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As a small business owner, you have to constantly be on the lookout for ways to bring visitors into your doors. If you don’t, you can wake up in the morning to see those doors never opening again. Google Local Service can help keep your doors open for the foreseeable future.
As a local business, most of your most important customers will come from the community surrounding you. Google Local Services helps you tap into that market.
Local Services Ads are sponsored business listings that are eligible to show for service-oriented search queries.
Unlike regular text ads or search campaigns, Local Services Ads generate impressions based on service categories the advertiser opts into (there are no keywords used) and can only show in a particular geographic market. Furthermore, you set a desired weekly budget you’d like to pay on average, and you’re charged a flat fee per phone call generated from these listings, which vary by service category and geographic market. If there’s something wrong with the contents of the call—for example, if the caller hung up immediately or asked for something completely irrelevant to your businesses—you can identify it in your Local Services Ads dashboard and not be charged for that call.
To paint a clearer picture: If you run a moving company specializing in short-distance local moves in the Los Angeles market, you could create a Local Services Ads account in the Moving & Relocation category and select only local moves as the service type you offer. Then, you could narrow down where your ads are eligible to show by zip code within that market. Google would then show your ads only to users in the zip codes you specify that submit search queries related to local moving companies. If a user generated a phone call from your ad and the contents of the call fit Google’s criteria for a lead, you’d be charged a flat fee determined by Google for Moving & Relocation services in Los Angeles.
At Portent, we’ve helped some of our clients opt into Local Services Ads. In this post, I’ll review our experience using these ads for two of our larger-scale service clients and their results to answer the question: are Google Local Services Ads worth using?
Onboarding and Setup
We’ve onboarded two large-scale service clients with Local Services Ads in several different geographic locations. We’ll call them Client 1 and Client 2. Client 1 is in the Moving & Relocation vertical, and Client 2 is in the HVAC vertical. In our experience, the whole onboarding process for both clients was extraordinarily cumbersome and took multiple months to complete.
For Client 1, the insurance and license verification process contained extra layers because of the Moving & Relocation vertical. For a single small business with one location, this may not have been as big of a deal. For a business with multiple locations, it was more strenuous on the part of our client. Furthermore, completing the background check process for each field worker took time as we were dependent on each individual to input their own information.
For Client 2, we followed Google’s instructions to bypass their regular background check process for field workers as this client performs their own background checks that appeared to meet Google’s standards. After the client spent the better part of three months ensuring all field employee background checks were accounted for, Google initially denied our client’s request to bypass their regular background check process—despite a completed questionnaire that met Google’s standards—because of a technicality with geographic markets. After another month of back-and-forth and getting legal counsels involved, their request to bypass was finally accepted.
Once onboarding was finally complete for each client, we got to see the Google Local Services user interface (UI) and dashboard. The UI is easy to navigate, and there are only a handful of pages (call reporting, profile settings, etc.).
The amount of actual control you have as an advertiser is limited to selecting which specific services you want to opt your ads into (pre-set by Google) and which specific locations within a given geographic market you want your ads eligible to show in (towns, cities, and/or zip codes). Furthermore, you set a desired weekly budget that Google aims to fulfill along with the eligibility for hours of the day and days of the week you want your ads to show.
After a quarter of running Local Services Ads for Client 1 (Moving & Relocation), we evaluated the cost-effectiveness of these ads versus our standard paid search text ads. While call quality was excellent and their assigned lead rate was over 90% from Local Services Ads, the desired ratio of long-distance move requests (of significantly higher value) to local move requests fell well short expectations. Paying a flat fee between $30 – $40 for each call (depending on geographic market) proved to be too expensive as the eventual cost per booked move (final sale) ended up being 2x – 3x higher than our standard paid search campaigns in Google Ads.
For Client 2 (HVAC), we saw better results. While the volume of incoming calls was lower than our regular text ads, and the opportunity rate didn’t significantly differ, the conversion rate to confirmed sales proved to be higher. As a result, with the flat fees paid per call, the average cost per sale ended up being half what it was for our regular text ads.
Conclusion: Worth It or Not?
Based on the results we’ve witnessed, the answer isn’t as clear cut as we had hoped for.
