What should service area businesses be focusing on in search?

November 19, 2018

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Ranking in local search ultimately comes down to three key areas: prominence, relevance and proximity. These factors tend to affect all local businesses in relatively the same way. But for businesses who deliver their services directly to their customers, like plumbers, house painters and exterminators, local search can be a very different game.

These “service area businesses” may or may not have a physical business address from which they can receive customers and those who don’t have struggled to define what Google calls a “service area” accurately.

They were initially asked to define their address and then state the radius around it in which they can do their work. However, a recent change in Google My Business now allows service area businesses to hide their addresses and instead submit the exact regions, cities or ZIP codes they can operate in.

This highlights just one way in which the search experience between service area businesses and other local businesses differs, and shows that Google has a good understanding of how the experience should match the differing searcher intent.

Another big difference is the appearance, in parts of the US at least, of local services ads in Google SERPs for service area businesses. This ad type is unique in a few ways:

  • It’s not just only available in a few particular industries, but it’s only available in select cities in the US. This feature is still very much in the testing phase.
  • Local services ads come with a “Google Guarantee,” a badge that’s the result of a paid-for relationship with Google in which businesses are vetted and Google makes a guarantee of quality service.
  • Clicks on these ads don’t take you to a small business website, or even their Google My Business profile, but a dedicated Google listing tied to the local services ad, as seen below.

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Since these ads appear at the very top of SERPs, they can have a profound impact on the breakdown of clicks through a SERP for a service area business. For the rest of this piece, I’ll be looking at what happens to clicks when local services ads are present and provide some guidance for service area businesses looking to understand and take advantage of this new rule in the local search game.

Do people click on local services ads?

A recent, large-scale research piece from my company BrightLocal shows that 13.8 percent of people click on local services ads when performing searches for service area businesses like painters, locksmiths and garage door contractors. We also looked at what the click breakdown looked like when local services ads aren’t present on SERPs, to compare.

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As you can see in the chart above, local services ads are taking clicks away from all other parts of the SERP, but some more than others. The biggest loser here is organic search results, which lose almost 7 percent of clicks when searchers see local services ads, much more than the 3 percent impact PPC ads saw.

This comes as a surprise, as I expected that those who tend to trust and click on ads would find another ad to click on, but awareness of ad type is clearly not a factor here.

When we dive into the reasoning provided for these click choices, it’s clear that, for clicks on the Local Pack and PPC ads, whether they were or weren’t ads wasn’t an influential factor. However, when it comes to clicks on organic results, nearly 12 percent of people did so specifically because it’s not an ad.

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If we slice the data only by those who clicked on organic results, the case is even stronger, with 25 percent of people saying they chose to click on an organic result because they knew it wasn’t an ad.

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This is by no means a case for abandoning pay-to-play in SERPs, but it’s certainly food for thought.

You’ll notice that the most popular reason given for clicking on an organic result was, “Because it’s a list of businesses” (31 percent). In our tests, based on genuine Google SERPs for service area businesses, we found that the majority of the highest-performing links in the organic results went to directories like Yelp, which claimed to show things like “The Best Plumbing in San Francisco.”

What can service area businesses do to get more clickthroughs from SERPs?

With this data in mind, I’d like to suggest some ways in which service area businesses can make increase their chances of getting business from the first page of SERPs.

Get into directories

It’s clear from this study that plenty of people trust the recommendations of directories in SERPs, so it goes without saying that you need to do whatever you can to not only keep your directory listings accurate and up-to-date but to ensure you’re appearing on the more niche directory sites that people use to find service area businesses.

Even if all your hard work doesn’t result in a spot on the first page of SERPs, getting included in a list like “25 Best Plumbers – San Francisco CA” on Homeadvisor is a great way of improving the chances of generating business through SERPs.

Generate more and better reviews

When looking at SERP types in isolation, 51 percent of people who clicked on a Local Pack result did so because of the review rating, and the same percentage clicked on local services ads for this reason.

These figures show that, in the Local Pack and in local services ads (and probably beyond), review ratings have a very important part to play in the decision to click on a service business in search results.

To be able to compete, service area businesses need to generate more and better Google reviews, by requesting reviews via postcard, form, or follow-up email and crucially, delivering an excellent customer service experience in the first place.

Consider purchasing priority placement in the local services space

While any service area business can theoretically appear in “Local Services by Google” (the listings page that appears when you click “More painters in San Francisco,” for example, beneath a local services ad) for the right search term, only those “Google Guaranteed” will have pride of place at the top of the list. More importantly, only Google Guaranteed businesses will be eligible for local services ads.

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The verification process can be complex and takes a while, but it’s worth it if you’re looking for the edge over your competitors in a particularly competitive industry or a location packed with similar businesses.


The slow rollout and testing of local services ads and adding the ability to define service areas more specifically both show that Google is investing in making the search experience for people searching for service area businesses much more sophisticated, but it also shows that Google will always find a way to monetize such an opportunity.

Ultimately, the onus is on the service area business owner first and foremost to deliver an excellent customer experience, but once those excellent reviews start rolling in, the potential impact they have on clickthroughs from a variety of SERP types cannot be underestimated. If you’re working with a business like this, it’s time to start thinking about harnessing reputation in as many ways as you can.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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