While traditionally consumers have turned to the print yellow pages to find HVACR professionals, the use of print Yellow Pages is projected to decrease by approximately 20 percent over the next four years, according to The Kelsey Group, a Princeton, N.J.-based local market research and consulting firm.

In contrast, the Internet is quickly becoming a primary tool for consumers looking for residential contractors. A recent survey by The Kelsey Group and Bizrate.com reveals that 61 percent of consumers feel the quality of online information is better than the quality of offline sources, including the print Yellow Pages.

"Despite consumer trends toward Internet usage, small and medium-sized businesses have yet to widely adopt online marketing," said Greg Sterling, an analyst with The Kelsey Group.

"We project local commercial searches will grow from approximately 10 percent of all search activity today to 25 percent by 2009. Therefore, online marketing will become increasingly important for small businesses as consumers turn more often to the Internet to find local information."


In addition to the reduction in consumer use of the print Yellow Pages, many HVACR businesses are questioning the results they get from this advertising medium. According to a recent survey by Hudson Ink, a contractor marketing consulting firm, four out of five contractors rated their print Yellow Page ad results as "fair" or "poor."

"While contractors are the ninth largest Yellow Page spenders, their results don't even rank within the top 150," says Adams Hudson of Hudson Ink.

There are multiple online marketing initiatives HVACR businesses can utilize to give them an online presence. Not all, however, are cost-effective or well targeted. The sobering reality is that the HVACR industry is local and the Internet is not.

Creating a personal Website and purchasing localized keywords through search engines are two techniques that can be implemented as part of an online marketing strategy. These options, however, require unique technical expertise and can limit the number of consumers who find an individual HVACR Website since limited keywords can be purchased.

When it comes to online marketing, the stumbling block for many is the lack of resources and lack of understanding. This was the case for Maitland and Kathryn Jowell with Aloha Plumbing, Northglenn, Colo.

The husband and wife team with more than 30 years of combined experience used to spend most of their advertising dollars in the print Yellow Pages. When this advertising spend did not generate a strong return on investment, the Jowell's turned to the Internet to reach online customers. Without a lot of money to dedicate to online marketing, they started by building a Website.

"By building a Website, we felt we covered our bases with online marketing - but the theory of ‘build it and they will come' did not hold true in our case," said Maitland Jowell, master plumber. "We didn't know how to effectively market our business online.

"I had no idea how to get my Website placed on the first page in Google search results when someone typed in ‘find a contractor to fix an air conditioner'. Frankly, I didn't have time to figure it out, but I still wanted to be there, the question was how?"

To expand their online marketing efforts, the Jowell's began researching other options including online lead generation services. These types of services specialize in bringing targeted leads to residential contractors in their geographic area and specific to their type of work. Online lead generation services act as an "Internet funnel" by connecting residential contractors with prospective clients who have "raised their hand" saying they need someone and their need is now.

Of the many online lead generation services available, the Jowell's found ServiceMagic.com to be to their liking. ServiceMagic does the online marketing legwork by creating search-friendly Web pages for its members. These pages contain business profiles, portfolios with pictures of past work, and customer reviews submitted by homeowners who have been matched with these member businesses. Additionally, ServiceMagic manages keyword campaigns and monitors the best practices for search engine optimization. As a result, the Web pages of ServiceMagic's member businesses rank well within Google's (and other search engines) search results.

"We joined ServiceMagic.com and the value of our membership quickly became obvious with the number of targeted leads we began receiving ... and closing," said Kathryn Jowell, licensed apprentice plumber and co-owner of Aloha Plumbing. "Since ServiceMagic proved to be an overall solution for our online marketing efforts, we canceled our other online lead generation services and chose not to expand our Yellow Page advertisements, which we felt had questionable returns.

"It's interesting to see the difference in the type of customers generated from ServiceMagic versus our print Yellow Page advertisements. We find the customers who are online are serious about getting the work done and finding the best contractor for their needs, unlike our Yellow Page customers.

"This has truly impacted our bottom line. Eighty percent of our business comes from ServiceMagic leads and about 20 percent from our print Yellow Page listings."

Andy Zurcher is a vice president at ServiceMagic Inc., an online marketing solution for residential contractors. For more information, visit www.servicemagic.com.

Publication date: 06/19/2006