On April 25th, Google My Business sent users a survey that seemed to suggest the possibility of paid-for features being added to the GMB product.
As you’d expect, the local SEO community reacted strongly to the survey, with Mike Blumenthal speculating the survey was “the work of a summer intern”.
But with official results from that survey unlikely to see the light of day, we wanted to find out what local marketers really think about Google My Business potentially becoming pay-to-play (or at least featuring paid-for aspects). To find out, we asked our audience to complete a poll of our own. In this, local marketers and businesses were asked questions including:
- Were you aware the survey had been released?
- Which features would you be most willing to pay for?
- How much would you be willing to pay, and how would this impact your marketing budgets?
A huge thank you to the over 300 respondents who shared their insights and opinions. The makeup of respondents was: 54% marketing agency, 26% local businesses, 12% freelance marketers, 5% franchises and brands, and 3% others. Where applicable, answers have been cut according to business type.
To find out what the experts think about the possibility of Google My Business becoming a paid-for service, watch Greg Gifford, Mary Bowling, Ben Fisher, and BrightLocal’s Myles Anderson debate the survey in our latest webinar on this very topic.
Are you aware of Google My Business’s survey exploring potential subscription costs?
While 49% of respondents were previously aware of the survey from social media, news, or personal experience, a surprisingly high proportion of respondents were not aware. For many, our own poll was the first they’d heard of the possibility of a Google My Business subscription, and as you’ll see below, respondents reacted forcefully to the news.
Just 8% of respondents had received the poll themselves, suggesting that many GMB users were not afforded the chance to share their opinions.
Thanks to Sean Bucher and the local SEO community sharing the “bananas questionnaire” on Twitter, a further 27% of our respondents were alerted to the survey’s existence.
How do you feel about the possibility of Google My Business adding new features and a subscription cost?
Respondents were asked to choose one emotion to represent their feelings.
Reactions from respondents ranged from excitement to fear, and including plenty of confusion.
For many, the new features proposed by Google represent an acknowledgment of pain points such as spam in listings and difficulty contacting customer support.
But, with questionable pay-to-play features including the ability for competitors to intercept messages from customers on the table, it’s no surprise that the majority of respondents are worried about what this could mean. Find out more on respondents’ thoughts at the end of this article, and let us know in the comments below what you think.
While new features to fix some of Google My Business’s biggest issues would be welcomed by local marketers with open arms, many believe that this could mean GMB becomes only useful to bigger brands with bigger budgets.
Which potential Google My Business features would you be most willing to pay for?
Respondents were asked to choose how likely they were to pay for each feature on a scale of Very Likely to Not At All Likely.
Most Popular Paid-for Features
- Higher SERP placement
- Removing competitors’ ads from listings
- Setting ‘featured’ reviews to the top of listings
- Promoted map pins
- Placing ads on competitors’ listings
- Verified reviews
- Background checks from Google
- Google guarantee badge of trust, including money-back guarantees from Google
- Adding a video to the listing
- ‘Request a quote’ button on the listing
Of the 20 features included in the survey, some would encourage users to pay more than others.
While features such as higher SERP placements and removing competitor ads were far more favored by respondents, this does not mean that these are necessarily in demand. Instead, it shows that, if Google were to introduce paid subscriptions, these features would make more users feel like they had to pay.
The features that are least likely to encourage users to pay for Google My Business are all around automation – including automatic responses to frequently asked questions, customer requests for quotes, and to reviews.
If all of the suggested features were introduced, how much would you pay per month for access to Google My Business?
In Google’s survey, respondents were asked which of a series of packages they would prefer, and how much they’d be willing to pay for their top pick. Packages were costed at $25, $30, $50, or $60. With Google My Business providing such a valuable service for local businesses, we offered a broader range of pricing options to see how much our respondents would be willing to pay each money.
Nearly half of respondents said they would pay between $1 and $25 for monthly Google My Business access, with a further 18% paying up to $50.
While 13% would be willing to pay more than $50, any substantial costs could deter many local businesses, brands, and marketers from continuing to use GMB.
It’s worth noting that even with lots of new and useful features added, almost a quarter of respondents would not pay for Google My Business at all, which could say a lot about the perceived value of a product that almost everyone in the local search industry agrees is a must-have.
Do you currently pay Google for any advertising services?
Of our poll’s respondents, 74% currently pay Google for advertising costs – whether that’s PPC, the Google display network, or Local Services Ads.
With so many marketers already paying Google for at least one service, perhaps it’s no wonder that there is a limited appetite to pay for more.
If Google My Business added a subscription, would this impact your local marketing budget?
Results are based on respondents from local businesses and brands, removing those who said this wasn’t applicable.
Worryingly for local marketers, the vast majority of respondents from local businesses, franchises, and brands told us that a pay-to-play Google My Business model would leave them with less budget available for using marketing consultants.
While this seems ominous for marketing agencies, as Sterling Sky’s Colan Nielsen reflected on Twitter, local businesses will still need the expertise offered by marketing consultants to maximize their online presence.
The best SEOs get paid for their ability to think and their expertise. Implementation is second to that. Having clients that value your knowledge and expertise over pulling levers is what will keep you employed regardless of what Google does.
— Colan Nielsen (@ColanNielsen) April 28, 2019
Do you think paid-for Google My Business features represent a positive or negative development for marketing agencies?
