Stingray Social Media Services Thoughts - Blog
 
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**Updated to reflect Service Magic's rebranding to HomeAdvisor

Also want to plug this awesome recap of HomeAdvisor's online rebranding: How One Brand Switched A Million URLs & Lived To Tell About It: 5 Questions With HomeAdvisor.com from Search Engine Land's Amy Gesenhues.

Original blog post date 8/16/12, with minor updates made 9/12/13:

Local search internet marketing is driven by accuracy of many disparate business listings databases. Search engines such as Google, Bing & Yahoo use these databases to validate what's referred to as the NAP in local search parlance (Name, Address, Phone number) for a given business. Therefore local search consultants spend a great deal of time examining consistency across these databases for these key data points. The main lesson here - consistency is good, inconsistency is bad.

For local service contractors looking to get found online, HomeAdvisor (formerly Service Magic) provides a shortcut to bridge the offline & online worlds of lead generation. HomeAdvisor is part of a conglomerate named IAC, which runs a host of online brands such as Citysearch, Newsweek, Ask.com, Dictionary.com, Match.com, Urbanspoon & Vimeo.  

So far so good, you may be thinking. Business data collected and distributed by a large, diverse business on behalf of small businesses could provide the kind of leverage a small business needs to get found. HomeAdvisor syndicates the listings data both within it's corporate umbrella (Citysearch, Merchant Circle, Insider Pages), and also outside to online directories such as White Pages, Switchboard and more.

There's a problem though with this line of thought - HomeAdvisor masks the local telephone numbers of local contractors. Instead they replace the number with another local telephone number that routes to a HomeAdvisor call center, where HomeAdvisor then sends the lead to a number of contractors simultaneously. What ensues is a feeding frenzy of sorts - the prospective customer saves time & effort by relying on HomeAdvisor to play matchmaker with businesses that are hungry for the work.

This presents a dilemma for contractors and local search consultants alike - Do you attempt to wrestle the listings away from HomeAdvisor and repopulate with direct contact info? Or do we reach a point of diminishing returns, and it's just wiser to leave HomeAdvisor branded listings "as-is"?

I'm looking for some input from local search consultants on their general sentiment on HomeAdvisor's business listing tactics.

To give an example, here's a friend that actively uses HomeAdvisor - Justified Electrical Services, LLC in Nottingham, MD. Most data provider & search engine listings for Justified have been claimed, corrected & optimized (see at Google). However there's still this corner of the web (HomeAdvisor's data partners) that lists the call center number. 

Should we just continue correcting HomeAdvisor listings with the real local phone number? We've got two reasons to consider pausing:

A) HomeAdvisor has the bulk of their business reviews (and they're overwhelmingly good!) Some of the data partners show ratings as well. So there could be downside to getting NAP right - potentially undoing the record that showcases the good ratings.
B) Concern that future data refresh activity from HomeAdvisor will overwrite corrections made in downstream directories. Don't have any evidence that this occurs, but figured it's a possibility. We've already seen bad data find it's way back into Google Places from who knows where.

Furthermore, is there any indication that Google's algorithm is built to discount HomeAdvisor s tactics, essentially giving the business owner a free pass on these listings? This is probably wishful thinking on my part - everything I see indicates that call tracking numbers are bad news for local listings results.

Insights welcomed - though if your only contribution is "HomeAdvisor sucks" please leave that somewhere else. I'm looking for productive comments only.

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Dave Foertsch is author of the Stingray Social Media Services blog.
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Comments

08/16/2012 16:47

Have you fixed the listing at CityGrid?

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David Foertsch
08/16/2012 16:52

Hi Mike - thanks for commenting. Attempted to a while back - but all kinds of other troubles popped up. Figured "hands off" was a good approach til I got some better advice.

