Is the Google+ Local Dashboard Moving Towards a Freemium Model?

That Google has finally added some semblance of human support to G+ Local raises a number  of questions that are still unanswered:

google-money

  • Is it worldwide or US only?
  • Can agencies call in on behalf of their clients?
  • Will it be extended beyond the verification process to other aspects and problems that occur with Google+Local like merges?

But an even bigger question for me is:

  • Why now?

Google has always known of the unsatisfied demand for phone service that existed in their local product, why add phone support now? As far back as Maps Guide Jen, Google has always said that local was a free product (free my ass..free as in you only pay with data, suffering, time and eyeballs) and that free Google products did not receive phone support.

My speculation: A revived dashboard will include numerous paid products that will be able to be used as upsells during a “support” call. Google is likely moving toward a freemium model of local where the basic service is free but many of the add ons that will offer highly visibility will have a fee associated with them.

The G+ Dashboard for Business has been in a state of “under construction” disarray for many, many months. Yet as I noted in Google Local: Train Wreck at the Junction:

…the product sports a renewed Offers interface, an upgraded Adwords Express AND a recently rebuilt bulk upload interface. The dashboard is account based rather than individual based. Certainly that is a superior solution for a multi-location brand yet it is steadfastly single user. It is the ultimate contradiction and any attempt at reading the tea leaves as to its future gives one a serious case of heartburn. But given the fact that parts of the product HAVE been upgraded its hard to conclude that it is in fact going away.

You can’t very well sell Offers, Adwords Express and who knows what future products if the business can’t get their listing verified. And Google already has an SMB support team in place for AdWords Express. It is a trivial task to cross train them to a new Dashboard (that works).

Just the other day, Google increased the visibility of Offers by surfacing them in Google+ Local search results. The product has long carried the caveat that “it’s free, for you during a limited-time trial period”.

Last June, the Wall Street Journal noted about the “coming” replacement for the dashboard that

The project combines several products and services aimed at small businesses under a single banner. It is based on a mix of internally developed software and recently acquired technologies that the company hopes eventually will bring in billions of dollars a year in new revenue.

American business is not known for its altruism. Google is no exception and as a market leader is under huge pressures to increase revenues. With somewhere north of 8 million businesses registered in the dashboard they have a huge opportunity for monetization in local like no other.

While it is extraordinary that Google is implementing human support for local after many long years of having absolutely none, I think this move is part and parcel of a grander strategy to monetize their Local product as they upgrade and enhance the Dashboard.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Is the Google+ Local Dashboard Moving Towards a Freemium Model? by

13 thoughts on “Is the Google+ Local Dashboard Moving Towards a Freemium Model?”

  1. Hi Mike – good insight. I agree that Google would invest in support without an ulterior motive, and cold hard cash is always a great motivator…

    I can confirm that from the UK the link doesn’t have any contact form or call back request info, so suspect it’s US only and only between certain hours at this stage.

  2. @Liz
    I assume that you meant to say Google “would not” invest?

    Thanks for your confirmation that this isn’t yet in the UK. Anyone know about Canada?

  3. I’m fine with Google adding upsells if in turn the free service gets better support. I only hope as they move forward the free service remains a viable option for businesses who don’t want to pay for the upsells.

  4. My personal suspicion is that Google is giving these results top placement to get businesses to become at least somewhat dependent upon their listing appearing before the organic search results as part of a broader strategy to then require PPC bidding to determine order and placement, much as was done with Google Shopping last year.

    I’m betting that in less than 12 months, companies which do not pay won’t appear, and the order will be determined by bid amount.

    You’ve probably covered this already in detail, but my work prohibits me from spending as much time as I’d like studying up here (or at any other extraordinarily useful and informative site for that matter)…

  5. My guess is that Apple’s failure with Maps put into perspective for Google how much of a head start they have with data collected for Maps.

    Apple may buy a lot more data, mapping companies, and hire more engineers who have worked on mapping projects. But Google will still have a significant headstart in that area. By introducing some real customer service into the mix, they make it more likely that they can maintain that head start.

    Interesting that I’m also seeing more Google patents involving Map listings quality, too.

  6. I agree with Bill. It’s all about competition. All of a sudden Google realizes that they need to protect an asset they have or risk being crushed by Apple since more and more local searches are going mobile. That and the potential to upsell and monetize has got to be why they all of a sudden care enough now to put a live body on the phone.

  7. Mike:

    I liked your command of the queen’s English and how you phrased that “free my ass” comment. :D

    Here is one other idea to throw in the mix. Google just avoided FTC oversight and the threat of a anti trust suit.

    There were discussions between the Feds and Google on various approaches. Reportedly Google is changing some behavior on some issues. This has been in play for a long time as the investigation has been going on for a while.

    Could responsiveness to SMB’s be part of that package? I don’t know. It somewhat makes sense to me. Google has basically treated every other business heretofore as worthless not worth the time of day.

    Maybe they were pressured to somewhat act like the rest of the free world business environment and not like Gods from Valhalla. :D

  8. @Bill & Tim
    Customer service is a differentiator and Google’s primary competitors Apple and Amazon certainly have it where Google has not.

    But for all of these companies super profits come first. You can’t be a leader in technology without being a leader in dollars generated. Capital flows to the strong and the weak are consumed or die in our economic system.

    Google has a history of ONLY adding customer service when there was a direct and attributable income stream and not one second before and usually much after (think Adwords support for SMBs). They have refined the lack of support model to a T.

    While there are many factors driving Google’s behavior and it is a complex number of variables, I have trouble seeing competition from Apple being enough to change their no support behavior (think Android here). It may be a factor but I would suggest that history is telling us that at Google support and income go hand in hand…

  9. This is a really insightful prediction, Mike. I bet you’re right. It’s just about the only way to make sense of the mess Google seems to have intentionally created, although it still seems pretty clear that some of it is due to poor planning and inattention. The best way to appeal to a potential customer is not to frustrate them as much as possible and then offer to take their money. Of course, Google’s in a unique position here and could pull this off. The best case scenario is that the “free” service really does get fixed independent of the upsells.

  10. @Damian
    I think that fixing the free product, rolling out extensive and multiple paid products (take offers out of beta, highlighting adwords express, adding things like Punchd, Talkbin and most exciting Incentive Targeting of Coupons) will all be part of the mix. Once the dashboard is fixed the paid products are likely to roll out in rapid succession.

    As to the mess, I don’t think it was intentional as much as it was an outcome of decisions made long ago before the really understood how to organize local data.

  11. Mike “They have refined the lack of support model to a T” – exactly!

    I never seen a company get away such crappy support before. It’s insane!

  12. If they are really going to roll this out around the globe you can bet your sweet ass that fees aren’t going to far behind. I’ve given up trying to work out Google + Local here in Australia as 99% of the resources and information available on the Internet is USA based and doesn’t apply elsewhere. Can’t see live phone support coming here anytime soon….

  13. This is a little late, and you likely already got the answer – but I can confirm they will allow agencies to call in on behalf of clients, provided you have the account credentials. The first time I called in about 2 weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I got someone on the line and how helpful he seemed to want to be.

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