Nope, that's not the title my a new creepy shock horror movie about Ghosts!
By 'The Unseen' I'm talking about Pros who for one reason or another aren't listed on the first page of search results when a customer visits Thumbtack looking to hire a Pro.
The reason I mention this is because, prompted by a recent post by Thumbtack encouraging us Pros to try the 'customer' experience, I had a need to hire a HVAC Tech, a Plumber and a Handyman.
I went onto Thumbtack looking to hire and did a Search and managed to find who I needed.
I can tell you that I found who I needed to find on the very first page. I didn't have time to scroll through pages and pages of Pros looking for someone. The search presumably showed me the best Pros first so I checked out the ones on the first page. I say presumably because customers expect an online Search service to show them the best and most relevant results first don't they? I know I do.
I checked out the Pros on the first page and then based on the number or reviews, star rating, number of hires and estimate I clicked on the ones who seemed best and looked at their profiles and reviews.
I didn't have a lot of time to devote to my search so I probably looked at about 3 or 4 Pros per category. They all looked good to be honest. I chose the ones I wanted to reach out to and I hired the ones who replied first. Job done.
My point is, and this is merely my perspective, as a customer I didn't feel a NEED to look past the first page. Best Pros first, grade by reviews, star rating, price, number of hires - check out their profiles and that was it.
How is my usage of Thumbtack as a customer different to that of a typical Thumbtack customer? I wonder how many Thumbtack customers have the time or inclination to look past the first page of search results? Or the second page? Or the third page and beyond?.
Firstly, it seems reasonable to assume Pros who the further down the Search list results are the less likely to be seen.
For me as a customer that the number of reviews, star rating, hires and price are dominant factors in choosing which Pros to look at by viewing their profiles and then maybe reach out to.
Secondly, I personally didn't consider looking at Pros with few hires or few reviews. In my eyes the other Pros who had more hires and more reviews were the Pros I needed to focus on. Now the Pros I didn't look at may have been brilliant and their jobs and better Pros BUT they suffered by comparisson unfortunately.
What all of that boils down to is this.
If you're a Pro who isn't being SEEN be customers because of your low position in the Search results then you're going to struggle to get hired on Thumbtack aren't you?
If customers don't scroll down far enough to SEE you then they'll never have an opportunity to click on you in the Search results (if they feel so inclined) to see your Profile. If they don't see your Profile then no matter how brilliant it is or how professional you are or how experienced you are they're never going to reach out and they're never going to hire you.
If that's you then you're Unseen.
I get that the new Search/Promote system is meant to empower customers to choose the Pros they like.
But how on earth would Pros who aren't on the first page, or Pros with few hires able to compete against Pros who are on the first page and who do have a high number of hires.
You can't compete if you're not being seen. Even if you are see in the search results if you have a low number of hires and reviews you're a less attractive proposition to customers and therefore they are less likely to click on you to view your profile.
What chance does a new Pro have of getting hired on Thumbtack have if they're on the first page of search results?
Even if they use Promote to boost themselves to the first page aren't they still at a big disadvantage because they have so few hires compared to other Pros who have been using Thumbtack for years?
How is Thumbtack supposed to work for new Pros (or for any Pro who isn't on the first page) if they're unlikely to be even be seen by many customers who use Thumbtack?
@Lar another great post with a lot of thought and care behind it.
When this new system first came about this was a question posed by other pros and one that we at Thumbtack had anticipated as well. Our teams have been keeping this in mind and monitoring the new system closely to see if this is a problem that needs a solution along with the exact nuances that may come with it. Those teams have already begun to work on ways to help give pros that may be new, a fighting chance for leads.
I'll say that if a new pro has a great profile setup, those first 10 reviews to start with from previous happy customers (on TT or not), and are promoting then they've got a really good chance at showing up on that first page.
As well newer pros may be more willing to take on those smaller jobs just to get some reviews and hires under their belt that more seasoned pros on the site choose not to list in their preferences. Which would then show more of those newer pros in search results when customers apply those filters.
Just as a FYI I believe it stops at 3 pages of pros and there is some variance based on the zip code the request is coming from. I don't know what's going on with my ranking...for some reason I still get tons of incoming "inbox leads" from 50 miles away. I sincerely hope I am not on the first page for those zip codes because I'm not driving 2 hours for a 2-3 hour appointment and I'm in a category with a ton a competition there must be 30 pros who actually want leads from that area.
While I was writing up some comments about promote in general. I sort of circled around to the conclusion if TT wants instant replies ....they have to just commit to being an instant reply company. Meaning things such as listing pros who are currently on-line and open to accepting work, letting pros say "no, not for me" at that stage without being charged and limiting prospects to communicating/booking estimates with 3-5 pros at a time. Right now it's an awkward combo of a lead generating site and a quasi booking site.
Thanks @mrs, I didn't realize that seach results appear to be limited to 3 pages, that's 30 Pros total.
Those teams have already begun to work on ways to help pros that may be new, a fighting chance for leads.
I don't think that it's just new Pros who may need a fighting chance for leads. You may well be middle-of-the-road Pro with say two years on Thumbtack and a decent bunch of hires and reviews under your belt but more seasoned Pros with more hires and more reviews will rank consistently higher than you in the Search results (assuming all other factors are equal).
