by Avery Swartz,
Published in The Globe and Mail, January 27, 2019
Click to read on The Globe and Mail's website
Alphabet Inc.'s Google has rolled out a new service in Canada that promises to help your professional service business stand out from the crowd. Businesses in the program will have Google’s badge of approval next to their listing in the search engine’s results. The program says it will drive new business leads, but is it worth the cost and the hassle?
The Google Guarantee program is a feature of the company’s Local Services ads service, which launched in Canada in late 2018 in the Toronto and Vancouver areas. The program is currently only available in Canada for plumbers, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) professionals and locksmiths, but is expected to be rolled out for other service providers down the road.
Google started testing Local Services ads in San Francisco in 2015 and has expanded to more than 30 metropolitan areas in the United States. In the United States, Local Services ads are available for service categories including locksmiths, plumbers, electricians, HVAC services, carpet cleaners, house cleaners and garage door services.
Local Services ads are similar to Google Ads (previously called Google AdWords), in that they appear at the top of search engine result pages when someone is doing an internet search. Businesses only pay Google when a lead is generated through Local Services ads. Google provides a forwarding phone number in the ad, and leads are tracked through those phone calls.
If privacy is top of mind for your business, be warned: A recent Star Metro report says both sides of the phone calls are recorded by Google. The service provider is only charged for the calls that come through from Google and can set a weekly budget based on the average number of leads they’d like to receive.
Unlike Google Ads, which anyone can create, Local Services ads have a detailed application process. Google vets each service provider, verifying that they have insurance and meet all local licence requirements. They also perform background checks on the business and the owner. Jumping through the extra hoops can be worthwhile, though, as the end result is an ad in Google with a special designation: a “Google Guarantee.”
When a customer books through Google Local Services, the service is “Google Guaranteed” for up to $2,000 money back if the customer is unhappy. The Google Guarantee badge appears right in the ad itself.
On the customer side, the Google Guarantee is compelling. Odds are, when someone is searching for a plumber, HVAC or locksmith service, they’re in a moment of need. They have a problem, need it fixed fast, and are likely to book a service right away. It can be hard for the customer to determine who’s trustworthy in a Google search though, as reputable service providers have to compete against shady businesses who may be buying Google Ads to stand out. Service providers with a Google Guarantee designation appear first in search results (higher than Google Ads). This helps instill customer trust and provide peace of mind.
Brock Murray is co-founder and chief operating officer of seoplus+, an Ottawa-based digital marketing agency. He has been following the rollout of Local Services ads in the United States and is excited to see them launch in Canada. He sees the appeal in Local Service ads, particularly because of their ease of use. "I like that from business owner’s perspective, it’s really simple to use,” Mr. Murray says. “It’s a very easy way to get leads at a predictable cost.”
Mr. Murray suspects that Google will expand the types of professional service businesses eligible for Local Services ads beyond the plumbing, HVAC and locksmith industries into other services as they’ve done in the United States. He encourages businesses to try Local Service ads as early as they can, as being one of the first service providers to have the Google Guarantee can be a key differentiator against competition. "The first ones who get Google Guaranteed are going to be getting the traffic. If you’re not, you’re going to fall behind,” Mr. Murray advises.
Lior Shaykevich, owner of Toronto Pro Locksmith, has experimented with Local Services ads. “It’s fantastic. It gets me to the top and shows the actual businesses that are capable of doing the job and makes me stand out,” he says. Mr. Shaykevich was able to set up his Google Local Services account himself, and spending about $400 a week, he says he is receiving an estimated five calls a day.
That’s a relatively low cost for each lead when compared with Google Ads, where it can cost a business $30 to $40 for each lead-generating click to appear at the top of a search for “Toronto locksmith.” As more businesses sign up for Google Local Services ads, the cost to compete could rise. "As more people get on it, that’s when they’ll drive up the prices. Just like AdWords five years ago,” Mr. Murray says.