Here’s two generally agreed to truths about the home service business:

  1. The only time homeowners think of their air conditioning, plumbing, electrical, pest-control, etc is when it ain’t working.
  2. Fixing your AC, leaks, dead appliances, infestation etc. especially replacing old units will can cost you some big bucks

On the one hand there is a homeowner in need. On the other hand the small home service companies hoping to get the call.  To succeed, they have to be top of mind at that point in time when homeowners need them. How do they compete with the top dogs and their million dollar ad budgets? It’s a problem…

I sat with my potential new client Bob, who is in the air conditioning/heating business and seemed to be staring out into the abyss of not being in any business. Marketing small home service companies has changed.  Over the years he diminishing returns from direct mail, door hangers, newspaper ads and Yellow Pages. Recently he’d tried Adwords and Angie’s List —neither of which he could mention without a few choice expletives. Currently he was a couple of months into Yodle.

Now I like the Yodle model which is basically selling search engine optimization (SEO) via websites targeting mobile devices. Over 50% of internet use is now by way of smartphones and tablets and this number is growing. Websites that aren’t ‘responsive’ (checking the browsing device and delivering content specifically suited to the smaller screens) are losing this audience. Yodle will acquire a new SEO-driven domain for it’s customers and build them a SEO-maximized website. They promise you will land page one of Google for a list of keywords. It sounds all well and good, but how do they do it?

Bob loaded his Yodle report page and showed me the eighteen calls he’d received in two months. What Yodle had done was to recommend several long-tailed and less competitive keywords. A long-tail keyword is one that increases the number of terms in the search phrase making it less competitive. So yes, he was coming up on the first page of Google for hvac contractor haltom city tx but that wasn’t doing him any good. He was in AC Repair (residential) not in HVAC Contracting (industrial.)

google-ac-repair

Google the terms and it’s plain to see why. AC Repair yields almost 400 million results. HVAC Contractor yields 18 million making it easier to get top ranking. HVAC Contractor Haltom City TX only gets a quarter of a million hits, so Bob’s chances of cracking the first page for this search phrase was greatly improved.

Unfortunately, all the calls he’d received were complete non-starters.  Five of the eighteen were from a company inquiring whether he stocked a specific brand of AC equipment. They thought Bob was a distributor(?) He told the caller that he wasn’t a distributor and yet they still called another four times? Hmm..? They initially tried to sign him up for a year, telling him the longer he paid for the service, the more effective it would be. More effective how? At shrinking his bank balance?

So how could I help Bob? What magic bullet was I going to bring? The truth is that the companies that promise one big solution rarely deliver.  And none of them can replace the small business basics that will slowly grow your small business:

  • Have a clean, contemporary and responsive website—that you update at least monthly. Add Google Analytics so you can check your bounce rate
  • Build a customer database, continuously and constantly
  • Ask your customers for reviews and publish them on your website
  • Do targeted direct mail before and during your peak selling season. Response rates for direct mail are under 2% so don’t be discouraged—it’s a numbers game. And do everything you can to not make your materials look like the rest of the ‘junk’ mail it delivers with.
  • Call your customer base, especially (if you’re in the AC repair business) those that are five years out
  • Think of line extensions. Ok you’re in AC Repair but what about offering seasonal Home Energy Audits?
  • Taking advantage of free listings whenever and wherever you can
  • Write blogs about any changes in your industry that affect your customers

There is no quick fix. In Japan they say, ‘Something that grows slowly, grows well.’

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colin shubitz, president and creative director, CSA&D, inc.