The internet has an incredible way of changing the playing field for contractors.
“Since homeowners very rarely visit the physical location of a contractor, your web presence is hugely important in forming an impression,” said Justin Jacobs, marketing coach at Hudson Ink. “We’ve seen established contractors just living off of word-of-mouth and sitting with outdated websites get pounded by a two-truck contractor who just rolled into town and knows how to use online marketing.”
That’s because to the homeowner searching online, the two-truck guy looks more professional.
“Being found quickly and easily even trumps what a consumer finds once they get there,” Jacobs continued. “I’ve seen websites that contractors have paid a fortune to have built, but they lay buried on page seven of the Google results. Our metaphorical saying is, it’s like building the Taj Mahal but forgetting to construct a driveway to get there. Results show that most people are not cruising through tons and tons of pages on contractor’s websites; most are going to the homepage just for the phone number, or never even making it to the website and are just calling (mobile) from the Google Services pop-up in the search results.”
Chris Yano, CEO, Ryno Strategic Solutions LLC, ranked the importance of web presence as a 10 on a 1-10 scale.
“If you have an interest in growing your business, that is the easiest place to find leads,” he said. “And it’s also a place you need to be for your existing customers, because so many people are using not just their computers, but their cellphones and now even voice search to find you. You want to make sure that in the digital space, you’re easy to find … so that they don’t run the risk of going someplace else.”
GOOGLE MY BUSINESS
Google owns 81 percent of the search engine traffic share, Jacobs said.
“Like it or not, Google owns the world; they just let us play in it,” he said.
More and more, people are interacting with Google listings, even choosing them over websites.
“Google business pages are simple to set up and free, but many people still don’t have them, and if they do, they don’t update the information regularly,” said Jacobs. “A lot of prospects never even follow the link to your actual website. They will be on mobile and call straight from the number on this [Google] listing.”
That’s not to say websites aren’t important. Still, Google would rather direct people to their own business profile than a company website, said Colleen Keyworth, sales and marketing director, Online Access.
“Our website traffic across the board, for about 450 contractors, has been cannibalized by Google My Business just in the last two years.”
The lesson? Claim the Google My Business listing, make sure it’s accurate, and stay on top of it. Google trusts crowdsourcing and lets people make suggested edits to a business’ name and phone number, ask questions, write reviews, and upload photos — even if those photos don’t really represent the business.
“It’s like one big high school cafeteria,” Keyworth said.
On the flip side, a contractor can use those same tools and turn the tables to their own advantage.
If people have questions and are inclined to stay on the Google My Business page, where better to create a preemptive Q&A section?
“If you offer emergency service, ask that question to your listing and then answer as the business,” Keyworth advised. “What are your hours for holidays? What’s your service area?”
Office staff can use their own Google accounts to ask the questions, to be answered by the business page, and can even “like” a certain question, so it gets showcased.
“And if you want to bury some stuff, being able to ask your own questions and upload those answers is a good way to do that,” she noted.
Rule No. 1: Respond to everything.
“So many people are like, ‘I respond to the bad ones all the time,’” Keyworth said. “You need to be responding to all of them, even if it’s a ‘Thank you so much for your business, we really appreciate you,’ because to everybody looking at your reviews, it shows that the business is paying attention.” The same principle goes for bad reviews.
“The responses … are never for the people that wrote them,” she said. “They’re always for the people who will read them.”
Rule No. 2: If you’ve got it, flaunt it.
“[Some contractors] have good reviews on Google and Facebook, but you have to dig to find them,” Jacobs said. “Quality Google reviews are golden to help your search positioning, and they are the new word-of-mouth. People don’t ask neighbors as much anymore, but they will almost always read reviews to see others’ experiences before deciding who to call.”
He recommended using a program, like ReviewBuzz, to gather reviews and display them prominently wherever possible.
It’s also worth checking that the business’ name, address, and phone number are consistent across all listings: Google, Bing, Facebook, Yelp, Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor, even the paperwork filed with the city (which everything else should mirror exactly). Smaller internet directories, like Hotfrog and Ask.com, scrape their information from those listings. Even minor inconsistencies like “Street” versus “St.” can screw up a data machine, Keyworth said.
GOOGLE LOCAL SERVICES
Not content to be just a search provider, Google is now rolling out a platform of booking services.
“Just when you thought there wasn’t anything better than a Google review, Google came out with a bigger, badder review through their Google Local Services platform,” Keyworth said.
PAY TO PLAY: With Google Local Services, contractors can pay to sign up under a contract with Google, submit their business licenses and go through background checks, and be featured in ads at the top of Google search pages as Google guaranteed providers, like these three companies in Southfield, Michigan.
