Google Home Service Ads Program Expanding

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.


You May Not Need A “Mobile Friendly” Website…yet.

Every time “mobile friendly” websites is mentioned among local business owners, I sense a very un-friendly attitude.  Or perhaps it is the look of confusion, frustration or the fear that they will have to invest in another website ! ?  Hey, we get it.  The website we created in the “good ‘ol days” displayed great on a desktop monitor.  Then smartphones and tablets arrived and we were told we need a new and/or improved website to accommodate them.  More time. More hassle.  More Money!

For local businesses, maybe not.  We took a critical view of our several dozen clients and asked, “Given the type of businesses these are, where would we expect users to be when they searched for them?”.  In nearly every case we concluded that the home or office was the most likely location and therefore their search would most likely done on their good ol’ fashioned desktop computer.

Eschewing the present drive toward mobile devices and mobile search, our position clearly runs counter to popular opinion.  After all, look at the facts.

In 2013, Neustar/Localeze published their annual “Local Search Usage Study”
conducted by comScore.  In it, they reported local search was the #1 application used on mobile devices resulting in 85 million searches, a 26% increase in just the previous ten months.  Wow!  Those are big numbers and used by website designers to convince small businesses that they need to part with a bunch of money to meet these potential customers.  Or do they?

They have just released their 2014 edition and the mobile friendly numbers continue to look impressive.  4 of 5 searches on mobile devices end in a purchase.  27% of mobile searches are to find a location.  A whopping 30% of all local searches on mobile devices were for restaurants.

However, the main point that Neustar/Localeze is promoting this year is that user’s local search habits are becoming more sophisticated as they use multiple devices to search for local goods and services.  They also report that 85% of local searches on Google, Bing and Yahoo originate from a desktop or laptop computer.  Further, 64% of desktop/laptop users are satisfied with their user experience vs. just 50% satisfaction rate among mobile users.

Back to our clients which include dentists, accountants, plumbers, exterminators, automotive services, printers, realtors, etc.  Who, we asked, is going to search for any of these services while waiting for their latte’ at Starbucks?  The services these clients provide are not trivial.  The search for a qualified provider requires some concentration involving comparisons between locations, online reviews, etc.  There is some work involved here.

So, we conclude, that users will most likely initiate their search for these types of local services on their home or office computer.  Then, when the homework is done, they use their smart phone to go “old school”.  They call them.

How (949) Local Will Thrive in 2014

[schema type=”organization” orgtype=”LocalBusiness” url=”” name=”(949) Local Internet Marketing” description=”Internet marketing for small business in Orange County, CA” street=”26040 Acero” city=”Mission Viejo” state=”CA” postalcode=”92673″ country=”US” email=”” phone=”(949)573-2125″ ]HAPPY NEW YEAR!…Now get to work!!

As 2013 came to a close did you ponder the course of your business over the the past year? Did you say to yourself, “Thank God I survived” or “Thank God I thrived”?

Whichever way you answered, I hope that you considered your actions that contributed most to your survival or your growth. I hope also that you began to formulate a plan for 2014 that builds upon those positive actions of last year and incorporates a few new actions to take your business to the next level.

No doubt you will get a lot of strong advice both online and offline from business “gurus” telling you to do (or don’t do) this or that in the year ahead. I suspect you will be relieved to know that I’m not going to do that. Instead I’m going to tell you what (949) Local is going to do to survive and thrive in 2014. If my planned actions resonnate and you decide to add them to your own plan, great!  If not, that’s fine too. After all, everyone’s plan should be unique to themselves and their own circumstances.

I’m not much different than many of you reading this now. I run a small business and was blessed that it thrived as more clients entrusted us with their online marketing in 2013, most of whom were referred from other satisfied clients. And we were also blessed in being able to perform for them despite some very challenging twists and turns presented by the search engines and “You Know ‘Goo…’” in particular.

Now as 2014 dawns, we think of how we want to continue to grow in this new year and how we’re going to do it.

We’re Going to Get More Online Reviews!Yelp

Brace yourself. A digital marketer is going to confirm what you already know: “Word of mouth is the best marketing tool for your business”. And mine too judging by the referrals (949) Local received last year.

As much as I appreciate referrals, I need to channel them and promote them as well, especially online. In a survey done last June by Myles Anderson on SearchEngine Land, 79% of consumers say they trust an online review just as much as they trust a recommendation by a friend.

