10 Reasons Why Google Home Service Ads are Bad for Contractors, Homeowners & Energy Efficiency

This was hard to write. We have a long relationship with Google. Their ad products are vital to the success of our industry. We have anxiously awaited the new Home Services Ads product and were excited to purchase them for our clients.

But in the week or so that Google’s Home Service Ads (HSAs) have expanded to the HVAC, insulation and home performance sector, we’ve had to change our tune. This product is deeply flawed, ill-considered and harmful to homeowners, contractors and the cause of healthier, more comfortable, energy efficient homes. Worse perhaps, it is being tested in an area that is a national beacon for energy efficiency retrofits--the imperative of reducing the carbon footprint of the built environment. HSAs are preventing homeowners from finding the highest quality, most well-trained contractors.

Google--we’re calling on you to stop this experiment and regroup. Here's why.

1. The most qualified contractors aren’t listed

We get that this is a test. But it’s a live test, and it is currently impacting much of the 7 million population Bay Area. For insulation and HVAC searches, the results are consistently pulling from a very limited pool of contractors and handymen...about 10 in total. Service area issues aside, the companies that come up are not the quality leaders. For example, El Cerrito-based Hassler Heating and Air Conditioning, named the 2015 Contactor of the Year, (disclosure: client) isn’t in the test and can’t get a return phone call from Google.

2. Insulation queries bring up handymen

When users search for insulation-related terms, they’re presented with a list of three handymen, most of whom are not insured to do jobs over $500. We’re not throwing shade at handymen, but proper air sealing and insulation is the most fundamental aspect of home performance, comfort and efficiency. It requires knowledge of building science, training and expertise. It is a serious disservice to redirect insulation leads to handymen rather than qualified contractors. If you’re fixing the envelope of your home, you want a company like Eco Performance Builders (disclosure: friend), that won Home Upgrade/PG&E’s 2015 Highest Energy Saver Award. But they’re not on the list. Further to the point of HSAs not being fully thought through, when you try to narrow the “type” of handyman job, insulation isn’t even a listed category.

3. HVAC-related credentials matter, but not to Home Services

Kudos to Google for HSA’s background checks and “Reputation Assessment.” But, in technical contracting, trade certifications are critical. When contractors (not handymen) are actually shown in the Home Services results, the results don’t take into account all-important certifications, like NATE and BPI, that are key for choosing who you want working on your home.

4. Background checks aren’t the only measure of qualification

We applaud criminal background checks. The criteria for evaluation of the companies showing in Home Services, however, are almost entirely weighted toward background checks. Lack of criminality is most definitely a quality you want in someone working on your home, but what about actual skills and qualifications for the job? We see the emphasis on background checks giving a false sense of security.

5. Participate in Energy Upgrade California (EUC)? That doesn’t matter to Home Services

The test area for HSAs lies within one of the most forward thinking energy efficiency programs anywhere in the US. But HSA doesn’t seem to understand this. Similar to not taking credentials into account, Home Services doesn’t display contractors who are registered for EUC (let alone the Advanced Home Upgrade program). While some of the contractors that come up are registered for EUC, we’d think that all of them would be registered, especially in a state so focused on energy efficiency and combating climate change. That, unfortunately, is not the case.

6. Geographies are a mess

With a pool of 10 contractors to pull from, it’s not a huge surprise that the geographies are seriously sketchy. A Home Services query near South Bay’s Sunnyvale, for example, brings up results in Concord. That’s over an hour drive without traffic...and we’re talking about the state most notorious for traffic. Not likely to happen.

7. Google isn’t communicating about this initiative

It’s clear that HSA is well-staffed; our LinkedIn research brought up a staff of experienced and knowledgeable people. On the communication side of things, however, Google’s not inspiring confidence. We’ve tried calling Google Home Services about 15 times. Almost every time, they’re “closed,” but we did manage to get through twice. The first time, they told us they’re not currently taking new applicants. The second time, we were informed the service is free for now, since it’s still a limited trial. Both times we spoke to someone, the person we talked to had to ask somebody else for the answer to our question. Though they have an apparently large team devoted to the project, we can’t seem to access them to get more information.

8. HSAs don’t encourage diagnostics or consultative serves

Users can select a few contractors (up to 3), and boxes the homeowner in to selecting a set list of services. While this may be appropriate for commodity services, HVAC and insulation are anything but. It is fundamental to everything the Home Upgrade Program stands for that these are consultative services, driven by diagnostics. Just as has happened with Home Advisor selling leads to multiple contractors, this forces commodity packaging and race to the bottom pricing. Good for the homeowner, perhaps, but good for finding the right solution to complex home performance challenges? Rarely.

9. “Reputation Assessment” doesn’t include Google’s own reputation system

Though HSAs display star ratings, they’re not from reviews on Google Plus pages (which we already know are crucial for rankings). Instead, these ratings come from a new and separate review system. 8 out of the 10 contractors we found in the test didn’t have ANY reviews on their Google Plus page! How (and why) could you NOT include star ratings from your own rating system, Google?

10. Energy efficiency services are being oversimplified

Where’s “energy audit”? What about “ventilation”? We get that this is some sort of test/trial for now, but Google is severely restricting the services that are shown, oversimplifying them to HVAC-related problems only. With few choices for type of service, we see homeowners being forced to self-diagnose their issues based on the limited services available to them through this product. Again, the HSA system seems to be completely oblivious to all the effort CA has put into encouraging a science-based energy audit to objectively assess a home’s needs. An audit is a requirement to qualify for the EUC Home Upgrade program. By not offering an energy auditors category (and many other categories) as pieces of the Home Services puzzle, Google is doing a serious disservice to homeowners and the efficiency of their homes. Self-diagnosing plus foregoing an energy audit likely adds up to an incorrect solution.

Obviously, there are a lot of issues here. Was Home Services launched prematurely? While we welcome a new Google ad product, this clearly hasn’t been thought through. For a state with such aggressive efficiency goals and such great energy upgrade programs, Home Services is taking a huge step back in making related services from qualified contractors easy to access for homeowners.

We’re following this feature more closely than our account managers are following their March Madness brackets (which is very close). Keep checking back for more details as this unfolds.

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