With Google Local Services, contractors can pay to sign up under a contract with Google, submit their business licenses and go through background checks, and be featured in ads at the top of Google search pages as Google guaranteed providers. It’s a process similar to being part of Angie’s List or HomeAdvisor.
“Google plays the middleman and says, ‘Hey, we’ve already tested all these guys. These are our favorites. You should use them,’” Keyworth explained. “And that guarantee actually covers any job up to $2,000.”
Contractors who use Google Local Services can enable Google verified customer reviews, meaning Google has confirmed this review is by an actual customer (as opposed to a traditional Google review, which can be written by basically anyone). Google Local Services is in the process of being rolled out across the U.S. It’s really big in the metro markets right now, Keyworth said, and she predicted it will become more prevalent in the next two years.
With smart speaker sales continuing to rise, Ryno has been paying close attention to voice search.
“From 2017 to 2018, smartphone speaker sales almost doubled; somewhere around 56.3 million smart speakers were shipped out,” said Yano. “That’s doubled from the previous year. It’s not just a fad … I believe that it is going to be a major player.”
When you ask Google or Alexa, “Hey, who’s the best a/c company near me?,” the smart speaker will only give one response, no matter how many companies are in the area. That’s what keeps the Ryno team up at night, when it comes to voice.
“You don’t have the benefit of the interface of the phone or the desktop, where you have options you can scroll through,” said Paul Redman, vice president of sales, Ryno.
Since a lot of voice searches are asked in question format, one way to increase the chances of getting picked is a thorough FAQ page that addresses those questions, ideally on the website and in the Google My Business Q&A section.
“It also pulls from Yelp and things like that,” said Yano. “So the more you can complete your local profiles, the better it helps your voice search game.”
Keyworth, though, believes voice search is still evolving.
“Google and Amazon both started just prepopulating results based on who was joining through their Google Local Services or Amazon Home Services,” she said. “And when you’re a business who thrives off of lead sales … and you can only recommend one person, you back yourself into a corner.”
On a practical level, Keyworth said, voice purchases are low in the HVAC industry because people want choice in major decisions.
“When people say voice purchases are on the rise … we find out they’re using it for dish detergent and paper towels: small choices,” she said.
With a bigger purchase like a water heater, people want to pick who’s coming to their house, what type of equipment they’re buying, and how much they’re paying.
“That’s not something I’m going to put on auto renew on my Alexa,” she said. “So part of that ground game is getting to say, ‘Hey Google, give me the number for Vincent’s Heating & Plumbing.’”
Lack of relevant content and valid search terms on the website keeps many contractors from being found online. The good news is, it’s one of the easiest and cheapest fixes, although it takes time.
“Google’s No. 1 purpose is to deliver relevant information, right?” said Yano. “So if someone searches for furnace repair, Nashville, we want to make sure we have a web page within our website that talks about furnace repair in Nashville, because it’s the most direct information that correlates to what that person was searching for. You need to have a page built for every single service that you offer in every single location that you offer it. That is the No. 1 best way to help your rankings.”
When creating that content, Jacobs had a tip: Drop the industry verbiage.
“It’s an honest mistake,” he said. “But normal Betty Homeowner who works as a teller at the bank has no idea what R-22 or a condenser coil is, nor does she care. She just wants hers fixed if it’s broken.”
Instead, a strong website could talk about HVAC work in the context of saving money on energy costs or preventing huge expenses in the future. Pulling a report of search terms used in the area can help a contractor figure out how people are asking a question: “a/c repair near me,” “home not cooling in [location],” or “air conditioner not turning on.”
Speed is a necessity, so make sure the website loads quickly and has big, easy-to-use buttons — like “click to call.”
“User experience has to be quick, easy, to the point,” said Yano. “If not, you run the risk of losing someone.”
Once the quickly loading, easy-to-navigate website is optimized, it needs to be put in front of people, and a great way to do that is through community pages, said Keyworth. And the content to be shared needs to be something community members can relate to.
“You just can’t be posting stuff about our industry, because our industry, for 80 percent of the time, is pretty boring,” Keyworth said. “As a homeowner, I’m drawn to what I’m familiar with. You want to be that somebody who’s recognized. The first step is that engagement: ‘I am the household name because I engage with my community.’”
Online Access is located in Michigan, which hit some record-low temperatures this past winter.
“One of the biggest things we did for our contractors was, we got a huge post together about what negative temperatures are doing to your system: making sure your pets are warm, how to keep pipes from freezing on outside walls, all of these tips and tricks, and then we were able to share them to our customers’ community pages,” she said. “It went viral. That was top-of-mind awareness, because they said, ‘This company’s great, giving us all this information.’”
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