Local SEOs mixed, some peeved at idea of paying for Google My Business services

Over the weekend, Google surveyed small business owners about their appetite to pay monthly subscription fees for a number of potential Google My Business (GMB) enhanced features and services. Some of the suggested offerings included request a quote, automated review/message responses, booking buttons, remove ads from a profile, Google search results placement, Google Guarantee, verified reviews and several others.

“We take a very thoughtful approach when determining whether to offer paid experiences and this survey is just one effort to help us understand how we can bring more value to these businesses,” Google has said.

But reactions from leading local SEO practitioners about the proposed services and features, as well as what they believed their customers’ reactions would be are very mixed, with some features welcomed (e.g., better customer support) and others derided (e.g., search results placement).

Many SEOs we asked believe that the introduction of GMB subscription services is logical, given Google’s position in the market and revenue pressures. As for their perception of Google’s motivations, what particular services were striking to them and whether their customers would be willing to pay $30 per month (or more) for GMB bundles, see thier responses below, which have been slightly edited for length.

Mike Blumenthal, GatherUp

“One would speculate (speculate is the operative word) that Google is exploring the idea of a subscription service. Apple does it, Amazon does it, Slack and GatherUp do it, why shouldn’t Google? If that were the case, it would make sense to have ‘vertical’ upsells to G Suite that might offer different benefits in different markets.”

“I hesitate to recommend any of the bundles in the survey, as it appears to me a job done by a summer intern. But I can see SMBs paying $25-$30 and more if the bundle were compelling. It would be remiss of Google not to explore the idea of subscriptions to grow their business — and GMB is an obvious target.”

Mary Bowling, Ignitor Digital

“This really seems like a step backward into the YP days of local marketing – a total pay to play scenario. Google appears to be looking at this as paid advertising. It seems greedy to me for Google to want us to buy ads and give them a cut of transactions (a la hotels) and pay them every month, which this feels like the direction it’s going in.”

“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.”

“However, if the support actually provided truthful answers and real solutions to problems, it’s likely that SEOs would include a subscription in their marketing plans.”

Miriam Ellis

“In my opinion, Google lacks basic empathy for local businesses. Their local product originated in insensitivity to real-world impacts, aggregating a bunch of information to enable them to represent local businesses (both well and totally inaccurately) on the web without any permission from these brands, and often without the brand owners initially being aware of it. Subsequent actions like the replacement of the 10-pack with the 7-pack and then the 3-pack which lacks a direct connection to local business websites, continue to demonstrate a lack of empathy.”

“When we add in the failure to offer adequate support or take the real-world damages of spam seriously, Google just isn’t a company I’d like to see having one-on-one relationships with local business owners. I don’t believe Google, as a brand, has the people-first mindset necessary to be a good B2B vendor.”

“Now we see this survey which was 40 questions long (not a respecter of SMB owners’ limited time) that contains what feels like veiled threats about giving your competitors access to your messaging if you don’t pay into the system. Is it empathetic to make a business model on someone else’s data, spend 14 years playing fast and loose with that data and the real-world reputation/revenue/viability of the brands involved, and finally, suggest that these same businesses should now pay up?”

“So, yes, this may be good for Google to get into paid subscriptions, and perhaps the revenue from that will nudge them to staff up. But Google is already profitable beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, and they’ve gone about the whole local development with monopolistic arrogance. I’d be much happier to see them rushing to put revenue behind a large, human staff to support this tremendous system of local data they’ve built, however late in the game we are. It’s the least the local business owners (whose livelihoods hang in the balance) and the communities (whose well being is sometimes at stake) deserve. I’m glad this was just a survey and not a launch.”

Greg Gifford, DealerOn

“We all knew that Google was going to try to monetize local at some point. I think this is their initial “toe dip” into gauging customer reaction. Obviously, most actual customers probably don’t have any idea what this is about, but marketers will be up in arms.”

“The most striking feature was paid placement in search results and paid map pin promotion. There’s a huge difference between running an ad on the Local Finder page or in the map pack and paying for promotion. (Will it even display that you’re there because you paid?)”

“Our clients will literally lose their shit if they have to start paying for GMB features. The vast majority of what they had in the survey was crap that no one would care about. But if paid placement is going to become a part of the ecosystem, everyone’s going to have to pay to stay competitive. They’re definitely going to reject this initially, but might be forced into it if enough competitors do it.”

“I think people who buy ads are more likely to pay for features just as, inversely, people who pay for features are more likely to buy ads.”

“This is scary as hell. I wouldn’t mind so much if they were just talking about verified reviewers, or a trusted business emblem, or background checks. But 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.”

Joy Hawkins, Sterling Sky

“I think Google My Business has a large resource problem. They can’t get the proper budget to fix some much-needed problems with Google My Business because the product doesn’t directly make them money (yet). If Google could make money off the Google My Business product more than it currently does, it would help solve this issue.  We see it regularly with their support teams being backed up. They have constant periods of time where it’s extremely difficult to get timely responses on issues because they do not have enough staff to accommodate the current volume.”

