Google Ads Versus SEO: Which is better for generating plumbing leads

Should your plumbing business use Google Ads or SEO for generating plumbing leads? Discover which one you should focus on.

Toby MacLeod
Founder & Principal Advisor

Search engines are arguably the most important marketing channel for reaching consumers and generating leads in today’s digital economy. Especially for local service-based businesses like plumbers. But not all search engines are created equal.

When it comes to search engine popularity, Google is hands down the winner. According to GolbalStats Statscounter, Google has a North American search engine market share of 88%. So, when we talk about search engine marketing in Canada or the United States, your focus should be on Google. If you follow SEO best practices with a focus on Google, you will naturally help your search rankings on other search engines such as Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

Google search for Toronto Plumbers
Google search for "Toronto plumbers"

When a consumer has a need for plumbing services, one of the first places they begin their search for a plumbing company is Google. If consumers have a hard time finding your plumbing business on Google, you are missing out on a lot of plumbing leads and customers. In fact, a well executed search marketing campaign will likely account for the majority of your plumbing leads and customers.

But there are different ways consumers can find you on Google and understanding these differences is key to succeeding with Google search marketing.

When a consumer conducts a Google search they are presented with what is referred to as the Search Results Page or SERP for short. SERPs are comprised of two types of search results - paid search results and organic search results. Paid search results come from Google Ads and organic search results come from search engine optimization (SEO).

Both Google Ads and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) are tactics of search marketing - the practice of improving your visibility on search engines, so consumers can easily find you when they need you. The question is, which one is better for generating plumbing leads, Google Ads or SEO?

Google Ads and SEO are each comprised of various tactics and options. Let’s take a look at both to gain a better understanding of how and when you should use Google Ads and SEO for your plumbing business.

Google Ads

Google Ads is comprised of a few different advertising products. The two most popular ad products for local businesses are search ads and local service ads known as LSAs. We’ll start by looking at Local Service Ads as they are at the top of the hierarchy on a search results pages.

Local Service Ads

Local Service Ads, or LSAs for short, are a newer ad product from Google. LSAs are ads that are shown at the top of a Google Search Results Pages above Google Search Ads.

Google Local Service Ads For Toronto Plumbers
The image above displays three local service ads (LSAs) for the search term “toronto plumbers”. Notice that these are labelled as “Sponsored” to differentiate them from organic search results.

While LSAs and Google Search Ads (which we’ll discuss in a moment) both appear at the top of Google Search Results Pages, they are different in a few ways:

  1. Qualification: While anyone can use Google Search Ads, LSAs require a business to be verified by Google. When you sign up for LSAs you become a Google Guaranteed business. To ensure Google is only promoting reputable businesses, they will perform a background check to ensure you are properly licensed, insured and have a clean track record.
  2. Management: Once your business is verified by Google, setting up and managing LSAs is quite simple. LSAs are designed to be easy for business owners and managers to use. On the other hand, Google Search Ads are much more complex and require more time to manage. The upside to Google Search Ads is that you have complete control over your ads and far more options for customizing your ads.
  3. Cost: The cost for both LSAs and Google Search Ads vary based on numerous factors including, but not limited to, your industry (in our case, plumbing), your market, and your advertising track record. Google has an online calculator to help you estimate the cost of LSAs. In general, you can expect to pay $30 to $45 per lead with LSAs. You can expect to pay a similar amount per lead using Google Search Ads. However, because you have much more control over Google Search Ads, you have the ability to reduce your cost per lead even lower. The opposite is also true. If you do not properly manage Google Search Ads, they can cost a lot more than LSAs.
  4. Google Guarantee: Because Google verifies and approves every LSA advertiser, they provide consumers with what they call the Google Guarantee. If a customer is unhappy with the quality of your work, Google may refund up to the amount paid for jobs booked through LSAs, with a lifetime cap for coverage. The Google Guarantee can help you build a strong reputation online, giving consumers peace of mind that you have been vetted and approved by Google.

If you would like to learn more about LSAs including if they are available in your market, and how much they cost, visit:

Google Search Ads

Even if you are not familiar with Google Search Ads, you’ve most likely seen them and clicked on them. Google Search Ads are the text based ads displayed at the top and bottom of Google Search Results Pages.

Google Ads for Toronto Plumber
The image above shows three Google Search Ads. Notice that the ads are appended with the word “Ad” to clearly differentiate them from organic search results.

What makes search ads so unique and popular is that you only pay when consumers click on your ads. This form of advertising is known as pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. It’s how Google generates the majority of their revenue. So, if you think that no one clicks on ads, you’d be wrong. In 2021, Google generated over $200,000,000,000 from their advertising products (including LSAs). Yes, you read that right, over two-hundred billion dollars.

