Brace yourself— Google is in the process of “changing the game board” again when it comes to generating leads through local search. For almost three years in the bay area of San Francisco, Google had been experimenting testing different approaches to directly compete against HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List, and getting into the ‘lead-selling’ business. Unlike AdWords, where you are just buying ad space and the transaction is directly between you and the consumer, Google’s new Home Services division wants to be the new ‘broker’ and ‘quality police’ of the entire transaction. In other words, like HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List, they want to become the gatekeeper between you and new customers. The scary news is that they will probably be very successful in doing it—especially with how they have structured their new program.
Currently, Google is in the process of rolling out their new program in seven major cities around the country.The cities are Phoenix, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Diego, Baltimore, and Los Angeles.For your consideration, in this article I will go over how their new program works, what has changed that may have caused them to initiate the rollout now, and my analysis of the potential long - term repercussions.
Welcome to Google Home Services— and the‘ Google Guaranteed’ program
After watching Google over the last few years try to make its Home Services platform work (which is a good amount of time for Google to test anything)
, I was surprised when I learned a little over a month ago that it was breaking out of California and expanding to new cities around the country. What I wanted to know was, what had they changed in the program that made them decide their program was a winner?
It may be because they want to beat the new HomeAdvisor merger with Angie’s List that will culminate in December, but I was curious as to what the final version looked like.
Finding the answer to that question has been surprisingly difficult, since Google has kept a tight lid on what they are doing. Obtaining preliminary information on their new program has taken a good amount of time and effort to say the least—but here’s how the program is being rolled out today.
To start with, notice the image to the right that shows the results for the search “AC repair San Francisco
”. If you want to try this search on your computer, make sure you’re logged out of Google or you won’t see the same results (Google’s version of “move along… these aren’t the droids you’re looking for)
. At the top of the page, under the heading “AC repair – HVAC pros serving San Francisco
” you see three boxes, with each box listing a contractor, their Google review count, and then the fact that they are “Google guaranteed
”—which I also highlighted in yellow. Below this is a phone number and the hours when they will be open if they are not currently open.
It’s important to note that the phone number they show is not the contractor’s number, but a recorded tracking number assigned to them by Google. Should the number be used by a consumer, the number displayed will change in the listing, and the number the consumer used to call you will remain active for that consumer for the next 15 days. The consumer’s call will display to you as a Google-forwarded number—not the consumer’s actual number. As long as you’ve spoken to the customer in the past 15 days, you can continue to stay in touch using the Google-forwarded number. The unspoken part here is, should you ask the customer for their direct number to try to circumvent Google recording your communication, you may find yourself out of their program… oh, and did I already mention that Google wants to be the gatekeeper of the transaction?
The good news (if you want to see it as that)
is that Google only keeps total control of the customer’s contact information for 15 days from the last contact. If you haven't spoken to that customer in the past 15 days, the consumer’s forwarding number will be deactivated, and their real number will display in your Home Service app dashboard. This way, you’ll be able to retain their real contact information beyond the initial call.
When the consumer clicks on one of the contractors in the Google Home Service results, the next screen that appears (shown at right)
provides additional information on their chosen contractor, as well as a list of all the other participating contractors in the program. It also presents the customer with a “SEND REQUEST”
button where the consumer can send
a service request to their chosen contractor—as well as other contractors on the list, all at the same time. Just like HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List, Google realized that, unlike its AdWords program, the only thing better than selling a lead once, was getting to sell the same lead multiple times to different contractors.
Currently, in the market I am familiar with, the cost of a lead is based on a flat fee of about $25 dollars per lead. Before you get too excited about that price, be aware that you will be potentially competing with other contractors for the same lead. If a customer chooses three of you, and you all have an equal success rate, the cost per sold lead is now $75. However, I suspect that the current rate is more of an
introductory rate, since Google was built on maximizing revenue with all their products. Once the program is established and demand for the program increases, I fully expect it to evolve into a bid system similar to AdWords.
