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Google HSAs are Bad for Energy Efficiency

Posted by Charley Cormany, EFCA Executive Director

To no one’s surprise, Google is trying to get into the same space as HomeAdvisor, Porch, and Angie’s List. Like these other businesses, it wants to be the UBER of home services. To get into the space, it has been testing a new advertising product in the Bay Area, called Google Home Services Ads, or HSAs. On the surface, it looks like another lead generation service, but according to Energy Circle, more recent updates are bad news for home performance and energy efficiency contractors.

What are Google Home Service Ads?

HSAs started out as a test last summer in the Bay Area with plumbers and handymen. The ads display on the top of Google’s search results page, above AdWords and organic search results. The searcher then has the option of clicking on the ads and sending a job request. Recently, HVAC businesses and insulation search terms have been added to the mix. These changes are why HSAs are now on our radar.

Why They are Terrible for Our Industry

Some of these problems are similar to other lead generation services, but some are unique to Google HSAs.

New Service, Same Problems

Just like HomeAdvisor, and some of the other big lead generation services, it’s hard to connect to customers that need whole-house upgrades. The quick response time expected for job requests is like a horse race to the lowest price. Unlike having customers find you through your own ads or the Energy Upgrade California (EUC) contractors page, the focus is on the service itself, not solving a problem. Because Google’s just another entity getting in between the contractor and the homeowner, it’s more difficult to shift the conversation and find out what the customer’s real needs are.

Insulation Terms Bring Up Handymen

When a searcher is looking for insulation, they get ads for handymen. These handymen might do great work, but they aren’t trained to specifically do quality insulation installation, certainly aren’t BPI certified & or in the EUC Home Upgrade rebate program, and legally can’t accept a job over $500. To top it off, on the job request form insulation isn’t even a offered as a choice of offered services.

Contractors Aren’t Qualified

To be part of the test, contractors have to go through rigorous, third-party background checks, including criminal records and background checks on all employees. This is good. Sadly, though, these checks don’t include any checks on quality. Just like with the handymen, heating and cooling contractors are not vetted for certifications or training that demonstrate a mastery of their profession. & There’s no mention of whether the contractor has any BPI certifications, is & part of the EUC Home Upgrade rebate program, or if they’ve received High-Performance HVAC Installation & training. Basically, it’s difficult for a highly-trained, building-performance contractor to truly differentiate themselves.

No Old Customer Reviews

Besides certifications, HSAs also don’t rely on Google’s own review system. There are many contractors that have a good backlog of reviews. Not only don’t these old reviews qualify or disqualify contractors from being in the service, but new reviews are tallied under HSAs exclusive star ratings. Contractors can’t capitalize on their good Google+ reviews.

Google is Being Sloppy

Granted this is just a test, but Google seems to have taken on something more complicated than originally thought. There are examples of sloppiness all over, including category and service area mistakes. Besides insulation terms showing up under handyman, several contractors don’t list services in HSAs that are offered on their website. Peter Troast of Energy Circle also reported an ad showing in Sunnyvale for a Contractor in Concord, which with bad commute traffic can be almost three hours away.

Limited to Certain Contractors

Maybe worst of all, the test seems to be closed. There is a Google HSAs signup page, but it seems this only puts contractors in a queue for if, and when, the service expands.

What Should You Do?

Again this is only a test, but it’s already negatively affecting contractors in the Bay Area. Without changes, it soon could be rolled out nationwide without fixes. Google’s smart and may have already thought of ways to address these issues. But we just don’t know what’s going to happen. & If you’re in the Bay Area, call up your AdWords rep and ask questions. And if you’re anywhere in the country, including the Bay Area, it might be a good idea to sign up incase the ads make it into your service area.

Thank you to Peter Troast and Energy Circle for bringing this issue to light. Energy Circle Pro is the premier technology and marketing platform for the home performance and energy efficiency industry. (EFCA members get a discount on the platform.) Check out Energy Circle’s Insights Blog, to stay up-to-date on this and other marketing related issues that affect the industry.

Gabe Lieb
Chief Communications Officer
Efficiency First California

Image from Energy Circle’s post Google Home Services Test Expands to HVAC & Insulation–What We Know So Far.