The advantage Google Search Ads has over Local Service Ads is the amount of control you gain. While there are not many options for LSAs, Google Search Ads options can seem endless. There are lots of settings you need to keep your eye on. At a minimum, you’ll need to monitor and manage your Google Search Ads once per week.

I do not recommend that any plumbing company manages their own Google Search Ads without prior experience. While it is relatively easy to make a small fortune with Google Ads, it’s just as easy to lose a small fortune. While you can manage LSAs yourself, you should hire a professional to take care of your Google Search Ads.

Local Service Ads versus Google Search Ads

Local Service Ads are great for plumbing companies that want to manage their own ads. Once you are approved for LSAs, they are easy to setup and take very little time to manage.

On the other hand, Google Search Ads are great for plumbing businesses that want complete control over their ads, and either have experience managing them, or are willing to hire a professional to manage them on their behalf.

It should also be noted that you can use both Local Service Ads and Google Search Ads at the same time. However, this is not generally recommended unless you have a healthy ad budget. If you are working with a small advertising budget, splitting it in two may dilute your results.

As your plumbing business grows and you can afford to invest more in online advertising, you should consider hiring an expert to manage Google Search Ads. While Local Service Ads are quick and easy, they may not be as affordable as Google Search Ads when managed properly.

When should you use Google Ads?

Google Ads is part of a comprehensive digital marketing strategy, but that doesn’t mean you should use them all the time.

Google Ads is a great marketing tactic for generating plumbing leads and customers quickly. So if you are a brand new plumbing company just starting out, or an established plumbing company that needs work to keep your crews busy, you should consider using either Local Service Ads or Google Search Ads.

When Google Ads are managed properly, they will always generate more money than they cost. For this reason, it may seem to make sense to always run Google Ads. But keep in mind, plumbing leads from Google Ads almost always cost more than organic plumbing leads.

What I recommend Plumbing companies do is use Google Ads until they have established strong organic rankings in Google Search Results. When the majority of your plumbing leads come from organic, you can consider turning your Google Ads off (you can turn them back on anytime you want).

When you're able to turn your Google Ads off without having a major impact on the quantity or quality of the leads you are generating, you can reduce your cost per lead dramatically and pocket the savings, or re-invest them into your marketing strategy.

Other Google Ad Products

As mentioned, Google Ads is comprised of a few different ad products. In addition to search ads and LSAs, Google Ads also offers display ads (image based ads), and video ads, to name a couple. While these types of ads can be good for brand building, they typically do not perform as well as search ads and LSAs for generating leads.

I only recommend exploring these other ad options once you have achieved success with search ads and/or LSAs. If you ever decide to try Google’s Ad products, I advise you do so with the help of an experienced professional. 

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of optimizing your business's online assets, so it’s easier for consumers to find you when they conduct a Google search. The better visibility you have on Google, the more opportunities you have to generate plumbing leads and customers.

Google Organic Search Results For Toronto Plumber
The image above shows five Google Organic search results. Organic search results are displayed on the SERPS after the local three pack (Google Business Profiles).

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is divided into two practices:

  1. On-Site SEO: These are the search engine elements you can optimize on your website, hence the name on-site SEO.
  2. Off-Site SEO: These are the search engine elements you can optimize off of your website, hence the name off-site SEO.

Before we discuss SEO further, I want to make one thing clear. SEO should never be the primary reason to do something. The primary focus of everything you do should be guided by the audience you want to reach and serve. SEO should support your audience initiatives, not trump them.

On-site SEO

While on-site and off-site SEO are both important, on-site SEO has one advantage- you have much more control over it. While you are at the whim of third-party providers when it comes to off-site SEO, with on-site SEO you have control over your website, and can therefore implement and manage SEO as you see fit.

There are numerous on-site SEO elements you need to be aware of and manage. Here are a few of the more important elements you’ll want to keep an eye on:

  1. Page URLs - The URL of every web page in your website should be concise and reflect what the page is about.
  2. Page Titles and Descriptions - Every web page should have a unique title and description. This information may be displayed in Google Search Results.
  3. Content - Your website should contain content that is high-value to the audience(s) you serve. The more content you have, the more opportunities you have to be discovered on Google. With that said, never produce content for the sake of SEO. Content should always be driven by a people-first approach.
  4. Headings - Each web page should use headings to organize its content in a hierarchal order, using H1 through H6 HTML heading tags. Headings can make it easier for people to consume your content, and for Google to index your content.
  5. Links - Provide links to both internal content on your website and external content on third-party websites when appropriate. Each link should be concise, descriptive, and contain relevant keywords (without forcing them).
  6. Media - Using media such as images, videos, and audio, is a great way to engage your audience. Media is also a great way to build your digital footprint. Whatever media you use, make sure it is optimized so that it can be discovered and consumed quickly and easily.
  7. Alt Image Text - Make sure you add ALT text to each image on your website. Because images can’t be read like text, ALT text makes it easier for people with disabilities and search engines to understand what each image is about. ALT text should be concise and describe what the image is about.

