Online marketing is essential for companies that want to reach the growing number of consumers who search for businesses on the internet. Between people using Google Search and Google Maps, local companies need to create a Google My Business profile to connect with new customers. However, some recent tests from Google could indicate trouble on the horizon. Last week, users began to notice that Google was showing competitor ads on local business profiles.

Last week, a Twitter user named Ben Fisher tweeted an image of a local business profile on Google that had an advertisement for a competitor. Specifically, a Jeep dealership in Norco, California featured an ad for a Toyota dealership in Valley Hi, which is about an hour away.

The screenshot was from a phone search panel. The ad for the Toyota dealership was placed under the overview icons, just above the address listing for the Jeep dealership. The ad is about the size of the overview icon section, so there’s no doubt that people will notice this offer from a competitor. One could argue that the ad’s placement is confusing to viewers. By putting a competitor’s ad in the middle of information about the company someone searched for, it’s less clear who the ad is for.

This use of the Local Campaign placement is most likely in the testing phase. Other SEO marketers couldn’t easily find other examples of competitor ads on local listings, which suggests this could be a limited-run test.

There are good reasons to assume that Google will be reticent to deploy these kinds of ads on a large scale. First, there is likely to be a tremendous backlash from business owners and SEO marketers who won’t like that their work to promote a business is being hijacked to send people to the competition. According to reports, the discussion around this one screenshot was already fairly negative.

Google runs the risk of convincing people that it’s not a good idea to create profiles for businesses if they’re going to be used against them. And with Google already facing closer government scrutiny around the world, an ad placement scheme that may be interpreted as manipulative isn’t going to do the company any favors.

As one SEO writer explained, “People I’ve spoken to about this in the local SEO community feel generally that Google shouldn’t be putting ads for direct competitors on business profiles. Further, some argue it may also be confusing to consumers looking for specific businesses.”

At the time of writing this, Google hasn’t commented on the test. Business owners and marketers should keep an eye out for more information about changes to local campaign ad placement options.

For more recent news about updates and changes to Google, read this article on the way the company has simplified and standardized their content rules for publishers.