Any business owner knows the value of appearing on Google Maps. Having a Google My Business listing means you’ll show up when users in the area search for relevant services. But what happens if you don’t have a physical location?
More often than not, Private Investigators fall under what’s known as a “Service Area Business”. Typically we provide services to an area or visit customers at their businesses – but we don’t necessarily have a brick-and-mortar office.
The old PO Box trick
To get around this, many in the PI community rent local UPS boxes, and then use that address to get an icon on the map.
UPS stores have been considered better than simple PO Boxes because they give you a physical suite number, thought to improve Google map rankings. Some PIs have even rented out multiple UPS boxes across the state to claim as “satellite offices”.
Google of course has got wind of the problem and is starting to crack down on businesses using PO Boxes and UPS boxes for SEO gains. According to their current guidelines you must “use a precise, accurate address to describe your business location. PO Boxes or mailboxes located at remote locations are not acceptable.”
Google Voice v/s the Competition
The main reason for the crackdown is that Google is in a voice search battle against Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Microsoft’s Cortana. When someone tells their virtual assistant “I need a private investigator near me” they expect to be directed to a private investigator near them, not a PO Box or a UPS Store.
Remember that Google is most concerned not with promoting our businesses, but with delivering search results for their users. We have to play by their rules.
Unfortunately, PIs are in an awkward situation where we don’t necessarily need a physical location, we serve state-wide clients, and adding a physical location can actually be bad for business.
Given this, you might be wondering:
- How do you add a service area that spans the whole state?
- What happens if you have a service area across multiple states?
- What if you have a national service area with international capabilities?
However, the Google My Business map is meant to be for local businesses, not businesses spanning multiple cities, states, or regions. Google doesn’t recommend plumbers who live 150 miles away. Nor would they recommend a geographically distant PI. Attempting to game the system doesn’t just deliver a poor experience for consumers: it can also affect your listing and ranking.
Our advice to our clients is to pick an area and focus on that local market SEO. Once you’ve tapped all available resources, then you can grow to another location. If you want to target other areas, use Google Adwords, Social Media Ads, or push organic SEO. Casting too wide a net only means that you’ll miss the local opportunities.
The impact of a physical office on your Google ranking
Despite the above, having a physical office is not a guarantee that you’ll come up on the map throughout your entire city. Google currently uses Proximity to Searcher as its key local search ranking factor. Unless your office is close to the “private investigator near me” search request, you won’t appear on the map.
This doesn’t mean that SEO is dead. Far from it. It’s just becoming more competitive. Unfortunately, as the web continues to mature and other private investigators become more marketing savvy, your reach will get smaller. Stepping up your local organic and optimization efforts is a must.
We’re working with a company called TMS Investigations, it’s owned by Phillip Lenger, he’s based out of Orlando, FL. TMS Investigations does have a physical location:
1516 E Colonial Dr #201, Orlando, FL 32803
Open ⋅ Closes 9PM
But if you search for Orlando Florida Private Investigator, you’ll see that they’re not top-ranked on the map. This is despite the fact that they’re doing everything right: they’re getting organic reviews, they’ve claimed their business location, they’ve added photos of their office, and they’ve tied their Google My Business to their website.
However, if you’re an Orlando local searching for a PI, things are different. The Proximity to Searcher functionality will pull up TMS Investigations whenever the algorithm deems it relevant. Additionally, as Google continues to remove false address-based locations, TMS Investigations will be ahead of the curve.
We do track a few private investigators through SERP tools, and we’ve noticed that as more people complain about search results, their “office” locations keep on getting shut down by Google, and they’re replaced by red “?”
Setting up a private investigator’s service area on Google Maps
If you’re already using Google My Business, you can find a simple overview of setting up service areas at this Google Topic. If not, here’s why to do it, and how.
Google recommends using a Service Area if you are a Service Area Business. This means businesses that go to customers rather than the other way around. Plumbers, cleaners and private investigators are all examples of Service Area Businesses.
A Service Area reflects the area you work in (“service”), and can be created using a Zip code or general city location. When users search for your service, you’ll show up if they’re searching within your service area.
Here’s how to add your Service Area to Google Maps.
Create a Google My Business listing
- Log into the GoogleAccount you want associated with your business (or create a Google Account if you don’t already have one).
- Go to google.com/businessand select “Start now” in the top right-hand corner.
- Enter your business
Add or edit a service area. (You can also claim your business if it’s already online.)
- Sign in to Google My Business.
- If you have multiple locations, open the location you’d like to manage.
- From the menu, click Info.
- In the service area section, click Edit .
- Enter your service area information. You can set your service area based on the cities, postal codes, or other areas that you serve.
Note:You can no longer set your service area as a distance around your business.
- Click Apply.
Claim your listing(if you haven’t already done so)
Once your service area is in place, claim your listing. There are several private investigators with unclaimed listings out there. This is bad news as it means a competitor could potentially claim your listing as their own and make modifications to direct users to their services.
Add photos and descriptions
Your photos should be related to the private investigations industry. We recommend adding photos of your business card, your home office (if appropriate) and pictures of people who resemble your primary clients.
When adding photos, you’ll also be able to update your description and your business information. Make sure your data is accurate and up to date – and that it matches any other accounts for your business online. Google’s “NAP” (Name, Address, Phone Number) metric looks for matching information across social accounts, websites, directory listings, and Google maps.
Moral: Google will get you eventually
Even if the UPS box trick is working in your favor for now, Google always wins eventually. They’re constantly changing their algorithms in response to exactly this kind of behavior, and the recent PO/UPS box crackdown is just one example.
If you have Google listing via a UPS Store, do it right – fix it. It will only take 30 minutes, but it could save you a world of headache in the future.