At the end of April, the world of local SEO was shocked with the news: Google sent out a survey email to some business owners. It contained several offers for paid options that can be implemented in My Business service, and their possible prices. Users were asked to choose which option they would prefer to use.
This event may presage big changes in the Google My Business (GMB) policy. It seems that the company decided to seriously approach the monetization of this tool for the business, which so far is positioned as free. How likely is it that GMB will actually switch to "pay-to-play" in the nearest future? What will be the consequences for business owners, local SEO specialists, marketers and ordinary users? How will the usual local search results change? Let's try to answer these questions in our article.
Content of the survey
The survey began with several clarifying questions that enable Google to understand whether your business uses advertising, and if so, which approximate budget spends on it. The following is a list of functions that may appear in GMB (we will discuss each of them in more detail below):
Some points on the list are brand new, others have already presented in GMB, but partially or in a slightly different form. Google offered users four tariffs, including various combinations of these options, costing from 25 to 60 dollars a month, and asked, which of the tariffs they would prefer for their company.
More about paid functions
All the options that Google offers in the survey, one way or another can improve the efficiency of the company's card in the search and on the Maps. They can be conditionally divided into several groups:
- attracting leads and conversions;
- giving additional certification and trust;
- enhancing the ability to work with reviews;
- simplifying customer service;
- better visibility of cards.
It is worth remembering that this is only a preliminary list, and there is no guarantee that some of these options will be accurately implemented.
Lead and Conversion Engagement
1. "Book" button on the Business Profile
In your GMB listing, next to the usual "Site" and "Route" buttons, an additional one will appear that will allow you to sign up for your services. Google will show users whether you are currently available (based on synchronization with the calendar), and will also allow them to request a timeslot.
New feature? Partially. The function of recording services already appears for some categories of business, but it is displayed more often as a link to the company's website or a third-party service.
It is worth noting: this function will definitely be useful, but not necessary for all types of business.
Restaurant profile in google. You can see the "Get in line" button here, as well as the additional links to the menu, booking, and order pages
2. Promotion of the "Book" button
The button for the singing up will appear not only in the company card, but also in the search results.
New feature? Yes. Perhaps this function will be similar to the existing additional links to the site in organic search results.
It should be noted: it is not completely clear yet how this button will look like in the output and where exactly it will be located. Its effectiveness may depend on it.
Allow you to promote special offers and discounts in your GMB profile.
New feature? Probably not. Owners can post special offers on the company card for quite a long time already, using the Posts on Google functionality. And in the number of countries, this category of publications is already highlighted in a separate section, located at the top. We mentioned this in our other article.
It is worth noting: this option will be really useful if new messages about promotions become more noticeable than the present ones. It is also possible that Google will remove the ability to post shares to Posts and leave only their paid placement.
4. The "Request quote" button
By clicking on this button, the user will be able to enter information about his application and ask you to calculate how much the services will cost.
New feature? Rather, yes. Of course, the user can even now write a business with a similar application via instant messages (if they are included), but it will most likely be more convenient to do it through a special form.
It is worth noting: the function may be useful, but not necessary for all types of business. In addition, it is often more convenient to direct the user to the site to calculate the price: there you can place a calculator that will show the approximate amount even without the participation of the manager. This is further supported by statistics: according to the BrightLocal survey, as of May 2019, 56% of users are more likely to trust the company's website as a source of information than GMB or online directories.
5. Instant quote response
Allow businesses to create template responses that will be sent to customers in response to certain popular types of quotes, and will save time for more valuable customers.
New feature? Yes.
It is worth noting: this option will be necessary only if the company actually receives a lot of requests through GMB, and among them there are similar ones.
6. Engaging customers from competitors' profiles
When a customer writes a message to a company that offers products or services similar to yours, Google will ask him to write to your company.
New feature? Yes.
It is worth noting: this is one of those paid options that caused a heated discussion in the community. Many experts agree that it will make an atmosphere of unhealthy competition in Google: the big players will start paying for advertisements in the profiles of competitors, and the rest will have to pay for not showing it. Small companies that cannot afford it risking to be left out of business. Yelp, a popular catalogue of local businesses in the United States, has done something similar before.
"Your competitors can pay to see your IMs from customers? Competitors can advertise on your business profile? I think Google could easily replace Yelp as the local platform most hated by SMBs if it does some of these things," – Mary Bowling, co-founder of Ignitor Digital
Certification and trust
1. Google guarantee
Your profile will display the appropriate mark. Google claims to be able to return money to customers if they are dissatisfied with the services of the company with this mark.
New feature? No. Google Guaranteed badge was introduced in 2017 for certain types of businesses (plumbers, locksmiths, cleaning services, etc.) in the United States and Canada. To obtain it, a business must use local search ads from Google and pass a thorough check.
It is worth noting: most likely, to obtain such a guarantee, you will need to fulfill numerous conditions from both the business and the client. After all, we can talk about the return of money for both inexpensive and very expensive services. In general, however, the option looks promising.
