Google’s Business Profile, an essentially free listing available to all businesses, has spawned a huge untamed market for advertising agencies to sell services.
As an agency owner myself, I can appreciate the professional service provided to local business owners who don’t have the skill or time to manage their online properties.
However, the level of price gouging I witnessed from one firm that pitched friend of mine who runs a residential service business was shocking.
Here’s the pitch… You know how you only rank well in Maps for the area around your business location? Well, we’re going to create new locations around town and expand your footprint, leading to better rankings on Maps.
Here’s the thing, it’s actually against Google’s terms of service to create multiple listings for a service business in the same metro area.
Companies abuse this policy all the time, paying for ghost offices where nobody works, parking their truck outside and posting some signage on the window. Unfortunately, Google isn’t great at policing these situations, which leads to tons of abuse in cities across the country.
By the way, don’t even think about “virtual offices”, coworking memberships, or PO Boxes, for your business profile. Google has been wise to those tactics for years.
So the pitch continues with driving reviews to the various business profiles around town. As the reviews build up in volume and you maintain a near 5 star rating, your business profile listings will climb. Reviews are also free, but there’s software to expedite their collection.
Finally, they’ll track all the phone calls from your new bogus listings with AI transcription to prove you’re getting lots of additional leads, and justify a return on your investment.
How much was this company charging? $100,000.
And they justified it by saying that based on your average customer value, you can reasonably expect to make $4 million after Year 1. $100K to get $4M back is a great deal right?
I’ll save my opinions of “value based pricing” for another post, but is this worth paying an agency $100,000 to do the setup work on a few fake listings for your service business?
First of all, here are the actual costs:
- Google Business Profile listings: Free
- Call Tracking Software with 3 tracking lines: $100/month (maybe another $50 for an optional AI call transcription service)
- Review request software to help manage the 3 listings: $200 – $500/month
- Small “ghost” office space: $750/month (this can vary widely)
What about all the professional expertise required to pull this off?
First of all, none of this setup is hard to find online. You’ll need to know some details of where to place the tracking numbers, how to title the locations, how to create a robust listing, and a plan to get lots of legitimate customer reviews. If you don’t want to go it alone, a trustworthy agency partner should be able to help without gouging.
Is this all even ethical? That’s really up to you, the business owner. Unfortunately Maps abuse has been going on for years, so the deck is stacked against those playing by the rules in competitive niches and markets.
One thing we know is that it’s against Google terms of service, and could result in suspended listings of not just your bogus listings, but your primary business listing. And being in “Google Jail” is not good for business.
Can you really make millions off of Google Maps? That depends on your average customer value and your location(s), but Google Maps is a powerful and FREE marketing tool that Google offers all businesses. Create for your free listing or claim an existing one here: https://business.google.com.
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Chris Licause has consulted with hundreds of local businesses on their digital marketing over the past 20 years. He currently leads Dominant Digital, an agency specializing in helping local companies reach more profitable customers online, through search engine optimization, ads management, and website development.