Provide a home service? Discover how local search and marketing is rapidly changing

Any home services small business needs to be aware of critical changes in online marketing and local search.

These changes could cause you to lose business overnight, or – if you take advantage of them – make you a premium provider of home services in your area.

Before I get into some important specifics, let me paint the big picture: The home services online ecosystem is going through a mid-life crisis.

The earth moves under your feet

Sites like Angie’s List have been stalwarts on the scene for many, many years, and I’ll even include Yelp in this group. But recent years have seen aggressive startups like Thumbtack, Porch, Takl, and Handy enter the fray. At the same time, the tech behemoths – Google, Amazon, and Facebook – have become players.

Let me add one more wrinkle to this: IAC, which owns HomeAdvisor and other online properties, is buying Angie’s List for some $500 million. They’ll rebrand it as ANGI Homeservice and move it from a recommendation platform to a marketplace.

Is your head spinning fast enough now?

From reviews to bookings

A key to understanding this is to focus on the upcoming changes at Angie’s List – moving from merely finding recommendations to a platform where you can book a home service provider. This is the direction these services, big and small, are going – with the exception, so far, of Yelp.

There are two monetization models: 1) Providers pay for leads or 2) Clients pay through the service and the service takes a cut. Google Home Services and Amazon Home Services use these models. The Google program is basically part of its AdWords platform and providers are charged for clicks and leads. Providers in the Amazon program pay between 10 and 20 percent commissions to Amazon.

Google hasn’t rolled out its Home Services program everywhere yet. It’s important to find out if it’s in your area for your service. Do a Google search like this: Plumbers Your City. That’s what I did for Los Angeles. (Of course, substitute the generic term for your industry for “Plumbers.”) If you get results like those in the graphic below, you know that Google has rolled out its program in your area.

We’re used to having AdWords ads at the top of Google search results pages, but you see from the above how they are a bit different if Google Home Services is in an area. These spots are now taken over by companies that are part of Google’s Home Services program. Providers have to meet certain criteria to be included in the program; note the Google guarantee.

Further, Google controls the communication between Home Service providers and potential clients. When prospects call via the phone number Google provides, the Home Service provider does not get the caller’s actual phone number. This is maintained for 15 days after a prospect contacts a provider. The provider can return calls via the system, but can’t contact the prospect outside of the system for at least 15 days.

Because Google is slowly rolling this out, I assume they are testing features so they can develop the best ways to maximize their revenue while providing a worthwhile service to businesses and consumers.

Keep up with the times

If your company provides a home service, you need to be following these developments closely. Obviously, you can’t be on all platforms; you would drive yourself crazy responding to leads that don’t pan out. However, you need to make a good effort at establishing your presence on one or two of these platforms.

If the Google program is in your area, it is certainly worth exploring. Because you can set AdWords budgets, you can easily control costs as you go through your learning curve. With Amazon, the question is one of balancing your fees with their commission structure and looking at your competition. Amazon also has this rule: Pros are required to offer the same price on Amazon as they do if you called them directly. Therefore, you can’t increase your fee to cover the commission; your basic fees need to be enough to make money after Amazon takes their cut.

Finally, look over Thumbtack, Porch, Takl, and Handy, they are innovative modern-day service-industry matchmakers. You might find that they are popular with a younger demographic because they tend to have great mobile apps. This might help you better reach your existing clientele or even develop your next generation of customers.