Over the past few weeks, Google has been softly launching a test program which allows businesses in two US cities to purchase 'enhanced listings' in the local results (the map that appears at the top of the search results).
By taking an enhanced listing, a business owner agrees to give Google just $25 a month and in return, their business appears in the search results with a “View Website” link next to their name. At present, with there only being a handful of businesses that are testing the system, these listings stand out so will likely get a good click through rate.
The internet marketing community is debating whether this is a good thing or not. Whilst many people feel that Google is selling far too much of its real estate and is devaluing the natural search results, others feel that this is a good opportunity for smaller, local businesses to advertise on the search engine.
By offering this service at such a low monthly cost, Google should be able to convert a lot of one-man-bands that either could not afford Pay Per Click advertising or did not understand how the system works. There are hundreds or thousands of these businesses in each city, so the amount of extra revenue for Google could be considerable.
How the general public will react to this is uncertain. Up until now, adverts have been clearly defined above and to the right of the search results, separated from the natural listings. People tend to trust the natural listings as non-commercial and websites appearing due to merit. Even though the enhanced local listings will display the word ‘sponsored’ next to them, mixing them up with normal results is likely to confuse and even anger users.
There is no news yet when this will be rolled out across the rest of the US and then the UK, though with recent amount of changes that Google has introduced to its search results, it probably won’t be far off.