Sales & Marketing: Online Marketing Options for Contractors
 
November 1st, 2005

Selecting a Method for Your Business

by Michael Beaudoin

November-December 2005

While traditionally consumers have turned to the Yellow Pages to find residential contractors, the use of print directories is projected to decrease by approximately 20% over the next four years according to The Kelsey Group, a consulting and research firm. Instead, consumers are turning to the Internet. The Kelsey Group reports 70% of adults in the United States used the Internet in 2004 when researching products and services, including residential products and contractors. Your customers are changing the way they find you, so you need to make sure you’re found.

If you thought implementing a direct mail campaign was challenging, that’s child’s play compared to building and managing an online presence. Like any good marketing initiative, you must find one that is cost-effective, targeted in reach and easy to manage. The question is—do you want to do it yourself or have it done for you?

Build Your Own Website

It’s not difficult to build a website, but it can be challenging to get the right customers to visit it, and even more difficult to turn them into leads. Studies show that people give up looking for what they want if they can’t find it in a few clicks. With that in mind, if your website is not in the top search results a consumer gets, chances are they’re not going to find you. So how do you get your visitors to your site and more importantly, how do you turn them into leads?

Search Engine Optimization Marketing (SEO): After you build your website and submit the URL to major search engines, your website is listed within each search engine’s database and tagged for keywords that are included in the copy on your site. When a consumer searches on Google for “ceramic tile Denver” and this word combination is on your site, then it will be included in the results. Search engines study your website to determine which keywords are applicable.

You can choose to outsource this task and the service will manage your keywords, website content, and placement within search engine results. However, this can quickly become very expensive and while you may see an increase in visitors to your site, you need to track how many become actual leads to determine the return on your investment (ROI).

Pay-Per-Click Advertising (PPC): PPC advertising is the process of bidding on keywords so your online advertisement appears in search results (these advertisements direct customers to your website). For example, if someone searches on Yahoo! for “ceramic tile in Denver” advertisements related to this topic will appear on the right-hand side. However, the ranking order depends on how much a company has bid or rather paid for that word combination.

Let’s say you own a tile business in Denver but also sell product in the surrounding areas. Since consumers are now refining their searches, you would need to purchase several word variations with each city name as well as tile, tile installation, replace tiles, tile replacement, and many other variations resulting in thousands of potential key phrases.

Most search engines are based on a cost-per-click (CPC) model, in which advertisers pay a predetermined rate, which varies per keyword based on demand and desired rank for each time someone clicks on their listing. (Remember you are paying for clicks to your site not leads.) Price per click can change at any time if another advertiser increases or decreases their current bid.

Both SEO and PPC can be done internally if you have the time and knowledge about Internet and search engine marketing. Again, you can choose to outsource these activities, but be careful about the costs and make sure to measure the actual leads resulting from your efforts and not simply the number of visitors to your site. While it is great to have a website and even better to get visitors, it’s only meaningful if you’re able to convert the visitor into a sales lead.

Internet Yellow Pages (IYP)

When consumers conduct an online search they tend to only review the results listed on the first page (usually between 10-20 listings). To have your IYP ad in the top 10 you need to purchase a sponsored listing. The higher number of categories and coverage areas you choose to be included in will determine your cost.

Payment methods for IYP ads vary per directory; some require an upfront payment, but others offer the CPC method. The CPC method allows you to measure how many customers are clicking on your listing, but it’s only meaningful if the clicks result in leads.

Like the traditional print Yellow Page advertisements, seniority and financial investment determine placement of your sponsored listing; the more you pay, the higher you are listed on the results page. Before committing to a sponsored listing, ask your IYP directory if your sponsored listing can be outbid, which may lower your ranking and ultimately limit your results.

Online Lead Generating Services

Many businesses have turned to online lead generation services and found them to be a cost-effective and low-risk alternative to reach today’s Internet-savvy consumer. These 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 businesses with prospective clients who have “raised their hand” saying they need someone and their need is NOW. They do the legwork of creating a webpage, keyword research, and search engine optimization. These services typically go further to interview website visitors, turning them from cold prospects into warm leads.

Consumers typically turn to online lead generation services in an effort to limit the time and stress associated with finding professionals. Many online lead services prescreen member businesses for state licensing and insurance, providing consumers with the reassurance they are working with a legitimate professional. Some services even help facilitate a warm introduction between the consumer and contractor, easing the sales process.

When selecting an online service to use to market your business, you should look into how they generate their leads to ensure the customers contact information and service request are valid. Additionally, several services require annual membership fees as well as a fee for each lead you are sent. Others may only charge members a lead fee or a per visitor click fee.

Michael Beaudoin is the Co-CEO and Co-Founder of ServiceMagic®, Inc., a leading online marketing solution for residential contractors and home service professionals. For more information visit www.servicemagic.com.

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