Google is reportedly about to bring a version of the same playbook that turned its best-in-class search engine into an unstoppable money machine over to Google Maps, its service that more than 1 billion people rely on for directions and other related information. What that means for users, according to a new Bloomberg report, is that we may start to see more things like sponsored listings from businesses that have paid to be atop Google Maps results when you search for a variety of information, like nearby businesses.
Hopefully, Google’s reported interest in leaning on Maps as it hunts for new sources of revenue won’t mean the company goes overboard — like the way you have to scroll down past a slew of ads and highlighted results after conducting a Google Search, for example. As a heavy Google Maps user, though, I’m wary, especially given that relevancy may be even more important when looking for information within Maps than in Search.
Brian Nowak, a Morgan Stanley analyst, said during a recent conference while interviewing Google business executive Philipp Schindler that Google Maps may be “the most under-monetized asset that I cover.”
“It’s almost like a utility where it’s kind of waiting for you to flip the switch on,” Nowak said, as recounted by Bloomberg. As he explains it, there are actually several different ways Google could flip that revenue switch within Maps. I’m a Maps user who actually uses it as a Yelp-like service, firing it up to search things like restaurant reviews, which of course will display reviews from Google users along with detailed information like the business’ location, hours of operation and more. Google, of course, could start promoting restaurants that would be highlighted when I do a search like that within Maps.
Among other revenue opportunities, there are times when you’re conducting a search within Maps for things that are nearby you. Say, you’re low on gas and looking for the closest gas station. Google also could start automatically generating personalized recommendations for you, even before you ask. Those are all areas where Nowak thinks Google could easily start tapping Maps for money, while noting that the main thing people use it for (finding directions) is a “utility” that shouldn’t be messed with — which should most definitely go without saying.
An objective assessment of all this is that it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Bit by bit, Google has turned Maps into a kind of Swiss Army knife of a service, packing tons of features in recent months like even the ability to “follow” business listing that are starting to feel more like a “page” they’d have on a service like Facebook.
Google has also already experimented with ads within Maps, and Google-owned navigation app Waze runs ads there. Google Maps director of product management Rajas Moonka told Bloomberg that because so much of what we do and search for in Maps is commercial and about businesses, ads can be a natural complement to that. You can see this in some specific areas of Maps, such as when the voice directions sometimes tell you to, say, “Turn right right at the Dunkin Donuts” instead of giving a street instead. According to Google, that’s not an ad or the result of a paid exchange, but, again, it’s another opportunity where Google could squeeze more revenue if it wanted.
The Bloomberg report ends on a declarative note. Google Maps, it says, “is the next, big service” the company is turning to for revenue growth. Hopefully, Google will take it easy and won’t do anything to disrupt the overall experience — but, again, there’s certainly reason to worry.