When it comes to local business listings, Google My Business (GMB) is the undisputed market leader. Google’s continued domination of the search engine market share only cements their number one spot across the board.
However, in a recent survey by Search Engine Land, Google indicated they’re exploring the possibility of charging for GMB listings. Right now, Google is surveying local businesses to see if they’re willing to pay for features that are currently free.
If Google My Business listings become a paid offering, the effect on both local businesses and consumers would be substantial.
Here’s what we know about this news so far.
Google built its entire business on providing accurate and useful search results. Since its launch in 2014, Google My Business has been a free service that’s essential for local businesses to show up in search results. The listing service has been available for free to ensure that local businesses would use it.
While Google has traditionally relied on ads to monetize search results, the sheer number of local businesses with GMB listings means it has the potential to be a lucrative revenue source.
The survey exploring paid Google My Business listings shows that Google is researching a price point between $10 and $70 per month.
It also shows they’re looking at different features available at various price points.
Google has not yet commented on this news, so it is all speculation at this point, but it’s thought that the company is looking for additional revenue streams due to a slow down in ad revenue in Q1 2019.
Currently, there is no shortage of business listing services, but Google’s leadership in this market means that for many businesses, this is the only listing they currently have. Should Google My Business become a paid offering, businesses will need to assess and understand the alternatives.
There are a number of well-known services that offer free listings, including Yelp and Angie’s List. Yelp’s primary revenue source is advertising, while Angie’s List offers upgraded listings for a fee.
Bing Places also offers a free listing, but this is unlikely to be a viable alternative to Google My Business, as Bing only had 3.19% of the total global search volume in January 2019.
There are also other players in the market that have paid listings or fees involved. For example, Thumbtack, which is a service that connects customers across the US with small businesses, offers a free listing, but if businesses bid on a job, they pay a small fee.
Another example is OpenTable, who charges restaurants a listing fee and then a fee for each successful reservation made via their app or website.
Finally, remember the good old Yellow Pages? They’ve made the move to offer digital services — both a free listing and a paid “priority listing” for businesses.
At this point, there’s no real rival to Google My Business, so it’s important to beef up your online presence wherever you can. The only way to control what your customers find when searching is to have a presence on the listings mentioned above (including GMB) and to have an optimized small business website.
Having your own website will give you complete control over your branding and the opportunity to capture leads, sell your products, tell your story and much more than what various listings offer. Plus, it gives you an edge over the competition, as less than 64% of small businesses have a website.
While it does appear that the change to the GMB price point is only exploratory at the moment, it’s important that SMBs be cognizant of the potential impact of such a change.
Right now, Google My Business makes it easy for small businesses to get started with local search. Changing to a paid listing may make having a listing cost prohibitive to some businesses and they may opt out if it’s not viewed as a worthwhile investment.
Should businesses decide to skip using GMB, they may not be found as easily via search, and they wouldn’t appear on the Knowledge Graph, in the Local Pack, or on Maps.
Consumers rely heavily on Google search to find local businesses, with 27% of consumers looking online daily for a local business, and 69% looking monthly in 2018. A move to paid listings may mean that the information provided to consumers is incomplete, which impacts the overall quality of search results.
Plus, if fewer businesses participate as part of GMB, it could mean that consumers stop relying as heavily on the information provided, such as reviews, as they may realize they don’t have a complete picture of all their available options.
While Google has yet to definitively announce when (and if) this change will happen, knowing that this is a possibility and what that would entail for your small business is key. Exploring potential alternatives to a Google My Business listing, including the addition of a small business website, is the most resourceful strategy.