Online Marketing Options: Selecting a Method for Your Business

While traditionally consumers have turned to the Yellow Pages to find home service professionals and residential contractors, the use of print directories is projected to decrease by approximately 20 percent over the next four years, according to The Kelsey Group, a consulting and research firm. Instead, consumers are turning to the Internet to find local service professionals. The Kelsey Group reports 70 percent of adults in the United States used the Internet in 2004 when researching products and services, including cleaning services. Your customers are changing the way they find you, so you need to make sure you're found.

If you thought implementing a direct-mail campaign was challenging, that's child's play compared to building and managing an online presence for your residential contracting business. Like any good marketing initiative, you must find one that is cost-effective, targeted in reach and easy to manage. The question is, do you want to do it yourself or have it done for you?

Build Your Own Web Site
It's not difficult to build a Web site, but it can be challenging to get the right customers to visit it, and even more difficult to turn them into leads. Studies show that people give up looking for what they want if they can't find it in a few clicks. With that in mind, if your Web site is not in the top search results a consumer gets, chances are they're not going to find you. So how do you get your visitors to your site and more importantly, how do you turn them into leads?

Search Engine Optimization Marketing. After you build your Web site and submit the URL to major search engines, your Web site is listed within each search engines database and tagged for keywords that are included in the copy on your site. When a consumer searches on Google for "maid services in Albuquerque" and this word combination is on your site, it will be included in the results. Search engines study your Web site to determine which keywords are applicable.

You can choose to outsource this task and the service will manage your keywords, Web site content, and placement within search engine results. However, this can quickly become very expensive, and while you may see an increase in visitors to your site, you need to track how many become actual leads to determine the return on your investment.

Pay-Per-Click Advertising. PPC advertising is the process of bidding on keywords so your online advertisement appears in search results. For example, if someone searches on Yahoo! for "maid services in Albuquerque," advertisements related to this topic will appear on the right-hand side. However, the ranking order depends on how much a company has bid or rather paid for that word combination.

Let's say you own a cleaning service in Albuquerque but also take jobs in the surrounding areas. Since consumers are now refining their searches, you would need to purchase several word variations with each city name as well as cleaning service; maid service; maid; service to clean home; find a maid; hire a maid; hire a cleaning service; and many other variations resulting in thousands of potential key phrases.

Most search engines are based on a cost-per-click (CPC) model, in which advertisers pay a predetermined rate, which varies per keyword based on demand and desired rank for each time someone clicks on their listing (remember, you are paying for clicks to your site, not leads). Price per click can change at any time if another advertiser increases or decreases their current bid.

Both SEO and PPC can be done internally if you have the time and knowledge about Internet and search engine marketing. Again, you can choose to outsource these activities but be careful about the costs and make sure to measure the actual leads resulting from your efforts and not simply the number of visitors to your site. While it is great to have a Web site and even better to get visitors, it's only meaningful if you're able to convert the visitor into a sales lead.

Internet Yellow Pages
When consumers conduct an online search they tend to only review the results listed on the first page (usually 10 to 20 listings). To have your IYP ad in the top 10 you need to purchase a sponsored listing. The higher number of categories and coverage areas you choose to be included in will determine your cost.

Payment methods for IYP ads vary per directory; some require an upfront payment but others offer the CPC method. The CPC method allows you to measure how many customers are clicking on your listing, but it's only meaningful if the clicks result in leads.

Like the traditional print Yellow Page advertisements, seniority and financial investment determine placement of your sponsored listing; the more your pay the higher you are listed on the results page. Prior to committing to a sponsored listing it is important to discuss with your IYP directory to determine if your sponsored listing can be outbid, which may lower your ranking and ultimately limit your results.

Online Lead Generating Services
Many cleaning services have turned to online lead generation services and found them to be a cost-effective and low-risk alternative to reach today's Internet-savvy consumer. These services specialize in bringing targeted leads to builders in their geographic area and specific to their specialty. Online lead generation services act as an "Internet funnel" by connecting builders with prospective clients who have "raised their hand," saying they need someone and their need is now.

They do the legwork of creating a Web page containing pictures of past work and they manage keyword research and search engine optimization. These services typically go further to interview Web site visitors, turning them from cold prospects into warm leads.

Consumers turn to online lead generation services in an effort to limit the time and stress associated with finding professionals since many prescreen member businesses for state and business/trade licensing and insurance, providing consumers with the reassurance they are working with a qualified and legitimate professional. Some services even help facilitate a warm introduction between the consumer and contractor, easing the sales process for contractors. By providing home service professionals with only those leads that match their work type and geographic preference, online lead generation services connect businesses with interested consumers they may not reach with other marketing initiatives. As a result, professionals are able to tap a new client base and have access to a steady flow of prospects, enabling them to spend less time and effort prospecting, qualifying and chasing down leads. Instead, they have potential jobs come to them.

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