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08/16/2012 18:08

David, this is a truly interesting topic, and one that I've been trying to figure out the answer to for some time now. The problem is, as you point out, two-sided. On one side you have Service Magic, which is undoubtedly a very decent lead generator for contractors. On the other side, you have your NAP consistency, which is being disrupted by Service Magic's practices. But it's not that simple. If it was just this, it was going to be very easy to simply go and edit the phone numbers everywhere Service Magic syndicated their listings. Unfortunately, there are two set backs:

1) In many cases you cannot edit the phone numbers. This is either because the website with which the listing was syndicated does not provide such an option, or because the data is property of Service Magic (thus you cannot edit it). The more "fun" of these cases is the second one. For example, when data is going from Service Magic to Insider Pages, the second site clearly marks it as coming from the partner site Service Magic. In this case, you cannot claim or edit any of the information.

2) Once you edit the listings, the information will get re-syndicated, and it will pop up again.

Overall, having wrong NAP even on Service Magic itself, which is a very decent data source for Google (as it seems) in a number of verticals, is already not good. You practically have two choices:

1) Live with it. It is possible that Google might add the call-tracking phone number to the +Local listing, thus the listing will have two main phone numbers. You can actually do it yourself, too, via MapMaker. This is not perfect, but at least you will be "collecting the juice" coming from these citations, and it will be more unlikely that Google will create a duplicate.

2) Abandon Service Magic altogether :)

Hope this helps!

Nyagoslav

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David Foertsch
08/16/2012 22:07

Nyagoslav, thanks so muchl On my way over to Map Maker - didn't even consider listing both (sometimes a fresh perspective helps).

Also dumping SM isn't yet an option. They'd need to get serious about collecting reviews on Google, Yelp or elsewhere.

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08/17/2012 11:12

@David

What kinds of troubles cropped up?

It is also possible to add the call tracking number as the second number in the Places Dashboard. In fact if you are to keep using it I would do it there and in Mapmaker.

It is obviously somewhat disingenuous of the IAC network to syndicate that number across their properties thus increasing your risk while increasing their gain. I would find that a reason for discontinuing the service. unless the benefit were really significant.

I am curious if you took out an ad at CityGrid for one month (~$320) whether your real number would trump the call tracking number across the network

08/16/2012 18:35

Nyagoslav's suggestion of adding the tracking number to Mapmaker is probably the best solution given that ServiceMagic is such an important source of leads/traffic in verticals like electrical, etc.

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David Foertsch
08/16/2012 22:13

David - thanks for weighing in. Definitely going to try that out ASAP.

Also great work with Get Listed - the resources you've made available are just phenomenal. Any chance you're bringing Local University to the Baltimore/DC corridor?

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08/16/2012 21:13

Nyagoslav and David, sorry how to add a number to map maker? You mean as community edit you add service magic's phone number as an additional number, then you'd get the additional citation bump?

interesting idea? lot's of business often have two or three numbers floating around for them on the web too (outside of this SM issue) I wonder by adding those numbers too might help?

Also why add via map maker and not just by the 2nd and 3rd phone number options within Google Places...?

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08/17/2012 04:54

Hey Guys,

IMHO it's a shame, that "ServiceMagic" is not implementing the local call tracking numbers as a picture displayed by JavaScript, which wouldn't get crawled by Google or other scrapers...

If they would, neither NAP-consistency would be in danger, nor you would have to decide which channel to ignore.

At our (german) local reviwe community, we do that since 3 years now and can provide our customers with both advantages: They know, what leads do get generated via our service and they don't have to be scared to loose local rankings at google because if NAP inconsistencies.

Regards,
Sebastian

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David Foertsch
08/17/2012 08:51

Hi Sebastian - is that what's going on here? Noticed this a couple weeks ago on Yellowbot. This is another local contractor that uses
SM. Watch the phone number field closely. http://www.screencast.com/t/M6juddV7u

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08/17/2012 12:11

Sebastian, exactly! You'd think they'd be aware the problems they may be causing in local search. Maybe if enough people complain they'll do that. Silly they are not educated enough to make the 'right' choices for SMB's. I get they need to track calls to prove value, but like you said this can be done using javascript. Google Places should even release a best practices on this.

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08/17/2012 11:10

It is also possible to add the call tracking number as the second number in the Places Dashboard. In fact if you are to keep using it I would do it there and in Mapmaker.

It is obviously somewhat disingenuous of the IAC network to syndicate that number across their properties thus increasing your risk while increasing their gain. I would find that a reason for discontinuing the service.

