Quick Survey: NAP cleanup and TOS compliance

Suggest they move their business from a PO box, or leave well enough alone?


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So, Hypothetical. A business owner approaches you, they're doing alright (showing in a lot of 3-packs for their city/service) but it turns out their address they've got on Google and that they've spread far and wide is at a UPS store. Google didn't catch it since it's not formatted like a PO box, but they're still likely getting flack for being listed somewhere with a dozen other businesses, and they're risking a penalty if someone ever takes a closer look.

Assume too that this is someone you're talking with over coffee, not a client. If you tell them to make the switch, they're going to be jumping in alone. For the sake of the Poll, assume they're set on trying to handle it themselves if that's what you suggest.

So, do you suggest they go through the difficulties of essentially moving their business, or do you tell them to sit tight and leave well enough alone?
 

Linda Buquet

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Whew! That's a tough one James. And as usual depends on so many things!

Off top of my head, if UPS specifically I'd warn them & tell them to move it, because those locations are such an easy target.

If it was a local no name mail center like that didn't sound like a PO box AND if they were pretty non-tech savvy I think maybe I just would not say anything. For them to figure out how to move, have to re-verify and then have to deal with Google saying their business is closed and fight to get that straightened out - that's too much for a Mom & Pop SAB to handle.

But also depends on industry. For instance if it was an atty with a 2nd office at a UPS, I'd really warn him and tell him to close it so as not to risk his main listing.
 
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My thoughts too. In this case it was a carpet cleaner (so a SAB, public address in a lot of citations and website, hidden on Google) and it was a UPS with an unusual non-PO box formatting (more like a suite number?) The main concern was the same one you mentioned... they seemed reasonably competent, but I'm still hesitant to suggest a big change without knowing how technically savvy they are.

Seems to me though, that not changing is potentially a time bomb. All it'd take is one competitor deciding to do a little digging.
 

theitsage

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There are a few competitors in my area who use this same tactic. What would Google do if they find out? They can claim they are SABs and use UPS boxes to receive mail and admin stuff.
 

JoyHawkins

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PO Boxes are too easy to prove so I would suggest they change it. It's not that difficult to clean up NAP and the implications of them keeping it is that Google would remove the entire listing, so you'd lose all that history (which seriously helps ranking) and you'd also lose the reviews.
 

Linda Buquet

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There are a few competitors in my area who use this same tactic. What would Google do if they find out? They can claim they are SABs and use UPS boxes to receive mail and admin stuff.
UPS and PO boxes are prohibited. From guidelines:

"Use a precise, accurate address to describe your business location.
PO Boxes or mailboxes located at remote locations are not acceptable.

Make sure that your page is created at your actual, real-world location."
 

mborgelt

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I'd tell them exactly what you asked us. Usually if you tell people how they are harming themselves they are quick to listen as long as you can back it up. Then I'd walk them through what a NAP change looks like i.e. there may be some pain from cauterizing the wound but will be better setup for the future. If you know how to handle NAP changes this should be pretty painless unless proximity changes quite a bit.

This is also a judgement call for the owner. We have had prospective clients that were just peachy being in the wrong but wanted to strike while the iron is hot. Full disclosure should help you either way.

I digress... I'd instruct them to move.
 
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Assuming they're a small business with no outside help, i'd still tell them to change and re-verify. If i'm the one talking to them i'd want to tell them how to follow the rules and not get burned long term. Plus I'm also thinking about my reputation at that point. If I tell this owner to ignore it because it might work (even though I know it's wrong), then i'll have that on my conscience when it backfires. Also, if it does go wrong they will tell others that I told him/her to do that. That's not good for business.

Point being, if you know it's against the guidelines don't tell someone else to go against it. If you want to do it for your own sites, go ahead and do it. The only company at risk in that case is yours. It really annoys me to see people knowingly giving out bad advice, which they know could hurt the business at some point. Don't hurt someone else's business. If someone's looking to you for advice, give them an honest answer. If they want help with it, then you can charge for your time/services.
 

