Sales & Marketing: Selling to “Online” Homeowners Takes New Communication Skills
 
September 2nd, 2007

Why it takes more than a website to build an online business

By David Lupberger

September-October 2007

Years ago, it was pretty simple for home improvement professionals to market their services to new customers. They bought an expensive ad in the yellow pages in hopes of someone calling. That was before the internet began changing our society and the very way commerce is conducted in the world.

From the advertiser’s point of view, we can target our advertising and marketing messages. And not only are clients referring us to people they know—countless others have access to the good and bad experiences they’ve had with us.

On the customer side, your potential clients are becoming more internet savvy—and even internet dependent. Today’s homeowner expects to do all the above in a matter of minutes. The internet is a tool for them to see more, learn more and connect faster to those in your business than ever before. It’s educating them on the details of the industry and the impressions—good, bad, fair and unfair—that were left with previous clients. The information available about your business is growing as fast as the opportunities for you to grow with it.

Golden Opportunities

The internet also allows businesses to market services to target customers. You don’t need to pay for 10,000 direct mail pieces in hopes of getting a few jobs in return. Expensive advertising in “offline” media might still be a way to reach thousands of people at once. But the internet connects businesses to those who actually need a specific service.

“As more people use the internet for services like ours, the more we see home service professionals decreasing or eliminating their ‘traditional’ means of advertising,” said Michael Beaudoin, co-CEO and co-founder of ServiceMagic.com, the nation’s leading online referral source for homeowners looking to connect with home service professionals. The company processed 2.4 million service requests from online homeowners in 2006—up from 1.7 million the year before. The company also gives each member of its network the opportunity to build an online profile to deliver the details sought after by consumers.

“This year alone we expect the professionals in our network to turn more than $1.2 billion in projects from the leads we’re generating for them,” Beaudoin said. “Today’s homeowners are definitely getting used to finding what they need online.”

As more of the internet generation become homeowners, these numbers will continue to grow. Traditional advertising (what’s now known as “offline” marketing) is still effective. But to get the most of your advertising dollar and to target the “online” homeowner, new methods of client acquisition—and even client interaction—must be considered.

So, here are some ideas that might give you just enough to go on and some key terms you should have in your vocabulary.

A website is just the beginning

The important thing is that you are on the web to begin with. Building a website for your company isn’t an easy thing. If you want something that looks professional, then you should consider turning to a professional to design the website for you. Potential customers might be turned away if it isn’t attractive.

The three major search engines, (Ask.com, Yahoo.com and Google.com) are the bridges that will connect the casual internet user to your company website. These websites are constantly scanning the web and storing information on the jillions of websites.

Your website should include a lot of “tags.” Tags are keywords that search engines actually look for, in order to more closely match the keywords typed in by the consumer. It’s the most direct way to “lead” your potential client to your website. This is Search Engine Optimization.

There are many ways to start generating some business from internet users, but just make sure of three things: that you can be “Asked,” “Yahooed” and “Googled.”

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) describes your efforts to make sure those search engines rank your site as high as possible when they return a list of websites they found for the consumer. Assuming that #1 is where you want to be ranked, then you have to bury enough searchable keywords in the text of your website. This is a basic task that builds in complexity as more SEO pros (yes, there are people who do this for a living) try to tap into what resonates best with the search engines.
  • You should also know about (and consider using) Search Engine Marketing (SEM). Basically, SEM is paid SEO. If you’ll notice, when a search engine turns up a page of results, there are positions on the page for “sponsored listings.” The companies you see there are in a bidding war with each other. They’re all paying the search engine for keywords or key phrases (tags). Obviously, the company who offers the most for a keyword gets the most prominent position. If you see a “sponsored listing,” then you know that those companies are running a Pay-Per-Click advertising campaign.
  • Pay-Per-Click (PPC) is just as it sounds. Advertisers pay every time someone clicks on the link to their website. It could be as little as ten cents a click or as high as several dollars, depending on what the bid was. Successful PPC users have the time and the resources to win the bidding wars and make adjustments to their keywords.

Yellow Pages meet the Internet Yellow Pages

Even though the poll referenced earlier shows the internet outpacing the Yellow Pages, it doesn’t mean that the YPs are going away quietly. The Internet Yellow Pages are trying to pick up where the phone book versions left off. But, it’s not apples to apples, as they say. IYPs have been forced to mold themselves in the shape of internet search engines. You can pay up front and buy a standing advertisement. Or, in some IYP directories you have to bid for keywords just like the search engines have you do. It’s a give and take. If you pay for a standing ad, you’re not taking full advantage of the cost-savings of the internet (but at least you’re still on the web in some capacity!). In the other case, you’re spending your valuable time and energy managing keywords when you could be out working jobs.

Online Lead-Generation Services combine the best of both worlds. You get the functionality and the access the internet provides, as well as cost-effective marketing methods that target the people you want. In some cases, they even connect them directly to you. And the service does the vast majority of the work for you.

These companies should have the staff, the expertise and most importantly the time to manage thousands of keywords for the SEO efforts. They handle the complexities of the paid search engine marketing and the pay-per-click campaigns—and they do it well. By enrolling in these services, you should expect them to set you up with an online profile, which is sort of your own, little website. This profile can be found by search engines and brought up on the results page after a search. It’s a way for consumers to find out about you on the web and also for the company to prescreen the homeowner so you don’t have to spend a lot of time talking to people who aren’t looking for your services.

By now, you may have heard stories about the websites that allow consumers to post comments about the service industry. They can do so anonymously, which can lead to abuse in the form of fraudulent and damaging postings. However, online lead generation services should maintain a verified rating and review system. Simply put, that means that only people who’ve actually been customers are allowed to post comments and the integrity of such comments is verified. This protects the integrity of the system and the reputation of the business. Hopefully, your clients are savvy enough to figure out which systems are dependable and which are not. If they are, ask them to post a comment about your services.

Homeowners are catching on to these services, finding them to be “one stop shopping.” They can locate professionals who handle the specific task they want to tackle. They can be confident that these professionals meet certain qualifications. They can read reviews from other customers, as well as see pictures of other projects completed by these home service professionals.

Getting your company online is essential for future growth, and perhaps survival. It should be considered a mandatory element of any marketing strategy. It is becoming the new industry standard.

ServiceMagic®, Inc., headquartered in Golden, Colo., uses proprietary technology to match consumer service requests with local service professionals. The company addresses more than 500 different home service needs that range from simple home repairs and maintenance to complete home remodeling projects. Its 48,000 home service professionals are prescreened to help consumers connect with licensed and insured home service professionals. Visit http://www.servicemagic.com.

 

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