You may be stuck on the 2nd search page or lower because everyone above you is either Promoting or has a few more hires/reviews than you. Isn't it going to be really hard to climb the ladder and get onto the 1st search page since most potential customers won't even SEE you in the Search results if you're on the 2nd page or lower. Every Pro on the 1st page will be seen more often than you, they'll probably get more leads than you, and more than likely get hired more often than you. It's like being in a race where some of the competitors have a head start on you and they're running downhill while you're trying to catch up to them but you're running uphill.
Here's a weird thing I noticed with Search, try this when you have a chance.
Do a Search for some popular service, any one will do. Scroll down to the bottom of the first page of results and click the 'Load More' button. Click on one of the Pros on that second page to load their Profile then click the 'back' button on your browser to go back to the Search results. What you'll find is that rather than positioning you at where you were in the Search results Thumbtack actually positions you at the bottom of the first page of results. If you want to get back to where you were on the 2nd page then need to scroll up a little bit, click the 'Load More' button to load the second page of results again and then scroll down to where you left off in your search.
Constantly having to 'Load More' and find where you were on the 2nd page is repetitive and become annoying really quickly. It shouldn't work like that and I think it makes it less likely that you'll be seen if you're in the 2nd page or lower because some customers will just get fed up and leave because browsing the search results is so clunky.
I'm shooting myself in the foot with this next question @Kameron because I know it would negatively impact my own chances of success on Thumbtack slim as they are right now, but I think this is a question worth asking.
There's an inherent inequality to Search and I'm glad that your Product Team are working on ways of giving new Pros a fighting chance for leads.
Why just a fighting chance though? Surely if your Product Team are aware of the inequality of Search then wouldn't it be fairer to create a 'level playing field' and simply give ALL Pros an equal chance rather than just a fighting chance of at least being SEEN by potential customers when they do a search?
What I mean by that is why not use a pseudo random algorithm to determine Search rank? Each customer search would produce a new list of 30 Pros on 3 (10 Pros per page) pages from whatever pool of Pros happen to be available to meet the customers needs?
So, statistics like hires/stars/reviews/etc wouldn't influence the Pros rank because the search results would be pseudo random each time. However, hires/stars/reviews/etc would still be displayed next to each Pro in the Search results so they would still have some bearing on the likelihood that the Pro would be 'clicked' by the customer.
Like I say this approach would be bad for me because I'm on the first page right now. I am curious though to learn why Thumbtack didn't adopt a 'level playing field' approach to Search since that seems the best way to give all Pros a fair and equal chance of being SEEN by customers when they do a Search.
The reason I'm asking this is because by comparison the old system did have a 'level playing field' and Pros used to have a fair and equal chance of being SEEN by a prospective customer.
In the old system the customer would enter their job details, every Pro would get that job in their Inbox and any Pro could quote on that job - up to a maximum of five Pros. This worked really well. To be SEEN by the customer you had to respond quickly before five of your competitors beat you to it and your first personalized quote/message to the customer needed to be on the mark because that's what made you stand out from any other Pros who also quoted and were NOTICED. If you were quick to be respond so that you were SEEN and your response was good so that you were NOTICED then you were able to give yourself the best possible chance of connecting with the customer with a view to being hired. At most you were up against four other Pros, you knew where you stood and you were compared against those other Pros.
For me the new system has lost all that. A Pros ability to be SEEN is determined largely by their Search rank. Pros have little control over that other than to switch on Promote. It's harder to get NOTICED on Thumbtack. It's not you versus at most four other Pros anymore as it was in the old system, it's now you versus potentially 29 other Pros will appear when the customer does their search. This makes it a lot harder to stand out. A Pros ability to be NOTICED and to be 'reached out to' by a customer is all down to their Profile which in my opinion is inferior to a personalized message/quote. Our chances of being hired are now less. I think read somewhere that a customer can 'reach out' to as many as 15 Pros now. I'm not sure if that's true or not but if it is then when the odds were at most 1:5 as they were with the old system the chances of being hired were obviously better.
It seems to me that the new system has made it harder for an individual Pro to be seen and to get hired. I cannot see how I can achieve anywhere near the same level of success that I used to have on Thumbtack. The new system has proved to be incapable of generating as many genuine leads as the old system; or at least that's how its been for me.
@Lar Interesting and well done post.
I am interested in an equally detailed answer in how the search algorithm is set up.
But, its interesting, I have promote "on", am always 1, 2 or 3 on page 1, and have seen about 1 lead every 3-4 days here lately. I would love to see statistics if users are really using the system in my area and categories. I know when I see a lead it usually says 1-2 pros selected.. but does it end there, or is anyone ever really getting hired? (I realize that the "hired" button is not a reliable source of that information - for lawyers we typically don't like a button like that because of confidentiality reasons) The stats that I get in insights show the lead counts should be much higher - so it seems like lots of browsers - no buyers.
Which brings up another question: Does the "hired" count go into the search ranking algorithm? If so, based on what I said above, that is a bit of a disadvantage, unless all of my competition feels the same way and then it probably isnt a factor.
@MR The current way that ranking is calculated is based on 5 factors that I've listed below. After those, if a customer adjusts filters in their search then different pros may show up or be removed from the search based on the preferences they've set through promoting. The number of hires does not factor into where a pro will show up in ranking, although if they have a large number of hires, then they likely have a similar number in reviews.