Virtual Offices, Real Challenges & Two Choices Law Firms Must Make

F­or many law firms, the main office is only one of several places business gets done. And for home-based law firms, reaching customers often means using virtual office spaces. While this is a great way to position your law firm conveniently in front of potential clients, in the virtual world of Google My Business, it’s a recipe for trouble.

To be clear, this does not apply to a business meeting at your favorite Starbucks. A “virtual office” is a space that a law firm uses to market itself but does not physically staff with employees during designated business hours. For example, if your firm rents a small office or conference room across town for occasional client meetings, but doesn’t regularly take calls or mail at that location, you’re using a virtual office.

The problem with virtual offices in law firm marketing is this: Google’s goal is to make Google Maps a digital representation of the real world. They believe that a person using Google Maps to find a business should be able to visit the location listed and speak to an employee. Treating virtual offices as a business site does not support this model. Whether you agree with the concept or not, the smart play for your firm is to follow Google’s lead. There’s more at stake than you might think.

First off, don’t underestimate the public’s trust in their smartphones. If your firm has a muddled local-mobile presence, you could have potential clients visiting the wrong place. If you’re lucky, another professional at that location might be able to explain the situation to your potential former client.

Secondly, from an Internet marketing perspective, claiming a business listing on Google at a virtual office space could lead to the Google My Business account being suspended altogether.

But what’s the alternative? You don’t want to fundamentally change the way you do business, but if a particular location really is that important to your law firm, there are two options worth considering:

  1. Create a Google+ brand page, or create a Google+ Local page but do not verify it with Google. This will not display on Google Maps or provide much local search benefit, but it does create a social presence that wouldn’t otherwise exist.
  2. If your law firm’s business can support the cost, it might be time to plan for expansion. Even a small office that can be staffed for intake during business hours would be a legitimate business listing in the eyes of Google My Business.

Clearly virtual offices present a unique challenge for small law firms. Unfortunately, Google My Business and Google Maps are simply better at accommodating walk-in retail spaces than professional services like lawyers. While it is still technically possible to claim a business listing in a virtual office, the potential for customer confusion and negative online fallout just aren’t worth the risk.

To make the best decision for your business, take a look at Google’s Local Business Information Quality Guidelines, or give our local team a call. We’d be happy to share our insight with you and get your law firm on the right path.

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