From a call quality perspective, Local Services Ads are definitely worth it. The rate of qualified leads per phone call exceeded that of our standard paid search campaigns and that of several other digital channels.
From a cost perspective, it depends. Paying a higher flat fee per phone call than what we typically see from our other paid search campaigns can be made up for in the end with better call quality and an eventual lower cost per sale. However, if you depend on a specific type of service within your vertical to stay profitable, you may find that the average cost per call ends up being too expensive even with better conversion rates or that the incoming call volume is lower than you want to see any given week.
If you’re a small business advertiser in a service industry with a limited budget, we recommend you give Google Local Services Ads a shot. Chances are your onboarding process will be less strenuous than the examples in this post. There is also more upside than downside given the results we’ve seen, and the potential for better lead quality via phone calls. Be wary, though, that it may not be the miracle answer you’re looking for to make up for all the desired lead volume you want.
Local search metrics are staggering. 75% of local searches turn into in-store visits within 24 hours. More people are looking for a way to get answers and help from brick and mortar businesses — and fast.
Getting a piece of the local action could mean a significant amount of customers either calling or visiting your store.
They Are Exclusive to Certain Industries (For Now)
The whole idea of Local Service Ads is to focus on brick and mortar businesses in your area. The ads are a great way for you to get more traffic from Google if you are say a handyman or a plumber, but not so much if you’re selling online products.
Currently, Local Service Ads are only being offered in the US, Canada and the United Kingdom. It’s the early days though, so if you don’t live in one of those countries, be patient—it’s bound to expand soon.
On top of that, the ads only apply for certain industries. However, Google is constantly adding new professions and the list has expanded far beyond plumbers since it began just three years ago. Here’s an example of what Local Service Ads look like for plumbers in the San Diego area:
The industries and service categories who can advertise on Local Service Ads include:
- Air Duct Cleaner*
- Appliance Repair Service*
- Auto Glass Service*
- Auto Service Technician*
- Carpet Cleaner*
- Event Planner*
- Garage Door Professional
- Home Improvement Pro*
- House Cleaner*
- Junk Removal Provider*
- Lawn Care Provider*
- Pest Control Technician*
- Pet Care Provider*
- Pet Groomer*
- Roadside Assistance Service*
- Tree Service Provider*
- Upholstery Cleaner*
- Water Damage Service Provider*
- Window Cleaner*
- Window Service Provider*
Industries marked with an asterisk are only available in certain areas, but this is expected to change as Local Service Ads continues to expand.
You Must Pass Google’s Checks
But, FYI, you must pass rigorous checks to be able to use Local Service Ads for your business. These include passing a criminal background check, having valid liability insurance and proving you have the correct licenses to be able to carry out work in the first place.
Here’s the process to apply for Local Service Ads:
Step #1: Your Background Check
In the US, background checks are conducted by a third-party risk management company called Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations, Inc. Don’t worry, it’s completely free and everything is kept between your business and Pinkerton themselves:
You can do the check yourself here.
These checks are needed not only for business owners, but also to ensure any field employees (such as independent contractors or temporary workers) are legally employed by the company.
Although it’s a basic background check that only covers serious offenses, if your business fails any part of it, it will not be allowed to advertise through Local Service Ads.
Step #2: Your Insurance & License Checks
To verify that you are a legitimate business operating with proper insurance, you need to prove to Google that your liability insurance is up to scratch.
On top of your liability insurance, you must also prove to Google that you hold all of the necessary licenses to carry out work in your industry. For example, if you are applying to advertise your plumbing business, you must upload your plumbing license and any other credentials you hold before Google makes a decision on whether or not you can advertise.
If you don’t pass these checks, you won’t be able to advertise on Local Service Ads. If you fail the first time, you are given a second chance to re-apply within 30 days. If you fail that, you are banned from attempting to advertise on the platform for a year.
Choosing a Weekly Budget
Much like Google Ads, you must still set your budget on Local Service Ads. But how you are charged differs a lot from Google Ads. Because you are only charged for ‘valid leads’, you generate a more predictable ROI (based on customers, instead of someone just checking out your website). Similarly cost-per-lead varies depending on your industry.
