For years, Google My Business (GMB) has been a no-brainer among business owners. As a platform created by and expressly endorsed by Google, GMB plays an obvious role in bolstering search engine visibility. In fact, having a GMB profile is crucial for maintaining a presence in local searches, including the Google Local Pack. GMB is an easy platform to operate and makes it simple for even SEO novices to enhance their online presence. Best of all, the service is free. Or at least, it always has been. But now, that may be changing. Google recently sent out a survey to GMB managers asking their thoughts on some pay-to-play options within the platform. It’s the first serious sign that Google may be putting at least parts of the GMB service behind a paywall, and it’s created a bit of a stir within the SEO community.
Indeed, some SEO professionals have predicted that “should even a few of these paid-for features (such as Google search results placements, verified reviews or promoted map pins) come to fruition, the industry would change completely.”
But how likely is it that Google will start charging for one of its most popular free services? And if it happens, what will the impact be?
Is This Really Going to Happen?
To be clear, Google has not yet made any formal announcement about switching GMB to a pay-to-play model. But they’ve dropped some hints and that’s led to some speculating within the industry.
We won’t claim to know any of Google’s plans, but we will say that switching GMB to a pay model makes a lot of sense. Remember, Google has provided these listings for free for a long time. Compare that with the Yellow Pages, which used to charge for exposure in the most popular directories (and they charged a lot). Google is now the largest and most important directory in the world, and it makes sense that they would want to monetize this as best they can.
If you’re a business owner who needs a GMB listing, and if you’re used to getting it for free, then you’ll understandably balk at Google suddenly making you pay up. Looking at things from Google’s standpoint, though, it all makes pretty good sense.
What Would it Look Like?
If indeed Google does put some of its GMB features behind a paywall, it will have a major impact on the industry.
Imagine conducting a Google search and finding three small businesses being featured in the Google Local Pack. Right now, those three businesses may be the ones that have laid the best SEO groundwork. But in a pay-to-play situation, they would simply be the businesses that have paid the most for special placement, promoted map pins, and Google Guarantee badges.
The concern that many in the SEO industry have is that this move would effectively neutralize any distinction between different listings; no one listing would stand out from the rest, and rankings would ultimately come down to things like proximity and relevance. In that sense, not much would really change, except that business owners would be paying Google a big sum of money not to wreck their rankings.
The plus side is that Google’s move toward pay-to-play features could help address a big problem with the GMB system—and that’s lack of trust. GMB spam is a major problem, and thus far Google hasn’t been able to adequately address it. The list of proposed pay features, including Verified Reviews, Google Guarantee badges, and more, show that Google is at least considering some avenues for safeguarding GMB against spammers. That could be beneficial in the long run.
What Should You Do Now?
With so many factors still up in the air, it may be helpful to take a step back and consider your options for the short term. Here’s what the enCOMPASS team recommends.
- Maintain your GMB profile—and if you don’t have one, start one! For now, this remains a completely free service and there’s really no telling when that will change. GMB is a valuable way to impact your search results, and at this point there’s no reason to jump ship.
- Invest in SEO for your website. While GMB matters, it’s not the be-all and end-all of search. In fact, studies show that consumers still prefer to get their information from your business website than from your Google listing.
- Keep an eye on changes to GMB. Again, anything we say at this point is somewhat speculative, but it does seem like there are some shifts on the horizon. The enCOMPASS team will keep all our clients informed about changes at Google, and we’ll advise on any changes we’d recommend for your GMB strategy.
If you have any further questions about this or anything else SEO related, we’d love to hear from you. Reach out today and let’s chat.
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