As I mentioned earlier, Google Home Services had been operating for almost three years in the San Francisco bay area and then, just recently, in Los Angeles. During this time, they have changed how the program was presented quite a bit in order to test different approaches to making the program work. With all the changes being made, the assumption was that the program wasn’t performing like they wanted. However, about 3-4 months ago, they came out with a new program called ‘Google Guarantee
’. Maybe it’s just coincidental, but within two months of releasing this new program, Google’s Home Services program expanded to major cities all over the country.
So, what is the ‘Google Guarantee’?
At the top of the list of contractors that clicking on a Google Home Service ad brings up, you find the following sentence.
“Google guaranteed - Pros are pre-screened and insured. You're guaranteed to get the job done right or your money back. Learn more
When the consumer clicks on “Learn more”, Google explains their guarantee this way; “If you’re not satisfied with the work quality, we’ll cover claims up to the job invoice amount, with a lifetime cap of $2,000. Your job must be booked through Home Services. Add-on or future projects, damages to property, dissatisfaction with price or provider responsiveness, and cancellations aren’t covered.” So, if you don’t already have a money-back quality guarantee on the quality of your service—you will have one through Google if you participate in their program.
To cash-in on the Google guarantee, customers have 30 days after the job is done to file a claim if they are unsatisfied with the quality of the work performed. As far as exclusions to the guarantee, Google states, “add-on or future projects; damages to property; dissatisfaction with price or provider responsiveness; and cancellations are not covered.”
Getting Involved with Google Home Services
Like AdWords, you pay only for leads from customers who click on your listing, and your listing will only show up when you have money left in your weekly budget. Unlike AdWords, which is strictly a ‘pay-to-play’ marketing transaction that anyone can participate with, Google now has some exposure in the actual work performed due to their guarantee. Because of this, participation in the program is by invitation only and is based on your online reputation (reviews) and passing a background check. Since Google likes to stay internal for its data as much as possible (they definitely have real trust issues), the assumption is that your reputation is being measured heavily by your actual Google reviews.
However, a Google representative revealed to us something that is important to note: once in the program, the reviews and star rankings that they will show clients are specific to Google Home Services, and different from your regular Google reviews. They are generated within their app/platform and stay with the platform, meaning you lose them should you leave the program.
Below is how Google now screens the contractors they are choosing:
Getting Involved with Google Home Services
All guaranteed pros undergo background checks by Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations, Inc.
, a third-party risk management and security company.
Background checks include inquiries about the validity of each pro's Social Security number and criminal history (including cross-checks against national sex offender, terrorist, and sanctions registries). In addition, each pro‘s company is checked for applicable trade licenses, Insurance, and civil litigation history (including judgments & liens from federal and state courts).
You can read more about the requirements here
Each contractor's business is checked for the following licenses:
- Plumbers, handyman, electricians, and HVAC pros need a contractor’s license to perform services costing more than $500. Plumbers, handymen, electricians, and HVAC pros without a contractor's license may still be feature in Home Services, but are prohibited from performing services that cost more than $500.
Each pro's business must carry insurance coverage for work performed.
We want to connect consumers with high-quality, recommended, and trusted pros. That is why we also do research on the online reputations of each Home Service pro.
We collect ratings and reviews from people who hired Home Service pros. As described in our Policy Center, serious or repeatedly negative customer feedback may result in lower rankings (including not showing at all).
To answer the obvious question I know you’re dying to ask, so far, Google is covering the entire costs of all the initial background checks. To stay in the program, you will be required to recertify your approval every three months to keep the information accurate. Recertification will require you to attest that:
- You haven’t hired any new workers during the last reporting period who will perform services in customer’s homes or workplaces referred through Google’s Home Service ad platform.
- Every worker you are sending to customers’ homes and workplaces are the same workers who were originally background-checked and approved.
- There are no circumstances (of your company or your workers) that could change the outcome of the previous background check approval.