Added 2019-12-11. Google started offering business owners to purchase a subscription that provides such a guarantee at a price of per month. This was noticed by Tom Waddington, a local SEO specialist, who shared a screenshot of the letter on his Twitter account.
2. Confirmed licenses
The searcher will check the licenses of your business and will display them in the GMB profile as confirmed.
New feature? Yes.
It is worth noting: taking into account the peculiarities of legislation in various countries, it is far from a fact that such an option will be launched immediately all over the world. In addition, it may not be available for all business categories.
3. Background check
Google will check your business (it is not clear yet what will be included in the verification) and will show the result to users to increase your credibility.
New feature? Yes.
It is worth noting: as for the previous function, Google may face a number of problems, both of a legislative nature and with a lack of resources to verify the business in certain countries. Therefore, one can hardly expect a quick launch of this feature worldwide.
However, it is very important that this functionality (as well as the two previous points) will help fight the fake profiles of companies that are now becoming more widespread, displacing fair businesses from Local Pack and Maps.
4. Verified bookings
Bookings made by users after calls and messages from GMB will be automatically tracked, and their number will be displayed in the Business Profile.
New feature? Yes.
1. Automatic responses to reviews
The owner will be able to customize the messages that Google will automatically send in response to users when a new feedback appears.
New feature? Yes.
It is worth noting: the function is undoubtedly convenient for large companies – after all, the majority of positive comments (with grades 5 and 4) are answered by the owners with a simple “Thanks for your feedback!” Or supplement it with a couple more gratitude phrases. But it has a number of “pitfalls”:
- even brief responses to reviews are desirable to personalize, for example, addressing the user by name. If the client is signed by a nickname, or the first and last names are placed in the reverse order, then the appeal may look strange;
- even positive feedback may contain small comments that are worth answering;
- the function is completely unsuitable for responding to negative reviews, because a completely individual approach is needed here;
- finally, it goes a bit against Google's own policies. The company asks business owners to respond to all customers, showing their attention, but it also offers automatic answers that can easily “expose” the lack of this attention.
"Research finds that businesses that aren’t restaurants, hotels, or big chains get around 5 reviews per month. For the lowest common denominator, the number of reviews won’t be high enough to warrant this feature," – Ben Fisher, founder of Steady Demand
2. Featured review
The owner will be able to choose the best review and show it at the top of the company profile.
New feature? Partially. The ability to pin a certain customer review appeared in GMB recently, but not for all countries. However, now this is done using the functionality of Posts on Google, that is, the review is not displayed at the very top of the card.
3. Verified reviews
Your reviews will be checked by Google and will receive an appropriate mark. This, again, is intended to increase the credibility of your customers.
New feature? Yes.
It should be noted: this function is promising and caused an active discussion. The whole point is that now remove the fake negative feedback in GMB is a big problem, even if it is left by a person who has never visited the company. Experts and owners hope that they will be able to solve this problem, at least by paying a subscription.
"In the case of verified reviews, I’d say that businesses that have been dealing with being unable to remove fake negative reviews may feel that Google is being a trifle ‘extortionary’ by offering this: ‘What, I must live with fake negative reviews unless I pay Google to vet the reviews properly to ensure only real ones appear?’ This is going to cause a level of anger among businesses, while many will feel simultaneously driven to purchase.
It raises interesting, devil-in-the-details questions including, ‘What happens to my pre-existing reviews when I buy this service? Do the old reviews disappear and I start over? Or, can I just remove the reviews that I say are unverified?'" – Chris Smith, reputation specialist, Argent Media
1. Automated message responses
Allows you to customize the template answers to frequently asked questions in messages (for example, about the work schedule) to save the owner's time.
New feature? Rather, yes. Now in GMB, you can configure an automatic greeting that will be displayed as soon as the user enters the message window. However, it does not depend on the questions asked by the client.
It is worth noting: this tool will most likely be relevant for the United States, where large companies and their customers are actively using instant messages in GMB. In countries such as Ukraine, this type of communication has not yet gained enough popularity.
Here, in the GMB mobile app, you can set up an automated welcome message for customers
2. Call reports and recordings
The owner will have access to calls reports made from GMB, as well as be able to listen to their recordings.
New feature? Partially. Almost simultaneously with the launch of the survey (May 1), Google launched a separate service for the business CallJoy with similar but wider functionality. It can be assumed that this function in GMB will work exactly on the basis of CallJoy.
Visibility of the profile
1. Google search result placement
Allows you to show your GMB profile in the section at the top of Google search results.
New feature? Incomprehensible yet. It is not entirely clear how this will look like in the output: like a fastened image in the Local Pack? In this case, this feature is already available through advertising Google Ads. These will be snippets, similar to organic issue, but with a special mark? Or a completely new section? In this case the function can really be considered new.
