The Shift: Online Marketing As A Contractor Is No Longer About Searches

by Corey Philip
September 19, 2018

Most contractors still regard a #1 organic ranking in Google as the most powerful spot in marketing.  


Top placement in organic rankings led to tons of targeted traffic to your website for free.  And that would lead to phones ringing, sales opportunities, and ultimately revenue.

Now, before we go further, it is important to have an understanding of the ways of getting to the ‘top’ of searches.

Getting to the top of the organic searches results went like this; publish content, optimize your site, get links, and wait.  This is search engine optimization. SEO as we know it. It can take months and months of consistent content creation and link building (which I do not waste any time on) and there’s no certainty if or when you’ll achieve results.  Then even if you do, your results are only as good as the next ranking algorithm update or search result page change (more on this later ).

Of course, the shortcut way to the top is Pay for ads.  Pay-per-click (PPC). With PPC you get right to the top, no waiting.  But you pay a pretty penny for that instant exposure to engaged and searching users.  Having a good landing page is key, and despite the costs, PPC can be extremely effective… (more on this later).

Related: How To Check Results Of An SEO Before You Hire Them.

Back In Time To 2012

Let’s go back to the year 2012, a mere 6 years ago.  Online marketing as a contractor was about one thing, and one thing only, getting to the top of a search engine.  It didn’t matter if you were a roofer looking for full roof replacements, or an HVAC contractor trying to book service calls in the next few hours.  You just needed to be at the top of the search engine, and your online marketing journey essentially ended there.

Naturally, that search engine was Google.  Yes, there is Bing, and although it can be lucrative and should not be overlooked, it represents a mere 5%-10% of search traffic in the US.

Search user results (in 2012) were not geographically based.  In other words, to find a service provider, a user had to type in ‘trade’ + ‘city’ to get local results.

PPC ads took up minimal space on the page and were limited to 3 ads with a yellowish background that stood out as ads.  This focused attention primarily on the organic generated results. A huge plus for the top organic rankings at the time.  

And top placed organic results were visible ‘above the fold’, in view of a user, on page load.  

That was the easy days (for service providers at least).  Over the years things changed.

Here’s How Things Changed From 2012 to 2018

Google Got Local. Results became localized.

Rather than displaying the same results across the entire country and letting the user input the intended location, Google started using the users IP address to get the location details and display relevant results.

Maps Popped Up In Search Results.

Instead of showing text-based results to users looking for local businesses, Google decided to show local results on a map (Map Pack), again based on proximity to the business and customer feedback.

By this point it is clear; your location based keywords matter substantially less, and your actual location matters far more.  This gives benefit to people smack dab in the middle of their local target audience. For example, a high-end kitchen remodeler with an office right in the high rent district, close to high-value homes has the upper hand (on Google search results) over a contractor who opted to set up shop 20 miles away in the industrial section.  

PPC Ads Look less like Ads & Took Up More Space

In what I consider a clear attempt to get more paid clicks, which would ultimately drive up Google’s revenue, the ads were redesigned to look less like ads and more like organic search results.  This transition included removing the yellowish background that clearly differentiated the ads at the top of Google Search. A 2016 survey by Clickz revealed that 55% of search users don’t recognize PPC ads in Google Search results.  Great for the paid advertisers, not great for those relying on SEO.


All the while, the ads were re-designed and improved (from a PPC buyer perspective) to include more content.  Today ads can contain a whole slew of ‘extensions’ such as sitelinks, snippets, addresses, and phone numbers. All of these take up more pixels in the above the fold region of search results thus pushing organic results down.  

Suggested reading: This piece by Search Engine Journal visually shows the ad changes over time.

Lead Ads Popped Up

Google brought lead capture into their ads system and stuck them right at the top of searches.  Their lead ads display reviews, hours and a powerful little ‘Google Guaranteed’ text-based icon.  These lead ads now display across the US for the large trade markets such as HVAC and plumbing.

Google Attempts To Keep The User In Their Sphere.

Google is in a consistent effort to provide users with all the necessary information on their platform, without the need to visit your website or go elsewhere.  Lead ads are one example of this.

The other major example of this is for a branded search. (ie. the name of your company). Google displays info from their own profile on your business, which includes such things as your hours, phone numbers, pictures, questions and answers, your phone number and even a message if enabled.  They’ve all implement a Facebook-style ‘wall’ for you to share relevant updates with your customers.

So Where Does That Leave Us Now?

In short, organic search results are being pushed further and further down the page and ‘out of sight’ of searchers withering away the value of top organic rankings as you’ll see from this SERP result for a plumbing company.

But this post isn’t About Google Bing Or Search Engines.

It’s about online marketing, and the current trend is away from search engines.  While Google shoves users away from Organic listings, there’s a bigger trend going on that I notice.  ‘People’ aren’t going to Google results to search for a contractor like they were.

Since 2012 a number of lead generation directories or services have started captivating users and providing an alternate method of finding reputable service providers online

Recently Facebook Implemented recommendations, as people turn to their social network to look for service providers.

NextDoor Rose To Prominence

It was about a year ago I wrote about Nextdoor.  The ‘neighborhood’ social network has grown rapidly allowing only members of the local community to participate and discuss things relative to their neighborhood. Like Facebook, it has its own internal recommendation engine.

Amazon Launches Home Services

Now consumers can get installed with the items they purchase on Amazon.  Cleaning and moving services are available directly and seem to be their area of focus with a noticeable velocity in the rate of reviews.


We’ve all gotten their calls and purchased their leads.


This interesting platform lets customers request bids or contact a service provider directly.  Users are also prompted to leave reviews for service providers.

They’re Gaining Momentum

The user base of all these directories is growing!  And the users are happy.  They’re finding service providers who are performing good work at a reasonable rate.

Now is the time to take them seriously.  Think about this, when you’re looking for a good local restaurant alternative to your usuals, where do you go?  For most folks, it is Tripadvisor or Yelp, not Google search. Any local restaurant that wants to thrive needs to be on Yelp or Tripadvisor.  Yes, local restaurants will survive without them but to drive business they need to jump on board with the major directories.

What’s the bottom line?

Things aren’t as simple as they were back in the good old days!

So What Is A Contractor To Do…

When it comes to online marketing, there is no longer one platform to focus on.  You have multiple marketing mediums online, and a savvy business person would diversify their interests in all of them, and not become reliant on a single one.  Yes, I just said you need to do them all.

Stay tuned for a follow-up post with actionable ideas on what to do!

About the author

Corey Philip

Corey Philip is a small business owner / investor with a focus on home service businesses.

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