Google’s new info-window ads may effectively “force” SMBs to buy AdWords. Mike Blumenthal and I have had several Twitter exchanges about Google’s new info-window ads and Mike has documented some curious and highly questionable ones. I’m sure there will be many more such posts as people investigate the matching of listings and ads.
What I’ll focus on here is the idea that Google is now effectively compelling businesses to buy ads against their own brands/names. This practice has long gone on in general SEM and it’s nothing new in a way.
National advertisers typically buy their own branded keywords to protect against competitors buying them and to “own the SERP.” Take for example a navigational search for retailer The Gap in the screenshot above. Some search marketers refer to this as the “Google tax” and argue that a company shouldn’t have to pay for a “navigational” query.
Now with the new info-window ads on Google Maps this practice comes to local. In a positive sense, the ad enables the marketer or local business to place an additional message in the window, with promotional information — as in the case of this Baby Gap ad.
However for SMBs it also creates problems, as competitors’ ads show up if they’re not Google AdWords advertisers. Here are two examples at random: a San Francisco plastic surgeon and a bike repair shop.
Each listing above features a competitor ad, in both cases with a deal that may steal away the lead. There are many more such examples. There are also some strange pairings like this listing for a church/charitable foundation in San Francisco and a mattress ad:
Yelp’s policy of placing competitive ads on profile pages (see below) has created confusion and even anger among some SMBs. The sales pitch goes something like: become an advertiser and the competitor’s ad goes away. Confusion created by this concept caused some SMBs to claim that Yelp was manipulating reviews.
Now Google has put a similar system in place. When SMBs discover their listings on Maps also feature competitors’ ads it’s not clear whether they’ll be concerned, angry or indifferent. Some of them may become AdWords (Express) advertisers to get rid of those listings. The idea of eliminating a competitive ad on your listing may also become part of Google’s pitch to SMBs.
What do you think of this practice?
Do you think SMBs will be concerned? How will they react? And, do you think it could create legal problems in connection with the various anti-trust investigations directed toward Google?