It is worth noting: this tool is another ambiguous and debatable item on the list. Today we are increasingly confronted with the fact that contextual advertising together with LocalPack pushes organic search results far beyond the first screen, and the new paid blocks will clearly not improve this situation. In addition, this may lead to a situation where a business will have to pay a subscription in order to get at least some visibility in the search.
2. Promoted map pin
Allows the company to get a special pin on the map, which will be visible to users when they browse the relevant area.
New feature? Partially. Now companies can improve their visibility in Maps using Google Ads. However, in this case they receive a special mark and are displayed at the top of the list only by the target requests. Judging by the description of the new option, it will affect the display, even if the user did not enter anything in the search, but simply looks at the map.
This is how the promoted pins of businesses that use advertising look on Maps now
It is worth noting: as with the previous option, this is quite ambiguous. Will the company listing on Maps be labeled as "Promoted"? What happens if there will be several companies that have bought this function and they are situated nearby?
"Promoted pin placement and search results placement is very scary, especially if Google isn’t going to label these paid placements (they’re not really ads, so an ad label wouldn’t apply). Will they act like other third-party sites and list them as "Promoted" or will they simply show at the top and look like a regular listing? It’s a huge grey area," – Greg Gifford, VP of Wikimotive
1. Google Customer Support
The support team will help you to solve problems using GMB and get the most out of your profile.
New feature? Probably not. Support in GMB works even now, and it is publicly available. However, it is likely that in the paid set there will be additional support functions or the ability to get a faster response.
It is worth noting: in spite of the fact that the function is not new, it has generated, perhaps, the hugest amount of hope. It should be recognized that now the support in My Business is far from the best: answers often come with a delay, and many questions from users remain unresolved. Accordingly, many expect that the paid service will be much better in this attitude.
"I am pretty sure I speak for every business and agency out there who has gone through the headache of managing a GMB profile that has been algorithmically or purposely screwed up when I say that millions of businesses are ready to throw money at Google if they can provide a service that helps solve these problems effectively," – Andrew Shotland, LocalSEOGuide
2. Remove ads from your Business Profile
Ads from other companies will not appear on your GMB profile.
New feature? Yes.
It is worth noting: it is difficult to say now how necessary this function will be, since now the advertising of competitors is not displayed directly on the company's card. This will depend on the popularity and location of such advertising.
3. Showing the selected video on your Business Profile
You can pin a selected video on your business profile to help your customers find out more about you.
New feature? Partially. We could upload videos to GMB for a long time; you can also share your video and commentary to it using Posts on Google. But in this case, it is most likely a separate section with only one video recording, which will be more visible than Posts.
Exaple Post on Google containing a short video
Do users will to pay for GMB?
BrightLocal conducted its own survey on the paid functionality of GMB. It was attended by marketing agencies (54%), business owners (26%), as well as freelance marketers, brand representatives and other specialists.
As the results show, among the most popular paid functions (half or more respondents are ready to pay) were:
- placement in the issuance at higher positions;
- remove ads from Business Profile;
- show the featured review in the profile;
- more noticeable pin on the map;
- advertising in the profiles of competitors;
- mark reviews as reliable;
- background check from Google.
In the middle of the list were functions such as the “Sign up” and “Order price calculation” buttons, call reports, license verification — they are united in that they may not be necessary for all types of business.
Finally, the automatic response features became the most unpopular: to reviews, instant messages, and requests. Most likely, the owners are accustomed to giving the right answer themselves and do not trust the computer in this matter, all the more it is not clear yet how well the algorithm will choose the right message.
To the question "How much are you ready to pay monthly for access to GMB, if paid functions are implemented?" almost half of the respondents answered that they agree to the amount of up to . 18% are ready to give -50 per month; the total share of those who agree to pay more was 12%. 24 percent are not willing to pay for GMB at all.
So will GMB become paid?
Most experts currently gas one mind: paid functionality has definitely appeared in GMB, but a certain “core” of the service will remain free. The service from Google now plays a huge role in a local search, it has become mandatory for almost any business that works with a territorial link. Therefore, not to monetize it would be foolish. On the other hand, the same mass character will not allow GMB to be fully converted to a paid basis: many small businesses, for which the cost of a subscription will be too high, may be a significant loss to larger competitors.
What will be the set of paid features? Depends, obviously, on the survey results that were obtained by Google. We can see approximate user preferences in the BrightLocal survey, but they are unlikely to display the full picture. In any case, it is worth being prepared for the possible appearance of each of the options listed in the list.
Will the local search results change after the paid options will be released? Definitely. If all of these functions are implemented, it is pretty strong. As for the additional functionality of the cards – most likely, everything will only become more convenient for both users and owners. But the emergence of advertising in profiles and improving the visibility of paid accounts, depending on the implementation, can bring a lot of new problems.
We want to finish with a quote from Cyrus Shepard from ZyppySEO and Moz, which describes well what is happening:
"This year Google stopped being a Search Engine with some ads, and fully became an Ad Engine with some search."