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“Ok, Google, I need a plumber.”
Picture this: I’m knee-deep in water, using every towel I own to sop up the sudden flood in my kitchen. I shout for help—not from my spouse, but from my trusty Google Assistant:
“HEY GOOGLE, I NEED AN EMERGENCY PLUMBER!”
She responds: “Sure, I can help you find a plumber. What do you need help with?”
“I HAVE A BURST PIPE!”
After she verifies my address, she offers a couple solutions, one of which is to immediately call a plumber for me or email me a list of local companies to choose from. I choose option number one, and within an hour, I’ve got an emergency plumber at my door, ready to save the day.
Here’s the kicker—I never touch a phone in this entire experience.
Welcome to the age of digital home assistants.
In 2017, an estimated 710 million people actively used digital home assistants like Alexa, Cortana, Siri, and Google Assistant. Statista predicts that number to rise to 1.8 billion by 2021. Granted, connecting with local contractors may not be the top way homeowners currently use their virtual assistants, but that day is coming.
According to Mediapos, about 30 percent of all searches will be done without a screen by 2020 thanks to devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo. As machine learning becomes more advanced, you can expect the questions people ask their home assistants to get more advanced as well.
What that means for local service companies is that you need to bet on the fact that in the very near future, people will use a digital assistant to find your company instead of a mobile device or desktop computer. If you don’t optimize your website and take steps to be included in Google Assistant queries, your leads and sales will feel it.
Google Home and Google Assistant: Your Ticket to More Local Leads
Of all the digital home assistants, one should concern contractors and local service providers the most: Google Assistant. Why?
Well, for starters, it’s the only one with an active program specifically created for connecting homeowners with reputable local contractors.
Even without that game-changing feature, Google Assistant looks to be the heaviest hitter of all the virtual home assistants in the near future. While Google Home still trails behind Echo as the top-purchased home device, that could change—fast. In fact, a recent study conducted by 360i concluded that Google’s home assistant has technical capabilities far beyond Amazon Echo. If you look at the data, Alexa is actually the least accurate performer of them all—it only knows the answer to 20 percent of the questions it’s asked while Google Assistant has nailed more than 65 percent.
So, while Amazon still leads in total home assistant purchases, Michael Dobbs, a vice president of 360i, speculates this is simply because of its two-year head start.
What We Know About Local Services and the Google Home Assistant
One feature that belongs to Google Assistant is connecting homeowners with local service providers. Today, you can ask Google Assistant to find local contractors from the following categories:
- Garage door services
- HVAC (heating or air conditioning)
How It Works
Here’s how it works: a homeowner shouts out, “Hey Google! I need [insert service here]!” (“OK, Google,” and other salutations work as well. I prefer to use the casual-yet-refined “Yo, Yo, Yo, Google, I need….”)
Google Assistant—on both a mobile device and on Google Home—will then ask for a few details about what’s wrong. Using the plumbing example, options include “I need plumbing repairs,” “I have a clog,” “I need a faucet installation,” etc. After the user tells Google Assistant their problem, it will verify their address, and then give two choices: to call a plumber based on the top local service result, or email a list of service providers.
If someone is using Google Assistant on a mobile device, they’ll be served with a list of pros to tap on and learn more about. If there aren’t any recommended service providers, users will be served results from local organic search results.
This is the part you need to sit up and pay attention to: the recommended service providers are taken from Google’s network of qualified providers, which includes providers from Local Services by Google, HomeAdvisor, and Porch.
If Local Services by Google isn’t available in your area yet, HomeAdvisor and Porch will the be qualifiers of choice over organic search listings.
Areas Where Google Local Services Are Active:
- Arizona: Phoenix
- California: Los Angeles, Riverside/San Bernardino, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose
- Colorado: Denver
- Florida: Miami, Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne, Tampa-St. Petersburg
- Georgia: Atlanta
- Illinois: Chicago
- Maryland: Baltimore
- Massachusetts: Boston
- Michigan: Detroit
- Minnesota: Minneapolis-St. Paul
- Missouri: St. Louis
- Nevada: Las Vegas
- New York: New York
- North Carolina: Charlotte
- Ohio: Cincinnati
- Oregon: Portland
- Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh
- Texas: Dallas, Houston, San Antonio
- Washington: Seattle
- Washington, D.C.
