A New Angle On The Places P.O. Box Dilemma

P.O. Boxes

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 spam target.

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?

Photo Credit: Teachernz

4 Responses to “A New Angle On The Places P.O. Box Dilemma”

  1. on 17 Feb 2011 at 10:27 am Anthony Kirlew

    If the real issue is Google’s concern over companies buying multiple PO Boxes (which I understand), why not start by allowing companies to use one PO Box? There are countless home based businesses (even some pretty large companies with Fortune 500 clients) that are being kept out of the Google local space due to this flaw.

    One option for multiple locations could be requiring verification in the form of a trade name registration with a local (non PO Box) address for any additional PO Box address based locations? This would seem reasonable.

    If I can come up with solutions for this, I am sure the Google team can as well.



  2. on 17 Feb 2011 at 11:58 am admin

    Interesting suggestions, Anthony, and yes, if we can both think of solutions, surely Google can. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I appreciate it!

  3. on 28 Feb 2011 at 5:58 pm Rich Staats

    Hey there Miriam,

    I stumbled upon this blog from “An Ultimate List of Local SEO’s” and was excited to see Vail, CO mentioned from that forum post. I live in Edwards, which is two towns west of Vail, but since I want my business (web strategy and interactive marketing) to be associated with Vail (I like the prestige and way of life it represents to out-of-town clients) I was adamant about setting my business up with a Vail Address.

    I opted in for a UPS Store box, which has a real street address. It has a second line PMB 123, but I have no issues with calling it #123. I have called it suite 123 but I determined that anything shady was long term worthless or detrimental. IMO I am doing nothing wrong with leaving out PMB if google is going to make our lives a pain in local search.

    There is an associated cost with this that is more than if you get a PO Box, but if your brick and mortar is not located in the town of Vail, there is still a price tag, and often times a waiting list–Almost EVERY service in Eagle County has a Vail PO box for the same reason I wanted my address in Vail.

    I am just getting into local search and have yet to really launch my own efforts, but I have seen that many of the top local searches are using this method and it seems to be working. I know they are using it (the savvy ones at least–Wedding Photographers especially) because the only difference in their submission to places is that stinking PMB.

    So now my concern becomes: will google eventually penalize all businesses from the same “Office Building” if everything in organic local is at the same place, minus there Suite #?

    Like I said I have yet to really let loose on it, but I have been watching for some time now, and resort town locations like ours and LI could find themselves pushing the barriers of black hat because they have to.

    Oh and BTW, the reason I don’t receive mail (no one receives mail) to their brick and mortar is because we get too much snow in certain areas that would make it a nightmare for the Postal Service. But we are a minority problem, so I doubt Google has our problem at all on their radar.

    Sorry for the novel

    Rich Staats

  4. on 01 Mar 2011 at 12:14 pm admin

    Hey Rich,
    It’s really great to hear from someone in the Vail area and your tale of the snow/postman is exactly what I was referencing in my article. You are describing a true scenario in the business world that Google has yet to take into account. I’m sincerely hoping they will come up with a fix for this, as businesses like yours which do not receive direct postal service deserve equal and fair treatment.

    Unfortunately, I believe your solution to the problem would most certainly be seen by Google as a violation of their guidelines which forbid the use of any type of address where the business is not physically located:

    If Google catches on to what the folks in your town have felt forced to do, you might well expect penalties. You’re definitely in a tough spot. I think it would be interesting if the business people of Edwards (perhaps the Chamber of Commerce) joined forces to petition Google to take notice of and pity on their situation. The folks on Long Island might want to do the same. If Google were to receive feedback on this from enough Chambers, it might nudge them towards finding a solution to what is a very real problem.

    Good luck, Rich.

    P.S. You may note, we had to edit one of the words in your post. I realize dealing with Google Places can make anyone want to swear, but we’ve got a family-friendly policy here :)

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