The rumours and speculation on the monetisation of Google My Business? It was all true.

Officially in an experimental stage as of now, Google My Business looks to be going freemium following a long-term trend we’re observing; what we’d like to call Google’s pay-to-play strategy: introduce a free feature, have small businesses become dependent on it, and then ultimately charge a fee for it.

Don’t panic, the Local SEO platform is still free to use as of writing… it’s the added features being rolled out to certain markets that’ll cost you! Let’s get into it.

What is Google My Business anyway?

If you’re here, you probably know the benefit. Google My Business allows for the creation of a listing for your business on Google, satisfying a user’s search for information on your company specifically or an overview of companies in your industry. This includes crucial information on each business such as their contact details, opening hours and directions, along with reviews (and the ability to interact with those leaving reviews), photos, events and more.

For a local business, clearly GMB is essential and an easy win to get your company listed on Google’s SERP while being handed tools to help manage the appearance of that listing, ensuring you maximise your visibility.

What are Local Services Ads?

On the topic of paid tools to accompany a business’s local SEO strategy, Google’s Local Services Ads already exist in certain industries, a pay-per-lead advertising platform that began life known as Home Services ads. These ads are unique in that Google screen businesses first, before their inclusion and also implement some extra steps to assist in qualifying that the potential customer is eligible for the service offered by the business. In general, though, the ads show up for customers in the local area and the firm only pays if a customer contacts them directly through the ad served.

At this time the ads are available in the United States with plans for international expansion soon. It’s important to note because, as we’ll see later, Local Services Ads have a connection to the paid elements being introduced on Google My Business.

Screenshot credit: Moz

What could be included in a paid version of Google My Business?

Add ‘Book’ button on your profile

Pay to promote your ‘Book’ button 

Promoted map pin

Verified customer reviews

Call reports and recordings

Automated responses for reviews

Google search results placement 

Access leads from competitors profiles

Instant quotes

Request a Quote

Featured review placement

Remove ads from your profile

Display video on your profile

Google Guarantee

Last year, Google issued a survey to GMB users (the businesses, that is) with an interesting focus – the survey gauged interest in new features for the service, profile upgrades and (the juicy bit) what users would be willing to pay for them.

IMPACT have a great run-down of all the features this survey mentioned including: Add ‘Book’ button on profile, Pay to promote your ‘Book’ button, Promoted map pin, Verified customer reviews, Call reports and recordings, Automated responses for reviews, Google search results placement, Access leads from competitors profiles, Instant quotes, Request a Quote, Featured review placement, Remove ads from your profile, Display video on your profile, Google Guarantee, and more.

The survey also referenced different options for monthly price plans as in this screenshot, courtesy of seo-hacker.com:

It’s happening!

Then came the confirmation in July 2020. Spotted in a few places such as on the home tab of the Google My Business dashboard, select businesses would begin to see a prompt to ‘Upgrade profile’, with a $50 per month price tag attached.

Here’s a look at that, with thanks to Local SEO expert Tom Waddington:

Sure enough, the benefit spotlighted for this upgrade is a Google Guaranteed badge which was one of the perks mentioned by the survey last year. Going back to Local Services Ads, the Google Guaranteed badge will be familiar to those who have signed up for those ads or observed them in local searches before now.

In fact, Google Guaranteed dates a ways back to 2017, but this update marks the first time that the badge has found its way to Google My Business.

Earlier in the month, before the wider roll-out, there were already signs of the Google Guaranteed badge appearing on Google My Business listings with an apparent connection to existing Local Services ads:

Who gets these paid add-ons?

For now, the paid version of Google My Business looks to have been given only a small roll out, limited to residents of the United States.

It’s also only eligible businesses catered for at this time, so like Local Services it’s looking industry specific for now–plumbers, for instance–and it’s clear those firms already with Local Services ads are being prompted for the upgrade.

The connection between Local Services and the paid perks for GMB is clearly evident (hence we keep going back there), and the freemium Google My Business feels like an addition to Local Services rather than a replacement. Starting out with this limited roll out, it seems only logical to target businesses who are already taking out Local Services ads, therefore those who have already passed Google’s screening process.

Experiment phase

Search Engine Land were provided with a statement from Google on the update, which referenced the paid features as an “experiment”:

“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.”

Why should you care?

This “experiment” will inevitably be pushed into something more with a wider roll out, so if Local SEO is essential to your business you could be affected.

Even just thinking about the initial paid feature of the Google Guaranteed badge, which is here now for certain industries, this could lead to greater exposure for the business or on its own work as a trust signal to potential customers which sets you apart from your competitors. The survey talked about many more add-ons that would only help further.

Perhaps upgrading your profile will have a positive impact on CTR. It’s unclear now, but time will tell if having the badge means that your GMB profile is given a boost, leaping to the top of the Map Pack.

The verdict

With Google My Business so widely adopted and so essential to Local SEO, the allure of getting the upper hand on competitors will be all too real, but at what cost to small-medium sized businesses?

The allure of Google’s opportunity for additional revenue the same.

On the one hand, you could say $50 for this verified badge and potentially better positioning seems quite reasonable, but what if your firm has multiple locations (it could be in the tens, it could even be in the hundreds) and therefore you have multiple Google My Business profiles?

$50 per month then adds up.

And it’s $50 now with, essentially, a badge. What will more premium features cost? And the Google-issued survey certainly did suggest more, along with different pricing tiers, too.

Then there’s the criticism that this change is all just an attempt to tackle the ever-growing problem of spam in Google My Business. To separate the real listings from the fake. If so, to us, that means the ability to show you are verified is a must. Therefore paying out is a must.

Pay-to-play.

Need a hand with Local SEO & preparing for the day of a paid Google My Business? Please get in touch to learn about our services.