Tuesday 15 Feb 2011
As a Local SEO, I have historically supported Google’s guidelines forbidding the use of P.O. Boxes as business addresses. It’s too easy to manipulate the concept of geographic location if the unscrupulous practitioner can buy a P.O. Box in every major U.S. city he wants to
But today I read something in the Google Places Help Forum that has me whistling a tune with a slightly different tone.
The thread began as the all-too-common discussion of why a business may not use a P.O. Box as its address and why many accounts are now being offered the postcard-only verification option, but then user, Barbara7, left the following comment that I found to be of definite interest:
Well thank you for that Google. You know, it seems the more I use Google the less friendly it becomes.
There are at least two areas in the US that I know of where the United States Postal Services no longer delivers mail to the street (business) address. Many residents and businesses in towns and villages on the east end of Long Island are required to have a PO Box in addition to their resident or business address. The PO box is the only place where the USPS will deliver mail. My business is out this way. The other one I know of is in towns near Vail, CO. I’m certain that there are many other places in the US where the USPS has stopped delivering mail, except to PO boxes.
So I too have a legitimate business that Google does not want to know about, and provides no other means of verification. Thanks again, Google. I’ll be buying those $25/mo tags you keep pushing at me right away. . . just as soon as you allow me to verify my business.
And now I find that Google’s own algorithms favor businesses with a Places account. Thanks again, Google. You’re getting more and more Micro$ofty everyday.
If Barbara7 is correct, and there is a growing trend of the post office not delivering mail directly to homes and businesses, then we do indeed have a problem (or, rather, Google does). To pin a scenario on this, let’s say you’re an accountant with a home office on Long Island or a Personal Trainer with a studio in a small downtown section outside of Vail, and while your business meets Google’s Quality Guidelines of having in-person transactions with customers, you can’t get mail at your home, office or shop because the post office doesn’t deliver it there. You are required to pick up your mail at your P.O. Box, and sadly, that puts you out of the Local game, as defined by Google.
I’ve lived in and visited numerous towns where everyone comes down to a central post office to pick up the mail, but until reading Barbara7’s comment, I had yet to consider the ramifications of this for all those doing business locally in these kinds of communities.
What should Google do? I’d say it’s up to them to get communication going with the post office to discover which areas of the country (and the world?) are no longer being served directly by Mr. Postman. These communities then, should receive a special dispensation, Vatican-style, so that the businesses operating there can use a P.O. Box in their profiles.
Too hard to carry out a plan like this? Let it be remembered that nobody twisted Google’s long arm to get them to set themselves up as Local Search authorities. I would say that what came up today in the help forum poses an exciting challenge for Google engineers to surmount, so that all legitimate local businesses are receiving fair treatment. They definitely have the staff and brains to accomplish a manual fix like this in the system so that submissions in given parts of given locations are given special treatment. Until then, the guidelines are definitely discriminatory. Wouldn’t you say?