As reported recently by Joy Hawkins on Search Engine Land, Google is expanding it’s Home Services Ads (HSA) program. This “incubation” program was test launched in the San Francisco Bay Area earlier this year. In October it was expanded into the Sacramento and San Diego markets where it went live on November 10th.
We were contacted this week by a client who has a large plumbing business in Orange County, CA. He forwarded to me an email received from Google (yes, it was really Google) inviting him to apply for the program. As we have provided local SEO and search marketing services to this client for several years we have earned a degree of trust from them and they have come to rely upon us to guide them along the digital marketing pathway. Thinking the email received may be another scam by yet another nefarious company claiming to be Google, but not, they asked me to look into it.
The email states that Google is expanding this program into the Los Angeles market. Though his business is not in either the city or county of LA, Orange County is considered part of the “greater metro area” (somewhat to the dismay of OC Locals). It also stated that the intention of the program is “to eliminate the fraudulent home service providers on AdWords“. Contact information from the Googler was provided so we placed a call into her.
The Googler, “Sara”, confirmed that they are indeed expanding the program into the greater LA metro market (LA, Orange and San Bernardino counties) and asking select companies to participate based upon their positive online reputation. Although I have been on this client for a long time to procure more customer reviews on their Google My Business page (which, as we know, has proven to improve their local search rankings on Google), they only have a handful. On Yelp, however, they have several dozen and a 4.5 star rating. Sara confirmed that they qualify home service providers via online reviews from several sources aside from Google, including Yelp.
Google is vetting plumbers and other home service providers in the LA area now. Applicants are briefed on the application process over the phone, and if they choose to proceed they must agree to submit all of their customer-facing employees to a thorough background check conducted by the Pinkerton Investigative Services. At this time, the background check is at no charge to the business though no promises as to whether this will continue indefinitely.
How far and how fast is the HSA program expected to spread? They expect the program to go live in the LA Metro area on January 31st and other West Coast cities over the months ahead. Google hopes to have the HSA program nationwide by the end of 2017.
What is the future of the local organic “3-Pack”? Sara claims that the 3-Pack will remain (though I’ve been told by other Googlers it will not) and that a HSA business could conceivably appear on the first page of SERPs in both the HSA portion at the top of page as well as the local organic 3-Pack below it which is not what I’m seeing taking place in markets where HSA is in effect.
The ad platform that is supporting the HSA program is AdWords Express only. We are a Google Certified AdWords Partner, but not a big fan of the Express program however. Sara explained that since Express is “so easy to use that any small business person can easily manage their campaigns on it”, it’s the natural platform for this program. Uh huh.
Isn’t that precisely what Google has said about Places/Google+/Google My Business listings, and while most small businesses may have found them easy to create their listing on them, they typically have found it far more difficult to optimize and manage them effectively by themselves. As an independent local search consultant and agency, can (949) Local help HSA clients effectively manager their ads on this platform? No, there is no accommodation at this time for “third parties” within the HSA program.
Will Google ever “get” local small business? While they are great at turning wrenches, pounding boards, etc., the small business people typically are not great marketers. And the successful ones know this and outsource this function to experts with the knowledge and expertise to help them maximize their return on their marketing investment. They also recognize that they do not possess the technical skills to grapple with online marketing, and don’t have the time or inclination to learn. They have jobs to complete and businesses to run.
One thing that Google does seem to get, and want, is the local small business marketing budgets.