Businesses prepare to pay to play in Google local search

In a radical move to further monetise local search listings, Google has recently been seen testing a new hyper local ad unit featuring pre-qualified listings for plumbers and locksmiths. These units are part of a new beta program called ‘home service ads’, aimed at making it easier for individuals to connect with qualified home tradespeople in their area. It is further indication that the local pack is becoming more important than organic Google SERPs.

To date, the ads have been spotted in beta testing in the San Francisco Bay area for locksmiths and plumbers only, but if the experience proves successful it is likely that home service ads will be rolled out across a variety of ‘local specific’ trades.

So what do home service ads look like?

Recently, Dr Pete Meyers of Moz tweeted the following:

The home services ads appear in an ad block at the top of the page, promoting three listings for professional service providers when Google thinks a user is trying to find a tradesman in their area. The ads include a photo of the professional, their location and phone number, along with any ratings, qualifications and service qualities and offers such as 24/7 services and free callouts. Users can click the provider’s profile for more information, and submit up to three requests directly through the search ads.

All tradesmen who appear in home service ads go through a screening process, and they can’t pay to be ranked higher in the ad units.

How are service providers qualified?

For the beta trial to prove successful, a crucial element will be users trusting that these providers are safe and reliable to use.

According to Google, it “requires all locksmiths, plumbers, cleaning services, and handymen to undergo a series of screening procedures, including background, insurance, and license checks, interviews, online reputation checks, and mystery shopping.”

All businesses shown in home service ads must allow each of their in-home workers to undergo background checks by a third-party risk management and security company called Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations. Pinkerton also verifies the trade licenses identified by home service professionals during the background check process.

Additionally, Google says, “we collect ratings and reviews from people who hired home service professionals through our home service ads, and use mystery shoppers—customers who communicate and hire professionals on our behalf without mentioning any affiliation with Google—to help us learn more about the customer experience.”

Professionals who get repeat negative reviews could find themselves suspended or kicked out of the program entirely.

Why is Google testing this new hyper local experience?

Google frequently tests new search experiences, but this new approach to hyper local reflects the 34x increase in ‘near me’ searches over the last three years, and is of particular interest as it shows Google acknowledging that local relevance needs to work from both a user and yield perspective.  This comes in light of increased smartphone usage and a consumer expectation that Google knows where you are at any given time, and should serve relevant local results.

From what’s been observed in beta testing to date, the home service ads appear to be replacing organic local SERPs, which seems a pretty radical way for Google to monetise its hyper local listings. Time will tell whether this ends up being the case.

Currently there is little information available about how the process works for advertisers in terms of the ad auction, managing the ads, and so on. Google is likely to have more details on the program available soon, if the beta trial proves to be a success.

What do you think of this new hyper local ad block? We would love to hear your thoughts and questions below…