When the search is over

Lead generation depends on understanding and maximizing online search engines

Your roofing business needs leads. Even in good times, you need lots of them to grow and profit. And with the explosion of the internet during the past decade, online sources have become a primary starting point for finding the leads you need.

But it's not easy. Figuring out online lead generation can be confusing, time-consuming, expensive and difficult to focus on while you're driving to a job or working in the office. And, often, it's unproductive.

To make matters worse, as the internet matured, so did a system full of media sales hucksters, ad agency pretenders and virtual carnival barkers—all of whom are happy to promise "all the quality leads you need" for your roofing company.

Yes, they will spend your money and generate "impressions," "events," "likes" and all sorts of other activity. But you don't want impressions or activity for their own sake. You want high-quality, productive leads that turn into profitable, high-quality customers.

To understand how online lead generation works (and how it doesn't), let's explore six myths of online lead generation for roofing companies.

Myth No. 1: Paid search is easy to do

Paid search (also known as pay-per-click—PPC) is a straightforward process. There's no black magic here. You pay your money and, provided you bid high enough, your ad will be on a page for a given search query nearly every time. That's the good news. The bad news is it's easy to do poorly, easy to do expensively and easy to do ineffectively. You (or the marketing agency you hire to spend your money) can waste thousands of dollars generating impressions and clicks, all without getting the leads you need.

Paid search is more competitive than ever. During the past 18 months, Google has taken a number of steps to increase the emphasis on all paid search ads it places at the top of its search engine results pages because that's where homeowners click and where Google makes its money.

How has Google done it? First, it limited the number of ads at the top of the first search page to four. No longer do ads appear on the right-hand side of Google results. Then, Google gave advertisers more text to work with, meaning more search extensions to highlight elements such as phone numbers, addresses and a host of other information. The result has been more clicks than ever.

This can be an amazing source of leads for you, or it could be a giant money pit that wastes thousands of dollars per month. Wisely spending your money on PPC requires understanding many factors, including which search terms to buy and avoid, the value of phone calls, the right level of lead qualification and the dangers of over-incentivizing, among others.

Buying the term "roof," for example, may seem like a good use of your paid search budget unless, of course, your ad shows up on a search for "doghouse roof" or "DIY roof repair" in which case you've wasted your money.

Well-executed campaigns are complicated but can produce results. Hiring a company or an individual who has expertise in paid search and the roofing niche is particularly important.

Myth No. 2: My website is already optimized

Many roofing contractors will hire a search engine or web design firm to build a new website or optimize one. And then they think they're done.

The reality is a website should constantly evolve and feature new content and material to stay relevant with search engines. Your website's ranking is never finished—it's a living, breathing thing that needs constant care and feeding. Plus, everyone who builds a website is building it to be optimized for search engines, so any advantage is hard won and even harder to hold onto.

Unlike paid search, search engine optimization (SEO) is black magic. Google, Yahoo and other search engines don't share the algorithms they use to determine rankings. Even if you manage to get to the top of your particular category, the next time Google modifies its algorithm (which it does regularly) you can be cut off at the knees.

It gets worse. Google is actively choosing winners and losers with a bias toward larger players and bigger names. Google views larger companies as a surer bet than most local providers. Although this may change, it's still a major frustration for many locally oriented roofing companies.

And I see many SEO firms trumpeting their "successes" all the time. They delight in showing that your website ranks high on specific terms in your particular town (such as "roof installation, Natick, Mass."). Although this appears to be a success, reality often tells a different story. The term "roof installation, Natick, Mass." may only attract a dozen visitors for an entire year! In effect, you're leading a race no one else has bothered to run.

This is not to say you shouldn't optimize your website. It's just that at this point in the evolution of search, doing SEO is the price of being in the game.

Here are the factors that matter most when it comes to SEO:

  1. Longevity. The age of your website and domain is one of the things that matters most in the eyes of Google. So though the company you hire to improve your SEO will (I hope) do its best, you need to be in the game for years, not months, for your website to be at the top.
  2. Inbound links. This refers to links from other websites that link to you, a sign that others like your website. And though there's been a lot of chatter in the industry about how inbound links and link history are losing their importance, this still is a significant factor in organic search rankings.
  3. Quality, fresh content. Google likes active websites with active pages. The more you write and post about new roofing jobs, the better.

Other factors come into play as well, but these are the top three when it comes to organic search rankings. Note all three of these are difficult to achieve quickly and reliably. My point is not to scare or dissuade you from paying attention to organic search. Instead, it's to get you to focus on maintaining an active commitment to your website so it ranks at the top of the page when a homeowner is researching companies to handle his or her next project.

Myth No. 3: Social media is all that matters

"Everybody's doing it. And your customers spend a ton of time there, so that's where you need to be as well." This common refrain is not effective if you're looking for hot roofing leads. There's an immense gulf between the heavy-breathing hype regarding social media and the metrics and traffic that matter. Social media has its role, but it's not in lead generation.

