On July 22nd, Google My Business Product Expert, Tom Waddington spotted a new feature being tested in Google Business profiles.

What he saw caused SEOs to think that their fears were being realized: Google My Business was becoming a paid-for product.

But as we well know in local SEO, things are not always as clear as they first seem.

With so much speculation out there, we wanted to clear things up. That’s why I’ve waded through the mass of information and chatter circulating the internet to work out exactly:

What we know

So, as I mentioned and as Tom’s tweet showed, the news broke on July 22nd that Google was testing paid-for Google My Business profiles. This tells us two things:

  1. Google My Business is testing this. Paid-for profiles are not yet confirmed, Google tests things all the time, with some features being formally rolled out and others never seeing the light of day.
  2. Google might be considering a paid-for offering (in this case, $50/month) in some context. Although this idea has caused quite the stir (as we’ll come onto later), it’s not necessarily new information. Back in the summer of sixty-ni—sorry, 2019—Google My Business caused controversy with its pay-to-play survey, asking users what features they’d be willing to pay for on a monthly basis.

Shortly after Google’s survey slipped out, we conducted our own poll, which showed that 59% of respondents felt worried about the prospect of GMB becoming a paid-for product.

So before we continue, it’s important to remember, first and foremost, that this potential profile upgrade is only being tested.

There is no sign that GMB is going to be paid for just yet, if ever.

Aside from the tweet that sparked this whole news cycle, we do have some additional information to work with. Search Engine Land reached out to a Google spokesperson, who said:

We’re always testing new ways to improve our experience for our advertisers, merchants, and users. This experiment will show the Google Guaranteed badge on the business profile. We don’t have anything additional to announce right now.

A typically vague Google response, but at least we know for sure, that as of right now at least, this is just a test.

The next thing shown in Tom’s original discovery is the ‘Google Guarantee’ badge. From this we can also see that an ‘upgraded’ Business Profile fits perfectly with the Google Guarantee badge.

And if that sounds familiar, it’s because it already exists, and has done since 2018. According to Google:

The Google Guarantee badge is available for businesses that pass a Google screening and qualification process through Google Local Services.

In practical terms, it means that Google will refund customers who are dissatisfied with your services if you’re backed by this badge. Although there aren’t any formal studies on this, many SEOs also speculate that Google Guaranteed badges will have a positive impact on CTR and conversions, especially in the current spam-dominated landscape.

Google Guarantee Badge In Situ

Source: Search Engine Land

Outside of this test, the Google Guarantee is part of an ad offering, originally linked to Google’s Local Services Ads (LSAs), which are only available for eligible service-area businesses and professional services. LSAs for the latter category are currently rolling out across the US.

That covers what we can confirm as true. But what don’t we know about these upgraded profiles?

What we don’t know

In the screenshot Tom shared, Google states that the upgraded Business Profile is available to “eligible businesses”. Right now, we don’t know what those are.

While eligible businesses really could mean anything, Tom has speculated that the upgraded GMB profile could be available for businesses currently available in Local Service Ads. He also mentioned that he’s currently only seeing this test for HVAC listings on the home tab of the GMB dashboard.


We also don’t know if or how this upgraded profile will benefit the local businesses who opt in. One user questioned if there was any indication the paid-for offering would boost a business’s ranking:

Another interesting question raised was whether or not this offering would replace LSAs. And although we can’t say for certain, Tom seemed pretty confident that that wouldn’t be the case:


Another uncertainty is whether or not this will be available globally or just for the US. Local Services Ads have performed well (for Google, at least) in the US, to the point that they’re now being rolled out nationally for professional services as well as SABs, so we could see Google Guarantee badges eventually following suit if this test rolls out further.

However, LSAs haven’t gone down as well in other parts of the world. For this reason, UK-based SEO Tim Capper commented that he was intrigued to see if Google would attempt to roll this out in the UK:

On top of this, a couple of people have asked about eligibility in the UK and Australia, to which Tom responded that he “wouldn’t expect to see it there anytime soon”.

Because of this, I’d be surprised to see Google Guaranteed, upgraded profiles rolling out outside the US any time soon, even if the test does roll out across the US.

What this could mean for local businesses

So, we’ve established what we know and what we don’t. But you may be wondering what this test could mean for local businesses.

Firstly, yes, this could mean that GMB is going to go down the route of pay-to-play. In fact, some SEOs have been predicting things would go this way for a while.

However, it’s far too soon to jump to conclusions. Even if Google was to implement this, we don’t know if the cost would remain at $50, we don’t know if it would be in place for all businesses and categories, and we don’t know what perks or disadvantages users would receive.

There are a huge number of unknowns, so the best thing to do is — apart from keeping on top of the news — continue to optimize your existing GMB and engaging with potential customers as you normally would.

Some SEOs have suggested that this test could be an attempt by Google to tackle the rampant problem with Google My Business spam.

Just a few weeks ago, Google Search Liaison Danny Sullivan shared this tweet, in response to complaints about spam, that got the local search community talking:

We may be reading too much into this here, but the tweet suggests that Google was planning some pretty big steps to clamp down on GMB. I don’t think it would be a huge jump to speculate that upgraded and verified business listings could be one way to push out inauthentic listings and favor verified businesses.

What the community thinks

Okay, now we’ve worked out what we know and done some additional crystal ball gazing, it’s time to take a look at what local SEOs actually think about this potential new profile option.

Almost every tweet I saw about this test (and there were a lot of them) showed some very unhappy SEOs. They didn’t mince their words — poop emojis, curse words, and angry gifs filled my timeline.


One SEO who also seemed to think this could be Google’s attempt at tackling spam was Sterling Sky’s Carrie Hill, who referred to the prospect as “a terrible idea”:

Carrie’s fellow Sterling Sky teammate, Brian Barwig, was similarly displeased. He also raised the idea that he was confused about where this offering would fit in with other paid-for products such as pay-per-click ads and Local Service Ads.

And, as with all important conversations on Twitter, memes made their way into the discourse:

Although the response was overwhelmingly negative, there were a few people who seemed to see the benefit of a paid-for profile:

As well as looking at the organic comments that arose in response to Tom’s tweet, we also passed the mic to our own Twitter followers to see what they thought of the whole affair. Interestingly, the responses were a lot more mixed than expected.

While some local SEOs seemed pretty concerned by the test…

…others viewed it as potentially positive and something that could become a concrete option:

Local SEO pro and Local Search Clinic panelist, Niki Mosier, also chimed in on the debate, raising both pros and cons:

For those working with local business clients from an agency perspective, like Niki, if this test were to become a reality it could certainly introduce some new challenges as SEOs would need to weigh up the cost versus the benefits of getting involved with the scheme.

SEO Analyst Amanda Jordan also raised an interesting point. In order for a $50/month GMB profile to be worth it for her, she’d need to see significant improvements in Maps spam-fighting.

In a similar sentiment, SEO Levi Williams-Clucas said she’d be happy to pay the price if she saw a notable improvement in the form of GMB’s (widely acknowledged as misinformed and under-resourced) support options. Again, Levi mentioned she would need to heavily consider her clients’ best interests.

Some users thought the prospect of paid-for GMB profiles was straight-up unfair, such as Sarah Blocksidge:

And finally, some — such as ‘We Asked the Experts‘ contributor, Amy Toman, just want more details.

Summary

At the end of the day, as with many Google My Business tests, there isn’t a whole lot of information out there just yet. As always, we’ll be keeping a keen eye on the situation should any more information emerge, so look out for updates to this post as they come in.

What do you think of the upgraded GMB profile test? Is it just that — a test? If it rolled out would you pay for it? Share your thoughts in the comments below!