Narrowly focused search-engine terms help HVAC contractors get found online by the readers they’re targeting – qualified-to-buy, local homeowners seeking expert answers to questions about their home-comfort systems. HVAC contractors with an eye toward growth are able to nurture those online connections, turning readers into leads into customers. They’re also able to use their blogs to enhance their position as their area’s industry leader.

But what’s a search term? And what does it have to do with selling heat pumps or air conditioned systems?

“Search terms” are the words and phrases Web users type into Google and other search engines to find information. For HVAC contractors capitalizing on the web’s power to reach customers by providing useful online content, search terms make the difference between being found online – by the right people -- and being overlooked. Good search terms, along with other search-engine optimization techniques, can land your web pages near the top of web searchers’ results.

Just think about your own behavior using search engines. Consumers type in longer and more specific questions to their problems today. So, be specific with your search term focus and you’ll have a better opportunity of getting in front of the right customers looking for your help.

Some tips for crafting effective HVAC contractor search terms:

Make them precise. Consider a hypothetical customer: a homeowner who wants to cut his energy bills. He knows that if he does a Google search for “energy,” he will receive more than a million hits – and he’ll have to sift through a few hundred before finding anything close to what he’s looking for. So he enters “tips for saving energy” and receives far fewer results -- but they’re results that promise the information he needs. Better yet, he enters “tips for saving energy” along with his hometown – and finds what he needs from his local HVAC contractor.

That narrow focus serves HVAC bloggers as well as readers. While a specific phrase might deliver your post to fewer searchers, it delivers it to the right people – those who are seeking that specific information and are therefore more likely to seek more information and become customers.

Along those lines: Make your search terms longer. “Keyword” is misleading. Your HVAC contractor search terms should be “key phrases” – two to five words long. In the online world, they’re called “long-tail keywords.” That label works because they’re strung out, like an animal’s long tail. But “long tail” is also as a reference to the statistical property popularized in 2004 by an article in Wired Magazine. In general, “long tail” refers to a retailing strategy employed by companies like Amazon.com and Netflix, in which the goal is to sell a lot of different, unique products – each in relatively small quantities. In the online world, “long-tail keywords” lead to fewer hits, but they’re better hits. They connect you with people who want what you’re providing...and, they add up.

Here’s an example: Start with the search term “heat,” which might land your blog post in the search results of somebody wondering who starred with Al Pacino in that movie from 1995 -- or a basketball fan wondering what that team from Miami is up to. Maybe those folks also happen to be wondering when to schedule preventive maintenance for their air conditioner -- but it's unlikely. Lengthen your term to “heat pump.” Your post will show up in the results of fewer people, but it’ll be more relevant to those readers. Now extend your search term to “heat pump maintenance tips.” You’ll appear in fewer results yet – but, especially if your post also contains geographical references to your service area, you’ll be found by the people you’re targeting.

Think – and write – like your customers. Most potential buyers, at least as they start their online search, lack in-depth knowledge about HVAC technology or practices. HVAC contractor search terms should be written in everyday language. “Solar energy on shady property” will get more hits from leads in your service area than “diffuse light photovoltaic panels.”

Repeat the search terms in your post. Google considers “keyword density” – how frequently the search terms show up on a page. Include your keywords too often in a post, and search engines will dismiss it as spam. If the keywords appear too infrequently, your content will be deemed irrelevant. In general, a keyword density between 0.5 percent and 1.5 percent strikes an effective balance. That translates, very roughly, to two to five times in a 350-word post. But don’t get caught up in the numbers. If your keywords are relevant to your content, they’ll turn up in your posts naturally.

Of course, you can't create refined search terms if you haven't identified specific topics to cover in your blog. Start with a brainstorming session -- and get ready to meet your customers-to-be.

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.