Google Places Updates Guidelines Updates on PO Box Policy

Google has announced in the forums that they will update the Guideline to explicitly ban the use of PO Boxes in both line 1 and 2 of the address fields.

P.O. Boxes (and their UPS equivalent) have long been banned by Google for their use in the primary street address line of a listing. This came about due to the widespread abuses in the locksmith industry a number of years ago.

However, there are many businesses in rural America that can not receive mail at their primary location and Google has allowed the use of PO Boxes in the line two address field to accommodate them. Unfortunately this was open to abuse by spammers as well (I demonstrated how this hacked worked in late 2010 with the creation of Illusory Laptop Repair).

Early on in the evolution of Google Local, Google actually encouraged the use of PO Boxes by businesses that did not have a physical local presence. However their use quickly got out of hand.

Google first added the prohibition on the use of PO Boxes in 2009 after widespread abuses of the feature to create additional locations. In late 2010, after the November 2010 guideline update, they actively began removing rejecting listings that had PO Box in their first address line. Subsequently they added a nanny bot filter in the Places Dashboard that prevented the use of the words PO Box when creating a new Places listing that gave a Term Not Allowed error if the term were used.

In February of this year, Google went through several rewrites of the Guidelines to require that internal mail stops and office suites be placed in line 2 and this practice was reinforced by Google Places Community Manager Vanessa in her video summary last week.

The announcement in the forums that they will update the Guideline seems to have preceded the actual change to the Guidelines.

Here is the evolution of the guideline from 2009 till today with the changes highlighted:

11/2009
Guideline
11/17/2010
Guideline
02/08/2012
Guideline
02/10/2012
Guideline
05/24/2012
Guideline
Do not create listings at locations where the business does not physically exist. PO Boxes do not count as physical locations. Do not create listings at locations where the business does not physically exist. P.O. Boxes are not considered accurate physical locations. Listings submitted with P.O. Box addresses will be removed. Do not create a listing or place your pin marker at a location where the business does not physically exist. P.O. Boxes are not considered accurate physical locations. If you operate from a location but receive mail at a P.O. Box there, please list your physical address in Address Line 1, and put your P.O. Box information in Address Line 2. Do not create a listing or place your pin marker at a location where the business does not physically exist. P.O. Boxes are not considered accurate physical locations. If you operate from a location but receive mail at a mail box there, please list your physical address in Address Line 1, and put your mail box or suite number in Address Line 2. (No change in wording, just a change in enforcement)

Google will be emailing all businesses that still have PO Boxes in their Places listing and asking them to remove the PO Box information. If the change requires reverification by post card Google is asking that the business request assistance via the following Google Help Troubleshooter path:

Select: I tried PIN verification for a single listing ? Yes, the listing already appears owner-verified

Are you setting up a brand new Places listing?

Try creating and verifying the listing using your physical location. If you don’t meet customers at your address, make sure you hide your business location. Places may give you the option to verify by phone.

If you cannot verify using the available options, you’ll need to request a manual verification using this troubleshooter path:

Select: I tried PIN verification for a single listing ? No, I am attempting to verify my listing –> The status is not Needs Action –> Postcard –> Yes

Once you submit a request via the contact form, please give the Google Places support team up to a week to get back in touch with you via e-mail.

Note: Users with a “P.O. Box” in Address Line 1 or 2 should have received an e-mail by now explaining this policy change and next steps (via the e-mail associated with your Places account).

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Places Updates Guidelines Updates on PO Box Policy by

7 thoughts on “Google Places Updates Guidelines Updates on PO Box Policy”

  1. I understand, and agree, about the need to do this… however there are legitimate rural businesses that are forced to receive mail from a PO box. Horse breeders, dog kennels, race tracks, etc. Will verification be a prolonged hassle? Please assist these types of businesses too Google :-) —> I hope the Places Support Team can handle this extra work :-)

    Thanks for the heads up Mike, as well as the process to deal with it :-)

  2. Mike:

    I can’t help but think that the serious serial spammers are in part a cause for the evolution of the PO box TOS. Your review of the 29Prime Case, and analysis of how they tied the PO address to their location in establishing their URL highlighted how deliberate that business was in creating an original address off of a PO box.

    It creates a problem and annoyance for small businesses and rural businesses that have genuine reasons for establishing PO box addresses.

    As Andy suggested the complex issues with Google Places, and what I suspect are serious issues created by spammers is somehow forcing google to put more resources into Places to get it closer to “correct”

    I still hope they put more personnel into effecting “hand fixes” or what Vanessa described in one comment as a “point fix”

    That would expedite cleaning up problems for a lot of smbs.

  3. And what will Google do about virtual offices where the business does not physically exist? They are, in effect, just more expensive UPS boxes. Or those who might use their brother-in-law’s business address?

    Google should not be in the realm of determining what constitutes a legitimate business or business practice. Instead of only punishing offenders who clearly spam the listings, they also punish those of us who operate home based businesses that do not want to list under a home address (or trust Google to mask it), but want to use ONE street address not residential.

    A street level view of a house for even the most reputable business may well turn customers away.

    My business LLC (for which I file sales tax and other state tax returns) is registered with the state – at my UPS box address.

  4. Mike, thanks so much for highlighting this update. I think it’s a shame if this is Google’s ‘solution’ for spamming. For those parts of the country where direct mail is not delivered, this appears to be a total loss. Policies should not be written to circumvent rotten apples; they should be created to assist legitimate businesses.

  5. @Miriam
    I guess (and it is just a guess) that the number of businesses needing legitimate PO Box approval were significantly less than the rotten apples abusing PO Box approvals. Google is data driven after all. :)

    @Dana

    Google has been cracking down on virtual offices. Their efforts have not been as systematic nor as thorough but I have seen a relatively large number of them banned over the past few months.

  6. I’m sure you’re right, Mike, but I get a lot of spam phone calls every day. I don’t disconnect my telephone because that would prevent me from communicating with the real businesses that phone me. Google’s stance disconnects the telephone for these legit, no-mail-delivery businesses.

  7. @Miriam

    (I am playing the devils advocate here) If you had 10 spam calls for every good one and had an alternative for the good ones to get thru would you use it?

    I think that is Google’s logic… Unfortunately the pathway to the solution for the good ones is still too hidden and obtuse…. they have to make it to the forum and then to the help pages and then email a solution…

    Unfortunately Google goes for scale and lowest costs. That’s what you are seeing here.

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