How Google Assistant Ranks Contractors and Local Service Providers
If you want your contracting business or local service to be in that list of recommended providers, you need to be one of three things: Google Guaranteed, HomeAdvisor Screened, or Porch Guaranteed. No ifs, ands, or buts.
After these three qualifications, factors that can affect your ranking within the Local Services unit include:
- Proximity to user
- Google My Business rating, Houzz rating, Porch rating, and number of reviews
- Responsiveness to the people that contact you
- Your business hours
Let’s dive into what Google Guaranteed, HomeAdvisor Screened, and Porch Guaranteed actually mean:
At the time of this article’s publication, there is only one way to get Google Guaranteed: you have to participate in Google Local Service Ads, which may not be available for your service or in your service area yet. You can apply to get the Google Guarantee without participating in the ads, but that’s a crapshoot.
Providers with the “Google Guaranteed” badge are pre-screened with background checks and meet relevant insurance and licensing requirements. When a homeowner books services from a Google Guaranteed provider, they’re protected from, essentially, a bad experience:
“If you’re not satisfied with the quality of service, we’ll cover claims up to the cost of the initial service, with a lifetime cap of $2000. Your service must be booked through Local Services. Add-on or future services, damages to property, dissatisfaction with price or responsiveness of the business, and cancellations aren’t covered. Claims must be submitted within 30 days of the initial service completion date.
To help give peace of mind when booking a provider through Local Services, Google requires all guaranteed providers (and each provider’s field workers) to undergo a series of screening procedures, including background checks, verification of insurance and licenses, online reputation audits, and interviews, to the extent permitted by applicable law.” – Google
HomeAdvisor Screened means the contractor has been screened and verified by HomeAdvisor. To get this qualification, you need to be a member of HomeAdvisor and complete their screening process. The screening includes:
- Verification of license and business registration
- Sex offender search
- Legal search for civil judgments within the last 12 months
- State business filings
- Criminal records search and background checks
- Identity verification (usually the business owner’s social security number)
The Porch Guarantee is similar to the Google Guarantee, but a little lighter. To get Porch Guaranteed you need:
- Proper licensing (where required)
- Strong Better Business Bureau Rating (Better Business Bureau and Porch.com announced an exclusive partnership in February 2015)
- Stellar online reputation
- Commitment to Porch Pledge
- Pass a background check
How to Optimize Your Website and Online Presence for Voice Search and Digital Assistants
The main difference between optimizing for voice search and other types is the natural language that humans use. People ask their assistants actual questions instead of partial, keyword-rich phrases. For example, on desktop, someone might search “emergency plumber 20886,” while their voice search would look something more like “What are the best plumbers near me?”
After optimizing your website to answer these natural-sounding queries, make the same optimizations that you would for local SEO:
- Add local schema in your website code
- Tighten up your Google My Business listing to include hours of operation, your address, reviews, and an optimized About section
- Make sure your website is mobile-friendly
- Optimize your content for long-tail keywords and direct answers to questions
- Be sure to update your listings in all relevant local directories with updated NAP information
- Include plenty of optimized photos and videos
Final Takeaways: The Future of Voice Search and Home Assistants Is Now
Think about this: 20 years ago, keyless cars were considered high-tech and futuristic. Now, they’re commonplace. As the technology advanced and more people got used to living without actual keys, they started EXPECTING it, even in cheaper models. Why do you think home assistants are going to be any different?
Voice search and digital assistants aren’t something to watch for a couple years—they’re something you need to sit up and pay attention to now. They’re here. People are using them, and using them in ways we didn’t think were possible ten or even five years ago. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are just going to get smarter, better, and faster. As home assistants get better and better at providing relevant and useful answers, people will expect more out of them.
You need to bet on the fact that in the very near future, home assistants will go from turning off lights and telling you the weather to diagnosing problems in your home and helping you tackle time-consuming (and annoying) everyday tasks. The future of voice search and home assistants is now, so what are you going to do to make sure your contracting business stays ahead of the game? If you’re not sure or need help, contact us—we’ll get you well on your way to digital assistant domination.
About The Author: Betsy is the social media lead and a digital marketing expert with Blue Corona. When she’s not managing Blue Corona's digital content campaigns she’s urban exploring, hiking with her dog, or teaching horseback riding lessons. Twitter: @educatedbets
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