Marketing a local service business used to be a lot less complicated. In the old days, you could just put an ad in the Yellow Pages, put some flyers on mailboxes in target neighborhoods and rely on word of mouth referrals. Fast-forward to today’s landscape and it seems like it keeps getting harder and harder for local businesses to get and maintain traction in search results.

Image of buildings

Google’s recent shift to showing only 3 local results (down from the previous 7 pack) has gotten me thinking a lot about what local, service area businesses need to do to reach potential customers today. Google has been steadily moving toward showing search results based on the searcher’s actual geographic location (though just how accurate their placement of searchers is, is a topic for another post!).

Here is what the new local search results look like on desktop:

Image of search results

Just look at that screenshot – all a searcher sees on the first screen on a desktop are PPC ads and the 3 chosen local listings. Absolutely zero organic results appear above the fold (and I have a gigantic monitor).

On a mobile device, it is only PPC that makes it above the fold (as has been the case for a long time now):

Image of paid ads

I think we have reached the tipping point where local, service area businesses are going to have to utilize PPC if they want any hope of reaching potential customers who are searching for providers. This has been true for mobile traffic for quite some time, but desktop search has now caught up to mobile and that is not good news for small businesses.

So, what can you do to help a client that meets the local, service area business profile? A lot! PPC can be great for these types of businesses. It can take some convincing to get these clients on board – although showing them screenshots like the ones above, I have found goes a long way toward getting the message through that we have really just about fully moved into a pay-to-play world.

Here are a few of my top strategies for service area businesses.

Geo Targeting

Most local businesses, if they have done even rudimentary SEO, will display in organic search results for the town where they are physically located. This will also be the town where they are mostly likely the best known. Physical location should serve as the center of the geo-targeting. Choose the towns that they actually serve. Do not get hung up on capturing everyone who might possibly be in an area that they would send a tech on a really slow Wednesday. That is not smart PPC targeting.

Enter each town or county separately into the settings. Yes, this represents more set up work, but it offers much greater flexibility in opting in and out of particular areas over time and allows you to add bid modifiers to any town.

Targeting Urgent Needs

This is really important for businesses with limited budgets. And let’s face it, most businesses who fall into this category have at least some type of limitation on the budget for PPC. The point of paying for clicks is to capture people who are most likely to buy what you’re selling. Have an HVAC service company? Go after people having an emergency, like no air conditioning on a 90-degree day, where they want you to send someone right away. Focus your PPC on people who want service now and are ready to book a service call.

Ad Scheduling To Conserve Budget

We all know that you can choose when your ads run. For these types of businesses, scheduling can be a powerful way to maximize small budgets. For a plumbing company, we would probably run their ads from early in the morning (5 or 6 am) until about midday (1 pm). Remember, we are looking for those urgent calls. Under most circumstances, up until midday, most companies should be able to get a tech out to a customer’s home on the same day. Calls that come in after 1:00 pm often get scheduled for the next day and in our experience result in lower success rates in booking the work.

Pay Attention To External Factors And React Accordingly

Let’s stay with the HVAC example. Know what the extended weather forecast is for the target area and use your resources accordingly. Have a 5-day heat wave predicted in the next few days? Get those emergency service ads running. Consider increasing your spend and your schedule to run the ads until 5 or 6 pm. When the heat wave hits, you might want to consider altering your messaging. If you typically can provide same day or next day service, but due to volume during this active period are scheduling 3 days out, it can be a good idea to change your ad copy so that it is not promising same day service when you cannot deliver it. Nothing kills your conversion rate like not delivering on what your ads or landing pages promised!

Be Realistic In Setting Expectations

We have seen fantastic results for clients who fit this profile. As with all marketing initiatives, it is critically important to set proper expectations as to what PPC can and cannot do for their business. We often start with the following concept – PPC is a fantastic tool to capture traffic at any given time. If people need what it is you’re selling and are seeking it via a web search, PPC will put your ad in front of them at the time of that search. PPC, however, cannot generate demand. PPC will not make people decide to replace their heating system, build that fantasy outdoor kitchen or remodel their master bathroom. With proper expectations, most clients will be happy with the increased exposure in areas outside of their physical location!

For more details on the changes to local search results, check out this Moz post, including some information about the new Home Services PPC ads.