You Only Pay For Legitimate Leads
One of the great things about Local Service Ads is you’ll only get charged for leads that Google deems are getting you legitimate business.
This means you will only be charged for the following actions from Local Service Ads:
- Getting a text message or email from a potential customer
- Receiving a voicemail from a potential customer
- When you answer a phone call and speak to a potential customer (read our tip at the end of the article for more on this one)
- If you miss a call from a potential customer but contact them through text message, email or phone call (where you either speak or leave a voicemail, you’ll be charged)
If it turns out one of your leads isn’t valid, or it’s a spam call, you can then dispute the charge with Google who will process it within one week. It doesn’t always go your way, but it’s definitely worth looking into if your leads aren’t converting into clients.
Another appealing feature about Local Service Ads is that the platform automatically weeds out services that aren’t in the area, making sure the customer and business are the right fit (at least geographically). The platform does this by asking the searcher more questions after their initial search, such as narrowing down the job they need as well as their specific location:
If Google determines your business isn’t right for the job, you won’t appear in the results. This feature saves you calls and messages from people who are looking for something that you don’t offer, and increases your chances of finding a more suitable client when your ad ranks for what you do offer. This provides a more targeted approach than a regular PPC ad, where you may end up paying for clicks from unqualified customers.
If determined to be a good match, your potential customer will be able to look at your qualifications, reviews and ratings before they make the decision to contact you. This added social proof increases your chances of closing the deal.
Google is also trialing Local Service Ads using Google Assistant, meaning people will be able to use voice search to ask for a service.
As this service is currently in its testing phase, Google is inviting businesses to participate for free. The only catch is you have to pass the same checks as if you were signing up for regular Local Service Ads. You can sign up here.
Google Will Still Rank Your Ad
Just like Google Ads, your Local Service Ads must tick a few boxes in order to rank in a decent position.
Your ranking is determined by several factors, your budget, how close in proximity you are to the searcher and how many positive reviews you have. But to get high on the rankings, you must be proactive towards your Local Service Ads.
Google tracks several elements when ranking your ads, including how long it takes you to respond to customer queries and whether or not you are getting positive reviews.
Even if you end up declining a lead, Google will document if you don’t respond to the lead in a timely manner. In fact, your rankings will drop if you’re slow to respond to messages — or worse, if you don’t respond at all.
Google Gives You a Guarantee
The silver lining to passing all of Google’s vigorous tests? You become a “Google Guaranteed” business.
Google is so confident in Local Service Ads that if customers aren’t satisfied with the end result, Google could refund up to the amount paid. Each Google Guaranteed Business is given a lifetime cap for refunds of $2000 — which is a pretty decent sum.
Searchers will also know you’ve been guaranteed by Google with an eye-catching and confidence-boosting green tick.
Google Ads vs Local Service Ads
Although there’s not much difference between the two ad services at a surface level, they’re pretty much chalk and cheese once you start looking closer.
To ensure legitimacy, putting up a Local Service Ad for a locksmith business requires vigorous checks to weed out any scammers. In fact, that’s the whole reason Local Service Ads started in the first place—to stop scammers from advertising on Google.
And it’s worth your while. Digital Triggers found their customers saw a steep rise in billable leads through LSAs compared to Google Ads, at roughly a third of the cost. On average, the CPA for each customer through Local Service Ads was $18, compared to $50.90 for each CPA through Google Ads. They also generated more billable leads through Local Service Ads…a lot more:
While Google Ads brought in 37 billable leads a month, Local Service Ads were able to add 102 billable leads to the company’s bottom line. In simple terms, Local Service Ads gave their customer 175% more leads than Google Ads. And the latter was 182% more expensive. Not bad for a third of the price.
How to Get Started With Local Service Ads
If you are thinking about trying out Local Service Ads for yourself, gather all of the documents mentioned above and click here to get started:
Once you fill out some basic information, Google will do an eligibility check to make sure you are able to advertise through Local Service Ads:
If you are eligible to advertise in your area, it’s crucial that you only tick the services that you cover. Don’t select all of them hoping it will give you more leads. Not only will you end up paying for people to call you that you can’t service, but your ad will be ranked lower as Google will know you aren’t converting leads:
Once you’ve assigned your job types and uploaded all your insurance and licence paperwork, your profile will be complete. Only then can you start your own Local Service Ads and start to gather leads.