I am, however, a little shy about asking clients for their referral, even online. And, in the past it hasn’t always been very easy to direct (channel) them to the review site I desire e.g. Google, Yelp, etc. One of the best new tools we adopted (for our clients anyways) is one which sends an email out to recent customers which asks a few general questions on their recent experience. If the customer replies with positive ratings another email is sent to thank them and asks one more small favor: Now go to your favorite review sites and tell the world. “Buttons” are embedded in the email that will take them directly to the client’s page on Google+, Yelp or any other review site we want to channel them to.

If, however, their rating of their experience is less than stellar it gives us the “heads up” and we can then personally reach out to the customer to address their concerns directly, before they post a negative review online. Then, when the customer is satisfied, their feedback is requested again and once we are reasonably certain that their previous concerns are resolved and they are now satisfied, direct them to our pages on various review sites. Voila! We gain valuable feedback, build additonal goodwill and get a marketing boost. Talk about turning a negative into a positive!

We’re Going to Be More Active on Social Media!

So many clients and local business owners we know groan and moan when this topic is brought up. I get it! I too find it challenging to set aside even a small amount of time to go to my Facebook or Google+ Page and write something relevant and interesting. However, one key development in local search in the past year is a business’ activity, and online interaction in social media. So if our postings on Google+ will improve our search rankings throughout Orange County, I’ll make the time.

Some clients tell us they just can’t think of anything worthwhile to write (or post) on. I had the same challenge. Then I started visiting the groups I belong to on LinkedIn relevant to Orange County business and my business and found opinions that I either agreed with or not. I replied to posts there and more important, the online discussion helped crystalize my thoughts on the topic so I could share them on other platforms like Google+, Facebook, the (949) Local blog and our newsletter.

We also set up alerts on Google to tell us whenever something relevant to my business was found online. Every day my Gmail delivers new announcments, opinions and happenings in my business and my community. Yes, a lot of it is self serving PR releases but also a lot of good discussions that I can weigh in on. This helps keep my social content fresh (and therefore more relevant) and helps position me further as an expert in my field and my community of Orange County.

We’re Going to Advertise More Online!

Not unlike the topics above, this too pleads, “Oh doctor, heal thyself!”. After all, we are in the search marketing business and constantly trumpeting the vast advantages to Google Adwords. And, if I do say so myself, we’ve gotten pretty darn good at crafting high performing and measureable campaigns.

Google AdwordsAs said before, “word of mouth” marketing is the most effective vehicle. Right behind that, in our opinion is organic search positioning, which (949) Local is also blessed to be highly ranked in. To see what we mean, just go to Google and type in the search bar:

There (you better) see (949) Local positioned at the top of the local search results. We have a lot of clients that found us this way. However we work in a field with lots of local competitors and we will never rank over another online marketing company, say in Irvine, when someone specifies Irvine in their search query. There are just too many local competitors between here and there to expect to rank in that “local pack”. That is where Adwords comes in.

We can get Page One visibility in Irvine or any other communities we desire with our message plastered at the top of the page of search results on queries (or keywords) that we want. We set our daily budget so we don’t go broke in the process. We craft numerous ads to determine what prompts folks like you to call us. When one works, we run with it. When one doesn’t, we dump it. We constantly monitor, adjust and experiment with the ads themselves, the keywords that trigger the ads, the bid amounts, etc. etc. etc. It, like most online marketing, just takes time to perfect.

We’ve run a number of campaigns over the past year which have performed very well. It’s true, search marketing (Pay-per-Click or PPC) can be really expensive if you don’t stay on top of it and know what you’re doing. But with more clients using us to manage their online campaigns, we spent more time optimizing their campaigns than we did on our own. So, we are confident that we know what we’re doing. Just not that confident that we will dedicate the time necessary to manage it as effectively as we do for our clients.

However, we’ve invested a lot over the past year in a number of software tools to help us execute better for our clients that improves performance while saving us a bunch of time. That bunch of time will be allocated to promoting our business effectively, fine tuning the execution of processes on our client’s behalf and growing (949) Local overall in 2014.


Those are three things that we are resolved to do in 2014, so consider yourself forewarned. If you are a client, expect us to hit you up for your feedback and a online review. If you are a Facebook “Friend” or in our Google “Circles”, expect to see more compelling and engaging posts to get your mind turning. And if you find yourself in need of some help in navigating the increasingly complex waters of local Internet marketing and don’t immediately think of (949) Local (shame on you!), expect to see us at the top of your search results page on Google when you go there to find help.

We believe that 2014 is going to be a great year for (949) Local, our clients and all local businesses. Let’s resolve to thrive, and not just survive, together.  Give us a call if we can help or you just want to bounce some ideas off us.

Happy New Year!