There is a huge difference in who will rank for local results on Google coming your way.
If you're a small business that provides home services in the United States, prepare yourself.
Home based business are gradually being removed from local results. It's more than not having a publicly available storefront address, the new requirements are you'll now require a storefront with onsite signage that is viewable from the street, along with being verified.
The current listing of Home Service professionals include;
- Auto glass services
- Cleaning services
- General contractors
- Garage door professionals
- HVAC (heating or air conditioning)
- Roadside assistance
Source: Local Services by Google (formerly called 'Home Services')
Businesses that do not go through the verification process will appear below those with a “Google guaranteed” listing. Far below.
What Are My Options?
You’ll either need to comply with the Local Services screening process requirements, or pay for Adwords to appear in search results. The other option is being pushed so far down in local listings that your visibility will be almost non-existent.
How To Qualify?
In addition to having storefront with onsite signage that is viewable from the street, businesses will require insurance coverage for work performed. The verification process includes background checks, verification of insurance and licenses, online reputation audits, and interviews.
In the Google My Business (GMB) Local Services guidelines, it mentions that "The location must be staffed (your staff, not someone else’s) during office hours." This might be in reference to a number of companies using serviced office space like Regus to create a larger presence, or people sharing addresses. The guidelines also mention that "The location must have permanent, onsite signage that is viewable from the street".
This could be a problem for some home based businesses, like those which operate from an apartment or condo. It’s not likely that ‘signage visible from the street’ is an option. There's already been a few cases of people putting up signage to snap a pic and send for validation, then take it down. It wouldn't be a surprise if the autonomous car used for Google Maps is used to verify signage in the future.
Why Are They Doing This?
It seems that Google My Business Home Service is requiring businesses to be public about their location. This would make it more difficult for lead generation companies that sometimes create fake “businesses” and help consumers connect with trusted and credible professionals.
What Does This Mean For Small Businesses?
The organic listings will be further pushed down, and home service business will need to comply with requirements or 'pay to play' in order to appear above the fold. This will likely make businesses in home services rely more on the paid search marketing option, with organic results being pushed down the page, the traffic will take a hit as well.
The verification process has evolved into “Google guaranteed”, and will allow your business to be more prominently displayed in search results.
While still being tested, Google Home Service is currently appearing in a limited number of areas, for the time being.
These listing currently appear above the 3-pack of local search results. Note the 'Google guaranteed' to authenticate providers to "build trust".
Home Service professionals that comply also receive Google verified reviews in search results, as well as on the provider’s profile.
Reviews for jobs not booked through Google will not display a “Google verified” label.
The Google Guarantee protects consumers that book a verified provider on GMB’s Home Service up to the job invoice amount, with a lifetime cap of $2,000. All claims must be submitted within 30 days of the job booking date. Coverage does not include jobs that were completed before September 14, 2016.
How Does This Differ From Adwords?
To compete with sites like HomeAdvisor, Yelp, Angie’s List and similar, GMB’s Home Service Ads (HSA) are not just bid based, they also rely on you getting google reviews for determining the position your ad is displayed.
Considerations that affect your ranking within the Home Service ads include the overall proximity to potential customers' location, overall review score, the number of GMB online reviews in total, business hours as related to time of request, and whether Google has received serious or repeated complaints regarding your business.
Google Home Service Ads are an AdWords Express alternative offered to local service providers, combining sponsored local listings with the Google service guarantee for high-quality service providers. These ads appear above all other components in the search results page, and can include a “call” and/or “message” button.
Note that the phone number displayed in search results is not the business number, but a tracking phone number assigned to them by Google. Additionally, the phone number the provider sees is a Google-forwarded number and not the consumer’s actual phone number. As long as you have spoken with the customer in the last 15 days, communications can continue using the Google-forwarded number.
At the Google Local Services signup page it mentions that it's currently available in Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, Stockton, and the San Francisco Bay. But there is evidence of Home Service Ads also appearing in a number of other cities, including New York City, Seattle, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Phoenix, Chicago, Oakland, Long Beach, and Washington, D.C. Parts of the program have been tested in the San Francisco area for almost three years, a long time by Google’s standards, and starting to roll out nation-wide over last few months.
The Home Service Ads first appeared in San Diego last year as an effort to combat a rising issue with certain online fraud and scams. As a result, an advanced verification process for plumbers and locksmiths was rolled out, and removed almost 90% of the local listings.
These leads are based on a flat fee, but it might be an introductory rate, which means the cost will only go up in future. For most, the options are to get on board or be unverified and see a drop in traffic and leads.
Note that if this program is not available in your area yet and that you monitor availability, you could get a jump on the competition by being one of the first. Be sure that you're using reputation management software to make your reviews look good, as its a factor in determining the position you rank or would be displayed. If dealing with reputation issues, be sure to see our article on responding to negative reviews for more insight.
Update: the program has expanded to 17 US cities with plans to be in 30 cities by year-end (Oct.31, 2017)
For more information or to sign up at Home Service ads;