Facebook, page views, tweets and blog posts -- not exactly the stuff of your old HVAC-repair training courses. But, it is the stuff of online marketing, which means it's stuff worth knowing for HVAC contractors who want to grow their businesses.
Online marketing offers a way for contractors to meet customers and prospects where they are -- on websites, on blogs and interacting through social media. After all, we know the vast majority of consumers -- nine out of 10, by some counts -- use the Web to make buying decisions.
But, as a field that seems to change daily as new platforms spring up and as new marketers offer new brands of advice, online marketing can seem intimidating.
The good news: online marketing isn't tough. There are simple ways HVAC contractors can use online marketing to strengthen their relationships with customers and reach prospects.
First, a bit more about that online marketing term, "findability." Findability measures how easy it is for customers to find you online. We know most customers turn first to Google for information. The challenge? There are millions of websites. It's our job to make sure our companies are findable among the millions. Your company's website should be top among customers' Google search results.
Another concept to keep in mind: Online marketing is not about the hard sell. It's about engaging your customers rather than shouting at them -- it's a way to create and nurture relationships.
A few not-so-tough ways HVAC contractors can use the Web and online marketing:
â€¢ Start with a website. If you don't have a site, Google doesn't know you exist, and you won't show up in customers' search results. Use your site to present your brand and your story. Then go deeper: Use your site to collect names, addresses and pertinent information -- such as which products and services they're shopping for -- about the folks who've landed on your site. Use Google analytics to track keywords -- what search terms led customers to your site? This information helps you target customers.
â€¢ Stay in touch via email. Email newsletters keep your customers in the loop as you give them valuable advice and HVAC tips. More importantly, you can measure its results. Email marketing tools can tell you how many people opened your newsletter and clicked on its links and how they navigated your website. All this tells you what kind of information which kind of customers are seeking out. And that's information you can use to hone your marketing strategy and best meet customers' needs.
Then start using social media platforms to further engage your customers -- eventually turning them into evangelists on your behalf:
â€¢ Facebook. Facebook's â€˜Likeâ€™ button -- that ubiquitous blue logo -- is serious business. Customers are more than 50% more likely to buy a product or service from a company they "Like" on Facebook. So set up your business's Facebook page, and then market that page in your email signature, on your print advertising and on the side of your truck. As you build up a base of Facebook fans, give them a reason to read your posts. Provide useful maintenance or energy-saving tips and strategies. Offer Facebook-only coupons.
â€¢ Twitter. How to best use the 140 characters allowed in each "tweet" you send out? Again, offer something useful: a reminder to customers to change their air filters as summer heats up or a link to your blog post explaining how solar panels cut cooling costs. Tweets are indexed by Google, making your company that much more likely to show up in customers' search results. And here's the great thing: Twitter offers tools that allow you to aggressively seek out leads in your area. Set up search terms -- "heat pump" or "new furnace" and your city's name -- to help you zero in on local Twitter users who use their own tweets to mention they're seeking those products. Now those users are prospects.
â€¢ LinkedIn. This is the networking tool to use with professional partners and connections. Set up your page and ask your colleagues, partners and customers to write recommendations for you. Join groups -- or start one -- and join in online conversations.
â€¢ Blogs. Here's where your company can best distinguish itself with quality, useful information. Update your blog regularly -- two or three times a week â€“ with articles providing expert HVAC advice to homeowners. Keep at it over the long term.
If you're new to the game, start small. With each step, you'll find online marketing is doable -- and gets results.
Joe Pulizzi is CEO for SocialTract, the leading blogging/social media service for HVACR Contractors. Joeâ€™s new book, Managing Content Marketing, is now available on Amazon and Kindle. Joe can be reached on Twitter @juntajoe or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.