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I Got $99 & Need a Drain Unblocked

If you have ever searched for “blocked drain [insert your city]” you have probably seen a few ads like these –

Wow! what a great deal, for less than $100 you can get your drains unblocked, too good to be true almost…
spoiler alert… it almost certainly is, let me explain why.

Let’s do the maths

I want to see if we can make these numbers add up. Let’s invent a hypothetical company, we shall name it “Totally Legitimate And Definitely Not Misleading Plumbing Services” (TLADNMPS). Let’s assume that TLADNMPS pay their plumbers the lowest wage they can legally get away with & have no operating costs.

Lowest legal wage for plumber in NSW – $23.02 (I don’t know any plumbers in Sydney that would work for this amount, but hey, we’re on a mission for the lowest possible price here).

Cost for labour on travel time – 30 minutes each way = 1hr @ $23.02

Cost for petrol – Ute/van with a load – 18L per 100km of urban driving @ avg. 22kms (round trip) x $1.20 per litre = $4.75

Avg. time to do the job – 1 hr @ $23.02 = $23.02

So far total out of pocket costs for TLADNMPS = $50.79

Not bad, but how did the job lead come about? We are testing Google Pay-Per-Click (PPC) ads so let’s take a look at Google’s keyword planner to get a rough idea how much the boys owe for that lead.

Holy smokes batman! An average of $40.41 per click!

That’s right, every time you ‘google’ & click any of these search terms, TLADNMPS’s credit card gets debited ~$40.41 all whilst Google’s balance sheet income column appreciates by the same amount.

Let’s assume that 1 click = 1 phone call = 1 job (damn our boys are good!).

Now where does that leave us?

Labour = $50.79
Advertising = $40.41
Total costs = $91.20

So, the median advertised price of the ads at beginning of this article is $93.33 leaving…wait for it…a whopping $2.13 profit (pray for no toll roads or traffic on the M5?)

Are your spidey senses tingling yet? They should be…

 What are the real world costs to unblock a drain?


We’re based in Sydney, so let’s use this as an example. Sydney is a little crazy with pay-per-click advertising for plumbers, a tuned landing page, with good copy and compelling ad headlines, will attract a conversion rate of between 10-17% – that’s 10-17 phone calls for every 100 clicks or in money terms:

$4,041.0 in ad spend / ~17 phone calls =  $237.71 per phone call (what a bargain)

Assume an 80% conversion rate on those calls.

Total actual cost for a conversion = $285.25

Keep in mind, we still haven’t added travel & labour costs as well as general overheads such as plant & equipment repayments / office rent (or mortgage) / admin staff / public liability / workers compensation insurance / employee entitlements / GST / accounting costs / equipment maintenance & depreciation …. I can keep going, but I think you get the idea by now, i.e. …

  •  A  plumbing business advertising on PPC will need to recoup operating & advertising expenses whilst still turning a profit (making those “$90 unblocked drain special” ads appear pretty doubtful)

What’s really going on with these ads then?

There are two ways these ads generally play out:

  1. Advertising the price to unblock a toilet with a plunger:

    "the toilets fine, its your drain you want unblocked dummy, that's not $90 that's $600...card or cash?"
     -  TLADNMPS employee

    At best this practice is misleading, at worst it’s just plain old false advertising.


  2. The price excludes lots of (non optional) extra costs which will be added later:

    "yeah so that $90 covers the costs for me to wish the blockage away whilst driving here, using actual equipment is extra sorry"
     -  TLADNMPS employee

    A customer in this scenario will be expected to pay for “extras” like: travel costs (e.g. $80) / use of drain cleaning machine (e.g. $300) / drain camera (e.g. $180) / “it’s a two man job” (e.g. $90)  / obtaining footage (e.g. $50) etc. misleading at best, potentially drip pricing at worst.

Both these strategies have the same simple goal. To get ‘a foot in the customers door’ then deliver the well rehearsed sales pitch on a more expensive service – or –  wait to explain the full costs once on-site (got to get those advertising dollars back somehow, right?).

So, what should someone who needs a blocked drain plumber be looking for?

Rather than continue to call out other companies for what they’re doing wrong (note – I purposefully not mentioned specific company names etc. in this article). Instead, let’s discuss what the good plumbing companies out there are doing right:

– Realistic about costs (and preferably display them on their website)

– Include as many costs as they practically can in their price (e.g. call out costs, use of drain camera etc.)

– Plumbers are happy (must be dispiriting having to deliver the bad news about the real costs on every job)

– Don’t force their staff to deliver pushy and rehearsed sales pitches

– No history of bulk online reviews from people who have only ever written 1 review (for obvious reasons)

– Not targeting overly competitive PPC keywords (I’m a big fan of Google & I love PPC, but the numbers simply don’t work in Sydney unless you plan on charging $600 to unblock a drain – no thanks, I like seeing my customers in public without having to cross the road).

It’s simple, right?