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Your 2018 Search Marketing Success Guide

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Ten years ago, I stood in front of an audience of home service contractors and explained that, at some level, digital marketing is a real estate game. I said your goal is to cost-effectively maximize your company’s digital real estate, and that you should start with search. In other words, you wanted to occupy as many spots on the first page of Google as possible.

The reason to prioritize search over other channels like, say, social media, is because people using search engines have a demonstrated a clear intent to do something—based on the keyword phrase they use. While there are plenty of single-family homeowners in your neck of the woods on Facebook, I can tell you that it’s far more valuable to be at the top of the first page of Google when someone in your area searches “furnace repair.” In fact, research showed that 34 percent of searchers click on the top result.

Digital marketing has gone through a dramatic evolution over the past ten years, but the concept of maximizing your first page search real estate is every bit as important today as it was then. What has changed is how you accomplish that—which is why you need to read this!

The Evolution of Google’s Search Results Pages

When I first got involved with digital marketing over 15 years ago, there were no paid ads on Google. The only way to get more first page real estate was to invest in what we today call SEO—search engine optimization. Back then, all you had to do to increase your company’s first page real estate was to make a few relatively minor tweaks to your web pages and your website content.

The Organic-Only Era

As a digital marketer, the challenge back then was convincing business owners that it was possible. In retrospect, it’s unbelievable to me how many business owners refused to believe that anything could be done to increase their company’s first page real estate. And this was especially true with small business owners who found it inconceivable that it was possible for them to outrank the 800lb gorilla in their market.

Those business owners willing to take the SEO plunge—the early adopters—experienced what is arguably the greatest ROI in the history of advertising and marketing. Some of you reading this are nodding your heads right now, and you know what I’m about to say next.

Today, just about every business owner understands the need for ongoing SEO. As a result, it’s nearly impossible to consistently replicate the results seen five or ten years ago. As a marketing channel for HVAC companies, SEO continues to generate incredibly high lead volumes at a very low, effective cost. But, make no mistake, the SEO game has become more competitive, and therefore, costlier.

Organic Meets Pay-to-Play

In the year 2000, Google launched AdWords with 350 advertisers, and the search engine marketing industry was born. Suddenly, there were ads being displayed at the top of each search results page and along the right side. Maximizing first page real estate now meant business owners had to invest in SEO and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising

For those of you that have been in business a while, do you remember what the big objection was when AdWords first launched? “No one clicks those ads. They skip over the ads and go straight to the top organic listing.” That was the common response to our impassioned pitch that you can no longer only rely on SEO—you need to invest in SEO and PPC.

What was crazy was that not only did industry research say 64 percent of searchers were clicking on the ads, we had objective data from our HVAC clients that demonstrated the effectiveness of PPC advertising on Google AdWords—and some business owners were still unconvinced. As an added benefit, PPC data could also be used to further improve SEO campaign results. As you might imagine, the early adopters of Google AdWords experienced results and ROI’s similar to the early adopters of SEO. (I hope you’re picking up on the pattern here.)

Where We Are Today

With the addition of Google’s new Local Services ads, we’re in the midst of another paradigm shift. This new advertising product, which charges business owners per lead, displays ABOVE the traditional PPC ads. Think about that for a minute.

It’s my belief—supported by data from our clients—that the early adopters are going to experience a disproportionately high ROI, just like we saw with the early adopters of SEO and PPC. Today, maximizing your first page real estate on Google means investing in SEO, PPC, and Google Local Services ads (as well as perhaps select directories, but there are nuances there as well, so that’s a topic for another time).

What Are Google Local Services Ads?

Presumably, most of you reading this are at least somewhat familiar with Google AdWords. What you’re probably wondering is, “What is this new Google Local services ads product?” Let me give you a quick rundown.

Google Local Services ads look like this:

With Google’s Local Services ad program, you’re able to advertise your business for your local services and receive leads directly from Google. When a person’s search matches the services you’ve selected, your ads will be eligible to show.

Unlike traditional PPC ads, you don’t choose keywords. Consumers see Google Local Search ads for various services which are based on the keyword phrase they searched. The distinction of services vs. keyword phrases and pay-per-lead vs. pay-per-click is part of what make this new ad product so much different from Google AdWords.

