Bragging Rights for Contractor Websites

May 19, 2008
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So you think you have a good Website that is informative, eye-catching, and interactive for your customers and prospects? Maybe you do. But chances are, a lot of other contractors feel the same way about their own Websites, too.

The NEWS wanted to know how contractors view their own Websites and if this business tool has been an effective and beneficial part of their overall business model. “My goal is to make it easy for people to find pertinent information about their immediate needs and also offer the ability to learn about our processes and how we do business,” said Theo Etzel of Conditioned Air, Naples, Fla. “We also feature our mission statement and history of the company. We offer several ways for our customers, or potential customers, to contact us, too. These ways include forms for service calls and sales calls, or contract maintenance information.”

There are literally thousands of businesses that offer Website design services, many who regularly advertise through e-mails or pop-up ads. Some are very good and experienced while others offer “do-it-yourself” software for even the most novice person to design and maintain a Website. Logically, the best way to start the creative Website process is by choosing who or what should do the design work.

THE DESIGN IN MIND

Jeff Leone of Air Temp Mechanical Services Inc., Southington, Conn., said he used several resources for his Website design. “Our Website design was worked on by the Web design company and our staff at Air Temp,” he said. “I looked at multiple Websites from other companies and used bits and pieces from each one. The Website is actually software that we bought. We make all the changes to the Website, this way we don’t have to pay another company to make them.”

Most major equipment manufacturers offer free Websites for their dealers, which contain a lot of recognizable brand name product information. These sites are generic in nature and serve a good purpose for contractors who don’t have the time or desire to produce a more customized Website. But for contractors interviewed for this story, they prefer a more custom approach to design.

“My original Website design was initiated by me and sort of looked that way,” said NEWS consultant Russ Donnici of Mechanical Air Service Inc., San Jose, Calif. “We have used a Web designer for many years now and the site looks much better. I still provide the input regarding the content and the manner in which I want it shown. He does the creative stuff and makes suggestions on my comments and we work it out.

“We don’t use any canned content from a manufacturer since it makes most of the HVAC sites look the same and sort of dull. All the major manufacturers provide assistance with getting a Website up and running using their stuff and some of your own. I think that’s good for having a generic site. Our desire was to provide more information which is relevant to what customers are looking for. I am hoping we have accomplished that. I am not a snob, but I am very sensitive to how our site is presented to a client or potential client and want it to look professional.”

Jason Putnam of Pro-Air Services Inc., Decatur, Ala., is one person who turned all of the work over to a professional. “We paid a professional to design it,” he said. “He came back with many different options and we chose the one that best communicated our message of premier services in the industrial and commercial field of HVAC and refrigeration.”

One contractor got very specific when she talked about her company’s Website design and the emotion her company tries to evoke from each customer.

“The color blue was used on our Website because of its fresh, clean air feeling,” said Laurie Goodrow of Junction Mechanical, Norwood, Mass.

“The planet and grass in the graphics are there to convey the message that we are indeed very conscious of the fact that we must be environmentally friendly, which many Carrier products, particularly Carrier Comfort Network, are. The guy with his legs up on his desk is for customers to know that they can sit back and relax.”

BRAGGING ABOUT FEATURES

Everyone who has ever surfed the Internet probably has one or more favorite features that they look for when visiting a Website, whether it is video, photos, feedback, etc. A lot of times a contractor can insert his or her own personality into their Website by the features they choose.

Buddy Smith of Russell’s Heating & Cooling Inc., Chesapeake, Va., has several favorites on his Website. “The videos tell the story of our culture in a more impactful way than print alone,” he said. “I also like the ‘news and awards’ section, which brings feedback from my salespeople, who tell me that customers are very impressed with this feature and it elevates us in competing for their business.

“I borrowed the ‘secrets’ section from another contractor, with permission of course. And the referral section allows our customers to refer their friends to us and receive a hefty sum of cash: $300.”

Getting feedback from customers is a very important feature to Goodrow. “We have had visitors post questions, which are answered almost immediately,” she said. “Recently we added a new feature, whereby the visitor can ask a private question and it is delivered to our e-mail. This has resulted in questions being answered to a specific problem a visitor is having. We keep track of where, when, and what the visitor is most interested in on our Website. As we see the need, we try to improve the ease of navigation, clarification, and content.”

One feature that has become increasingly popular as technology has evolved offers Website visitors the opportunity to schedule their own service or sales calls, something they can do without picking up the telephone and at any time of the day or night.

“One of the best features of our Website is one that allows clients/prospective clients the opportunity to schedule service appointments online, 24 hours a day,” said Matthew Miller of I.B. Miller, Long Branch, N.J.

“I have set up the appointment request page that works with our Wintac dispatch program to automatically create a work order for my clients once an appointment request is submitted through our feature page. The appointment request page is linked from many different service pages on our Website to make sure we secure business once users’ attention is directed to our site from search engines.”

For contractors like Etzel, it is all about communication and feedback. “We offer a click-to-call feature that lets people call us from anywhere in the U.S. at no long distance charge to them,” he said. “This feature also provides tracking information about the caller. We also seek feedback on our services from an online survey form.”

