I’ve been soaking up all the changes and speculation about what’s going on with Google+ and Google Places lately and have come to the conclusion that the widely-anticipated Business Profiles that Google is dangling out there will be a paid advertising product. Here’s my reasoning:
Why would businesses need both a Business Profile and a Places page, when the Place page is essentially already a business profile? Because Google’s always made a big deal about Places being free, so if it wants to get revenue from them it needs to shift to a paid inclusion model, similar to Yahoo Local’s enhanced listings.
The only person who I’ve heard making announcements about Google Business Profiles is Christian Oestilen, the ads manager for Google+. That alone is a obvious clue.
Google is stripping information from Place pages:
- The owner-provided Descriptions are gone.
- The More Details section (where you were able to provide discreet links to your website and give useful information to visitors) is gone
- Third party review sites have lost their prominence – maybe those sites will have to pay for placement- or prominent placement-as advertisers. Maybe those with paid profiles will be able to feature chosen review sites or even individual reviews on their pages.
- More About This Place listings (citations) have disappeared – maybe those sites will have to pay for placement- or prominent placement-as advertisers, also
- I wouldn’t be surprised if Events also disappeared soon, since for some types of businesses, these could easily be incentivized.
We also have to think about all the ways Google will be able to integrate Google+ activity into Business profiles. It’s mindboggling and business owners will definitely be willing to pay for certain features, like the ability to respond to reviews and post marketing messages to Circles of customers.
Google has expended a significant amount of effort over the past year persuading small businesses to drink its local koolaid, but chances are, there aren’t as many of them jumping on the Boost/AdWords Express advertising bandwagon as Google anticipated. (Maybe you’ll only get a Business Profile if you do paid advertising.) Google has given businesses free things (like discreet links and photos in the Blended Local Listings) and is now taking them away.
With Business Profiles, Google is creating demand for what is essentially an unknown product. Google Place Pages may very well become like basic listings in the Yellow Pages – just the bare facts- while the new Google Business Profiles become like display ads in the Yellow Pages – big and colorful with a fat dose of marketing messages.
Most marketers will gladly pay for Business profiles, IF and its a really BIG IF, they get reasonable control over what is shown and decent support when they have problems. After all, this is what we’ve always wanted from Google Local/Maps/Places, isn’t it?
The only thing I am certain of is that Google is making an incredibly aggressive play to make as much money as it can from the Local/Social space as quickly as it can as Business Profiles seem like an ideal opportunity to help that goal along. The rest is just my personal opinion, but I expect it to unfold fairly quickly, so hang on!