Digital marketing professionals were taken aback last week amid reports that Google may start charging for Google My Business (GMB) listings. As every local search marketer knows, Google My Business is a critical tool in the fight for real estate on search engine results pages (SERPs). Perhaps more importantly, GMB listings are a great way for consumers to quickly find information about local businesses.

Google distributed a survey asking business owners how much they would be willing to pay for GMB services. Pricing options ranged from $25 to $60 per month. Many business owners and webmasters were surprised by the survey, in part because Google has not traditionally charged for appearances in organic search results.

“This method of charging for search results like this is not how Google has typically monetized search results,” wrote Search Engine Land’s Barry Schwartz on April 25. “Typically they monetize for search ads, not simply being listed in the search results. This would somewhat change that model and it may make things complicated within Google’s internal ethics to support.”

It would also force business owners and SEO agencies to carefully assess the value derived from GMB listings. The fact that they are free today is a major attraction – will businesses be willing to pay for added SERP visibility? And how will consumers be affected by this change? Local search results are intended to deliver geo-sensitive information; will a pay-to-play ecosystem make them less accurate and useful?

As a Google Premier Partner digital marketing agency with access to valuable insights on Google’s preferred practices, GrowthEngine Media takes pride in our sophisticated and effective local search strategy. While Google’s proposed GMB changes would certainly impact our approach, rest assured that our search marketing team is prepared to find the right balance of paid and organic strategies to suit your business needs.