You may have recently noticed a new section at the top of your search engine results pages (SERPs) with businesses labeled as 'Google Guaranteed', which is just a fancy way of saying that they're using Google's new lead generating service, Home Service Ads (HSAs).
HSAs are causing a lot of waves in the local SEO and small business community and to quote the late soul legend, Sam Cooke, "change is gonna come".
Lately, Google has spoiled us.
I have been flying high on the wings of great new features such as Google Posts and Google Messaging. But, for those of you who follow marketing news, you'll be more familiar with the usual algorithm updates that dramatically impact SEO and ranking results.
Although HSAs are still in testing, this update will most likely fall into the latter category. Service based businesses will notice big changes with their ranking placement, lead generation, and online visiblity in general.
Without further ado, here is what we know about HSAs.
"What They Look Like?"
The HSA pack is at the very top of the page, stealing attention away from even the PPC ads.
Although we know that these businesses are paying for that position, they aren't classified as an ad, rather as Google Guaranteed.
When you click the "more" button, you are brought to the HSA finder which lets you refine your search results by location and job type.
You will be shown 10 Google Guaranteed companies, and below that you will be shown the normal, non-guaranteed, results.
"Am I Affected?"
Home Service Ads are still in beta. Which means only some cities and industries are using them right now. According to an article on Whitespark, they are the following:
|Cities (and surrounding areas):||Verticals:|
In the Google Official City Partners chat, I asked how soon until we can expect the HSAs to spread to all cities. I was told that "There is not currently an expected time frame available yet but Home Service Ads are expanding quickly."
There have also been reports from business owners being contacted about the program and given expected release dates for their areas; which are Chicago, Miami, and Dallas.
Although we have not been given a world-wide release date, given the rate of expansion recently, it's easy to assume that they might be launching globally soon.
"But What Are Home Service Ads?"
In a nutshell, Home Service Ads are lead generating ads. Instead of paying for each click you receive, you are paying for every lead that contacts you through the platform.
Searchers have an option to choose up to 3 Google Guaranteed companies to request information from. The customer then fills out a form that describes the problem needing to be fixed and the company responds with a quote.
Ingeniously, any phone contact back and forth between company and consumer is done through a tracking number supplied by Google.
According to some buzz from Mike Blumenthal's blog and inside sources, it looks as though each lead is a flat rate of $25 per lead. We were also told by our source that the leads are highly qualified, which makes the return on investment (ROI) well worth it.
"How Do I Get Google Guaranteed?"
Becoming Google Guaranteed is no walk in the park. You'll miss the good ol' days where all you had to do was wait for a postcard in the mail.
To qualify for the Google Guarantee the business has to undergo an advanced certification process.
Advanced cerification includes:
- Making sure that your company is in compliance with local laws and regulations.
- Ensuring that you only hire and service persons 18 years or older.
- Complete background checks of you and any employees or contractors.
- New background checks completed with any new hires.
- Recertification every 3 months.
Why is the certification so intense? Well, Google is literally guaranteeing your company. When you earn the Google Guarantee, your work is covered by Google for up to $2,000. You better believe that if Google puts their seal of approval on your business, they will be ensuring that your company is safe and offers quality work.
Right now, the HSA platform is in beta, which means it's by invite only. Our source tells us that the invite is based on your online reputation (reviews) and we're under the impression that it might have something to do with your AdWords usage.
If you're interested in joining, you can request more information from Google.
"So why are Home Service Ads bad?"
They're great for the companies that can afford pay-per-lead(PPL) marketing and are able to pass the advanced screening process. Being Google Guaranteed has the potential to increase your business exponentially.
I can tell you right now that as a consumer, I would be much more likely to call a contractor who is Google Guaranteed over another.
However, it becomes a problem for the businesses who would like to (or need to) continue using Google My Business listings to gain online visibility.
In the cities where Home Service Ads have gone live, some businesses have seen thier Google listings disappear from search results. Through research, it appears as though the local pack (shown below) is only being used to show storefront businesses.
That means that if you are a service area business (SAB) and you have elected to hide your address from the public, your GMB listing might no longer appear in the search results for keyword searches. It remains unclear as to how strict Google will be when it comes to displaying home based businesses as an office.
We have also noticed that some businsess that have been removed from the local pack have been added to the HSA finder, whereas others have just simply 'disappeared'.
We are still trying to determine whether these businesses were manually added to the HSA finder by Google without the input of the business or if they were invited to join and elected not to participate in the pay-per-lead portion.
It appears as though SABs will be entirely removed from the local pack and moved into the HSA finder... neatly tucked under the 10 Google Guaranteed companies.
What Should I Do Right Now?
Stay calm, and do nothing.
Home Service Ads are still in testing and there is no release date for other cities. Right now, it is best to not make any huge changes, because Google could scrap the whole program next week.
For the time being, if you are a service area business in one of the cities and industries I mentioned earlier, I would suggest that you log into your Google listing and make your address public. This seems to be a quick-fix if your listing has disappeared from the search results.
One of our clients located in Alpharetta, GA had been affected by the update and simply un-hiding his address put his listing right back where it had been at the #1 spot in the maps section.
This might not be a perfect fix, but it's a decent bandage until we know exactly how to proceed.
Home Service Ads are a form of PPL marketing geared specifically toward service based businesses that will be dramatically changing the landscape of small business marketing. However, the main takeaway from this article should be, "don't panic".
There is no scheduled release date and the best thing we can do right now is to keep an eye on the situation as it unfolds. Google is very "hush hush" about the platform, so everything we know is through research and speculation.
It would be a bad idea to begin altering your online presence or your marketing strategy until we know exactly how to approach the HSAs and the changes that come along with them.
If you have any additional information about HSAs or you have been invited to the platform, I would love to know more! Please comment below or email me directly at [email protected].