Search engine optimization (SEO) has taken on great importance as HVAC contractors market their businesses and try to get their name in front of as many consumers as possible. But with Google’s rules constantly changing, how do contractors know if they are doing the right things on their websites to remain relevant in the online world?

A recent study by Blue Corona, a Web marketing company that specializes in the home service industry, of nearly 9,000 HVAC and plumbing company websites, helps shed some light on what contractors can do to reach the first pages in the results of major search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo.

Size Matters

When thinking about your website’s visibility in organic search results, it is important to realize that Google does not rank websites but rather Web pages. Each page on a contractor’s website provides an opportunity to rank for the keywords that are related to the content of that page. Ben Landers, president of Blue Corona, recommends that contractors first brainstorm a list of the keyword phrases for which they’d like to rank and then create a page on their website targeting each one.

“What sophisticated HVAC contractors realize is the simple approach is to have one page that talks about all your services — heating, cooling, heat pump replacements, etc. But it is more advantageous to take that simple services list and break it out into a page for each individual service,” Landers said.

Since part of the ranking equation appears to be the relevance of a page to a particular set of closely related keywords, it pays to have a higher number of specific pages over fewer pages that attempt to cover a broader range of topics.

If contractor A has a Web page about furnaces and contractor B has one unique page for furnace repairs, another unique page for furnace replacements, and so on, contractor B is more likely to outrank contractor A in the search results when a consumer searches something specific such as “furnace repair in Chicago.”

The vast majority of sites that Blue Corona reviewed and analyzed had between one and 100 pages. And, while that can sound like an exuberant amount of pages to a contractor, it is actually not many at all. The top ranking HVAC and plumbing company websites have significantly more pages, often between 101-401 total pages or more.

This fact is a great reason why many experts recommend that contractors feature a blog on their website. Each blog post represents a fresh page, so a blog welcomes a new location to post content in a nonlinear fashion (a new hire one day and the importance of changing filters the next) and each of those entries can be searched by prospective consumers on Google.

“You need to think about the searches that customers would type and write blog posts to answer those questions. Items like — how do you know when to call the contractor?” Landers said.

Authority Always Wins

While having numerous pages can help you increase and improve your rankings, it takes more than a large site to beat the competition. Ranking well on Google, Bing, and Yahoo also requires building your website’s authority score. One way to boost a site’s authority is with a plethora of relevant and high-quality backlinks. A backlink is created when one website links to another. Each backlink to a site is seen by Google as a vote or a citation — boosting the site’s credibility and authority. The vast majority of the sites reviewed had between zero and 500 backlinks. While this might sound like a lot to a small contractor, the highest ranking HVAC and plumbing company websites have thousands of websites linking back to theirs.

Getting high-quality backlinks isn’t as difficult as you might think. According to Landers, contractors should start with associations, consumer websites (like the Better Business Bureau), and your local chamber of commerce.

After the basics have been covered, there are many other avenues to explore for backlinks. One such example is traditional advertising. When purchasing ads in print, radio, or television media, contractors should make sure their company is getting a link on the advertising company’s website.

“Also, don’t forget about traditional public relations,” Landers said. “You should be coming up with unique stories — stories detailing recent local projects, exciting new product offerings, and expanding service areas — and distributing press releases on those items. You can very easily get links if the local media picks them up.”

Site Construction

Some of the most important ranking factors are also some of the easiest to undertake. Take sitemaps, for example. Of the sites analyzed, only 31 percent have an XML sitemap.

“When a company builds a website and fails to put an XML map on the site, you are inviting Google into what might be a mansion and then saying just wander around and see what you find. But Google is there on a mission and they have other houses to see,” said Landers. “No matter how well the site is structured for a human, if the search-engine crawlers can’t find your pages via a sitemap, you are not going to get ranked well for keywords that are important to your business.”

One trap that some HVAC contractors fall into is getting too cute with their websites. While it is good to be a little different and make sure you stand out, it is important to remember not to mess with the basics.

For example, the majority of websites have contact information in the top right corner of the page. The study shows the top right is the most popular spot for your phone number, and consumers have become accustomed to finding it there. If contractors are contemplating a site redesign, moving the location of the contact information is something they should strongly consider.

“You need to be careful because consumers are becoming trained on where to look for things,” Landers said. “It would be like having a car with the door handle under the bottom of the door. It would be frustrating to find. There are ways to be unique, but not with where you put your contact information.”

Landers also recommended making the contact form accessible on every page to increase the number of leads you receive from your site.

A site that is not user-friendly could not only cost the contractor a lead, it could cost him in rankings. Landers believes Google and other search engines are using quick data to rank online activity, which rewards companies whose visitors remain on the site for more than a few seconds.

“If someone clicks on your website in a search result and immediately comes back to the search page and clicks on another contractor you will be penalized. Over time, if that keeps happening, you will see your website plummet in ranking. You need to be sure you are not just drawing people in, but when they are on your site, make sure you are giving them a compelling reason to stay.”

A lot of contractors make it a priority to concern themselves with SEO. Rich Morgan, CEO, Magic Touch Mechanical, Mesa, Ariz., has spent a lot of time researching the subject.

“It has been many years of reading every book I can get my hands on, attending webinars, online research, speaking with specialists in this field, and more,” Morgan said. “The majority of our new business is a direct result of SEO.”

As with anything, the key is investing the time.

“Relevant terms, of course, are what we thrive on. We work on changing our content rather frequently, all the while, keeping the overarching theme, look, and feel to our site,” said Greg Crumpton, president and founder, AirTight Mechanical Inc., Charlotte, N.C. “Usually, to the less-than-daily visitor, they cannot tell of the changes, but we know we have to stay on it.”

Bobby Ring, president and CEO, Meyer & Depew Co. Inc., Kenilworth, N.J., uses an outside vendor that works with his internal marketing manager to oversee the company’s website and SEO.

“We have had excellent results with providing a mobile version of our website for smartphone users,” Ring said. “Also, the addition of video and blogging has helped our SEO efforts.”

What Not To Do

There were two items mentioned as “no-nos” by Blue Corona Marketing. The first was “stuffing” your website with searchable terms.

“With Google and other search engines, it is not about having the word HVAC on your page a bunch of times. That is keyword stuffing and you can get your website removed or banned by doing that.”

The other shunned activity revolves around featuring content that is identical to that of other contractors in your area.

“There are a lot of companies that have one base set of content and offer it to thousands of contractors around the country with a few minor revisions. It’s the old saying: cheap, fast, and quality; pick two,” Landers said. “If you really want to build a great company you have to invest in what is important. To not invest in original content for your website is penny wise and pound foolish. It can work for a brief, fleeting moment, but what value is it if there are 10 contractors with the same content when a consumer searches?”

Publication date: 8/19/2013 

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