This question was answered by marketing agencies and freelancers only.
Marketing consultants seem divided over the effects of a pay-to-play Google My Business service.
The general consensus does seem to be that there could be both positive and negative consequences if GMB were to become paid, but of course, it’s very hard to tell at this stage.
While many local experts are willing to place bets on Google listings not becoming paid-for any time soon, marketers may need to consider how a subscription cost could affect their business models, if the unlikely were to happen.
Do you think paid-for Google My Business features represent a positive or negative development for local businesses?
This question was answered by all respondents.
For local businesses and brands, it seems like most people agree that Google My Business becoming pay-to-play would be negative for local businesses.
Google My Business has become an invaluable tool for local businesses to get in front of their customers – and a change to a paid service could damage smaller businesses’ ability to reach their audience.
Of course, like any business, Google needs to make money to survive. But with so many local businesses relying on Google, a paid subscription could compromise the quality of local SERPs – switching away from showing the best result, to showing the result with the biggest marketing budget.
- “Why have we spent so much time and money on SEO, Local SEO, creating a video, blogging, and social media marketing to get to the top of the 1st page if one of our competitors can just buy an ad on our GMB listing or subscribe to GOOGLE GMB and buy the top listing? This would potentially ruin our very small professional practice, a one-person, independent health advocacy business.”
- “While the idea of being able to get an edge on competition is appealing, as are many of these features, the concept that GMB could turn into a Yelp model is deeply disturbing to me. The idea that you can pay to get listed higher on search results also sets off all my alarm bells. Let’s hope Google does the right thing, and if offering a subscription model, that it is feature-rich and doesn’t penalize business owners the way that other review systems do.” – Lauren N Bridges, Manager of Search Engine Optimization, Lamark Media
- “WHEN some version of this comes, I will analyze every inch of it to properly advise my clients on how to use the tools as a positive to drive leads for their business. Above everything else, that’s my job and how to best serve my small business clients.” – Lane Rizzardini, Owner, Marion Relationship Marketing
- “We understand Google’s strategy; however, how will you stop the bigger player with more money dominating GMB. The current set up supports smaller businesses. As long as it’s a fair play for all parties.”
- “We love that GMB is free and would love for it to stay that way, but would definitely pay for it at this point if we had to (much like Local Service Ads). We pay for Local Service Ads and are seeing some positive results, but the fact that Local Service Ads business information and reviews don’t sync with Google My Business is kind of annoying and can be confusing. Definitely seems like a way for Google to generate more advertising revenue but we have concerns about how that will compromise the integrity of GMB listings.”
- “We have found in the past (and still currently) that Google lists scammers and if the scammers are willing to pay top dollar for listings they will get top listings from Google. Even companies reported as scammers, as long as they are paying Google, Google will keep catering to them. This puts legitimate businesses at a big disadvantage.”
- “We are already scared of Google’s power over our market share. This is simply Google using their monopoly power to extort more money from business. Those who do not pay will be at severe disadvantage, so I may be forced to pay something to protect my market share, but I cannot afford to enter a pointless continual bidding war with my competitors. It does not add significant value to the consumer (except possibly the money-back guarantee) and yet it raises the cost of doing business, which the consumer must ultimately pay. In the end, no one wins but Google. It is not local market that is not competitive, it is the search engine provider marketplace. We should have a strike or boycott against Google.”
- “This appears to be Google’s way of becoming more like Yelp and having more control over a business’ local presence and reputation. They already don’t even remove incorrect photos from listings or take off reviews from people who aren’t even customers. This latest idea will simply introduce more costs into running a small business – whomever has the big budget will win the promotion game. There will be more confusion in the marketplace and more entropy. In the end, the lone hot dog and latte stand outside of the entrance to Home Depot will turn into the best business to have (essentially, any business where you’re ‘off the Google grid’).”
- “Some of the proposed features seem sensible, but others such as verifications are things that should available without charge. These are things that are transparency of a business, that Google has long touted as a main thing for SEO/Local Search/Organic rankings. I.e. be white hat, provide valuable/useable information to your prospective customers and we (Google) will reward that with better rankings… Many of the proposed features will definitely hurt local businesses that can not pay to play and result in abuse and black hat strategies.”
- “Monetizing GMBs is another step towards Google moving to a total pay per click service. They already have pushed organic results down below ppc ads and local packs. It is sad to see a once great search engine slowly disappear and watch small businesses that cannot compete for clicks go out of business because of the high cost of clicks. Even if 50 businesses in a local area subscribe, only 3 can appear in the local pack, so how do they decide who gets top billing?”
- “Like anything online the worry is that this puts more control in Google’s hands… which is not really good. If smaller businesses won’t play with Google then they could go out of business eventually… it’s a monopoly.”
- “I was asking Google to make just a $10/mo option for getting customer service on Google “Places” 10 years ago. Finally, maybe we’ll get some decent service.”
- “GMB is great for local SEO & I understand wanting to monetize the platform. I love the idea of some of the paid features and as a marketer, I see the value. However, I feel most business owners will not see the value to justify the monthly cost.” -Anthony, SEO Specialist, Big Surf Media
- “Google is clearly only interested in one thing: increasing its bottom line. It’s a business, so that’s understandable. But let’s not make the false assumption that Google is anything other than a marketing-sales platform.”
Agree or disagree with the above? Share your views in the comments below!