With PPC search ads, you choose the keywords you want to show up for. With Local Services ads, you choose the service:

Because Google only charges you per lead, most contractors we’ve worked with don’t have an issue with what might be described as a broader form of ad targeting. What you pay per lead is not (currently) determined by an auction like it is with AdWords; it is determined by your industry and location. For the HVAC industry, we’re seeing cost per lead numbers around $20-30 per lead.

The Google Guarantee

If you look at the Google Local Services ads, you may notice listings far below those with a Google Guarantee. These are a combination of companies inserted automatically by Google, and there is currently no way to guarantee your company is in those listings.

The Google Guarantee indicates companies paying per lead, but it also serves as a recommendation from Google. Since 74 percent of consumers say that online positive reviews make them trust a local business more, having this type of endorsement almost certainly increases clicks and conversions.

To get Google Guaranteed, your technicians must pass a background check performed by a third-party company chosen by Google. The background check is free—at least for now. You must also meet licensing and insurance requirements. You are required to notify the background check company of any new employees or legal issues that may affect your eligibility, and you will be required to recertify for Local Services “periodically.”

Not Available to All Contractors… Yet

Google Local Services ads is not available in every geographic market—yet. Currently, Local Services is open to plumbers, HVAC companies, and electricians, (as well as several other industries) in the following areas:

  • Arizona: Phoenix
  • California: Los Angeles, Riverside/San Bernardino, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose
  • Colorado: Denver
  • Florida: Miami, Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne, Tampa-St. Petersburg
  • Georgia: Atlanta
  • Illinois: Chicago
  • Maryland: Baltimore
  • Massachusetts: Boston
  • Michigan: Detroit
  • Minnesota: Minneapolis-St. Paul
  • Missouri: St. Louis
  • Nevada: Las Vegas
  • New York: New York
  • North Carolina: Charlotte
  • Ohio: Cincinnati
  • Oregon: Portland
  • Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh
  • Texas: Dallas, Houston, San Antonio
  • Washington: Seattle
  • Washington, D.C.

Keep in mind Google is rolling out this product by metro area. So, even though Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, Maryland aren’t seen in the list, Google Local Services ads are available in those areas because they are included as part of a larger metro area.

Google does not advertise when specific market areas and services will become available. However, you can sign up here for a notification when Local Services is available for your company.

Before you run out and sign up for Google Local Services ads, you might want to dig deeper into some of the details by reading this in-depth guide. Like Google AdWords, you can set things up on your own or you can engage a Google Premier Partner agency like my company, Blue Corona, to help you apply directly with Google. Having helped dozens of contractors with this new product, our team has perspective and data that is much different than that of an individual business owner.

Remember—early adopters tend to get a disproportionate ROI, so I would take Google Local Services ads very seriously once it arrives in your neck of the woods.

The Last Word

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Digital marketing success is, at least in part, about cost-effectively maximizing your real estate. Considering that 93 percent of online experiences begin with a search engine, the first page of Google is like New York’s Fifth Avenue for retail—it’s where everybody wants to be, and if you don’t buy in, there’s someone else right behind you that will.

So, while the “what” and the “why” haven’t changed with the addition of Google Local Services ads, the “how” absolutely has. And Google Local Services ads are hardly the end of the search evolution. With the advent of voice search, people will soon be asking their home assistants to book an HVAC contractor instead of actually searching online themselves. For example, the Google Home Assistant is already integrated with Local Services.

Yes—that’s right. People can tell their home assistant “Hey Google, I need a plumber,” and Google will give them an option to either call someone from that approved service providers list or email them the complete list to choose from. Again, the point is that Google Local Services ads may be the most recent addition to search, but they won’t be the last. In the 10 years since my company was founded, we’ve navigated dozens of shifts in the search engines at a rapidly increasing pace.

Those of you that get ahead of the game will be the big winners, and those that stick to nostalgia marketing will feel the hit. I recommend you get started as soon as possible (if your company isn’t eligible yet, you can sign up here to be notified when it is) and if you need help, I’m a phone call—or a voice search—away!

Ben Landers

Posted In: Sales & Marketing

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