There is a lot more to on-site SEO, but the above items will put you on the path to greater SEO results.

Off-Site SEO

Off-Site SEO is the practice of optimizing content off your website - on third-party websites. The purpose of off-site SEO is to attract people to your business from outside sources. One of the primary goals of off-site SEO is to create links back to your website or other assets that you own and control.

Because Google’s goal is to provide the most relevant information to searchers, Google needs to understand which web pages it should display in search results. To determine which web pages are most valuable for a specific search, Google analyzes all of the external links to a web page to help determine its ranking in the SERPs. The more links you have coming to your website from high quality third-party sites, the better chance you have of being ranked higher in Google’s SERPs.

There are numerous off-site SEO tactics you can use to improve your visibility in Google’s SERPs. Here are a few of the tactics you should consider:

  1. Citation Sites - Citation sites are third-party websites that let you list your business on their website, including your name, address, and phone number (know as NAP). There are hundreds, if not thousands of citation sites you could use, however, there are only a dozen or so that you should use. A few examples are Google Business, Apple Maps, Facebook, BBB, and HomeStars.
  2. Google Business - While Google Business is a citation site, it's so important that it's worth mentioning on its own. If your plumbing company hasn’t claimed its free Google Business Profile, you are missing out on a lot of plumbing leads. Some of our plumbing customers generate over 200 leads per month from their Google Business Profile.
  3. Reviews - Reviews play an important part in Google’s search ranking algorithm. The more reviews you have, the better (provided they are real reviews and not fake or spam reviews.) Consider creating a review page on your website and provide links to consumers where they can submit reviews. Your primary focus for reviews should be on your Google Business Profile.
  4. Social Media - Maintaining a presence on major social media platforms can help improve your search rankings. Social media sites are great for distributing your content. A few options are Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and YouTube. TIP: Don’t spread yourself thin with social media sites. Only take on what you can realistically manage. Don’t join a social media site because its the latest trend.

Off-site SEO needs to be part of your long-term marketing strategy. If it's not, you are doing your plumbing business a disservice.

SEO is not as complicated as you think

Many people find SEO complicated, but it’s not. While you need a basic understanding of the elements you can optimize to improve your visibility on search engines, the underlying principal is to do what is best for your target audience.

Google’s primary objective is to provide consumers with the most relevant information they are searching for. If Google does a good job at this, consumers will continue to use them as their preferred choice of search engine. If Google provides poor search results or another search engine provides better search results, consumers will stop using Google. So, the simple rule to keep in mind when it comes to SEO is this: Do what's in the best interest of consumers - the target audience you want to reach. If you take care of the consumer, Google will take care of you.

BONUS: 5 Tips For Google Business Success

When it comes to SEO, Google Business is one of the most important tactics you can use. A free Google Business Profile (GBP) can help you generate hundreds of plumbing leads each month. It won’t happen overnight, so the sooner you start, the better. Here are a few tips to put you on the path to GBP success.

Google Business Results (Local Three-Pack) For Toronto Plumber
The image above shows what is referred to as the Local Three Pack. These are Google Business Profiles. The first one is a Google Ad, and the following three are organic. The Local Three Pack is displayed on the SERPs below Google Ads..

  1. Claim and Verify Your Profile - If you haven’t claimed and verified your free Google Business Profile, do it now. Visit to get started.
  2. Optimize Your Info - Once you have claimed and verified your profile, you need to optimize your “Info”. The Info section of your profile allows you to provide information specific to your business, helping differentiate you from your competitors. Make sure you complete all relevant options. 
  3. Share Photos - Upload photos of your team, customers, and work on regular basis. Aim to upload new photos at least once per month.
  4. Publish Posts - Share updates on your Google Business Profile (GBP). Posting to your GBP is more important than posting to social media channels. You should post once per week.
  5. Get Reviews - Every time you finish a customer job, ask for a review. Make it easy for customers to leave a review on your profile. Take a look at the top competitor profiles in your market and take note of how many reviews they have. You should aim to get a couple reviews each week.

Is SEO or PPC better for generating plumbing leads?

As a plumbing business, you should be using both SEO and PPC as part of a comprehensive lead generation strategy. However, you should prioritize SEO long-term, as you will typically generate far more leads for less money.

If you are a new plumbing company just starting out, or you're an established plumbing company that wants more leads in the short-term, Google Search Ads is a great option.

