Google My Business Surveys Hint at Future Paid Features – What this Means for Churches
This link above is a long read. If it all makes sense to you, it won’t be a waste of your time. But I’ll give you a super brief summary of what this means for churches who want to rank well in relevant searches on Google, such as “church near me” or “Reformed church in Grand Rapids”.
Google My Business (GMB) is about to start charging for services that were once free, as well as some added features. If one pays for these features, the benefits of doing so will depend on a few factors.
1) How many other churches are using GMB? If nobody is, you’re probably already ranking well.
2) How densely populated is your geographic location with people and churches?2) How many other churches will pay for the new (or newly not free) features? My guess is that a majority of them won’t even know that paying for these features is an option, which leads to:
3) How long has it been since the start of these paid services? Right now this is only an idea. Charging for these services may not ever happen, and I certainly hope it doesn’t. But once it rolls out, there will be a slow progression of churches jumping on board. Those that jump in early will see an initial boost in several metrics, such as visitors, clicks on their website, phone calls, etc. The longer it takes for other churches to jump on board, the longer that boost will last. If you’re a four-star restaurant in a big city, for instance, this boost may be imperceivable short as your competitors’ marketing firms all are jumping in on day one as well.
This is the saddest part of this probable future path of GMB. The only winner, in the long run, is Google. Back in 2010, Google made a similar move with the release of HotPot, a paid product that promised to add several eye-catching features to your listing in the search results. Many businesses found this relatively inexpensive feature to be hugely helpful. I certainly did. However, this was in a time where many industries were not even in the game of SEO. Thus, if you paid for HotPot, you did stand out. But what happens if everyone pays to stand out? Nobody stands out. And if everyone is paying to stand out, as will be the case in almost every industry now that everyone is in the SEO game these days, everyone is paying Google for nothing. It feels like when I paid to replace my roof. It cost an exceptional amount, and it made no perceivable impact on my daily life except that I walk through my home instead of swim through it. If you don’t pay Google to be featured, you may simply disappear.
Here is my suggestion: Pay for it. But pay for it on day one, and track your return on investment. Take advantage of the time you have now before these paid features roll out to track every relevant data set you can so that you have a basis of comparison. For instance, this article mentions that you can track clicks on your GMB Posts by using this tool. Track your Google Analytics data to see how many visits your site gets daily now, so you can compare that to the visits you get later. Have the greeters at each entry of your church keep track of visitors from week to week now so that you can compare that to after you begin paying for the new features.
If you ever decide after paying for these features that it isn’t worth it for you, remember to compare all three data sets (before, during, after). You may find that maintaining the visibility you had before these paid services will require continuing to pay. Google knows this, and that’s why they have the leverage to move forward with such a vastly unpopular business plan.
Finally, pray. Humanly speaking, there is a butterfly effect that can lead to more or fewer visitors that come to hear the gospel. Some of the factors at play can be influenced by our efforts, and in many cases, we ought to be prayerfully engaged in that outreach labor. But the key word there is PRAYERFULLY. Who controls every last factor in this “butterfly effect”? The term butterfly effect infers that we live in a complex world at the mercy of random events. We DO live in a complex world, which points to a complex creator. But this creator did not create and walk away. He is intimately involved with each flap of every butterfly’s wings. And he listens to our prayers. When you finish praying, don’t quantify the effects of your prayers. Don’t test them for their return on investment.
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.James 1:5-7
If your church uses SEO as one of its means of outreach or not, your greatest hope is in prayer, and that prayer ought to be coupled with a faith in the God to whom we pray. Quantify your outreach efforts, but never fall for the trap of self-reliance, remembering the words of Paul:
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.Ephesians 6:18-20