Is Google Going to Remove the 3-Packs? What You Need to Know about Home Service Ads (HSAs)
*The following is an excerpt from the Expert’s Guide to Local SEO:
Google started testing Home Service ads back in 2015 and this originally scared the entire Local SEO community (and business owners) because the test they did in San Francisco replaced the original 3-pack with a completely paid 3-pack. It stayed this way for 2 years but you can all sigh with relief because as of summer 2017, the regular 3-pack returned to the results.
There have been rumors flying around everywhere about if Google plans on making the 3-pack completely paid so I asked them. The current answer is no. They are showing ads in the 3-pack now on both desktop and mobile and they are rolling out Home Service Ads pretty rapidly but neither of these efforts are removing the traditional 3-pack or making the entire thing paid.
There are 5 pages showing more about how these ads work in the full version of the guide.
What Do Home Service Ads Do?
The current ad unit we see for HSAs started in November 2016 in San Diego. When you do a search for a locksmith or a plumber you get what looks like two 3-packs.
The First 3-Pack is the home service unit that contains all the listings that are participating in Home Service Ads & the listings for home-based service area businesses.
At the top of the list are the paid listings that are participating in Home Service Ads. They have “Google Guaranteed” on them and show up above the non-paid listings. Thus, it’s almost impossible to see a non-paid listing in the first 3-pack home service unit unless there were less than 3 paying businesses. When you click “more locksmiths” you get the full list and can see the paid ones at the top before you get the non-paid ones.
For the non-paid ones at the bottom, Google says that the listings rotate yet I can tell that location plays an important role. If the user searched San Diego the listings in San Diego seem to appear above the listings in suburbs.
Why is Google Screwing Over Home-Based Businesses?
So if you followed the breakdown of the 2 units you will realize that home-based service-area businesses without a storefront are:
- Not at all in the traditional 3-pack
- Only listed at the very bottom of the home service ad unit, below all the paying listings.
Clearly this is going to make a massive impact on those that were ranking really well in the 3-pack before Google removed them all. We are already seeing threads blowing up over at the forum from businesses who are wondering why their listings completely vanished from the search results. GMB phone support seems to be giving out fairly useless advice to these people. One person mentioned:
“I explained all this to Google support and they said to give it some time and see if it corrects itself in the next algorithm update.”
I cringed when I read that. No guys, this isn’t an algorithm update or a bug. It’s intentional and what will be happening in every market and industry that Google rolls out HSAs in.
I believe Google is doing this as the answer to the spam problem. It’s extremely easy for lead generating companies to set up fake listings using home addresses. Hiding the address also makes it harder for competitors to find and detect spam. The guide also shows 2 ways to see the address on a listing even if it’s been hidden. By only including listings with storefronts, they are eliminating a lot of the issues they have had with spam in the lifetime of Google Places/Google My Business.
When this first launched in San Diego, it cut the # of listings down by around 90% in comparison to what was there before the roll-out.
Here is a visual of before and after Google launched HSAs in San Diego.
TIP: You can easily see if a listing has hidden the address in Google My Business because the directions icon will be missing.
Who is This Currently Impacting?
Google hasn’t really updated their help center well so I’m including a list below of cities & industries this is in. If Google did not already reach out to you and you fall into the criteria listed, you can contact them about it here.
- San Francisco Bay Area: Locksmiths, Plumbers, House Cleaners, Handyman, General Contractors, Electricians, HVAC Contractors, Painters, Overhead Door, Auto Glass Repair, Roadside Assistance
- Sacramento: HVAC Contractors, Plumbers, Electricians, Locksmiths, Auto Glass Repair, General Contractors, Roadside Assistance, House Cleaners, Handyman, Painters, Overhead Door
- Stockton: HVAC Contractors, Plumbers
- Philadelphia: Plumbers, HVAC Contractors, Electricians, Locksmiths
- Atlanta: plumbers, HVAC Contractors, Electricians, Locksmiths, Overhead Door
- Phoenix: Plumbers, HVAC Contractors, electricians, Locksmiths, overhead door
- Seattle: Plumbers, HVAC Contractors, Electricians, Locksmiths, Overhead Door
- Los Angeles: HVAC Contractors, Electricians, Overhead Door, Plumbers, Locksmiths
- San Diego: HVAC Contractors, Electricians, Overhead Door, Towing, Auto Glass, Plumbers, Locksmiths
Businesses in suburbs of these cities are also included.
I’m a home-based SAB that has been impacted, what should I do?
I’m seeing lots of home-based SABs without storefronts that are simply unhiding their address. Yes, this does work and it does get you instantly back in the list. However, this is not a long-term solution. Doing this is putting your listing at risk of being completely removed from Maps and historically Google has never been overly gracious when it comes to hard suspensions for service area businesses. All it would take is for one of your competitors to report you to accomplish this.
In addition to focusing on AdWords & Organic (both which drive a ton of traffic), a business owner pretty much has to get an office to qualify to show the address. Although throwing up a sign on your front lawn does confirm your business is at that address, it is not enough to qualify as a storefront. In order to unhide your address, your location needs to be staffed during your stated hours and customers have to be able to drive up and get service during those hours. If you rent a cheap office and keep it locked all day, this also doesn’t qualify because no one is at the address.
Keep in mind that if you show your hours currently as 24-7 you would not be able to do this as a storefront unless you are staffed 24-7 (like Walmart).
I’m an SAB with a storefront, what should I do?
It’s time to party – Google just eliminated about 80-90% of your competitors. That being said, I would strongly recommend monitoring the local results closely to make sure every listing there (especially the ones outranking you) are eligible. Google’s sweep of removing home-based SABs is not perfect. I see plenty of home-based businesses who are showing their addresses or listings using PO Boxes as addresses. Getting these listings removed is in your better interest since it results in an immediate impact on your own ranking. This month, I added 3 pages in the full version of the guide that gives you a detailed look at what you need to do to get these listings removed.
If you’re reading this and feel irritated about this change, you are not alone. Unfortunately this is a reminder that when it comes to Google it is really their world and their rules and changes they feel are best for their users (and themselves, let’s be honest) can have unintended extreme impacts on the small business owners relying on them for traffic.
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