Is Google Making a Move Toward Pay-to-Play?

Aaron O'Hanlon

FOR YEARS NOW, Google has been an affordable place for home-improvement contractors to generate their own leads.

The introduction of the ‘Local Places’ section allowed contractors to be displayed high on the first page with only their business information needed. You didn’t even need a web site to promote your business on Google.

As someone who has been involved in search engine optimization for the past 18 years, the past few months have definitely been disappointing. There have been some changes in the way Google is currently displaying their search results, as well as a possible new service, which would put them on par with HomeAdvisor or any other lead service.


This past summer, Google went from their seven-pack of local map listings down to three. That means if your company was in the 4–7 slot, you are no longer on the first page of search results: Fig. 1.

Fig 1

As you can see, the address and phone number are no longer displayed but new ‘Web Site’ and ‘Directions’ button are. A link to ‘More Professional Painters’ has also been added.

Another change is that by clicking on the company’s business name, it no longer takes you to their Google+ page, but instead, takes you to a ‘Local Finder’ page that shows detailed information about the company. This just fuels the rumors that Google may soon be abandoning their Google+ product.

As mentioned, Google no longer displays the phone number or the web site. The theory behind the ‘click to call’ button is for Google to now track clicks. Previously, they were unable to get that data because the phone number was displayed. With this approach, Google has limited the amount of information a company can display as well as the number of companies that are displaying. Why would Google do this when, historically, they wanted to display the best results for the user?


That’s right. Google could be heading toward charging home-improvement contractors for leads. Just like HomeAdvisor, Angie’s List and the other lead services, Google is beta testing their Home Services Ads service in the Northern California area. For example if you do a search for a plumber in San Mateo, you will see the following results: Fig. 2.

Fig 2These are sponsored listings that completely replace the ‘Local Places’ listings. Also of note, Home Services Ads push Google Adwords ads to the right-hand column of search results. Meaning that even with pay-per-click enabled, these new Home Services Ads will take the top positions. The ads include a photo of the home-improvement contractor, their location and phone number, along with any ratings —and what look like call-out promotional text that details qualifications and service qualities, and offers such as BBB A+ or emergency services. Users can click the profiles for more details, which is not pulling data, but rather, is user-implemented. Meaning, in order to be listed in this area, you need to be paying Google.

In addition to having to provide all of your business information, licenses, insurance, etc., Google has the typical user form, which allows them to sell leads. If you click on the link ‘More Plumbers,’ you are taken to the following page: Fig. 3.

Fig 3As you can see, Google will be allowing users to select the typical three contractors to contact, thus following the typical practice used by lead companies.

While Google’s Home Services Ads are currently only available for plumbing and locksmith home-improvement contractors selected by Google in Northern California, I see a connection between them and the larger changes to Google’s ‘Local Places’ section.

Though Google’s Home Services Ads are currently in a testing mode, don’t fear that it will take over. I don’t think users really enjoy the limited three-contractors contact approach. Also, how is Google going to handle issues when the user isn’t satisfied with the three contractors, or the contractor doesn’t believe that the leads are worthy?

Either way, contractors are going to have to be on top of their online game. Since the ‘Local Places’ listings are shrinking and many listings have been knocked off the first page, contractors are going to need to focus on Google’s requirements, as well as have a budget, to compete for the first-page results.

Aaron O’Hanlon is the managing director of Footbridge Media, LLC, a contractor marketing firm specializing in the home-improvement industry. It is his mission to educate, inform, and assist contractors on taking over their online presence.



Current Issue

Current IssueRead the current issue in page-turner format.





Free Subscription

Sign up for your FREE subscription to inPAINT magazine, delivered directly to your mailbox.

Sign up