I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you count on Google for new jobs, it’s time to rethink your strategy.
That lead source may not be around for much longer.
As you likely already know, local SEO for contractors is important. Listings in local directories, good citations, an accurate Google+ page, and links from local websites help get your site in front of homeowners looking for your services.
Until recently, anyway. Now, there’s a good chance that local SEO for contractors is on life support.
There’s a new paid search entity in town, and it’s a local one. Before we get into specifics, check out the image below:
Notice anything different? That box below the search bar, which is usually reserved to list local, relevant queries, displays a very-similar looking box that displays local home service ads.
Using ‘Southeast Boise landmarks’ as an example, this is the box you might normally see for a typical local search:
This is what you see when you do a search for ‘plumbers’ with your location set to San Francisco:
They look pretty similar, right? But, as you can see, the SERP for a local contractor has that little bit of text that says ‘sponsored’ right at the top. That means someone is buying AdWords from Google to show up here.
This box isn’t what you normally see when you search for a local contractor, but it is a familiar site to Google users. They might not even notice these are paid listings since the sponsored text is easy to gloss over. Even if they’re not the type to click on ads, they might click on that listing.
This box appears above organic results, so it will be the first thing homeowners see when they’re searching for a contractor.
With this change, no matter how great your local SEO is, you won’t show up “above the fold” on a SERP. The contractors who pay Google will take that spot.
When did this Happen?
So, where did this come from? Rumors of its arrival quietly started back in April of this year. This change only affects search results for home service providers and, unfortunately, that includes you.
From the source:
Sources close to the company told BuzzFeed News that Google plans to announce a new product aimed at connecting Google search users with local home-service providers — like plumbers and electricians — at an advertising conference later this spring. The product will be integrated into Google’s core search offering and is intended to capitalize on search intent, turning queries about home improvement tasks into engagement with home-service providers.
Currently, Google searches for things like plumbers and electricians return links to service providers along with associated AdWord advertisements. Sources said the new product would go beyond this presentation format to actually connect search users with service providers, though it’s not yet clear how communication between the two parties occur. Google declined to comment for this story.
According to Search Engine Roundtable, this is likely an effort to make it easier for you, the contractor, to buy ads and increase your search visibility through Google’s recent My Business initiative. Setting up an AdWords campaign isn’t always easy, so they’re trying to streamline the process for home service providers.
From SE Roundtable:
So plumbers, electricians, contractors, roofers, landscapers, pool maintenance, etc, can sign up with this platform and be able to find new customers through Google search. Yes, they can do this now but nothing is exactly tailored to really local searches for home-service providers. You can do this with AdWords but it is more complex for the average home-service provider to manage.
In Google’s mind, this is directly tailored to you. They’re doing you a favor. And, depending on how well this works, they might be.
The only problem is, now you have to pay for something you weren’t paying for before.
Not A Plumber in San Francisco?
These “home service ads” as Google calls them are simply a beta program and are only being tested in the Bay Area for the time being.
If you are a contractor who provides services to homeowners at their home, chances are this change is coming your way as well.
Paying to Play
If you’re reading this blog post, you’re interested in boosting your online marketing efforts. Your website is, or could potentially be, a great source of leads for your business.
Homeowners are used to seeing something like this in their search results for local contractors:
Then, in the top-right corner, they’d see a map like this:
As you can see, this lists plenty of contractors and shows their contact information, their websites, and their Google+ ratings. Those aren’t paid search results, though. Those are just local contractors with decent websites, who use some SEO best practices, and have received some homeowner reviews on Google+.
When the new paid local search results take over, though, you won’t see any of these guys unless they’re paying. Not until you scroll down the page or click to the next page of results, anyway.
But if a far less qualified contractor is buying AdWords and ending up in these front-and-center search results, how can you compete?
Probably by buying AdWords.
Local SEO for contractors might be going the way of the dodo.
In some ways it’s unfortunate, but paying Google to list your website at the top of search results might get great results. Homeowners WILL see your website, even if your onsite SEO practices aren’t the best. Even if you don’t have any good inbound links.
Playing to Win
But if everyone can pay Google to get into that little ‘sponsored’ search box, how can you compete?
There are four ways to compete in this changing search landscape.
- Offer Better Service – Chances are, you’re already working hard to offer better services at a more professional level than other contractors in your area. Good service breeds good word of mouth, but it also provides…
- Good Reviews – Let’s take a look at those paid listings in the search results again. Which one of these guys looks the best to you?
It’s the one with the 4.5 star review, right? Going forward, it looks like good Google+ reviews will be more important than ever. If you want to stand out, you’ll need those stars.
- Inbound Marketing – With a solid inbound marketing plan, homeowners will actually stay on your site. If your content is good, they’ll read it during their research process and use it to make an informed decision. If you’re using good inbound marketing practices, you’ll also be bringing in more leads, even from homeowners who aren’t quite willing to buy yet… but will be ready to buy from you in the future.
- Your Website – Studies have shown that, regardless of how a customer heard about your contracting business, 4 out of 5 will check out your website before calling you. A focus on visitor-to-lead conversion becomes even more important.
It goes without saying that we don’t know exactly how all of this is going to play out. We can’t ignore it, though. As a contractor, you have to plan for the future and get ready to adapt if you still want your website to bring in a steady flow of leads.
In the near future, that might mean paying for some AdWords. But even if every other contractor in town is paying for those same AdWords, you can edge out the competition by providing better service, getting good reviews, and executing an effective inbound marketing plan.
To your marketing success!