TRACKING THE VISITORS

One of the most important business tools for any contractor is the ability to track the number of leads and potential customers, whether they use a Website, advertisement, or telemarketing method. Knowing everything about a potential customer is vital to catering a sales or service plan to fit their needs.

“We subscribe to a service that we hired to gain us top positions in various search engines, along the lines of key word placement and search terms,” said Etzel.

“The tracking information is very good through this feature and we can see how many actual visits we receive, what pages visitors looked at, and how long they spent on each one. We can also see the phone calls generated off the visit and the caller ID associated with it. We also have other tracking information available to us internally regarding all visits and pages viewed.

“An ironic twist to this tracking information is that many years ago tracking statistics were not readily available. Today, so much information exists that the various ways to slice and dice it can be a full-time job. I must admit we use what we feel is important but there is more we can do with the available information, time, and effort permitting and increasing in priority.”

Martin Hoover of Empire Heating & Air of Decatur, Ga., said tracking visitors has given his company a steady stream of interested prospects. “We average six contacts a week that include leads, new service customers, and the occasional general inquiry,” he said.

The emergence of tracking tools from Google allows contractors to see specifically where a visitor is physically located, how much time he or she has spent on the Website, which information he or she has been viewing, and how the visitor located the Website. Bob Forty of Energy Services Air Conditioning & Heating Co., Naperville, Ill., said some of his visitors learn about his Website by visiting the Carrier Website first.

“Historically, people who come to our Website come from a link from Carrier’s Website or Google/Yahoo! searches. We are in our second month of subscribing to paid click-through links on Google, Yahoo! and MSN.”

Tracking is also very important to Christine Westmiller of Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning. Rochester, N.Y. “We receive a monthly usage report which gives us a lot of information regarding who uses our site, what time of day it’s used most along with what days of the week, and it tells us how they are coming to our site.”

Smith lamented about all of the missed selling opportunities he had because he wasn’t able to track leads from his old Website. “I had an old site that was out of date, and had old e-mail addresses attached to it,” he said. “I never thought about how many people were going to the site, trying to reach us, and their requests were disappearing into some cyberspace black hole.

“After the new site went live a year and a half ago, the leads started pouring in. My heart dropped when I thought about how many leads I had missed over the past three or four years, and how many people thought that we just didn’t care about their needs because we never responded!  They didn’t know that we didn’t have access to the old e-mail addresses. All they saw is that we didn’t call them back. 

“We have received over 150 leads via the new Website. Our average sale with Internet leads is only $6,970.”

KEEPING IT FRESH

Updating a Website is important, too. Visitors want information and features that are fresh and many can get turned off if they see the same things week after week.

“I plan to add content as questions are asked,” said John Cockerill of Exquisite Heat, Pleasantville, N.Y. “I edit the site once per week or more when required.”

Paul Hobaica of Hobaica Services Inc., Phoenix, has lots of big plans for his company’s Website. “We plan to add an awards page soon that would list all of the awards we have won as a company,” he said.

“Also, we will have a new page that lists winners of contests that we have had with their picture and a brief description. We are eventually planning to accept payments for service online, and we also plan to eventually have a store on our site where customers can order and pay for filters and have them shipped out directly.”

Leone added, “We change our home page twice a year and add product and other info as needed. We will be refining our career opportunities tab in the near future to have an online application and screening process. We also will be redoing our home page for the summer season.”

NEWS consultant Scott Getzschman of Getzschman Heating & Sheet Metal, Fremont, Neb., said that Website changes are constant - and necessary.

“Our Website is constantly being updated and being worked on. It has slowly become an outlet for sales leads and continues to grow in its effectiveness,” he said.

“We have the ability to make revisions ourselves, but we also use a company called Online Access to help host the Website. This has allowed us to be more interactive. Our Website truly is a tool that we use to go to market each and every day.” 

“We update the site every couple of months,” said Donnici. “We have a major update to our ‘Green Energy Service’ page that has a more in-depth description of the many green services we provide. We are reworking all of our Meta tags [search tools] to give us better positioning in search requests.”

One contractor said that her focus is to add more pages and not necessarily make changes to the existing Website. “We add an article 1-2 times a week,” said Goodrow. “We check the forum daily and respond as needed. Changes, no, but we will be adding pages to our Website.”

Smith said he is looking forward to changes that will make it easier for customers and technicians to communicate with his company and increase the ease of making more sales.

“We are planning to add a link to our financing partner to allow customers to fill out their credit apps online,” he said. “We are also planning to add a page that is specific to signing up for a maintenance agreement. We just purchased a paperless and wireless system for our techs, and this will allow them to use the tablet computers to sign our customers up via the Internet.”

Putnam summed up the importance of taking the time to update a Website. “I want as many people as possible to visit our site,” he said. “An HVAC company without a professional Website design in 2008 is like a boxer without a jab. I think a site is essential for growing one’s business.”

In conjunction with this article, The NEWS is publishing the complete responses from all contractors in an online article titled “Wrapping Up the Website Bragging Rights.” Visit www.achrnews.com and click on “Extra Edition,” then click on “Dot Comment” in the left column to access this story. Also visit “Regional Reports” for your United States or Canadian region and look for the article titled “Contractor Website Roundup” for links to the sites of HVAC contractors from that region who participated in the Website survey.

Publication date: 05/19/2008

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