Google Maps is now testing “sponsored map icons” in the United States. This was first tested back in March in the Australian version of Google Maps. The sponsored map icons are basically company logo enhanced points of interest icons.
For example, instead of seeing a generic ATM machine icon on Google Maps, you may see a HSBC Bank logo. Instead of seeing a generic retail shop icon, you may see a Target logo. These are not the same as Google local ads where you are paying for search query driven ads to show up in Google Maps. The logos are replacing some of the point-of-interest icons and the point-of-interest icons are not shown based on the query you plug into Google Maps.
Google Product Manager, Matthew Leske, explained they are running a 3-month beta for the most recognizable brands. The brands include Target, HSBC, Bank of America, Public Storage and more. Google hopes to learn how users interact with these logos over the time and then roll out the feature to more companies. The goal is to make the points-of-interest on the maps easier for their users to find.
Currently, this is not part of the AdWords program and these large brands are not paying Google’s typical CPC model. Instead, Google is charging on the CPM model, cost-per-impression. Why? Matthew Leske explained that since users do not need to perform a specific action to visit the location, i.e. they just need to know there is a bank around the block from the movie theatre, there is no reason to charge on the per click basis.
Currently, point-of-interest icons show on Google Maps based on how popular the business is. Matthew Leske told me it is a lot like how web search shows results. Here, Google Maps determines how many citations the business has, is there a Wikipedia entry, is there a lot of search volume and other relevant information. If so, Google will show the point-of-interest on the map view. Advertisers who pay for the sponsored map icon will not have an influence on if their log comes up or not. However, the advertiser will only pay when the logo is viewed by a user.
This is also launching on the mobile version of Google Maps, including Android. Google expect the logos to show up on the iPhone version as well.
Here are pictures of before and after, notice the HSBC logo: