The future of mobile local search part three: tradesmen, home services, verification and guarantees

In the third of part of our discussion of future of mobile local search, we will take a closer look at searches for tradesmen (paid and unpaid results) and the various trials and betas Google is running in California, USA with locksmiths, plumbers, handymen, electricians and other trades.

In case you missed the previous instalments, here they are:

Local search for tradesmen is a particularly interesting area to watch (arguably the most interesting in search today) as Google is still trying to figure out which direction it is heading, particularly with mobile search. Plus it is likely to set a precedent.

It is also likely to set a precedent. When Google has sorted out its approach to locksmiths, plumbers and the likes, via its various trials with paid-for results, verification and guarantees, in California, it is a fair bet that:

  • It will expand nationally across the states and then internationally.
  • It will expand to different types of trades and professions, for example mechanics, accountants and lawyers.

The problem (we surmise) that Google is grappling with is three-fold:

  1. The companies that perform well in local searches, whether that is in organic results, Google My Business (GMB) or in paid ads, are not necessarily the best people for the job – in fact, they could actually be fraudulently using false identities.
  2. Google wants people to trust search results for local tradesmen; and to trust them as much or more than the competition for local business search, including directories, such as Yelp. Ideally Google would like to achieve this in a manner that also boosts the revenues it makes from local search or at least covers the costs of the verification and/or guarantee schemes currently being trialled.
  3. Google wants to fulfil the searcher’s needs – i.e. to find and book a tradesman – without having to leave Google to visit the business’s site or a directory service.

The problem the tradesmen face is that Google’s owned properties – the search ads, the GMB listings – are pushing organic results further and further below the fold on a mobile device. See Part 1 for details.

This means tradesmen will be under increased pressure to play Google’s game, whether that means keeping GMB listings updated and optimized; ensuring they have good reviews; getting the business verified; and/or paying Google for referrals… depending on what model Google adopts in your local area/business expertise.

Google My Business + compulsory verification

In many cities worldwide a Google mobile search for a tradesman brings up result similar to those shown below for locksmiths in San Diego:

  1. Paid search ads – up to four ads shown (sometimes with click-to-call).
  2. Google My Business results, with a three businesses shown on a map and listed below (usually with click-to-call, click for directions, link to the website and sometimes reviews).
  3. Organic search results – usually ten listings, including directories/aggregators as well as businesses.
  4. More search ads.

dna35_locksmith_san_diego

 

The choice of locksmiths (or plumbers) in San Diego is no coincidence. These results – specifically the GMB listings – may alter as Google introduces a verification program for both locksmiths and plumbers in San Diego.

Google announced in October 2016 that businesses will need an Advanced Verification to be included in The GMB listings for locksmiths and plumbers in San Diego. The verification conducted by Pinkerton Corporate Risk Management, includes checking for professional licenses, business registration, social security numbers and evidence of fraudulent or misleading behavior on Google e.g. “falsely claiming you have a storefront or physical location in San Diego”.

But it appears verification is not required for businesses with storefronts, so may not apply to businesses such as Busy Bees (pictured above).

Tim Capper, founder of Online Ownership and top contributor to the Google My Business community, tells ClickZ:

“The Advanced Verification is for the business’s Google My Business Page and passing the advanced verification determines whether or not the Google local business page is displayed in Search and Maps or will be removed (suspended).

Google will email the businesses that require advanced verification. The current test is in San Diego covers all Locksmiths and Plumbers. Advanced verification is free. 

If the test is successful, I suspect Google would roll out across the States in stages, depending on Pinkerton’s ability to scale.

As to worldwide, this would depend on the particular countries’ SPAM verticals and the ability of chosen third-party checker to perform the tasks at scale in that country.

If successful, I’d expect it would roll out to other industries affected by SPAM e.g. accountants, lawyers, cosmetic surgeons, dentists, real estate and insurance.”

Google Home Services + paid listings

Meanwhile, further north in California, Google has been conducting a beta program since July 2015 called Home Services Ads. It started in the San Francisco Bay area and has since spread to the Sacramento metropolitan area.

