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Google Introduces "Direct Business Search" - A New Way for Google to Charge You an Exorbitant Amount for Interacting with Your Own Customers

In the early days of Google, sometime around 1999, an employee suggested the phrase "Don't be evil." as a corporate motto. The slogan was allegedly a jab at some of Google's competitors that were perceived to be exploiting their users. The phrase was included in the prospectus for Google's 2004 IPO. It read as follows:

Don't be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served -- as shareholders and in all other ways -- by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains.

I'm not the first to call out Google for the stark contrast between their noble foundational values and the way they conduct business today. Driven by the ever-increasing expectations of Wall Street, Google has sunk pretty low just to keep growing revenue.

Today, I received an email from the Local Services Ads team atGoogle with the title, "A new way for customers to connect with your business". Here's a screen shot of the email:

A copy of an email from Google announcing the launch of Direct Business Search a feature of Google Local Services Ads.

If you're not already familiar with Google Local Services Ads, you'll need a little background to understand just how obnoxious and evil this "New Feature" is.

Google launched Google Local Services Ads about 5 or 6 years ago. It was an exciting innovation in Google's portfolio of ad placements. Principally, the idea was for Google to offer advertising on a Cost-Per-Lead basis rather than through their traditional Pay Per Click model.

Targeted at local service providers (e.g. Electricians, Plumbers, Roofers, and eventually Realtors), Google wanted to grow their business by adopting an easy-to-understand and implement advertising vehicle based on results (i.e. Leads) rather than activity (i.e. clicks).

Google added further value to consumers by implementing a comprehensive "screening process" for advertisers wishing to participate. Advertisers were required to undergo a background check, proof that they were licensed and proof of insurance.

Google rolled out "Google Screened", later renamed "Google Local Services Ads" with a very flexible and accommodating policy. If you received a lead that wasn't viable (i.e. came from outside your service area, or requesting services you don't offer), you could simply mark the lead as invalid and you wouldn't be charged.

Theoretically, this was a perfect product from Google. You only pay when you receive value -- and you control how much you pay. I don't detect any evil here.

The problem is that Google Local Services Ads have been an abject failure. Why? Among other problems, the main problem with GLSA's is that they are horrifically oversold. In the real estate vertical for example, there are hundreds if not thousands of hungry real estate agents signed up for Google Local Services Ads. The few leads these ad placements actually generate are spread over so many advertisers that the practical "average number of leads" a Realtor can expect from Google Local Services Ads is ZERO.

Google doesn't take failure lightly, so they are clearly beginning to scramble to save this ad format. Today's email represents the first of many steps I'm sure they are implementing to rescue GLSAs.

What does the email mean? What is "a new feature for your ads to reach people"?

First you need to understand how GLSAs typically work. A user enters a search phrase like "realtor near me", triggering GLSAs to appear at the top of the SERP (i.e. search engine results page). No evil here.

A screen shot of a standard Google Local Services Ad.

But the "new feature" that Google is rolling out -- by default, this feature is turned on -- changes the game entirely.

Now, if a Google searches for my company by name, that will trigger a GLSA. If the user clicks on the GLSA instead of my organic listing or a link in my Google Business Profile, I'll have to pay $50, $75 or whatever the going price is in the underlying auction. This is highway robbery. See below on how they plan to implement this:

A visual showing how Google plans to defraud advertisers with it's new Direct Business Search feature of Google Local Services Ads.

If a Google user is explicitly searching for my company by name, why would I need an ad to capture them? I wouldn't. Let them click on my organic listing or anywhere in my Google Business Profile.

What Should You Do?

You should urgently opt out of the new feature. The email includes a link to "turn off the feature". Although clicking on that link just logs you into the impossibly complicated backend of Google Local Services Ads, with no instructions on how to actually turn off the feature.

Scroll down to settings and toggle the "Direct Business Search" to off.

An illustration of how to turn off the Direct Business Search "feature" of Google Local Services Ads.

What Should Google Do?

Google should kill this "new feature" dead, immediately. This is evil. This is not in the best interest of any advertiser. This has nothing to do with fulfilling the potential of Google Local Services Ads, rather it is all about Google bilking it's existing customers for more money.

What Else Should Google Do?

Personally, I'm a fan of the GLSA concept. It would be great if Google could sell on a Cost-Per-Lead basis. GLSAs could be more fair and more efficient for small local advertisers than their flagship PPC business. But how do you fix it?

This is tough and I don't have all the answers, but here are a few:

  • Start over and build a fresh, easy-to-use interface for GLSAs. The first iteration was bad, and cramming it further into Google Ads will just make it harder to use.

  • Be transparent about the ranking factors for GLSAs. We know that the number of positive reviews for a potential advertiser is a ranking factor in the display of GLSAs. Let us know all of the factors. Align the ranking factors so that the best vendors stand out.

  • Crack down on review fraud. Again, we already know that the number of positive Google Reviews an advertiser has acquired is a factor that will influence how often a GLSA is displayed. Because of this, unscrupulous advertisers (e.g. Sarah & Debbie Reynolds - Reynolds EmpowerHome Team) have magically acquired an improbable number of Google Reviews. Put some verification behind Google Review and punish cheaters.

An image showing a Google Advertiser who has clearly committed "review fraud".
  • Make GLSAs more exclusive. Limit participation on the basis of criteria that truly represent the best vendors.

Will all of these steps fix GLSAs? Probably not. There's a lot more to do. But the one thing that will not fix the product OR provide meaningful growth in Google's overall advertising business is ripping off your existing customers. Say it with me, "Don't be evil."

Google Isn't Your Friend

If you're an advertiser of any size, you need to constantly remind yourself that Google isn't your friend or your partner. Google is a monopolistic entity driven by the insane greed of Wall Street. Doing business with Google is like having a heroin addict in the family. Eventually, they're going to steal from you to keep getting their fix. The problem is that Google and Meta are the only game in town. So doing business with Google is a necessary evil.

Should Congress Break Up Google, Facebook & Amazon?

I get very, very concerned when I hear people like Elizabeth Warren or Nikki Haley talking about breaking up big tech. These folks do not understand the technology or the marketplace to make good decisions.

But yeah, by the time Google is stooping to tactics like this, it's time to break them up.

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