If your business currently benefits from Page 1 search results on Google without paying for advertising, don’t get too comfortable: The search engine giant soon may roll out an update that could dramatically change how customers find your services online.
Google is testing a new lead-generation platform called Home Service Ads, which connects homeowners with vetted locksmiths, house cleaners, plumbers and handymen. It’s currently available only in the San Francisco Bay Area; however, the program is expected to eventually expand nationwide and will extend to other service categories, such as pool building and maintenance.
Home Service Ads changes how search results appear on Page 1. When a homeowner in the Bay Area searches for a locksmith, for example, Google generates a list of three qualified providers within a sponsored section at the top. The homeowner can click this section to receive a longer list of advertisers and then select three to directly submit a request. Contractors on the receiving end then bid on the job.
Below the Home Service Ads are lists of other businesses from directories such as Yelp!
Internet marketers believe the new format crowds out companies that aren’t paying for prominent positions on the search engine’s coveted Page 1. That means businesses that invest in search engine optimization to achieve favorable rankings may have to come up with a new game plan.
“The best organic ranking in the world [could] now be on Page 2,” said Brett Lloyd Abbott, president and chief strategist at MYM Austin Inc., a Texas-based marketing firm specializing in the pool industry. “And we all know how powerful Page 2 is.”
That is to say, not very powerful.
Observers say this is a smart move on Google’s part. For one thing, it may force the hand of businesses that currently enjoy the luxury of highly ranked organic listings to have to pay for a top spot. It also puts Google in the same competitive arena with a growing number of lead-generation players such as Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor and, most recently, Amazon.
As is the practice of platforms that connect customers with contractors, Home Service Ads will require businesses to pass a background screening to be able to participate. The checks, conducted by a third-party, verify the validity of licenses, and examine online reviews and ratings with outlets such as the Better Business Bureau.
For this reason, Pool Builder Lead Rocket, an Austin, Texas-based Internet marketing firm, is advising its clients to pre-enroll now so there is no downtime when the program goes national. When that happens, the firm’s founders, Geoff Frink and Joseph Christoforo, suggest that builders and service professionals develop the office support necessary to quickly reply to online submissions. After all, when receiving leads from such services, timing is of the essence.
John Souza is receiving about 10 inquiries a day through Home Service Ads. They usually come in the form of a text message. He has 24 hours to reply, though the sooner the better. “If I answer them, I get the job,” said the owner of Souza and Viviani Plumbing, a 100-year-old family business serving the East Bay.
He’s not paying for the service. He agreed to participate in Google’s lead-gen experiment — and he has no complaints. “They’re sending me work,” Souza said.
Google did not return a request for comment.