Most HVAC contractors today know that they need a website. But many only get as far as creating an online version of a company brochure. That’s a shame, because they’re missing out on big opportunities to leverage the growing power of the Internet.
Look honestly and objectively at your website and Internet strategy in general. Does it work? A website that works is one that makes, or helps you make, money. It delivers leads and sales. It has measurable return on investment (ROI). It’s also an important part of a customer retention strategy.
A comprehensive study of Americans showed that 74% of adults use the Internet today, compared to just 40% in 2000.*
With those kinds of statistics, it’s easy to see that there are vast numbers of people online. But how do you attract the right ones? And how do you give them what they want so that it builds your business?
Let’s Look at the Data
A recent survey asked consumers about their primary source for locating a business. More than twice the number of respondents cited the Internet over the printed Yellow Pages. And that difference grows each year.**
Why is that? The most obvious reason is that people are relying less and less on the Yellow Pages as a source for information because, compared to what you can find online, it doesn’t tell you much. Here’s what we know:
• 91% of Internet users are online for email
• 89% use search engines
• 81% use the Internet to find information about a product or service they’re considering purchasing.
By digging deeper, we can begin to understand the search habits of our own market. From the Decision Analyst American Home Comfort Survey, we learn that, apart from speaking directly to the contractor, the Internet is the primary resource for making a heating and cooling purchase decision.
Once we understand that people go online primarily to get information, we can start to think in terms of questions and answers. Every word or string of words that’s entered into the Google search bar is really a question. If a homeowner types in “air conditioning repair” (and by the way, more than 400,000 people did so in the month of August) they’re really asking, “Who can I call to repair my broken air conditioner?” Or perhaps, “What can I do to fix my broken air conditioner?” Or even, “Is it worth it to fix my broken air conditioner, or is it time to buy a new one?” Does your website have the answers?
The Devil in the Details—Analytics
Your analytics reports are the essence of successful search engine optimization, because it answers these questions: How do I know my site is working? And if it’s not, what should I do about it?
Here are some key metrics that your analytics will measure for you:
•unique visits— the number of visits to your website, counting each person only once, no matter how many times they’ve visited
•traffic source— how the user got to your site, e.g., Google, link from a referring site, typing the name directly into the address bar of their web browser, etc.
• keywords— a list of keywords used to find the site and the number of visits for each
• content— which pages your users visited and how long they stayed on each page
•ranking— how high your keyword is ranked on a search engine’s results page (if it’s not in or close to the top 10, it’s not working for you).
Understanding your analytics is the key to generating traffic to your website, and ultimately converting them (the web term for a lead or sale). To illustrate why this is so important, let’s look at air conditioning repair. From our keyword research, we know that it generates hundreds of thousands of searches. If your analytics tell you that you’re not generating traffic from that phrase, then you need to optimize a page that will. The headline, Your #1 Source for Air Conditioning Repair in (your town), might just do it.
Conversely, imagine that you’re generating traffic to your site from the keyword phrase energy efficiency, but your analytics tell you that you have a very high “bounce rate” (users land on the page and leave immediately). This means that your prospects aren’t finding the information they’re looking for, and are leaving right away instead of spending time on your site. And worse, it also means that the search engines will rank you lower, because high bounce rates tell them that you’re not answering their users’ questions.
Search Engine Marketing
You can drive traffic to your website by buying ad space on the search engine results pages. The price you pay is determined by the going rate for the keywords you select (it’s like an auction) and how many times the ad is “clicked.” This strategy is called pay-per-click, because you don’t pay for appearing on the page; you only pay when somebody clicks on your ad.
While only about a quarter of traffic comes from paid advertising, it’s still worth testing the waters. This is a highly effective way to advertise, because you get exactly what you pay for, and tracking the results is an instantaneous process.
Search engine marketing is a world away from newspaper ads, radio, and direct mail. But it works, it’s here to stay and, done properly, it will drive a lot more business your way.
Does Your Website Rock, or Tank?
Attracting a prospect to your site, getting them to stay and visit your pages, and ultimately converting them to a lead or sale, is a function of several key issues. Search is key, which we’ve already discussed. And, just like in direct mail or print ads, offer is king. Beyond that, you have to have a website that functions well in terms of design, content, and architecture. Take an objective look at your website to determine if you’re guilty of these five common mistakes:
Too busy:Confusing color schemes and overuse of buttons and links can overwhelm your prospect.
Overuse of images: While pictures are important to support your copy and relieve the eye, they’re not searchable; too many can lower your ranking results.
Hard to navigate:Inconsistent drop-down menus, excessive fly-out buttons, and links that don’t change color, all make it easy for the user to “get lost” in the site.
Confusing text: Use the four-second rule: visitors should understand what your site is about in four seconds or less. Look at your own home page. If it weren’t your company, would you understand instantly what it is that you do and what services you offer?
Annoying the user: Auto-play music and video, and moving backgrounds or pictures that serve no purpose are intrusive and interrupt the user experience.
As the new year begins, resolve to get started using the Internet, or make assessments and improvements to your existing website. With another slow economy forecast for 2010, an expanded outreach could prove to be invaluable.
Blaine Fox is vice president of Warm Thoughts Communications, a leading marketing firm serving the home comfort industry. Fox is a recognized expert on the residential mechanical services industry, and is currently working with some of the nation’s leading HVAC contractors. Previously, he was general manager of ServiceMark, a $32 million HVAC contractor with more than 25,000 service agreement customers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 201/330-9276.
Ben Gutkin is vice president of marketing services at Warm Thoughts Communications. An internet expert, Ben is also a founding member of the Online Marketing Council. He can be reached at email@example.com; 201/330-9276.