JacobMaslow

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That is a violation.

Google + lists where you are physically at and receive visitors. You also list hours that you are there.
 

heckler

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I'm all about full disclosure, that being said correcting it could lose them money. So it is important to be as up-front as possible.

Something along the lines of "Sure it works now, but Google will eventually tear it down; how much money would you lose trying to address this retroactively?"

Most business owners will see the light.
 

JoshuaMackens

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I'm going to respectfully go against the grain here.

I have 2 rules in Local SEO and one of them is "If it's not broke, don't fix it."

Yes, it's a violation. Yes, it might burn them in the long run. But how many of us have seen the same competitor ranking for the past 3-4 years with a UPS address? I just wouldn't be the one to volunteer to tell them to change it and then when they do, they drop rank. Especially since you're not their Local SEO and you won't be getting paid to fix the problem. If I gave them the advice to switch and they dropped rank, I would feel responsible and obligated to fix it for free. That's not a prospect I'm too excited about.

I would make them aware of the violation and then lay out their options and underscore the fact that if they decide to change their address now and they drop in ranking, I told them that was a possibility.

Whatever advice you end up giving them, make sure you add that disclaimer in there. You don't want to ever be responsible for a ranking drop, but you especially don't want to be responsible for one you gave to someone who isn't paying you.

Just my thoughts.
 

chadkimball

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Its just an ROI question. Risk vs. Reward, thats all. Google TOS is one factor of the question but it isn't the only factor.

If the business they are getting from those listings is significant, it is quite possibly worth the risk. However, I would tell them to start preparing for their google slap, whether it happens next month or in 5 years.

This means, creating a new website, a new brand, and a single, legit claimed listing at a "real" location that can be confirmed easily from street view photos.

If they have already connected their "real" location with the fake listings, they need to work to separate it and change it to the new brand. It is probably worth it (depending on how much $ we're talking about here) to lose the business their getting from that listing just so they are preparing for their spanking. Make the new site/listing 100% clean and keep it clean.

IF they have a location that they haven't used yet for google maps, even better (like a warehouse or something). Use that for the new squeaky clean face of their business.

The devil is in the details with this though, and doing this properly will require great care. If you want more info, PM me.
 
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Chad - Why would you want to do all that extra work? I don't see how the cost of rebranding and rebuilding a business from the ground up could be more profitable than making a small adjustment to the GMB page to bring it within the guidelines. Maybe I misunderstood one of your points. It just seems like building a new website, brand, and splitting the work is more than it could be worth.

I also get, "if it's not broke don't fix it" but in this case it is broke. It's explicit that PO boxes are not allowed, so this can't be considered a gray area. How do you justify the response if the owner points out another consultant gave them the exact guideline, "Use a precise, accurate address to describe your business location. PO Boxes or mailboxes located at remote locations are not acceptable."

How would you respond if they brought that up during the conversation? I also wonder about the main pain point to moving. Is the main concern that they'll experience some turbulence and could drop out for an unknown amount of time? I'm confident that the pros here could overcome that, so I don't see how the fear of that could prevent you from making the correct decision. Is it a fear of not knowing how to bring them back or is there something more that people are worried about if they move away from the PO box?
 

JoshuaMackens

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Chad - Why would you want to do all that extra work? I don't see how the cost of rebranding and rebuilding a business from the ground up could be more profitable than making a small adjustment to the GMB page to bring it within the guidelines. Maybe I misunderstood one of your points. It just seems like building a new website, brand, and splitting the work is more than it could be worth.

I also get, "if it's not broke don't fix it" but in this case it is broke. It's explicit that PO boxes are not allowed, so this can't be considered a gray area. How do you justify the response if the owner points out another consultant gave them the exact guideline, "Use a precise, accurate address to describe your business location. PO Boxes or mailboxes located at remote locations are not acceptable."

