What’s not to love about an inbound lead? The prospect knows your company, the prospect is interested in your product, the prospect is expecting—maybe even waiting for—your phone call.
You’d have to work overtime to blow an opportunity like that.
These days, many an inbound lead is generated online, in one form or another. It may be a lead fed to your company by a manufacturer such as James Hardie or a review website such as Yelp, Google Plus, or Angie’s List. It may be someone scoping you out via Houzz, Porch, Pinterest, Facebook, or some other social platform. Or, what many contractors still regard as a best-case scenario, it may arrive through the medium of your company’s own website—a request, complete with contact information, for a sales appointment—from someone someone who has somehow heard of your company.
Online Path to Your Site
Homeowners searching Google have various ways to get to your page. One is to type in your company’s name. That will get them there but it also presumes that they know who you are. They could also arrive on your website by typing in some amorphous keyword combination (“roofing Philadelphia”). But today, that keyword combination is less and less likely to get them there. Type something like that into Google and see whether or not a link to your company’s website pops up on Page One of search results. Five years ago, the well-optimized company could count on it. Today? Probably not. Now Page One is chock full of pay-per-click (PPC) ads, a Google map, social platform sites, review sites, and maybe, just maybe, a scattering of individual contracting companies. It’s a different page, because it’s a different game, as far as SEO (search engine optimization) goes.
SEO, in the last few years, has become “10 times more complicated,” says Brian Javaline, an online marketing consultant who specializes in working with home improvement contractors. Few would dispute that. But the reasons why that's the case are also complicated. Google search criteria have continually been modified. Unless you’re a programmer, you could spend a few hours scrolling through the 200 various search criteria used by the search engine giant’s algorithms without really getting the gist of how search information is prioritized. (Watch this video explaining how algorithms work.) That’s one reason why more and more contractors are willing to load photos, video testimonials, links to reviews, and more onto their company page on social platform Houzz—which specializes in remodeling and design—rather than on their company website. Another reason: “It’s easier to upload [your content] to Houzz than it is to put it on your own site,” explains Todd Bairstow, of Keyword Connects, an SEO firm with many home improvement companies among its clients. Additionally, Bairstow cites the “me too” factor. Many contractors are “afraid to see competitors on Houzz and not be there themselves,” he says.
So many remodeling companies reach homeowners via their Houzz page, a Facebook post, or similar social media outreach that Dennis Schaefer, a contractor, online marketing expert, and speaker who operates Visible Builder, a service that populates social media sites on behalf of remodeler clients, calls it the “first date.” It’s where homeowners find out about local contracting companies and, if they like what they see, line up a second "date," that is, the call to your office. That’s the perfect alternative for small companies that can’t afford to spend what they believe it takes to get on Page One, if they even could.
“It’s completely changed,” Schaefer says. Contractors used to do anything and everything to get their website on Page One, but, he adds, "homeowners don’t care what we have to say about ourselves anymore. They care about what other people have to say. So they’re bypassing contractor websites to go to the social and review sites.”
But while Houzz and other social platforms may be convenient, what contractors should be asking themselves, Javaline says, is whether or not putting all their Internet eggs in that basket serves their company’s marketing interests in the long term.
“Do you want to know why Houzz is doing so well?” he asks. “They’ve convinced contractors to give away all their content for free.” The irony, he notes, is that “so many consumers are looking for contractors online, but contractors [when it comes to online marketing] are behind the times.”
Nucleus of Activity
But Javaline, Bairstow, and other experts continue to maintain that however easy it is to be a presence on social platforms and review sites, a contractor’s best bet is to put time and SEO money into his or her own company website, uploading the content that will make it ever more relevant to homeowners who are searching.
“My focus would be to add content to your website first, and everything else second,” Bairstow says. Because, ultimately, he argues, the strategy for online marketing is to get searchers to your company’s website, by whatever means, where you can make the most convincing case for the use of your services.
Javaline advocates that contractors spend 50 percent of their energy and resources “building an image,” that is, what homeowners see on the remodeler's website, and another 50 percent helping homeowners find it.
First off, building an image involves discovering what your competitors do that you don't, that is, finding an opening singularly yours in the market so you can differentiate yourself. Most contractors, he says, “view themselves ambiguously and never express online exactly what they do.” Many, even today, also overlook the key importance of location in Google search. A website, Javaline points out, needs to say: 1) what you do, 2) how you do it, 3) where you do it, 4) who else says you do a good job, besides yourself?
Once that online identity—the website—is firmly and strategically in place, then and only then should you select the technologies to promote it. “Houzz is a great resource for reviews, and probably more people will find you there and read reviews there than they ever will on your own site,” says Matt Siltala, founder of Avalaunch Media, a Utah Internet marketing firm. “It really depends on the social network and what your main goals are," he continues. "Twitter is great for discovery if you have a good following or community. It’s also a great place to be found if your industry has specific hashtags or chat groups that people follow. Facebook is good for community and brand-building. It’s also a great place to be able to specifically target people with your content. Each serves its purpose. Blog, social network, review site ... they’re all part of the marketing strategy.”
All About Value
However, not all contractors have jumped on the Houzz bandwagon. At Tom Curren Cos., a Boston-area company specializing in painting and remodeling, “our focus is on our website,” says Amanda Eick, marketing manager. “Whether they’re looking on Angie’s List or not, [homeowners will] eventually end up on our site, so we want that to be a positive experience for them.” The fact that roughly half the company’s sales are to repeat or referral customers makes prioritizing the company site all the more important. It’s where those who are referred will go to assure themselves that all the good things they’ve heard about Tom Curren Companies are actually true. And when it comes to reviews, the company has its bases covered. Right now, the Tom Curren Companies site links to 293 reviews on Google Plus, Houzz, and others. That’s in addition to a raft of filmed customer testimonials.
Istueta Roofing still maintains a blog, but testimonials and an online library of hundreds of installation videos establish the company’s credibility and ensure that Istueta Roofing remains on Page One for anyone using Google to search “roofing Miami.” But there, in spite of all it takes today to land in that coveted piece of search-engine real estate, Istueta Roofing is sandwiched between four PPC ads on the top of the page—where Google redirects paid advertising, as of February 2016—three more PPC ads on the bottom of the page, a Google Map with three other companies on it, and mentions of a host of review and social media sites, including the Better Business Bureau, Angie’s List, and Yelp.
“We’re going to redo our site in a month,” Istueta says, having just overhauled it a year and a half ago. “All the changes are for the benefit of our potential customers. SEO is not a gimmick, and there are no shortcuts. You really have to provide value, the same way you provide value in your services.”