Google Home Services ads come to mobile search (then disappear again)

A trial of Google Home Services (GHS) ads on mobile is the clearest sign yet that Google intends to roll the GHS beta program out to the mobile platform and an insight into how it might look when it happens.

Google has been running a trial of Google Home Services (GHS) ads on mobile. GHS results have been spotted – revealed below – in mobile searches for tradesmen in San Francisco and Sacramento, during October.

The subsequent disappearance of the ads come November show this was just a trial. But it is the clearest sign yet that Google intends to roll the GHS beta program out to the mobile platform. Plus, if this format is a good indication of the real thing, the format will look very different on mobile to what we are currently seeing on desktop.

Experts privy to Google’s plans have been sworn to secrecy, so we can only speculate on when (not “if”) Google will finally roll out the GHS beta to mobile search and what format it will take. But this does look like one to put on the watch list for the New Year.

What is Home Services ads?

The GHS beta has been running in desktop search for over a year in parts of California, near Google’s HQ. On first glance these desktop results look similar to the Google My Business (GMB) listings, which have become commonplace in desktop and mobile search in US, UK and other markets.

But there are three distinct differences from GMB:

The GHS beta has been expanding – suggesting Google is satisfied with the results. GHS started in the San Francisco area with plumbers and locksmiths. It has expanded geography now also covering the cover the Sacramento area.

The number of trades covered has also expanded now also including searches for local handymen, interior painters, house cleaners, garage door pros, electricians and HVAC (Heating, ventilation and air conditioning) engineers.

But Google has been surprisingly slow to expand Home Services to mobile search.

Then during October 2016 that changed

Searching for a handyman in Sacramento https://www.google.com/search?q=handyman+in+sacramento or San Francisco during October brought up the following results page headed by the search box to find “pre-screened and insured handymen.”

A subsequent screen invites searchers to describe the job to get personalized quotes, with buttons for drywall, fans, flooring, furniture assembly, gutter cleaning and home theatre.

sew1_handyman_sacremento_home_services

This mobile version of GHS has a different look and feel to the current version of GHS on the desktop, as showed image below for handyman in San Francisco https://www.google.com/search?q=handyman+in+san+francisco.

The desktop version shows three handymen in Google’s program, with an option to expand for more; whereas the mobile version encourages searches to enter the job type and ZIP code for the most accurate match.

sew1_handyman_ghs_san_fran

Notably in both cases of desktop and mobile, GHS are at the very top of search results, there are no traditional search ads (though some still appear at the bottom of the page) and there are no GMB listings, commonly known as the “three pack”.

This gives both GHS formats a cleaner, less cluttered feel than is typical of Google’s modern search results pages.

The added advantage of this compact approach is that organic listings tend to appear higher up the page with Google Services. Perhaps, on some devices – gasp – even appearing above the fold. This should appease search marketers who have been frustrated by Google’s new innovations GMB, Knowledge Graph, AMP pushing organic results further and further below the fold.

This demonstrated well when a mobile search for handyman in Sacramento https://www.google.com/search?q=handyman+in+sacramento is compared with a mobile search for handymen in Venice Beach. https://www.google.com/search?q=handyman+in+venice+beach (Venice Beach, and the rest of the Los Angeles area, isn’t covered by Home Services beta, yet).

sew1_handyman_sacremento_venice

Puff… and then they were gone

Just as quietly as Home Services appeared on mobile, so they were disappeared.

As of November a mobile search on handyman in San Francisco https://www.google.com/search?q=handyman+in+san+francisco (or Sacramento) delivers up to four PPC search ads – which look increasingly old-fashioned and bloated, compared with GHS (on desktop or mobile) – and then the usual organic results.

There’s no Home Services ads, but nor has the GMB three-pack returned. This is the same for all Home Services verticals, including locksmiths, plumbers, handymen, interior painters, house cleaners, Garage Door Pros, electricians and HVAC.

GMB remains unchanged for mobile search for verticals not yet included in GHS e.g. gardeners, mechanics, accountants, lawyers. As show in the image below.

So why does this matter?

It is evident from various trials and betas in California that Google’s is on a mission to bring more trust to local search results for verticals such as tradesmen. Businesses with the best SEO or who bid the most for search ads, doesn’t necessarily mean best service for the customers.

See this ClickZ column on the future of mobile local search for more detail and analysis.

But verification and guarantees cost money, which is part of the reason that Google can justify charging businesses for referrals. And if GHS does replace PPC ads in these verticals (as indicated by both desktop and mobile results, pictured above), then Google needs to replace that revenue stream.

Mobile is a massive part of local search; plus with mobile-only functions such as tap-to-call; it is not only unfeasible that GHS would not come to mobile, but it may also the results of trials on mobile may also feedback into desktop.

If Google can make GHS work on both mobile and desktop it is inevitable that the program will expand geographically and in to other trades and professions.

If GHS proceeds along the lines pictured above, the likely implications for businesses in these verticals – in mobile and desktop search is fourfold:

  • Verification and guarantees could encourage searchers to place more trust GHS results than organic or GMB results.
  • Traditional search ads could disappear for GHS verticals.
  • GMB could disappear for GHS verticals.
  • Organic results could feature more prominently in search – if GHS replaces both search ads and GMB, with take up considerable more real estate on search results.

But while Google continues to trial and beta test GHS nothing is certain.

Kevin Cotch, SEO Analyst, TopRank Marketing commented:

Google typically tests changes for mobile users and then will roll out the change to desktop over time.

The GHS ads typically cost less than other AdWords ads, which is beneficial for these industries. I would expect to see the GHS ads take visibility away from the current local packs and encourage users to use qualified professionals.

Google requires the home service professionals to pass a background check and proof of insurance to become a part of the GHS ad program to protect users. Then, Google evaluates the professionals based off of the user rating and review, which benefits other users using the ads and offers more control for Google.

It would be smart for home service professionals to use the advertising service when possible, as well as verifying and optimizing their Google My Business pages to help get the most local visibility.

sew1_handy_gardener_san_fran_nov

Andy Favell is writer for SEW and ClickZ. He is a London-based freelance mobile/digital consultant, journalist and web editor. Contact him via LinkedIn or Twitter at Andy_Favell.

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