Does Google’s Hint at Pay-to-Play for GMB Put The Channel at Risk?

Google recently sent Google My Business users a survey about charging for services and features, among other topics.

While the survey isn’t necessarily indicative of any sudden changes, it points to Google’s willingness to tinker with the historically free model. A subscription model would have far-reaching effects on Google itself as well as the digital advertising world. Here are a few implications we’re considering:

On the Ground

  • The survey was structured to gauge not only what capabilities people are willing to pay for, but also what they value the most. While monetization of GMB is inevitable, our optimistic take is that the survey will be used to build a product that users actually want so as to avoid any Google+ debacles.
  • We’ve seen a surge in engagement with GMB profiles from phone calls, clicks to website and driving directions because of increased visibility in SERPs and the adoption of Google Maps across different mobile platforms. This surge shows value to users, but a change in the model could ultimately detract from that value as paid features fail to deliver the results of the free model.
  • A subscription model comes with increased expectations for support. While support is currently available to GMB users, the process for finding practical answers is less than efficient for business owners. If Google is building out large-scale support teams, this could present a valued experience for business owners who need quick and effective answers. If it’s status quo, subscribers could ditch the service quickly in favor of free alternatives.

In the Air

  • SMBs and multi-location businesses often turn to agencies, SaaS platforms, and other resellers to manage their GMB listings and profiles. A change to a subscription model would complicate these relationships – upending years of established strategy, costs and expectations for support and execution. This could benefit resellers as the need for more nuanced expertise increases as well as the biggest brands, which are most likely and most capable of biting the pricing bullet.
  • It’s likely that SMBs are put in the most difficult position. Without the help of corporate resources, they could be forced to do away with GMB altogether, choosing instead to build profiles on free platforms like Facebook. For those that are committed to the benefits of a GMB profile despite the costs, we could see a decrease in their paid search budgets and spending on non-brand ad campaigns as a way to cover those costs. Is Google simply robbing Peter to pay Paul?
  • If Google were to change to a subscription model, it could open the door for competitors. Apple Maps would be wise to reach out to alienated GMB users, using practical and ethical messaging to remind users of the free alternative. A splintering of business profile and listings users along with a PR push could make a significant dent in Google’s overall search engine market share.

Google is big and slow, so we don’t expect this model or the features listed to be rolling out any time soon. But their recent comments on Maps indicates that they’re looking for revenue from previously untapped products, and GMB appears be the next “interesting playground” for revenue growth.

There’s no doubt that GMB has become an indispensable resource for brands and SMBs, but a change from the existing free model would test the loyalty of users, especially SMBs. If Google is able to offer an improved product with proper support, it’s likely that GMB will continue to be the go-to business profile and listings host for businesses. But if brands and SMBs feel they are being gouged, or that the change has damaged performance, Google could create a backlash that opens opportunity for competition.

This post was co-authored by Josh Allen and Matt Lacuesta of Location3. 

One Response to “Does Google’s Hint at Pay-to-Play for GMB Put The Channel at Risk?”

  1. Jon Camrud says:

    Oh great, more jobs for India in Google support!

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