Update – September 24th, 2020: Tom Waddington has updated his blog to amend his initial findings (on which this news piece is based). According to Tom:
It was apparently a mistake that the upgrade option was offered to the businesses where I was seeing it. It seems it is actually meant for businesses that are NOT already in Local Services ads. This could be due to Google wanting to see how many businesses that aren’t already advertising with Google could be lured by this dangling carrot. And researching this group of strange beings that aren’t already advertising with Google was a possible motivation factor as well.
On July 22nd, Google My Business Product Expert, Tom Waddington spotted a new feature being tested in Google Business profiles.
Google starting to offer an upgraded Business Profile (Google My Business listing) for $50/month that will add the Google Guaranteed badge to the listing and back services the business provides with the Google Guarantee. pic.twitter.com/x4bHLuVEi2
— Tom Waddington (@tomwaddington8) July 22, 2020
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
- What we don’t know
- What the community thinks, and
- What this could mean for local businesses
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:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Businesses already in Local Services is a logical to start since they have already passed the screening process. I think it will eventually expand beyond that though.
— Tom Waddington (@tomwaddington8) July 22, 2020
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:
No, but even if it did (directly or indirectly), it wouldn’t help as much as keyword stuffing the business name, which is free to do and not policed well at all by Google.
— Tom Waddington (@tomwaddington8) July 23, 2020
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:
No, absolutely not. This wouldn’t be a replacement. A supplement or doorway to it, if anything.
— Tom Waddington (@tomwaddington8) July 24, 2020
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:
I’m interested if they will attempt to roll out in UK after LSA was rejected by UK businesses when they tried to on board a few years ago.
— Tim Capper (@GuideTwit) July 28, 2020
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.
Well given that it was the worse survey ever… yes… but as you have noticed monetization has been a long term trend of Google’s which I don’t dispute they will and are doing more of it.
— Mike Blumenthal (@mblumenthal) July 22, 2020
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:
Thanks. I know the team really is working to better deal with this type of stuff. I also know that as that’s been heard before. But I do expect improvements should be noticable in the near future.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) July 17, 2020
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.
This sounds like some bullshit. https://t.co/HlkgDKwPRz
— Amber Robinson (@AmberRobin5on) July 22, 2020
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”:
Can’t get a legit listing? Buy your way in?? 🙄 this seems like a terrible idea…. https://t.co/lnhsnLU4qu
— Carrie Hill 🗺️🎙️ (@CarrieHill) July 22, 2020
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.
— Brian Barwig 🏒 🍺 (@BrianBarwig) July 22, 2020
And, as with all important conversations on Twitter, memes made their way into the discourse:
— Eric Thomas 🤙 (@ethomasdigital) July 22, 2020
Although the response was overwhelmingly negative, there were a few people who seemed to see the benefit of a paid-for profile:
I hope it can serve as a way to weed out fake listings for home services / locksmiths but it’s an expensive price to pay considering how many small businesses are suffering
— William Gallahue (@willgallahue) July 23, 2020
Well – it might just be a good way to separate the paid/vetted from the others, including SPAM 😉
— Andy Kuiper (@andykuiper) July 22, 2020
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…
100% disagree with this. Is the entire internet becoming pay-to-play? Half of the proposed paid features belong on a website anyways, NOT the SERP. Not to mention, this could contribute to an increase in spam listings or prevent them from being taken down.
— Natasha B-d. (@natasha_bd) July 28, 2020
…others viewed it as potentially positive and something that could become a concrete option:
Yes will become reality. Worth $50 just for the local services badge.
— Chris St. Jean (@StJeanDS) July 28, 2020
Local SEO pro and Local Search Clinic panelist, Niki Mosier, also chimed in on the debate, raising both pros and cons:
I definitely think it will become a reality. I suspected that pay-to-play might become a reality for GMB a while ago. I think it’s really unfortunate. GMB is so vital for so many small businesses. I would like to say I wouldn’t pay it. (1/2)
— Niki Mosier (@nikers85) July 28, 2020
(2/2) But if it gets to a point where there is negative impact by not, I may have to encourage clients to do it.
— Niki Mosier (@nikers85) July 28, 2020
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.
If they add a badge to unpaid local pack results with custom schema for organic, I would expect to see adoption from companies who wouldn’t consider local paid ads otherwise. Spam prevention would need to see major improvements.
— Amanda Jordan (@amandatjordan) July 28, 2020
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.
I think I’d tell my clients to do so if I believed it’d protect their businesses, because ultimately that’s the most key thing, but I’d need proof that not paying damaged rankings. Not that I’d be happy about it if that were the case either – ‘free’ is it’s main USP!
— Levi Williams-Clucas (@Femkepants) July 28, 2020
Some users thought the prospect of paid-for GMB profiles was straight-up unfair, such as Sarah Blocksidge:
Not to mention the thought of spam included in all this makes my head hurt. As if it wasn’t already a struggle to get businesses breaking guidelines to be removed… I can that going verryyyyy badly.
— Sarah Blocksidge (@SarahBlocksidge) July 28, 2020
And finally, some — such as ‘We Asked the Experts‘ contributor, Amy Toman, just want more details.
I just want to know more. Will the businesses need to be background checked, a la LSA’s? Will GMB pay for that? Will there be additional fees? What other requirements will there be? Will there be better support now, and spam removals? So much to consider here…
— Amy Toman 🏖 (@BubblesUp) July 28, 2020
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!