I am curious if you took out an ad at CityGrid for one month (~$320) whether your real number would trump the call tracking number across the network

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David Foertsch
08/17/2012 14:16

@ Mike - Agreed that IAC is working against their contractor's own organic efforts. I can see though where a contractor just has no interest in tackling the online marketing themselves - handing the keys over to SM would be an appealing option. But I've read plenty of blogs that indicate buyer's remorse exactly because of the effects noted.

Even found someone pitching a post-Service Magic cleanup service called Busicall.

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08/17/2012 15:13

@David
I would think that taking an ad out at CityGrid would do a better job of forcing the number to their affiliates than the clean up service. Its not very cheap but it is likely an option.

Dave Foertsch
08/19/2012 10:42

@ Mike - thanks for the suggestion. May go down that road w/ CityGrid.

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08/17/2012 11:10

It is also possible to add the call tracking number as the second number in the Places Dashboard. In fact if you are to keep using it I would do it there and in Mapmaker.

It is obviously somewhat disingenuous of the IAC network to syndicate that number across their properties thus increasing your risk while increasing their gain. I would find that a reason for discontinuing the service.

I am curious if you took out an ad at CityGrid for one month (~$320) whether your real number would trump the call tracking number across the network

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08/17/2012 11:59

It's very telling that Google Places guidelines continue to recommend against use of tracking numbers. From convo with Google representatives at GetListed Local U recently, it seems that the issue of tracking numbers is very low on their list of priorities -- as in, it's not a priority and isn't going to be solved by them for the time being.

That being said, there's a likelihood that their system can fluidly handle alternative numbers in many cases with little or no impact to search rankings. The phone number is not the sole unique identifier for purposes of local rankings -- other citations include simply the name and address of the business, for instance.

I theorize that if a business has a very large amount of citations using the primary local phone number, then having a small number of listings out in the wild with a tracking number is very unlikely to negatively impact rankings. However, it's prudent to frequently audit to see if Google begins showing duplicate listings in the local database which have the tracking/alternative numbers -- if that happens, then those dupe listings are certainly absorbing some dribbles of ranking score which should more properly be rolling up under the primary listing.

I think this is a reasonable/balanced approach. But, it's obvious that the best course of action continues to be to avoid use of tracking numbers where they can get spidered and indexed by Google -- that removes uncertainty from the equation and your time is better spent on further valuable promotion activities as opposed to auditing/policing and corrective activities.

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08/17/2012 12:08

Chris I think this is sound advice.

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Dave Foertsch
08/17/2012 13:57

Chris - you make great points, especially the last one about focusing on valuable promotion activities. Now that I have a better understanding of what SM is doing (and how to sidestep them without sabotaging the relationship) we can move forward.

Note to self: Ask future clients if they do or ever have used Service Magic...

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08/20/2012 11:04

There are success stories with Service Magic and our experience is, it usually comes at a high price in the long run. Eventually Service Magic will fail due to a lack of understanding how online marketing is developing. If you are taking on an account you definitely need to know if they have used Service Magic in the past as it will take longer to get there presence in line.

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Jim Ryan
08/20/2012 15:34

I've been making use of a single call tracking number (home service businesses) for more than 3 years across Google, Yahoo & Bing in order to track the aggregate of their combined lead generation. I have yet to have an issue and in general, have very good SERP rankings from high volume category searches. Additionally, many of these local businesses have YP, Citysearch tracking numbers floating in the organic space on those respective publisher platforms. The Service Magic methods are a serious concern. I know many contractors who have had disappointing results due low customer conversion rates, normally paying for low quality leads (also sent to two other competitors). But does their tactic of distributing call tracking across their network platform, adversely affect their organic lead generation?

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10/22/2013 16:08

My home adviser dealer rep told me there was 2 options when you sign up with them. 1 is to just be listed there and pay per lead. Then next is to have them syndicate the information to their partners as well. And he said that is the one that will make you have wrong info at more then homeadviser.com. Just have to have your clients sign up correct in the first place. I don't know if you can reverse it once you have signed up.

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