Search engine optimization, the process of ensuring a website’s high ranking on a search results page (mostly Google’s), continues to grow in importance as a marketing tool for HVAC contractors. And as its importance grows, the rules used by search algorithms change and become more selective. It now takes more than stringing together a sequence of keywords to score a top spot. This means that to stay at the top of search results, contractors need to invest in quality content.

Google controls around 90 percent of all searches, so most professionals in the SEO field focus on that search engine. Other search engines, such as Bing or Yahoo, can be part of an SEO strategy but provide less benefit, said Don Lafferty, director of digital marketing and a co-founder Comfort Media. Lafferty said Bing brings in a few visits a month for his clients versus a few dozen for Google. SEO done properly should serve all the search engines, he said.

People speak of the Google algorithm, but it’s really a series of algorithms that determine search rankings. An algorithm is just a code that instructs a computer program how to complete a task, such as indexing web pages. Google has always updated its algorithms, but the pace has greatly increased in the past few years.

The biggest complaint has been Google makes changes that surprise business owners — meaning that a website can suddenly disappear from the top rankings with no warning. The company recently started to increase the transparency into its process and host a series of presentations. Sean Bucher of Rocket Media attended one of those recent events.

Bucher said the presentation confirmed many of his theories. And that is what many SEO providers go by: theory. Many struggle to replicate their results from one business to another.

“A lot of SEOs say they operate in certainty, but really operate in theory,” Bucher said. “Good SEOs really do take a scientific approach to anything they implement.”

One hurdle for companies like HVAC contractors is that Google’s Local search is designed for stores, not services, he said. The algorithm focus on proximity to a fixed location to draw in consumers. HVAC contractors work in the opposite direction.

“It makes it a little harder to optimize sometimes,” Bucher said.


SEO Values Content Over Keywords

While these was a time when SEO meant finding 20 keywords and working them into a blog post, Google has shifted away from keywords in recent years.

“The days of just pounding in keywords and tweaking the system to get people to find you has kind of passed,” said Ron Muser, another co-founder of Comfort Media Group.

Dirk Roper's blog.

CONTENT: Dirk Roper’s blog on his website aims to help his customers and score high in SEO rankings.

That’s just fine with Dirk Roper, owner of Roper’s Heating and Air Conditioning in Carson City, Nevada. Roper had been working with an SEO firm that wrote material for Google rather than his customers.

“They wrote some stuff that was convoluted and not at all user friendly,” Roper said. “Providing the valuable content is for me far more important than being discoverable.”

His current firm focuses on solving consumers’ problems instead. This make the content worthwhile regardless of how readers come across it, and Roper continues to come up in the first page of searches. Comfort Media recommends this approach to its clients as well. Muser said the goal is writing to an HVAC contractor’s ideal customer. When the contractor’s posts do appear in search results, they contains relevant information.

“We want people finding answers to the questions they are asking,” Lafferty said.

Bucher said contractors should study SEO data to find a common question their customers frequently ask online, such as why frost forms on condenser coils. The contractor or his marketing firm then creates content that addresses this issue. Consumers seeking specific solutions tend to be late-cycle customers, which means they are more apt to turn into a sale rather just a site visit. The goal should be leading them to an action-oriented page, Bucher said.

SEO used to focus on brevity, favoring 300-word blog posts. Today, Comfort Media recommends case studies instead. The firm finds that an 800-word piece focusing on the needs of the homeowner, rather than the contractor, works best.


SEO, Google, and YouTube

“My focus is way more on making sure my customers get what they need, rather than gaming Google,” Roper said.

Video is growing as a tool for SEO, but it needs the proper approach. YouTube is technically the third-biggest search engine on the Internet, Bucher said, but its parent company Google seems uncertain about how to handle it. Both Bucher and the Comfort Media experts recommend connecting video to text, such as transcript, to get best results. Lafferty said any video needs proper captioning and tags for full effectiveness.

Roper said his marketing firm wants him to start making videos, and he has shot a few of himself reading customer reviews. Muser said one benefit of videos is that the contractor owns the content. It lasts for years and can be uploaded anywhere, including the contractor’s own site and Facebook page.

Speaking of Facebook, while it’s crucial for a social media strategy, it does little for SEO. Facebook is walled off, meaning Google cannot easily search its contents. Twitter does allow for search.

The next phase for SEO is voice search, said Jack Firneno, a staff writer with Comfort Media. Google is getting better at understanding English every day. The way people submit queries when they speak differs from how they do it when type. SEO strategies need to take this into account, Firneno said.

Bucher said contractors need to consider a multi-channel approach for SEO. They need to combine organic results with paid ads and include videos. To determine how much to invest in this strategy, they need to figure out a revenue goal and back out from there.

“That’s what it comes down to with the businesses that we talk to — they want to get the best lead at the lowest cost,” Bucher said.

Roper said he approaches SEO with two principles: Google knows people try to game its system and, like him, Google tries to do what’s best for its customers.

“My focus is way more on making sure my customers get what they need, rather than gaming Google,” Roper said.