There have been many signs that Google will launch a subscription-based plan that monetises local SEO, and we may now be another step closer.
The Google Guaranteed badge enables businesses to be screened by the search engine giant. If you pass, you’re awarded the badge, which in turn makes your Local Service Ad (LSA) stand out even more from the very top of search results, thanks to the bright green tick that appears underneath your business name and star rating.
But will this subscription plan truly catch on? Here’s what we know so far.
Google My Business (GMB) started as a free marketing platform for all kinds of businesses, allowing business owners to control their presence online. But fraudulent listings slowly grew into more of a problem, and so Google realised that it needed to up its game when it came to building trust for its users. How can people really be sure that these businesses and sole traders are safe enough to invite into their homes?
Google tested ‘Home Services Ads’ for services such as plumbers and cleaners, allowing users to regain confidence in those who were advertising themselves via paid local search. The search giant then stated:
“In order to prevent fraudulent businesses from advertising on Google using false identities, Google Ads and Local Services advertisers in certain verticals will be required to complete Advanced Verification.”
In the past, businesses have relied on reviews and ratings left by their customers, which boosted local search rankings. But depending on everyday users made it harder for Google to verify each business, so now they are upping their game, it seems.
The Google Guaranteed Badge
The spam build-up has resulted in the coveted badge (which was released in 2016 to LSA’s only, but first promoted to GMB members in 2020), allowing various service providers to improve their local Ads. Over the past few years, Local Service Ads have been slowly moving up to top the local SERPs for home maintenance searches, and this has just confirmed Google’s push for this channel.
So how can local businesses get the badges?
Google sent out emails to GMB members (of eligible industries) who aren’t already using Local Service Ads during the summer months, offering an ‘upgraded business profile’ for $50 a month. This was immediately met with suspicion throughout the SEO community, as it adds to the belief that Google is trying to shift organic search to paid.
For those who sign up, they will undergo background checks and provide various documentation and credentials. Thanks to Google’s use of third parties, the overall process can take weeks or months.
There has been a mixed reaction overall about the badge. Many saw it as a new opportunity to stand out against competitors operating in the same area, which may drive said competitors to also invest in the badge. There’s no denying that this may be an exciting era for small business owners – to say that you’ve obtained a Google Guarantee badge does give off a good impression.
However, one obstacle is the cost. Not all business owners – especially those just starting out – can afford to pay $50 a month. They risk losing out on customers because one or two of their competitors have obtained the Google Guaranteed badge, and so are more appealing to users than the listing without. SEO veteran Lily Ray tweeted that it “boils down to whether it’s worth $50 a month for your business to have a label that says “Google screened this business.”
As more information rolls out about this badge system, we can only imagine what this means for not just paid local search, but organic too. The fact that Google reached out to GMB members who were not utilising LSA suggests that, as aforementioned, they are once again attempting to push organic search into the hands of online advertisers. As Search Engine Journal pointed out, what once started as a move to combat fraud, now appears to have a monetary aim.
We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on this one to see where things go.