An important part of Local Service Ads to keep in mind is that a lead doesn’t mean you’ve actually landed the job. It’s a step in the right direction, but you still need to close that customer yourself.
Your Local Service Ads account will have its own unique leads dashboard. This is your control panel where all of your leads are recorded:
Google gives you three options to reply to your leads and once you do, they become ‘Active.’ These are:
- Calling the customer from the dashboard
- Replying to the customer with a message directly from the dashboard
- Declining the job (this will notify the customer and they will be removed from the list)
To make sure you keep on top of communications with active leads, Google has released an app specially for Local Service Ads. The app will notify you of any messages or calls, along with new messages from other leads.
You can download it on your iOS or Android device, and of course, you can still access your dashboard anytime from a desktop or tablet:
Pro tip: Once you’ve locked in a customer’s job, mark that particular lead as ‘booked’. Not only will this keep you organized, but it will optimize your ability to determine the overall ROI of your Local Service Ads campaign.
Tips & Tricks to Get The Most Out of Local Service Ads
Like any Google product, a few little tricks can get you more bang for your buck. Here are two ways you can get the most out of your Local Service Ads:
Tip #1: Generate Customer Reviews
The number of reviews your Local Service Ad listing has affects how it’s ranked on Google. Having more star ratings and reviews can make your listing stand out and typically help you to book more jobs on the platform:
We recommend going for it with reviews and being diligent about collecting them, particularly when starting out.
They play a huge part in your listing, and if you are an established business, you shouldn’t have a problem bringing in reviews as long as you make it a part of your early advertising strategy.
To start collecting reviews, click on the ‘reviews’ tab in your Local Service Ads dashboard and click the ‘ask for review’ button next to the relevant job.
To get the most out of your reviews, we recommend personalizing the message you send to your customer. Not only will this increase your chances of them actually leaving a review, but it could also be a nice way of leaving the door open for future business opportunities.
If you already have some verified reviews on Google, they will be combined with Local Service reviews as the platform develops. And if you are worried about what will happen to your reviews if you leave Local Services — don’t be.
Tip #2: Have a Rigorous Inbound Call Structure
The decision of whether you are charged or not for a lead is directly related to your lead call time. That’s right: Google is keeping tabs on your phone calls. And if you go over a certain time, you’ll be charged. Which is fine if the lead is genuine, but if someone has contacted you to ask a bucket load of questions without booking your services, you’ll be paying out of pocket.
The exact timeframe of when you’ll be charged for a call is ‘internal information’, but one thing is for sure: you won’t be able to dispute a timewaster.
A sure-fire way to stop this from happening is once you think you’ve got a question caller, try and set up an alternative time to talk to them. Create a process for your inbound inquiries:
- Ask the right questions: Find out as much information as quickly as possible. For a plumber, this might be asking about the “symptoms” upfront e.g. hot water not working.
- Lead them to a specific goal: Once you know what they need help with, tell them what the next steps are. Do they need to be contacted by another member of your team, or does somebody need to visit them. Act like a doctor and give them a prescription.
- Get their details: With the diagnosis in hand, get their name, phone number and any other pieces of information. Ascertain any pieces of information, such as callback times, and then thank them.
Experimenting With Local Service Ads
We’ve shown you the advantages of using Local Service Ads in your advertising plan, and the ROI figures look exciting.
Through better customer targeting, increased security checks and higher positioning on Google’s homepage, the service looks like it could be a win-win for both businesses and customers.
However, don’t pull your Google Ads budget. We recommend drawing out some of your current advertising spend with Google and putting it into a Local Service Ads campaign to test the waters. It will take time to get used to the platform and, if it’s not for you, it’s better to have your Google Ads campaign running in the background to maintain your advertising presence.
And if Local Service Ads are yet to launch in your area for your service—you can sign up now and be one of the first businesses in your local area to take advantage of the new platform.