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5 Pillars of Digital Marketing

Originally published: 10.01.08 by Michael Wayde

These guidelines will ensure your online communication efforts are successful.

As the economy tightens, more and more hvacr contractors are taking a closer look at their marketing programs and questioning how well their investments are performing. How many leads are they getting from their newspaper advertising? Are people redeeming coupons from their direct mail campaigns? How can they tell if people are seeing their television spots? 

Too often, when the economy falters, the temptation is to trim advertising budgets. However, a faltering economy presents the opportunity to rethink what you’ve done in the past and invest wisely in your future, maintaining or even growing a marketing communications program. In fact, history suggests that companies who continue to communicate and promote in hard times fare better during the downturn and recover more quickly as the economy improves. 

So how can small to midsize hvacr contracting firms more wisely spend their limited time and marketing budgets? In today’s digital world, online is the answer. 

Today, any good marketing communications program should include a digital marketing component that enables a contractor to more easily market products and services online. A variety of strategies is available, including search engine optimization (SEO), Web site design, e-mail marketing, reciprocal

linking and online promotions, to name a few. Each strategy has the ability to drive more traffic to your Web site and the potential to increase sales. 

As you develop your online footprint, it’s a good idea to follow five pillars of digital marketing that will help you craft an effective program and measure its results. First, apply a digital marketing strategy to your overall marketing plan. 

Statistics show consumers are using the Internet with increasing frequency to conduct research prior to making purchases or contracting for services. Studies also suggest that a better educated consumer is more likely to purchase a higher-end heating or air conditioning system and accessories. For this reason, it makes sense to incorporate a digital marketing strategy into your overall marketing plan that enables you to educate consumers as you introduce them to your products and services. 

The second pillar is to integrate all marketing and marketing communications, including digital marketing. Start with a goal; then consistently deliver the same message to support that goal, using a variety of marketing and marketing communication tools to reinforce the message. No single part of the marketing plan should function alone. 

Your Web site is a good example. Web sites that are not integrated into a strategic marketing plan are like uncharted islands, adrift in a sea of millions of other Web sites with no maps to find them. No one knows they exist, and, as a result, their potential to attract customers and produce sales is greatly diminished. 

So, get your Web site out there. Be sure your Web address appears on everything, from your stationery, invoices and business cards to your marketing collateral, advertisements and service vehicles. 

This leads to the third pillar: Develop and maintain as the hub of your digital marketing strategy a Web site that is designed for the user and is search optimized. This means carefully defining your audience and creating content that is relevant to that audience. It also means optimizing a Web site for search. 

Search engine optimization means making your Web site attractive to search engines, with the goal of improving the volume and quality of traffic to your site from various search engines. As stated earlier, most consumers search the Web for products and services before making purchases or contracting services. In the process, they take advantage of paid searches, organic searches and internal site searches. 

Paid searches let you bid on specific keywords or phrases so that when a user searches for information on a particular topic on a search engine, your Web site will appear in a section of the page that is designed to attract attention. When a user clicks on the link to your site, you’re charged a nominal fee for the referral. 

Paid search, or search engine marketing (SEM), more closely aligns your goods or services to the needs of the audience and guarantees visibility for your business. SEM also ensures easy tracking of click-throughs and conversions, provides critical insight into customer search behavior and enhances your Web presence, generating traffic to your site. 

However, studies show that up to 60% of search users will not click on paid results. Additionally, users view unpaid, organic searches as unbiased and noncommercial. In fact, organic searches account for 25% of Web site traffic. 

Two of the more popular search engines, Google and Yahoo, represent 80% of all online searches. The goal of these service providers is to give customers content that is most relevant to their search request. So, the better your SEO program, the higher ranking your site will receive in an organic search. In fact, according to a recent study by Searchenginewatch.com, more than 90% of all search referrals are from the first search engine results page. In other words, to quote Ricky Bobby, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” 

An optimized Web site begins with a solid base of valuable page content for the visitor, quickly getting the visitor to the information they’ve requested. Interactive tools like product selectors and energy savings calculators, along with media-rich content, like downloadable coupons, product brochure PDFs, white papers, case studies and podcasts – all properly tagged so search engines can find them – will help keep visitors on your site longer, thereby improving your site’s perceived relevance to search engines. 