Does social media have value for some businesses? Absolutely. Big-name brands that want to connect more personally with customers see benefits. So do offer-based companies such as those offering cash for gold, free e-book giveaways and online classes. But if you want the telephone to ring with qualified leads for your roofing business, most social media activities are going to have a difficult time generating return on investment.

One segment of the social media umbrella that is worth your attention is customer reviews. Websites such as Angie's List, Google and Yelp provide opportunities for customers to perform local searches and read reviews across a wide range of businesses. And though these reviews can be falsified to some extent, in the eyes of Google and organic search, they can be an important differentiator.

Keep in mind, homeowners feel a big sense of risk when hiring a roofing company. Reading positive reviews about your business will help allay customer fears. Because most local businesses have zero reviews, having a handful about your company can make a big difference. So encourage your customers to post their reviews.

What about negative reviews? Won't you get some of those if you encourage customers to post, and won't those hurt you? Not really. Everybody who has reviews has some bad ones. But there's more to lose by having no reviews at all. As long as you don't have a lot of negative reviews, you'll be on the right side of the current landscape.

Myth No. 4: Listings make the phone ring

Even if you are relatively new to the roofing industry, you've no doubt received solicitations to list your business with one of the 60 or 70 online directory services available, such as Yellow Pages, SuperPages, etc.

In my company's experience, these types of services drive a small fraction of traffic. Yes, I know the salespeople for online listing services love to screech about how "you are missing out" if you don't sign up with them. But that's not really the case. All these listing services combined deliver less than 10 percent of what the major search engines do.

But don't ignore online listings entirely. They serve a legitimate purpose, mostly by helping local businesses get found by the real search engines. So make sure your listings are set up accurately, once, and then leave them alone. You can do this yourself, or, because there are so many services, you can pay a third party (Yext or Universal Business Listing, for instance) once to do this for you.

The right way to create these listings is to load them with as much information as possible. Max out the number of images, videos, logos, payment information and descriptions you're allowed to submit. The more information your listing has, the more the search engines and directories have to display to their visitors.

But chances are you'll never be able to get all your listings to display 100 percent correctly. Online listing websites and directories are imperfect beasts. But a degree of investment of your time and energy is all you need.

Myth No. 5: Mobile is overtaking computers

According to online marketing firm SmartInsights, more than 50 percent of time spent online comes from some type of mobile device. Doesn't that mean your company's website needs to be focused on mobile, as well?

The reality is mobile matters a great deal more for some businesses than others. Mobile is important, for example, in emergency situations such as a clogged sink, broken air conditioner, failed heating system or a flooded basement. In these cases, desperate homeowners will simply reach for their phone and start searching.

The roofing industry can work both ways when it comes to mobile. A homeowner with water dripping into his or her living room certainly constitutes an emergency, and mobile is particularly strong for immediate repairs or full replacement.

But for a high-value, high-consideration replacement, the urgency usually is not as high. Mobile is still just "nice to have" for roofing companies that don't offer repairs and focus solely on replacements.

According to my company's research, a target roofing customer is 45 years old or older, and he or she is not going to be as mobile-friendly as today's twentysomethings. These folks are just getting used to searching for products on the web, and for them, a computer is still the device of choice.

So by all means, keep an eye on mobile. It certainly is easier than ever to optimize your website and advertising for mobile devices. But avoid the temptation to believe your business will win or lose because of your mobile efforts. It probably won't.

Myth No. 6: The phone doesn't matter

One key mistake my company sees roofing companies make regarding leads occurs when companies pay less attention to the phone side of the business.

This is a problem because no matter how smartly and efficiently you generate leads, if you're not great on the phone, you'll ruin the leads anyway.

Here's what "great on the phone" means:

  • Lightning-fast call backs. In the eyes of a prospective customer, the speed with which you respond to an inbound lead is a test of your service quality. Every minute that passes between the moment a homeowner submits an email inquiry and when you reply is hurting you.
  • Dedicated, well-trained staff. This is the front end to your entire business. If your staff is unfriendly or uninformed, you are going to lose business.
  • A smooth, systematic, efficient process. Do you prescreen prospects adequately? Do you set appointments consistently? Do you make confirmation calls for sales appointments? Do you follow up on questions? You get the idea. Your phone processes need to work well 100 percent of the time.

Get onboard with online

Online lead generation is fantastic; it has changed the roofing industry for the better in all kinds of ways.

But it also has raised the bar on what it takes to be successful. Far too many service providers are more than happy to take your money in exchange for simply providing online visibility and impressions. Unfortunately, much of it never adds up to leads.

Keep these six myths in mind the next time you're given the opportunity to invest in online marketing. They will help ensure you spend your money well and you snare more than your fair share of great roofing leads off the internet.

Todd Bairstow is co-founder and principal of Keyword Connects, Waltham, Mass.


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