Here’s how I recommend you use Google Ads and SEO for your plumbing business:

  1. Use Google Ads to generate leads quickly - Google Ads is great for generating leads fairly quickly. You can use either Local Service Ads, Google Search Ads, or both. While you can run Google Ads 24/7, the goal is to get your SEO to the point where Google Ads is optional. Remember, plumbing leads from Google Ads typically cost a lot more than plumbing leads from SEO.
  2. Use SEO as your long-term lead generation strategy - Focus your efforts on SEO. Use both on-site SEO and off-site SEO to improve your visibility on Google. The two SEO tactics you should focus on immediately, are making sure your Website is properly optimized, and maintaining a well optimized Google Business Profile. These two SEO tactics alone can skyrocket your leads and customers.
  3. Think long-term - There is always pressure to keep a steady flow of leads coming in, so you can keep your trucks on the road and your crews busy. But don’t let that pressure lead to poor marketing decisions. It’s easy to get stuck in short-term thinking. You need leads today, so you focus on Google Ads, without focusing on SEO. You need to focus on long-term outcomes. If you plan on someday selling your plumbing business, a great Google Ads campaign won’t ad much value to your bottom line, whereas great SEO performance can.

Real World Plumbing Example of Google Ads versus SEO:

Let’s look at a real world example of a customer. I can’t share their name, due to the terms and conditions of our service, however I can anonymously share their results.

We’ve been working with this particular plumbing company for nearly six years. For the first few years we ran Google Ads alongside our SEO efforts. In 2020, as the pandemic started to affect businesses, I recommended they stop Google Ads. My recommendation wasn’t arbitrary- it was based on their data.

On October 11th, 2021 we stopped all Google Ads. To understand how it affected their business, we’ll look at their data from October 11, 2020 to October 10, 2021 and compare it to October 11, 2021 to October 10, 2022.

October 11th, 2020 to October 10th, 2021

  • Google Ads Spend: $18,900
  • Our Agency Fee: $30,000
  • Total Investment: $48,900
  • Website Visitors: 11,669
  • Unique Leads Generated: 4,103
  • Conversion Rate: 35%
  • Cost Per Lead: $11.92

October 11th, 2021 to October 10th, 2022

  • Google Ads Spend: $0
  • Our Agency Fee: $30,000
  • Total Investment: $30,000
  • Website Visitors: 12,992
  • Unique Leads Generated: 4,214
  • Conversion Rate: 32%
  • Cost Per Lead: $7.12

Here are the results a year after stopping Google Ads:

As you can see, their results from 2020/2021 were not bad to begin with. But the results they achieved in 2021/2022 were far better. We only changed one thing - we stopped running Google Ads.

  • Website visitors increased 11%, from 11,669 to 12,992. This was largely the result of our focus on SEO. Organic website visitors increased over 15%.
  • Unique leads generated increased by 2.7%, from 4,103 to 4,214. Stopping Google Ads didn’t have a negative impact on lead generation as our SEO efforts were paying off.
  • Cost per lead decreased by 40%. from $11.92 to $7.12. This is the real advantage of focusing on SEO. Having strong search engine rankings enabled us to stop Google Ads, which saved our plumbing customer $18,900 compared to the previous year. That’s a 39% savings, while increasing the number of leads generated.

To put this in context, our plumbing customer didn’t abandon Google Ads, they just temporarily stopped using them. In fact, we just launched a new Google Ads campaign to focus on a specific service they want to grow.

Because this plumbing company adequately invested in a comprehensive digital marketing strategy from day one (including both Google Ads and SEO), they now have much more flexibility and can pivot their marketing efforts in ways many of their competitors cannot.

Now, you might be saying to yourself, “Why not run Google Ads along side SEO all of the time?” You absolutely can. But having the flexibility to stop Google Ads without affecting your overall lead generation, gives you marketing options your competitors don’t have.

Key insights and takeaways

  • SEO is typically far more affordable than Google Ads for generating plumbing leads. It’s not unrealistic for SEO plumbing leads to cost between $5 and $15, while plumbing leads from Google Ads typically cost between $35 and $50 (in some cases more).
  • Focus on organic SEO as your primary long-term lead generation strategy. The goal is to build your visibility on Google to the point where you have enough leads from SEO, that you don't have to rely on Google Ads. Once you've established a strong SEO presence, you have the option to stop using Google Ads, which can greatly reduce your cost per lead, saving you time and money.
  • Use Google Search Ads to quickly generate leads in the short-term. If you are a new plumbing company just starting out, Google Ads is great way to kick start your lead generation efforts. Google Ads can also be a great option for established plumbing companies that want to supplement their long-term lead generation efforts.

Want help with your plumbing SEO and Google Ads?

If you want help managing SEO and/or Google Ads for your plumbing business, contact Our Advisors are here to help.