There are a lot of HVAC contractors out there. The Air Conditioning Contractors of America alone boasts 4,000 member businesses. Fortunately, as a local business, you’re not competing against 4,000 contractors. Your business is local, and, for the most part, your competition is local. Most importantly, your customers are local.

The web, however, is world-wide – which is why a few HVAC contractors still question the logic of using the online marketing tools such as blogs to attract and build relationships with local customers.

Here’s why online marketing works to reach homeowners in your community: Google is designed to facilitate local connections for those who seek them. When local homeowners enter search terms in their Google search bar, they get “location-based results” – the ones that make the most sense for them based on where they are.

That includes your local blog content, if you employ some simple blogging strategies. Your blog content may not appear on the first page of search results of a homeowner two states away, and that’s fine. But you can ensure that your blog posts appear high on the lists of would-be customers in your community who are looking online for the information, products and services you’re in the best position to provide.

The key to remember for HVAC bloggers: Don’t overlook the expertise you have to offer – information. As a heating and cooling professional, you’re in a unique position to provide the benefit of your experience and expertise on issues that can be intimidating or frustrating for homeowners. A blog updated regularly with energy-saving tips, technology updates, maintenance advice and other valuable content can help forge invaluable connections with homeowners in your service area. In a world where the vast majority of customers look online first for information, that’s the stuff that leads to sales – not to mention that it helps to establish your business as the go-to, local source for everything heating and cooling.

To guide local readers to your blog, however, Google has to know where you are. That means your blog should contain local content, including references to your service area. Here’s the trick, though; insert your community’s name into your content too frequently, and Google will dismiss your content as spam. Like other keywords, your local references should be woven gracefully into your posts.

Some tips for tailoring your online marketing content for your local service area:

• Write about real people and places and events in your city. This might be a short profile about your technician’s volunteer efforts to fix the ductwork at the animal shelter. It might be a post – complete with graphic photos – of the particularly harrowing removal of an ancient furnace from a local basement.

• Talk about the weather. Note the changing seasons. Use your blog to discuss heating and cooling issues people in your community are dealing with now. Did your region experience a wind storm recently? Then it’s time for a post about household generators. As summer begins in earnest, offer timely energy-saving tips. Heat wave? Mention it in a post about air conditioner maintenance.

• Use your blog to engage your local readers. Make it easy for them to leave comments or questions on your blog. When they do so, respond promptly and sincerely. If one homeowner in your community wonders whether your neck of the woods is suitable for solar-powered water heaters, chances are others are wondering the same thing. Grab the opportunity to educate your customers – and, at the same time, to solidify your position as a local industry leader.

• Offer in-person incentives for local homeowners. You might post a coupon on your blog that customers can print out and bring into your shop. You might sponsor a giveaway – say, a free air filter for the first 20 folks who spot your offer online and come in.

• Don’t forget social media. Google, with their most latest major update on how they serve up searches, is looking more at who shares your information as a sign that your content is relevant. This simply means that the more someone shares your content through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media outlets, the more chance that you’ll be found in Google.

Finally, small businesses should consider taking advantage of Google Places for Business. It’s a free platform that allows you to update your address and contact information, include your store hours and add photos. And it makes it even easier for local customers to find you on the search engine.

Your customers can use Google Places for Business to rate their experience with you and recommend your business. As the business owner, you can read what customers have written about your company -- as well as respond to reviews.

With the web, we have the world at our fingertips. But as local business owners, the web also offers us a portal into the homes of the potential customers right next door. It’s an invaluable tool. And whether you do online marketing yourself or outsource the job, it's a tool HVAC contractors with an eye toward growth can’t afford to ignore.

Joe Pulizzi is CEO for SocialTract, the leading blogging/social media service for HVACR Contractors. Joe’s new book, Managing Content Marketing, is now available on Amazon and Kindle. Joe can be reached on Twitter @juntajoe or by email joe@socialtract.com.