“I really hope they do not decide to go down the road of running ads on competitors’ profiles. This would likely cause a lot of SMBs to have a sour taste in their mouth, similar to how they feel about Yelp.  I do hope they have an option to pay for better support. I think that most people can agree that better support that gives you faster responses and staff that are more educated and experienced would be worth paying for. And, very likely, yes there would be a willingness to pay $30 per month for enhanced GMB services.”

“I also believe that paying GMB subscribers would also be more likely to buy Google Ads.”

Dan Leibson, LocalSEOGuide

“The thing that stuck out to me the most is that this is more or less meaningless for multi-location brands and agencies that service them. This is a giant nothing burger for us. Our clients are already extensively paying for local ads; they need the free part of local search to have better management.”

David Mihm, ThriveHive

“The whole survey was put together so poorly, clearly by someone with no experience in working with SMBs. That it was hard to discern a method to the insanity. Conceptually, most of the options presented seem a lot closer to ‘Tags’ (anyone remember those?) than Adwords Express. Google probably knows that Ads is simply way too complex a product, and perhaps they’re trying to hedge their bets with an alternative SMB revenue stream in case Smart Campaigns aren’t as Smart as they’re purported to be.”

“I was surprised at how derivative they were of Yelp (and even the IYPs). Paying for badges, offers, instant quotes and videos seems so far beneath a company of Google’s innovative stature. Granted, those were only a couple of the features listed, but I’m surprised they made the cut of the survey.”

“One thing that struck me about the bundle concept — particularly Option 2 that Andrew Cock-Starkey (aka Optimisey) highlighted — is how similar it was to Local Service Ads. So perhaps this is a way to both expand the footprint of LSAs into less service-y industries, as well as collect more revenue from LSA markets where Google can’t deliver enough leads per business due to the mismatch business-owner (over)supply with consumers (under)demand.

 But the feature makeup of the other bundles didn’t really make sense to me, maybe because they were personalized by my random responses.”

“The one thing that Google nailed with all of these bundles is the sub-$100 price point. Regardless of what’s included, this will likely be the first paid marketing expenditure for most SMBs who become aware of it. That’s true, even though in many cases they’d be paying for features that today they get for free.”

“It feels like these packages would appeal to both existing Ads subscribers as well as those for whom a traditional Ads campaign is just too expensive or too complex.”

“Aside from the obvious “Google search results placement,” the automated message response was the most interesting proposed feature to me. That’ll solve both a consumer problem as well as a business owner problem that will only be exacerbated by Duplex. Paid customer support would be a terrific option and SEO agencies would be lining up around the block for that one. But they may want to start with Enterprise support on that one before moving downmarket.”

Andrew Shotland, LocalSEOGuide

“This aligns with Shotland’s Theory of Digital Pig Lipstick which states that sooner or later all local search products will start to look like a digital version of print yellow pages. IMO there are three primary reasons why our clients might be interested in this service:

  • Remove ads from a business profile. This is one of the older tricks in the yellow pages’ book, probably because it works.
  • All of the features that basically add up to the Google equivalent of a “bold listing.” Given the basic generic look of all GMB pages, anything that can be done to make the business stand out would be desirable, depending on the price of course.
  • Google customer support. 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. In fact, forget about the previous two points. No one is asking for that stuff. They are asking for reliable customer support.”

“So sure, Google will be able to charge businesses for ‘enhanced profiles,’ just like YPs had done for the last hundred years. And when they do, I am guessing local businesses will have one particular finger doing most of the walking.”

Chris Silver Smith, Argent Media

“Why is Google interested in this? Google appears to be aiming to be so feature-rich that they will increase their stickiness to the point where consumers will not need to click out of the walled garden in order to accomplish locating businesses, selecting them, and communicating with them. In a regular keyword search, Featured Snippets are increasingly answering consumers’ questions, and in many instances not even providing a reference link to the information sources. Functionality additions, such as many in-situ calculators, embedded in search results, all seek to keep the end users within Google. This is directly to compete with Facebook and others.”

“As a reputation specialist, it particularly leaped out at me that Google is considering offering “verified reviews.” Those of us who deal with frequent abuses of online reviews — including fighting fake negative reviews posted by competitors or ex-employees, or defamatory reviews that go beyond stating facts and opinions — have complained about people posting reviews that are likely not to be actual customers. Some of the best-in-class review sites, such as the Better Business Bureau, at least require some level of proof that the individual is an actual customer before allowing reviews to be posted. Google is considering imitating them, but the administrative and maintenance costs also can be steep, so they are considering requiring businesses to offset that cost, directly.”

“Automated responses for reviews and messages can help reduce the workload on some businesses that deal with high customer interaction volume.”

“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?’”

“There are definitely businesses that will pay for some of these features, which previously may not have chosen to be paying advertisers. I think that Google would definitely increase the numbers of paying advertisers if they add some of these potential products.”

“Finally, I’m not sure that I should dredge up old bruhahas, but “Google search results placement” sounds potentially similar to the “local search inclusion” that Bruce Clay claimed was going to happen in Google local search eight years ago.”

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Una Aguja En Un Pajar. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Greg Sterling

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor to Una Aguja En Un Pajar, a member of the programming team for SMX events and the VP, Market Insights at Uberall.

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