Here’s how it works. Search engines use programs called “spiders” that apply a myriad of algorithms to browse Web sites and rank them based on the sites’ relevance and content. Among other things, spiders track how long people stay on your site. If visitors jump away too soon, then the spiders figure that your content is not as valuable to their search audience. You have to remember that search engines are in the service business. If they cannot lead their customers to what they are truly looking for, then the search engines are not doing their job. 

Adding meta data, like keywords and meta descriptions, to your content will help people who are searching on specific topics to find your site. Keywords are those words or phrases for which your target customers are most likely to search. The meta description usually appears with a search listing and provides a concise explanation of your Web site’s content. 

As you create meta data, include the solutions you offer along with the goods and services you provide. Traditionally,customers are looking to solve problems, not just buy equipment. So, consider focusing on an issue like cost savings, energy efficiency, long-term reliability, etc. Take a step back from what you think you know and ask yourself these questions: “How would I find me?” or “What is my audience really looking for?” 

Also, do not be afraid to add long tail keywords to your SEO list. Long  tail keywords are several-word phrases. For example, consider using “energy efficient air conditioners” as a keyword instead of just “air conditioners,” or “improving home humidity levels” instead of “humidifiers.” After all, approximately 27% of all searches consist of three-word searches. 

While content is king, don’t forget about the pawns and rooks in your marketing chess game, including your site’s link equity. The term link equity or link strength is the measurement of the strength of your links to and from other sites and can certainly influence your Web site’s ranking. Links on your site to other sites are good, but if you want to rank higher in search results, make your site valuable enough that other agencies, companies and organizations want to link to your site from theirs. This will demonstrate to spiders that your site should rank higher in importance. And the higher the ranking of the site that links to your site, the better your ranking. Universities, news, government and industry organizations tend to generate the most traffic and will certainly improve your link equity. Consider seeking out partnerships that will have other sources linking to your site. Manufacturer Web sites are a good place to start. 

The fourth pillar is to engage the relevant social media networks. Social media networks are a vastly growing online reality that are widely overlooked and often under utilized. They include blogs, discussion boards and video sharing. Here’s a simple idea. How about using YouTube to post customer testimonials? YouTube is free, and most cell phones have video capabilities. For an example of how this works, check out the testimonial I posted online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=VO2QJU5FVA0

It’s also a good idea to look for regional sites that are available through newspapers, radio stations, television stations and the Better Business Bureau. In the end, the goal is to know the available networks, participate in them and provide them with reasons to notice you or visit your site. Become the expert in your community, the company consumers look to for answers and ultimately, solutions to their hvacr questions and problems. 

The fifth and final pillar of digital marketing is to analyze, adjust and refine your program. As with any other part of a marketing program, it is important to regularly measure the results of your digital marketing program. This is your opportunity to find out what is working and what isn’t. 

Begin by checking your search rankings. In an organic search, are you consistently in the top 50? Then, look at the number of visits to your site, comparing that number to the numberof visits before you adopted a digital marketing program. If you have a successful SEO program, the number of visits should increase. It’s also possible to identify the click-through rate, the average length of time spent on your site and the average number of pages viewed, as well as which pages were visited most frequently. 

By using a Web metrics program like Google Analytics to measure the number of visits to your site, you may also be able to determine what actually drove visitors there in the first place. One simple way to do that is to offer a coupon or other incentive available only on your site. Another useful tool is a simple A/B test, where different content produces different results. Begin with a control or baseline Web page or landing page. Then, after monitoring traffic to and through the site for a given period of time, introduce a change to the content, and measure the impact that change has on traffic. 

As you analyze these results, it is important to remember that a digital marketing program is flexible. The Web is a flexible and forgiving medium. The main take away is that you can try something relatively on the cheap. If something doesn’t work, try something else. 

As you optimize your site and develop a SEM program, it’s a good idea to work with someone who understands digital marketing, whether it’s a local marketing communications agency or a manufacturer that you represent. By finding an “expert” partner and using the pillars that are outlined in this article, you will position your company to meet the goals of your digital marketing program, increase awareness, build your brand, generate leads and converting sales in the process. 

About Michael Wayde

Michael Wayde

Michael Wayde is a senior account manager at Godfrey, a full-service, integrated business-to-business branding and marketing communications company headquartered in Lancaster, PA. He manages several main accounts, including those in the hvacr industry, and works closely with the public relations team to strengthen existing accounts.

For more information: www.godfrey.com


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