When a desktop search is conducted for locksmiths, plumbers, electricians, handymen, interior painters, house cleaners, Garage Door Pros or HVAC (Heating, ventilation and air conditioning) engineers; the searcher is greeted with a “sponsored” search box of three “pre-screened” tradesmen by job type covering your neighborhood.

As demonstrated by the plumbers in Sacramento search shown below, these Home Services listings sit at the very top of search results. They also replace both the search ads and the Google My Business “three-pack”, seen in the locksmiths in San Diego searches shown above.

Clicking through on a Home Services tradesman brings up a profile card, including services offered, areas covered and qualifications, with the option to request a quote.

The profile card is quite different to the GMB/knowledge graph card seen when clicking through from GMB listings, most notably does not include ads for competitor businesses. See Part 2 for more details on GMB and Knowledge graph.

The screening program is run by Pinkerton – see: How pros qualify for Home Services. This is surely the inspiration for the verification program for GMB listings for plumbers and locksmiths in San Diego.

In September 2016, the Home Services beta was extended to include guarantees for the work of qualifying locksmiths and plumbers.

According the FAQ, if a consumer books an eligible provider – shown by a guaranteed symbol by their name and on their profile page – online or by phone via Home Services, it is automatically guaranteed by Google. The guarantee covers the quality of the work; it does not cover add-on or future projects; damages to property; dissatisfaction with price or provider responsiveness or cancellations.

dna35_home_services_desktop

Andrew Shotland CEO LocalSEOGuide.com:

“Here’s what we know Google Home Services, so far, based on discussions with other marketers:

  1. Google is planning on rolling this out to more US metros. It is unclear how many or when but I would imagine we’ll see a few more cities and categories in early 2017.
  2. Given the behavior of the San Francisco listings, it’s likely that only paid listings will be shown and rotated for visibility wherever these occur.
  3. These ads are run by Adwords Express, Google’s SMB ad product. Apparently the advertisers are charged per phone call received that lasts longer than 30 seconds.

While the long-term impact of Home Service Ads could be detrimental to “free” SEO traffic, it also might make acquisition of local traffic a bit more straightforward for local businesses. With SEO you are never quite sure what you are going to get day to day. With pay-to-play you may never know what you are going to pay from day to day but at least you have a decent shot at getting volume if you are willing to pay for it.”

Google Home Services + mobile

The picture for Home Services on mobile is less clear. Just when you think they’ve finally arrived, then they’ve gone again.

In October 2016, a mobile search for handyman in Sacramento (or San Francisco), delivered the results shown in the following image.

Rather than listing the top three handyman, as it does on the desktop, with an option to expand for more results, in this mobile example, Google has simply gone for a search box, labeled sponsored, with the option to enter the job type and zip code to find and get quotes from “pre-screened and insured handymen”.

A second screen asks the customer to refine the job, asking with what you need help, with options for drywall, fans, flooring and so on.

Note the lack of search ads and GMB results on the first page, giving this a much cleaner and less complicated feel to Google’s usual mobile local search results, as illustrated by locksmiths in San Diego above. The advantage of this approach is that organic results are no longer pushed so far below the fold as is usually the case with both search ads and GMB listings.

dna35_home_services_mobile_oct_2016

Come November 2016, the same mobile search for handyman in Sacramento (or San Francisco) delivered neither Home Services results nor GMB results.

We can only speculate why this trial may have disappeared, and if the trial was deemed a success, as sources remain tight lipped on Google’s plans. But it is a fair wager that this is/was not the last we will see of Home Services on mobile.

We watch with great interest to see how these various Californian trials – desktop and mobile – progress. The cross-pollination between the paid home services beta and unpaid GMB listings with verification, is particularly noteworthy.

The assumption is that if Google can bring greater consumer trust to search results for tradesmen, whether paid or unpaid listings, using verification and guarantees, the program will expand geographically and into other sectors and naturally should be expected to be cross-platform.

This is Part 35 of the ClickZ ‘DNA of mobile-friendly web’ series.

Here are the recent ones:

Read the reports:

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