A new beta program from leading search engine Google threatens to wipe out another opportunity for businesses to appear organically in their search results by replacing the maps listings driven by Google My Business with paid only results. Initially this test is only impacting ‘home service’ businesses such as locksmiths and plumbers, in just one region, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the test expanded quickly to other areas.
The story was broken by Dr Pete Meyers from leading Google watching firm, and marketing data platform Moz.
Confirmation from AdWords team that this is a "beta Home Service ad" and is currently limited to the SF Bay area — pic.twitter.com/4pYSjQiBTu
— Dr. Pete Meyers (@dr_pete) July 29, 2015
The most alarming part of the story isn’t that the traditional pay per click ads have been replaced with a new approved supplier list of ads, but that the traditional maps listing where local businesses could be featured has been removed. This means local businesses no longer have the advantage over national chains and review sites (eg Yelp) when vying for real estate on the first page of Google, unless of course they pay Google.
Here is how a listing looks in a traditional city, that hasn’t had the new update:
Notice how the free local listings dominate, and give local businesses the opportunity to rank naturally, based on their quality, reviews and profile per Google’s usual algorithm for the maps section.
This is the new look:
The local maps listing has been removed entirely – in one fell swoop eliminating the local businesses that would have featured there previously – and replaced with their new, paid listings.
There are some significant benefits to consumers as Google is implementing a program of background checks, license checks, reviews and mystery shopping to ensure that users of the new paid listings are protected. Just one supplier, Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations, Inc, has been selected to perform the checks on behalf of Google at the time of writing.
It will be interesting to note over coming months how the roll out of this beta program impacts the beleaguered Yelp business which suffered a significant drop in stock prices following disappointing recent results as reported by Business Insider as their listings now seem to be the first organic listings after the new paid results, instead of previously competing with the organic maps results.
The combination of the removal of the map results, and the prominence of Yelp results after the paid listings would seem to indicate a trend towards businesses having to match a payment to Google with a strong presence on Yelp or a paid advertising presence on Yelp to maximise their customer exposure.