How would you respond if they brought that up during the conversation? I also wonder about the main pain point to moving. Is the main concern that they'll experience some turbulence and could drop out for an unknown amount of time? I'm confident that the pros here could overcome that, so I don't see how the fear of that could prevent you from making the correct decision. Is it a fear of not knowing how to bring them back or is there something more that people are worried about if they move away from the PO box?
I would justify it by asking them how long it's been working (probably years) and then leave the decision up to them, especially since they're not a paying client. They would need to update all their citations in a timely manner, will they do that on their own? Probably not. Will they drop because of it? Probably so. Could you make the case that you're partially responsible for that drop? Definitely.

Sure, you can give the correct advice, which is what we've all been advocating here, but it's the follow up that's a concern because they're not paying him. That's the key factor here.

On the issue of if it's broke or not, I beg to differ. Are they ranking well? Then it's not broke. If they've been ranking well for 3-4 years would you say it's broke with the results they've been getting? If they continue to rank well perpetually until the end of time (for argument's sake) would you still call it broke? I would have a hard time telling them it is.

You can call it fear, I call it wisdom. The fact that anything and everything can go wrong when it comes to Google is a reality. Maybe people forget that Google is no where near an exact science, although with all the troubleshooting examples here at the forum I find that hard to believe. Ask some of the experts here how many cases they've had over the years where they genuinely couldn't figure out what went wrong and just had to let it go. I would wager that the ones who handle a large load of clients would have many, many examples. Google is very unpredictable. Add in a secret algorithm and almost zero support, why would you even want to touch something that isn't an issue now and more than likely will not be an issue down the road?

What is the higher risk here, that Google finds the listing and they drop ranking or that they botch the address transfer and drop ranking? There are many threads on the forum here that address the latter but I don't know of any that address the former. Admittedly, I easily could have missed a few that did come in.

Even if they were a client my advice would still be the same. I would tell them it's a violation, lay out all of the facts, and ask them what they want to do. If they wanted my opinion, I would probably say change it, especially if it's not in a very competitive market where an accidental drop wouldn't be too significant of an issue to overcome. But that's because I'm at the helm and I am confident I can handle it (because I've done it before and had success). But if they were in a large market with a stable ranking, I would think twice about it and it's very possible I would end up deciding to leave it alone.

But again, that's just my opinion. Nothing more.

By the way, I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has actually seen a competitor drop out of their rankings because Google popped them for a UPS address. I can't think of one example here on the forum where someone knew for sure that was the cause and I'd be interested to hear from an actual person who has 1st hand experience that is confident the UPS address was the reason for the drop.

Oh, also, I'd also like to hear how you recovered for my own interest's sake.
 
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I agree, they're not a paying client so the final decision is theirs... which is the same in any scenario. I also agree that you should give them all the facts that you know and not hide anything. If they know they're getting leads and sales from the current GMB setup and are OK with the risk of getting that taken away, then fine. I would hope they're not putting all eggs in that basket though, because once a competitor knocks them out... their business will take a major hit. I also agree that the algo is unpredictable, but the most predictable part of this whole scenario (which everyone has agreed) is that the business could be taken down for violating the rules.

As far as actually seeing a competitor drop because of a USPS address, yes I have multiple times. I know of companies in my area that have been popped, and I actively pop others for that. Not hard to do, since there are usually pretty obvious inconsistencies between the page and website. It's fine if a business doesn't rely on GMB traffic (and they shouldn't), because they can take the risk and not lose sleep.

As Chad said, it's risk vs reward. If you're comfortable with the risk, then cool.

Google didn't catch it since it's not formatted like a PO box, but they're still likely getting flack for being listed somewhere with a dozen other businesses, and they're risking a penalty if someone ever takes a closer look.
This was from the original hypothetical question that no one has addressed yet. They're listed with a dozen other businesses doing the same thing. That multiplies the odds that a business will be found. When one is found, they're all found. Does that change your opinion whether to move or stay? Is the entire ecosystem being considered, or is this stay strategy only focused on GMB? What happens if you get flagged as spam and the account's suspended? No one will have all the answers, but there are a lot of factors to consider when looking at risk/reward; not just current lead flow.
 

