A view at Google Local Service Ads on a desktop computer.

Your Guide To LSAs

What are Local Service Ads? What do you need to know about them?

There’s a lot of jargon and acronyms that get thrown around the digital marketing world: from “SERPs” to “CPC” (that’s “search engine results pages” and “cost-per-click,” respectively), it can be a lot for business owners to keep track of, especially when marketing is only a small part of running their business.

However, there’s a new acronym you may have heard of—”LSAs,” or “Local Service Ads”—and that you should really know about. In this article, we’ll walk you through what LSAs are, how they work, what the eligibility requirements are, and why you should consider enrolling in the program.

What are LSAs?

LSAs are a new form of paid content that is returned to users as part of a local intent-driven Google search on either a desktop, tablet, or mobile device. Essentially, they’re another form of AdWords. These results appear in a contained box and have the following elements:

  • Your business name
  • Your star rating
  • The Google Guaranteed checkmark
  • Your city
  • Your phone number
  • Your business hours

These results are potentially powerful because they appear above traditional AdWords advertisements, not to mention other Google elements like maps and organic search results. Only certain types of searches trigger these results, which ensures that only intent-driven users see them: most people searching for “air conditioning repair dallas” are looking for an AC repair company in Dallas, and fast.

Let’s discuss that aforementioned “Google Guaranteed” badge. Provided that your business is eligible and successfully completes the enrollment process, this badge gets displayed with your search results. This badge also comes with $2,000 in lifetime coverage to refund any dissatisfied customers; any of your customers who get services from you through the Local Services ad are covered by this guarantee.

Once enrolled in the program, you can set a weekly advertising budget for your business. You’ll only be charged when a lead comes in—this cost can vary based on the industry and market you are in, as more competitive services with have a higher cost-per-lead than less competitive ones.

Determining your eligibility

The LSAs program is only open to certain types of businesses in certain cities. You can check the eligibility of your business by clicking the Getting Started button on this page and entering some basic business information. In general, the LSAs program is open to service-based businesses (e.g., HVAC, plumbing, and electrical) in cities with multiple businesses of that type.

For a city or area to start having LSA content appear with search results, there must be at least three participating businesses of that type enrolled in the program. If you are in a smaller market, you may need to wait for two of your competitors to join the LSAs program to start seeing results. However, the LSAs program is growing and more businesses are discovering it every single day.

Completing background checks

If your business is eligible based on the criteria outlined above, you should start by reading through the details of the program. Then, you can start the enrollment process online here.

Google, through a third-party background check vendor, conducts a background check of the following at your business:

  • The business itself, to determine that it is an actual business that provides actual services.
  • The business owner
  • Any field workers, who must also be 18 years or older.

“Field workers” refers to any employees at your business who travel to the homes or workplaces of customers to provide services. In this way, a plumber would be considered a field worker and need to pass a background check, while a warehouse manager would not need to go through the background check program.

This is an all-or-nothing process. If the business, owner, and all the field workers pass the background check process, the business can move forward in the LSAs program. However, if even one field worker out of, say, 24 employees fails, the entire business fails and must follow Google’s instructions for remedying the situation.

Background check complications

In our experience, the background check process is complicated by a few factors:

  • Incorrect Headcount: It is important the number of field workers submitted to Google for the background check match the number of field workers at your company exactly. If the background check comes back with either more or less field workers than you indicated, the entire process may need to start over.

In a vast majority of cases, there is no foul play involved here. The background check process takes 2-3 weeks to complete on average, so incorrect headcount is often caused by employee turnover during that window, or the following issue:

  • New Field Workers: Every new field worker your business hires must be put through the LSAs background check program before they start going to customer’s homes. This means that participating businesses must wait 2-3 weeks for the background check to complete before they can put those employees in the field.

Other reset risks

There are two other potential “dead ends” you should keep in mind when setting up your LSAs:

  • Timeline: We recommend that you finish LSAs setup within 7 days. After that point, certain information or requests time out, and you may have to start aspects of the enrollment process all over again.
  • Company Name: Instruct your field workers who are going through the background check process to use a consistent company name. For example, if your business name is “Moe’s Air Conditioning” but your business is casually referred to as “Moe’s” or “MAC,” make sure your employees use the full name.

Businesses that do not follow the terms and conditions Google has set for LSAs run the risk of being kicked off the LSAs platform—or Google products altogether.

The steep cost of violations

There are two ways that businesses can get “caught” violating LSA rules. First, Google and its partners will conduct routine audits to ensure that LSA participants are continuing to meet the standards and requirements of the program. The other scenario is when a customer complains about your business. This triggers Google to launch an investigation into your business. If this inquiry reveals that any of your field workers are not background checked—which most often occurs with new employees after the start of program participation—your business will automatically and permanently be kicked out of the LSAs program.

However, this is only the beginning of potential penalties. Google may opt to send your business’ case to their internal fraud department. If their investigation finds that you or your business deliberately tried to get around LSA terms and conditions, they have the option to issue a “death penalty” of sorts. This is a permanent ban from not just the LSAs program, but from all Google products: Google Maps, Google AdWords, Google My Business, and so on.

Needless to say, this is a potentially serious and fatal mistake for a business that could destroy their marketing campaigns and lock them out of a large group of customers. In some cases, a business with a Google ban may need to start over under a new name.

Doing things right

Our recommendation: If you decide to participate in the LSAs program (and there are plenty of benefits to doing so!) be sure to read all the terms and conditions thoroughly and adhere to the letter of the law when it comes to background checks and continuing program eligibility.

One important note: the LSAs program and its terms and conditions are subject to change. Be sure to refer to the terms and conditions linked above for up-to-date information that may debut after this article was published.

Does it make sense for marketing agencies to manage LSAs?

Given the relative complexity of LSAs eligibility and participation, you might be thinking that all this is best left to your marketing agency. However, in our experience, this is actually not true: the entire process runs much more smoothly when the agency gets out of the middle and Google and the business talk directly.

First, having the marketing agency stand between you and Google fuels a game of “telephone” where time-sensitive instructions from Google need to travel through multiple hands. This communication problem runs the other way, too: the agency isn’t getting notifications from Google—such as who has passed or failed background checks—that are going to your business directly. Google manages the process and the background check vendors it partners with, which means that the marketing agency isn’t able to really do anything special to troubleshoot problems or speed things along.

What a marketing agency like 5 Fold Marketing can provide is advice for getting started and tips for avoiding potential pitfalls in the process—just like those outlined in this article.

Have questions about LSAs?

LSAs are a potentially powerful tool for service businesses that can help you connect with more ready-to-buy customers in your market. As long as your business is eligible and follows Google’s rules, we recommend that you move forward and participate in the program. If you have any other questions about LSAs or digital marketing in general, contact our team. We’re happy to provide answers and point you in the right direction.