Here’s the Skinny on Google’s Local Service Ads

July 1st, 2019 by Rachel Reynolds   |   Posted in Web Marketing

In the ever-evolving world of Google, a new opportunity is peeking its head over the horizon in the form of Local Service Ads (LSAs). This is a lead generation tool that connects prospective clients directly to you through call, text, email or your firm’s intake software. It is designed to connect potential customers to local businesses.

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about LSAs. So, we at Gladiator decided to take a few minutes to give you the skinny on LSAs and their potential future impact on law firms.

LSAs are different than Google pay-per-click ads because a click does not route a local user to your business website. Rather, an LSA click results in a phone call, email or other direct contact with your firm.

Google’s new LSAs are a lead generating tool for your local area.
One click results in a phone call, text or email directly to your firm.

The Nitty Gritty of LSAs

The cost/payment model for LSAs is also different than some of Google’s other advertising programs. LSAs are a “cost-per-lead” program rather than a “pay-per-click” program. That means that a firm is charged each time it receives a call/text/email/online intake generated through Google’s LSA app. Data shows that an LSA lead for, say, a water restoration service costs about $150 to date, but no data is available regarding cost-per-lead for attorneys yet.

In addition, Google announced that LSAs will feature a credibility-type badge showing that Google has vetted and verified the businesses listed on the platform. LSAs require an extensive business screening and verification process that includes providing copies of licenses and insurance and performing background checks.

Google’s LSA program has been available to businesses in the home improvement sector such as plumbers, electricians, roofers, HVAC and remodelers for a couple years. Google is currently pushing to expand the LSA program to many other types of businesses nationwide.

Clearing Up Confusion

Let’s start by defining what LSAs are not:

  • LSAs are NOT Local SEARCH Ads :These are NOT Local SEARCH Ads that run in Google Ads/AdWords, which are the location/map-based ads that are triggered with a Search Ads location extension.
  • LSAs are NOT Google AdWords : Google Local SERVICE Ads (LSAs) do NOT run in Google Ads/AdWords. LSAs are a completely separate program. The LSA ads show up on the search engine results page, but only allow for direct calls, text messaging or online calendar appointment booking.

Yes, we know that some of Google’s names for programs and platforms sound similar, but it’s important to understand the differences so businesses can make informed marketing decisions and leverage each tool to their advantage.

What’s All the Hype About?

LSAs are something new and shiny. The LSA program gives an insight into Google’s preference for managing the world through its family of platforms and apps. The new LSA platform is a step toward Google being the “middle man” for all business contacts – like a call answering service for all businesses.

It’s easy to see the advantages of the LSA platform for Google. The advantages for law firms is a little less clear at this point. In the legal sector, Google is currently conducting an LSA beta test with immigration and estate attorneys in San Diego and Houston. Very little is known about how LSAs might perform for lawyers, and no price-per-lead has been set yet for attorneys nationally. So, the jury is still out about how effective these ads may be for law firms and whether they will be worth the cost.

But What is an LSA?

An LSA is an ad that displays at the very top of a Google search results page. The LSA features a local service provider, and its intent is to hook up potential clients with service providers in their immediate area.

For example, a search with the key word phrase “plumber near me” or “local landscaper” would trigger a Local Service Ad from, say, ABC Plumbing or Evergreen Landscaping.  The key is that such businesses would be very close to the user’s geographic location.  The closer, the better. At this point, Google allows LSAs to be used only by businesses fitting its “Service Area Business” category, which means a business that serves customers at their location. A plumber needing to come to your home to fix a leaking water supply is a perfect example.

Lawyer Marketing LSA

When a user clicks on an ad, it initiates a call or text directly to the business and/or allows the customer to schedule a service then and there. The idea is that businesses can grab a potential client immediately rather than users being routed to a company’s website where they may or may not initiate an action.

The business sets a weekly budget in the Google Local Service Ads app for its LSA. Spending occurs when a potential client takes action (text, call, email, etc.).

How many LSAs are shown per user query? A row of 3 LSAs will be displayed on desktop computers and 2 LSAs will appear on mobile devices like smart phones and tablets.

How Does Google Decide Which LSAs to Display?

Good question. As you can imagine, there are many more businesses with LSAs than there are spots to display them for each individual user query. Google has signaled that it decides which verified business LSAs to display based on a rankings algorithm that considers the following:

  • Proximity to the searcher.
  • Online Reputation — Google is clear that it rewards businesses with strong local business brand awareness. Think EAT, again (see article).
  • Reviews — not only Google My Business reviews, but also reviews written by customers (satisfied or displeased) in the LSA app.
  • Business Engagement on LSA – this means the business’s regular, routine engagement with the LSA app. For example, how quickly do you respond to leads (e.g. minutes, hours, days?) How active are you in following up and responding to customer reviews or concerns within the LSA app? How much business are you securing through the LSA program?

Once again, we see that proactively managing your brand’s reputation and seeking out customer reviews equal rewards in the world of Google.

Do I Get to Decide Which Keywords Trigger My LSA Ad?

Unfortunately, no.  Google decides that. Businesses don’t get to participate in targeting or generating keyword lists. Once the business is verified, Google independently decides when a search query matches a business. Google does give LSA businesses a list of “Job Types” to select from that indicate the services they provide.

What Are the Challenges of The LSA Program?

Here are some potential challenges or “unknowns” that Gladiator has identified regarding LSAs:

  • Law firms have to manage this app/platform by themselves, similar to the Lead Docket intake platform (read: one more task on your plate). The LSA platform is one more funnel for attracting potential clients, but this is only useful if a firm has the time and internal processes to follow up and convert that lead to a client.
  • LSAs are for clients who want to book a service appointment For example, it’s the Fourth of July, the temperature is 95 degrees and my air conditioning just died. I need an HVAC company IMMEDIATELY.  Or, whoops, my in-laws just called and they’re coming to visit. The kitchen sink is full of dirty dishes and there are dust bunnies everywhere. I need a housecleaner STAT! LSAs are definitely built for SERVICE PROVIDERS.
  • It’s unclear how many lawyers would consider themselves service providers, and therefore, it’s hard to say whether LSAs are a good fit for the legal field. It’s possible with some legal cases that are transactional in nature and pose an immediate need – DUI, Car Accidents, Lemon Law and Immigration – that one click on an ad resulting in direct contact with a lawyer would be very appealing to a potential client. On the other hand, more complex, deliberate and drawn out legal cases – Divorce, Wrongful Death, Bad Faith or Whistleblower – may not lend themselves to LSA advertising.
  • Because the LSA program has not yet been rolled out for attorneys, the costs are unknown. It’s hard to calculate your return on investment on such a new program that may or may not fit hand-in-glove with the legal profession. Because marketing dollars are limited, it may be hard to decide whether to spend money on LSAs or earmark that money for a more tried-and-true marketing campaign.

Here’s the Takeaway

It may be too early to determine whether LSAs are a good fit for law firms. Clearly, LSAs work well for local businesses that fit Google’s Service Area Business category, but will Google consider attorneys to be providers of a service at the client’s location? If not, will Google allow local businesses that provide services to customers at their business location a “local service provider”? If this change happens, law firms need to be ready to adapt to the new advertising landscape.

Also, because Google LSA does not allow for any type of targeting by the business, it could turn out to be a free-for-all based on spend, which is not good news for smaller law firms with limited marketing budgets. These firms’ dollars may achieve a better ROI through Google AdWords, which allows the targeting of thousands of possible keywords, or through online SEO enhancements provided by an outside agency. The most in-the-know professionals at Gladiator suggest a wait-and-see approach to LSAs until more data and information are available showing the cost for and impact on law firms.