JoshuaMackens

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I agree, they're not a paying client so the final decision is theirs... which is the same in any scenario. I also agree that you should give them all the facts that you know and not hide anything. If they know they're getting leads and sales from the current GMB setup and are OK with the risk of getting that taken away, then fine. I would hope they're not putting all eggs in that basket though, because once a competitor knocks them out... their business will take a major hit. I also agree that the algo is unpredictable, but the most predictable part of this whole scenario (which everyone has agreed) is that the business could be taken down for violating the rules.

As far as actually seeing a competitor drop because of a USPS address, yes I have multiple times. I know of companies in my area that have been popped, and I actively pop others for that. Not hard to do, since there are usually pretty obvious inconsistencies between the page and website. It's fine if a business doesn't rely on GMB traffic (and they shouldn't), because they can take the risk and not lose sleep.

As Chad said, it's risk vs reward. If you're comfortable with the risk, then cool.



This was from the original hypothetical question that no one has addressed yet. They're listed with a dozen other businesses doing the same thing. That multiplies the odds that a business will be found. When one is found, they're all found. Does that change your opinion whether to move or stay? Is the entire ecosystem being considered, or is this stay strategy only focused on GMB? What happens if you get flagged as spam and the account's suspended? No one will have all the answers, but there are a lot of factors to consider when looking at risk/reward; not just current lead flow.
I can't disagree with anything you said.

It's good to hear that you've seen a drop from UPS addresses happen as I personally have not but then again, I haven't dealt with UPS addresses that much so that doesn't put me in a position to see that type of issue.

If it's more prevalent than I suspected (I thought it was pretty rare) then my opinion would change. It still seems that the bigger issue (based on my unscientific count of forum topics) would be address changes but maybe that's not true. Whichever is more prevalent would be the major weight in my risk reward analysis.

I agree everyone being at a similar address can be a red flag but that's true at perfectly legitimate office buildings as well where each office has its own suite number. In fact, the building we're in has probably close to 40 offices with their own unique'ish suite numbers (304G, 304F, etc.). I think the only real way Google could efficiently figure it out is to use street view, which maybe they do. I think it would be hard without a manual review and those are very rare or at least seem to be.

I'd still like to hear others who have had an issue with a listing being suspended because of a UPS address or have reported a UPS address and a few weeks later it disappeared completely.
 

chadkimball

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@eric, the reason I say this is because OP specifically said that this business is "showing in a lot of 3-packs for their city/service"

Its a pest control company so I'm assuming this would be difficult to replicate quickly. Also, making changes to their setup will probably kill their ranking fairly quickly. NO point in that, just leave it generating $$ every day, and take your time building a 2nd presence on google while you have the leisure and time to do so. Any other path produces a situation where leads drop and revenue also drops while you're trying to comply with the almighty terms of service, could be months before you get your money back out of it
 
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@Chad - I hear that starting a completely new brand, business incorporation, and rented office location is a way to transition things without as much potential risk, but it's definitely against the spirit of the TOS if not the letter of the law. How many locksmiths after all have set up multiple listings in the guise of being more than one company?

Even aside from that, what business owner would take you seriously if you suggested that massive amount of work to fix what basically amounts to a line of information in some databases online? The loss of customer brand recognition and your community ties alone would be huge. In general, if a business is more than 5 or 6 years old, I'd never suggest they change their branding, especially not for pure SEO reasons. Behind the curtains, if the business was already going to be rebranding anyway, you could probably do this and not get caught, but I'd never suggest it to a client, if for no other reason than because I wouldn't want anyone to look at work I've done and start thinking I'm black hat.
 

CodyBaird

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Active or reactive approach. Both have consequences. Which do you prefer? I operate in the former. Makes me feel like I have more control. Could just be personal bias.
 
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For future longevity of the business, I would suggest they change address, then work their way through correcting the NAP over the following days, weeks.
 

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