It may not happen soon – or suddenly or permanently – but the chances are good that sooner or later Google will monetize more of the Map. Maybe all of it will become ad space, or maybe certain features of your Google My Business page will require you to load quarters into them. Probably a little of both, plus something we can’t foresee.
If and when that happens, you’d better have your pants on. One leg is to determine how willing you are to pay for any aspect of your Google Maps visibility. The other leg is to be in a good enough position that pay-to-play is optional for you.
I first pecked out some of the advice in this post in 2015, when Google took the advertising shoehorn to the map. If nothing else, that should tell you that even Google’s most-obvious plans can take years to unfold, and that the local map probably won’t change overnight (as some SEOs and others might have you believe.
Some of my advice here may be obvious to you. Some of it you should do anyway, regardless of Google’s moneymaking schemes. But I’ll always be a Boy Scout, so my advice always is “Be Prepared.” I hope this post serves as a checklist of things you’ll do before the shotgun wedding.
1. At least try every Google My Business bell and whistle and get a sense of which features (1) you might use longer-term, and which features (2) seem to help your business in some way. That’s good to do in case Google monetizes only some features in Google My Business and not the whole thing. I’m not saying you should carve out a lot of time for Google’s knickknack du jour. I’m saying that if you haven’t used a given Google My Business feature when it was free, you probably won’t try it if and when it’s paid. Don’t cut it too close.
2. Decide now whether you’ll become more specialized any time soon. The time to start trying to own a more-specific niche is not after you’ve been squeezed on some of your more-competitive local search terms.
3. Copy, paste, and save your Google reviews, and note down the names of the customers who wrote them. That’s always been a good idea, but your reviews are not safe if they all live in one of Google’s data centers. If a major change is on the way, Google’s even more likely to leave your reviews in the cargo hold and let them freeze to death on the flight.
By the way, if you have so many Google reviews that saving them all sound tedious, don’t you suppose it will be even more tedious to ask everyone to review you again? You’ll be lucky if 40% of them follow through. Pack ’em away.
4. Take a screenshot of what shows up in the knowledge panel you see on the right-hand side when you search for your business by name. If you’ve got multiple locations, take a screenshot of what you see in each location’s sidebar.
5. Grab a few Google Analytics reports, or at least take screenshots. Get a sense of your organic-only traffic, referral sources, and maybe pull a “Geo” report. If you can sock away data for the last few years, great, but get recent intel at least. If Google monetizes more of the map, your traffic will probably be affected in one way or another, and you’ll want to understand how (if possible). You’ll also want to know if Google’s potential pay-to-play move doesn’t affect your visibility much. You’ll be in a better position to know those things if you know what your baseline is.
6. Cultivate other sources of traffic: not only non-Google Maps visibility (especially organic rankings) but also non-Google visibility. That’s just common sense, bordering on “Duh” advice. So rather than explaining what may be obvious, I’ll point you to these two posts: “Local SEO without the Local Map: What Is It?” and “Relationship between Local and Organic SEO: a Simple Diagram.”
7. Consider tracking every Google My Business URL field with UTM codes. I say “consider” only because I don’t bother doing that for clients, because it doesn’t change our action items or other decision-making. Still, you might find it useful to know more about who clicks where, so you can see what effects a more-monetized map might have.
8. Get familiar with AdWords (sorry, “Google Ads”), if you’re not already into it. At the very least, just run a quick-and-dirty campaign with a small budget, maybe with a focus on your more-niche keywords. Unless you’ve got good PPC chops, you probably shouldn’t expect to get many or any customers from it, but you will get useful data. You can find out the exact search terms people use, exactly where they search from, what calls-to-action they respond to, and other insights that can affect your local SEO strategy.
9. Get cracking on Google Maps “spam patrol” before your spammy free-visibility competitors become spammy advertisers, and possibly even more entrenched.