Traditional to digital marketing for HVAC, plumbing businesses
By Jillian MorganHPAC General Management
James Memije and Aaron Bond often pose a simple question to new clients: “How did you find out about us?”
Typically, the answer is Google.
Memije and Bond are co-owners of Toronto-based AccuServ Heating and Air Conditioning. But other businesses are likely to get a similar reply.
Google processed over two trillion search queries in 2016, reported SearchEngineLand.
On a smaller scale, businesses implement an endless string of tactics – social media marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click (PPC) advertising – in an effort to crawl up ranking pages on search engines such as Google.
But limited resources and a growth of digital marketing strategies have left many plumbing and HVAC professionals unsure where to begin.
“I think that the web 2.0 has changed marketing for the good,” says Dan Shaw, director of Dalhousie University’s Corporate Residency MBA program in Halifax, NS.
Digital tactics allow businesses to share content and engage deeply with audiences on a more structured basis, says Shaw. Comparably, traditional marketing avenues, such as television and newspaper, led to wasted “reach,” that is the potential number of people exposed to a campaign or advertisement.
For Bond and Memije, the challenge was to engage customers without traditional methods.
“It’s not like Yellow Pages anymore where you made that ad and you reaped the benefits for the year,” says Bond. “There’s no silver bullet when it comes to marketing.”
Memije, a self-taught digital marketer, works to grow AccuServ’s presence online while Bond is out in the field. However, some businesses choose to partner with an agency for added perks.
Matthew Hunt, vice-president and CMO of sales for Toronto digital marketing agency Powered by Search, says most of the agency’s HVAC and plumbing clients have little online expertise.
“There’s so much noise that is out there,” says Hunt. “Everybody’s saying something different. And they’re very confused about what to do.”
It costs to have a team of digital gurus deploy your online strategy. Typically, agencies will not bite for less than $20,000 per year, says Shaw.
For Hunt, a monthly bill of less than $3,500 is the low end. He equates the cost to hiring an in-house marketing professional. The yearly salary for a director of marketing in Ontario ranges from $68,515 to $159,884, according to PayScale.
Hunt says more money does not equal better service. Read reviews, speak to other clients, request performance results and be wary of agencies attempting to sell every service.
“That information is not readily available to the contractor,” says Bond. “I see contractors over-spending on marketing that doesn’t really translate to the investment they were hoping it would.”
For those on a tight budget, Shaw says it is possible to tackle digital marketing in-house. He recommends novice business owners hone in on two or three tactics.
Student consultant projects offered through universities provide another budget-friendly alternative.
“I would definitely try and find someone who could guide them through the digital jungle,” Memije recommends. He says SEO blogs, such as Feedly, Neil Patel, Moz and Backlinko, offer helpful tips and how-tos.
Shaw recommends online certifications and courses offered through Google Digital Garage, Google AdWords and HubSpot.
In any business, the goal is to move an audience from unaware to aware; aware to interested; interested to preference; and preference to action, according to Shaw.
Hunt says the first step in marketing is to align business goals with digital strategy. He recommends focusing on services that make the most margins.
AccuServ co-owners have found success on social platforms such as Instagram. Memije says social media has allowed the business to generate a following and grow “authority” online.
“That’s one of the most lucrative avenues because we’re developing relationships with people,” says Bond. “Traditional marketing hasn’t done that.”
Shaw recommends businesses strategically share rich content, original or curated, on a weekly basis.
Blogs, whitepapers or content on social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter offer “a way to engage with stakeholders on a deeper level and a much more regular level,” says Shaw.
To target clientele on a smaller scale, opt for local SEO tactics, such as creating a Google My Business listing and generating reviews.
“You want to be perceived as having a really strong brand in your town or city or province,” says Shaw.
Hunt says few reviews, or poor reviews, on Facebook, Google My Business and Yelp, for example, could hurt online engagement and conversions. According to BrightLocal, 85 per cent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
“Bad reviews aren’t necessarily a bad thing. It just creates legitimacy to the good reviews,” says Hunt. “Especially if you respond to them.”
There are some digital basics to follow, and some to avoid, in order to achieve results.
Tips and tricks
- To pay for a top spot in Google’s search results, run PPC ads in Google AdWords. Focus on improving quality score to keep costs low and drive a high return-on-investment.
- Research and define the best keywords to target for paid ad campaigns and SEO.
Avoid “black hat SEO.” Google and other search engines will penalize a website for these practices, which will negatively impact ranking.
- Retarget users who have visited your website to move them through the sales funnel.
Continue to incorporate offline marketing tactics, such as brochures.
“If they do these core things right, get their positioning right, teach people how to buy, have a very easily understandable website that’s mobile friendly, they show up in Google AdWords, they show up in Google Maps, they show up organically and they have great reputation across the web, they are going to kick most other businesses butts,” says Hunt.
The power of digital marketing is hard to ignore. In 2017, digital advertising revenue in Canada hit USD $3.77 billion, according to Statista.
For HVAC and plumbing businesses, resources and know-how pose challenges. Still, with some investment, there’s room to grow online.
See digital lingo explained in HPAC’s February 2018 issue, online now.