like that). For accuracy’s sake, I think it would be better to use a true P.O. Box rather than a box at a “UPS Store” – at least with a P.O. Box you’re not scamming potential customers.

Miriam Ellis made a similar comment about PO Boxes:

This is a pain in the neck. Google has got to figure out a solution for local businesses with private addresses…remember, 50% of SMBs are run from home.

But is it Google’s intention to totally eliminate their use? I think not. In the case that Meleigh mentions and in the case of service businesses, I believe that the use of PO Box is still considered legitimate as long as you only use it instead of your actual physical address and not as a way to create additional, virtual locations. This paragraph from the recently updated Local Business Center User Guide clarifies the point somewhat:

Every business listing must have a mailing address.
Usually this is the physical address of your business, but certain businesses may wish to use a PO Box. For example, if you wish to keep the physical location of your business private, or if your business provides a service at various locations (like a cleaning service).

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Maps and PO Boxes - When can they be used? by

21 thoughts on “Google Maps and PO Boxes – When can they be used?”

  1. Ah…thanks Mike! We have 3 such SOHO clients, and this will help us in getting their listings updated and verified too!

    At least I hope it will! Will report back tho on just that issue when it’s sorted by G!

    :-)

    Jim

  2. With quite a few changes and many questions following them, Google should send a representative into this blog and into other web forums to further explain the changes and answer questions.

    Mike: I appreciate your comments and interpretations. They are interpretations, though, logical and well thought out. Regardless, since it is Google that is generating the proclamations, it is google that should answer the questions.

  3. This is a tough one. I am one of those service businesses that has a UPS store mailbox. This location gives me a physical address with a suite number, so it looks like a real address. I actually conduct business from this location receiving all mail, packages, payroll, etc at this location.

    I’m glad google is trying to crack down on spam in their results, but there are certain things that are going to be impossible to enforce. Crack down on the guys who list their business names as things like “$1 for a Dozen Roses in Phoenix, Arizona, Mesa, Gilbert, Glendale and other Arizona locations and we do carpet cleaning too!”

    If google somehow “blacklists” UPS Store addresses in their index, what about the actual store location? Are those poor UPS Store franchisees going to be left out in the cold because Google feels like the address is not “valid”? Will the eyeglass store and ice cream shop located in the same physical building with the same street number and a different suite number be chastised as well?? Seems like this is going to backfire…

  4. Nate

    My read of the guidelines and the User guide would indicate that your use is legitimate and ok.

    I could be wrong, but I don’t think they are talking about blacklists of UPS stores. They seem to be saying- one business location = one PO Box or UPS location.

    It is the use of PO Box as virtual locations that they are attempting to regulate. How and when is the real question.

  5. Yeah, that is what I had figured. Just seems like they are trying to control something that is not controllable.

    For example, I could get a box at every UPS store in town, start a different LLC for every box, have each LLC with its own url, and add a line to a cell phone plan for every box. These are all legitimate companies, locations, and phone numbers.

    What they need to control is the spamming of the listings in regards to the content that is in the listing. If someone wants to pay for each location though with the method above then let them. It’s no different than paying for multiple ads in a magazine, newspaper, classified, etc…

    BTW, I do not plan on doing this and don’t condone this!

  6. It looks like this may be part of Google’s attempt to thwart mapspam?

    This still leaves the door wide open for people using fraudulent address to LOOK local when in fact they are not. So no PO’s may create as many problems as it solves.

    We just had a sudden an unexpected drop in mapspam in our zip code, a topic for another thread…

  7. This is probably the one area that might stay vague to give Google reason to look at individual cases. If they say no mailboxes ups or p.o. period, then they are hurting a lot of legitimate businesses. If they say UPS are ok, P.O.’s aren’t ok….then people take advantage.

  8. I’m certain UPS has seen a nice little uptick in their Mail Box services of late. Google’s banning of PO boxes should send another wave of businesses their way.

    Or, maybe this is Google’s plan to revive the real estate market. Force businesses that operate without a location to go rent or buy office space. Get that bubble inflating again so all those realtors and mortagage brokers can once again spend big bucks on Adwords.

  9. @Miriam, I don’t really think this is Google’s master plan to revive the floundering real estate market, just being snarky during a week of hating on the big G for a number of things.

  10. @Stever UPS boxes are still considered mailboxes – Same as a post office box, just run by a private company. And google should treat them as such. They are in no way a physical location. They are a mailing address – but not a location. No one works out of a box in a Post office or UPS store.

    I Agree with google – PO boxes shouldn’t serve as your location. Peple know you aren’t working out of a box in a mailbox facility. It keeps their listings legit.

    I also don’t understand why people are still using their home addresses. There are alot of crazy’s out there. Get a virtual office to protect your private life. Plus they usually help bolster your business image.

    The best solution for this is a virtual office service that provides you with a physical office address (not a mailbox). You can find these services easily for less than $1 a day. Just slightly more than a PO box – but provides your business with a physical presence.

  11. @Samantha, yes, technically the UPS Mailboxes are PO Boxes, of sorts. But so are virtual offices, when you just get the bare bones service. It’s basically a mail forwarding service. Many virtual office companies provide secretary services, use of conference rooms, virtual phone numbers, etc., but often are options within their more expensive packages. So when you just use their most basic service it’s really no different than using a UPS address.

  12. @colorful That’s too broad a statement to really mean anything. There certainly are “serious” business that use PO Boxes.

    I’m building a website for a client that operates a remote wilderness lodge primarily for backcountry snowmobiling deep in the mountains. The lodge is located far far far outside anywhere that a postal worker will ever go to deliver mail. It’s located on public forest land (long term tourism/recreation lease from government) and has no physical address associated with it. It is for all intents and purposes in the middle of nowhere (once you leave the pavement it’s another 30 miles of dirt logging roads).

    The nearest town is very small, population 3000, and a PO Box in that town is their ONLY option. There are no virtual office or UPS services available in an area like that and even if there was they would be located 50 miles from the actual location of the lodge.

    So does that mean they are not a serious business? They most certainly are.

    This exact example may be a mute point as Google Maps/Local searching is not really a typical traffic source for such a business, so PO Box or not, or getting into Google Maps based on an address or not has no real bearing on them. But I would certainly argue that there are legit cases for a serious business to use a PO Box.

  13. Hey Mike

    Any idea on the latest re.. PO Boxes?

    Allowed..? or detrimental to placing/ranking in local listings?

    I’ve had one for 8 years (for perfectly legitimate practical reasons/convenience etc), but have recently plumeted in the listings, and wondering if the algo has been tweaked re listings with po boxes

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