Are home businesses allowed to list their business on Google Places?
Yes, no, maybe, sometimes???  The answer is not very clear!

Are there conflicting messages or has the policy changed? A strict interpretation of the current guidelines seems to be they no longer allow home-based businesses such as web designers, Internet consultants, marketers, SEOs and untold other types of businesses that work from home via phone and email with no direct client contact.

However many marketers, consultants and web designers who work from home and specialize in their local market DO go out for client meetings. How would Google know and how would they draw the line? There are all types of other home-based businesses as well that may or may not meet with clients face-to-face.

The REALLY scary part of all this??? According to the last paragraph in the quoted section toward the bottom – they think whether a home business sees clients in person or not can be algorithmically decided! This is going to get really messy if they start rejecting certain types of businesses under the ASSUMPTION that they don’t meet with clients.

Google Places seemed to lean toward being a little more home business friendly with the roll out of service areas and the “hide your address” feature a few months ago.

In a May 2010 interview with Eric Enge, regarding those new features Carter Maslan, the Director of Product Management for Google Local stated:

“An example of this is a consultant working from home who doesn’t necessarily go to the customer, but the customer can still call them in order to obtain its services. In my view, a consultant or firm like this is still service-oriented in the sense that the service may be delivered over the phone or by computer, but it’s still a company that people will look up and call when they need help with a particular project.

To me this implied he was saying home businesses that don’t see customers CAN have a Place page.

What the new official Google Places Guidelines say: (Vague as usual)

Ineligible Business Models: Only businesses that make in-person contact with customers qualify for a Google Places listing.

Google often further clarifies guidelines in their blog or alludes to more detailed info about what is prohibited. Check this from 12/10.

Tips for creating a business listing in Google Places: business types
(Official Google Blog)

Here are a few examples of business types that are not currently eligible to use Google Places:

* Web shops that operate exclusively online and have no office for visitor traffic or direct client interaction

* Businesses without actual physical locations (your living room, the airfield where you offer paragliding lessons, nor the river where your rafting tours start do not qualify as business locations)

Then further down it states:

If your main location is your home address and only used to receive business-related mail and phone calls, you can also hide that address and only show the service area in which you operate.

So right in the blog post there is conflicting info. You can only have a Place page if you see clients in person, but then that last paragraph seems to say it’s fine and they even give you the option to hide your home address.

Simplementor in the Google Places forum noticed the same contradiction I did when I read that blog post and called Google on it back in Dec. when I was on leave. Here are some important snippets from that discussion.

Google contradicts itself on eligible business types

Joel H a Google employee: “This article is meant to clarify our existing guidelines. Any clarification of the guidelines is always an appendage to our existing rules, not new rules superseding our, so-called, canonical document.

Joel H a Google employee: “Home-based businesses that have in-person contact with their customers are OK. For example, if a plumbing service runs its billing and call center out of a home office – that’s OK. But, a web design consultant performing business via email, skype, and text messaging, without accepting regular, in-person visits to that living room – that’s no OK.

JaxCoffee: I know many web design business people that do the bulk of their work online out of their home offices, but do occasionally meet with clients in person, just not in their home. Usally at their clients business location. Would that be an exception? And why? How is that determined by Google, in reference to a Google Places page? I’m thinking simplmentor is right. It’s not real clear.

Joel H a Google employee: “If they meet their clients in person – either at home or at their client locations, then it is eligible. It isn’t an exception, but rather it follows the rule. Judgement, human & algorithmic, based on publicly available information (local directories, website information, etc…) is used to determine if a listing follows our guidelines.”

How the heck would an ALGO know if one web designer sees clients in person and another does not???

What about all the other types of home businesses that may or MAY NOT see clients in person. I know independent sales reps, virtual assistants and accountants, that work from home and do business locally by phone, mail and email. So an accountant can not have a Place page either if he works from home?

I’ve been wanting to blog this since December but have been off on medical leave to try to heal my carpal. But now that I’m back in the saddle and committed to blogging more, I’d love to hear your take on this! 🙂

If you ONLY read the Google Places guidelines snippet I quoted above (which is all a small biz owner would likely see) would it be clear to you that some home based businesses were eligible for a Google Place page and others were not?

Do you think this is a clear policy that could ever be fairly implemented?

Would love to hear your thoughts!