The Secret To A Better Website

In my time here at Spark Marketer, I’ve written website content for over 100 chimney sweeps. In other words, if there were an award for “most chimney-related websites written,” I’d quietly (okay, okay, and proudly) accept it.

You may think that writing a website for the same type of company only gets easier with time and experience, and while that is true to some extent, it also gets harder.

Woman-With-Messy-Hair-Thinking-Next-To-Typewriter

Me, only prettier and with messier hair.

Why is that?

Well, I’m always trying to find new ways to write about the very same things: chimneys and all the maintenance, repair, and restoration services that go along with them. And the truth is — I’m usually working with the same exact information, nothing more.

But who cares? If you know the topic, writing the site should be easy, right? Yes, and no.

I’ve sat in on CSIA certification trainings and classes. I’ve spent so much time on chimney product websites that ads for chimney caps show up on every one of my personal devices. I’ve spent more time secretly judging people who fire up their fireplaces without scheduling an annual inspection than I’d like to admit. But none of that knowledge helps me when it comes to making your business stand out. To do that, I need information that only you can provide.

Trust me, I have more dictionaries, thesauruses, and creativity fostering books in my office than I have fingers. But fancier adjectives don’t make for higher on-site conversions: interesting stories and customized information do. And in order to communicate your interesting and unique story and really show your customers who you are as a company, I need your help.

So, what types of things should you share with me or whoever will be writing your website? Great question! Here are a few things that should get you started:

  1. The Basics. Let’s start with the basics. Let the writer working on your website know when your business was founded, how long you’ve been in the industry, what certifications your team has, what groups and associations you’re a member of, what products you use, and what services you provide. These are all things that matter to and build authority with your customers, and they’re all things that should be on your website.
  2. The Bios. Without bios, you’re just another faceless company in a sea of chimney sweeps. So please, send me some bios! Not just the bio of the business owner, but the bios of your employees as well. After all, these are the people who will be serving your customers, and they’re the people your customers care most about. They want to know who will be coming into their homes, what kind of people they are, if they have families, etc. Share qualifications, yes, but also share things that aren’t related to work; things that show the humanity of your team and make you relatable and likable to customers and potential customers. People do business with people they like, so give them a reason to like and trust you by properly introducing yourself.
  3. FAQs. A lot of companies simply copy the FAQ pages of other companies, and while looking at others in your industry can provide a good guide, go further than that. Talk with your techs and customer service representatives to find out what questions your customers frequently ask. Then share that information with me. This will allow me to think of ways to provide value on your website and address the hesitations, concerns, and obstacles of your customers before they even call you. If your website is a helpful resource for those searching for the services you offer, you’ll have their trust, and they’ll be more likely to call you when they’re ready to schedule an appointment.
  4. The Details. Let’s say you offer the same 15 services as your top competitors. When a potential customer sees those 15 services on your website and on your biggest competitors’ sites, how will they determine who is the best choice? The best way to win here is to differentiate yourself on your service pages, not just on your About page — and in order to do that, I need to know how you’re different and what’s important to you. By providing me with the details, you’ll equip me to answer the questions your customers may have about how those services are performed or why/when they’re needed. I’ll be better able to address the things that matter to your customers, like cleanliness, punctuality, etc., and communicate that you care about the same things they care about. Tip: If you’re not sure what they care about, check your reviews and the reviews of your competitors. You’ll definitely find some hidden gems there. You can also ask your customers!

Together, We Can Make You Stand Out

Chances are, your competitors have websites, and the more competitive your market, the more crowded the search results will be for someone looking for the services you provide. Make yourself and your website stand out by partnering with your marketing company and providing them with the info they need to really differentiate you and tell your story.

And quick note:  just because I’m using our chimney clients as an example, don’t think this information doesn’t apply to you because you’re in the HVAC/plumbing industry, decorative concrete industry, wildlife control industry, or some other industry! No matter what type of industry you’re in, if you take a little time to give the writer of your website a little extra information, you’ll get a lot more out of your website.

In the words of Jerry Maguire, “Help me, help you.” Not just because you’re paying me to, but because I really want to! I love my job and I love the clients we work with — but knowing and being able to tell your story makes my days a lot more fun, and a lot more meaningful. So, do it for the both of us!

Psst! One last thing, on behalf of designers (my creative siblings) everywhere: Please provide photos of your team, service trucks, work you’ve done, and anything else you can that will make your company stand out. Do you need to hire a professional photographer? Not always. Sometimes all you need is a steady hand, some good lighting, and that camera you keep in your pocket, a.k.a. your smartphone.

FAQs With Chris: Chris Pitts Answers Some Of Your Most Frequently Asked Questions (Part Two)

FAQs With Chris: Chris Pitts Answers Some Of Your Most Frequently Asked Questions (Part Two)

During our last FAQ, we focused primarily on reviews, Maps, rankings, and PPC. This time, we’re going to answer some of the more “offline” questions. If you have any questions you’d like Chris to answer next time, please submit them in the Comments section of this post! Women-With-Question-Marks-Above-Her-Head

#1 How Should I Handle Spam Calls?

The more you do with your online presence, the more spam calls you will get. The two most common calls (in our experience) are from people pretending to be Google and advertisers like Yelp, Angie’s List, and YP.

First, let’s talk about the “Google” calls. Google never cold calls anyone, other than to verify business information. If someone is asking about your ranking, wants you to give them information about your Google listing, or threatens that you’ll lose your Maps listing if you don’t ________, they are a scammer. You can hang up on these calls.

As far as advertisers go, the phone calls vary. Yelp tends to be the most tenacious, but they are not the only ones. With advertiser calls, if you aren’t interested in advertising, it’s best to simply tell them that it’s not in the budget right now, but that you’ll revisit the idea later. You don’t want to get angry with advertisers, as you often have a free listing on their site already and it’s not worth upsetting the applecart there.

Generally speaking, we don’t advise people to pay for advertising on individual directories, because the majority of search traffic comes from Google, and we don’t generally see a good enough ROI — but that’s a decision you have to make as the business owner. If a particular directory is very popular in your area, it may be worth it.

#2 What Can I Do To Boost Business In My Slow Season?

Seasonality varies from industry to industry, but let’s look at the chimney industry. Understandably, the early summer can be a very slow time for a chimney sweep. We recommend getting a handle on this by finding ways to reach your annual and repeat customers during this time.

Many sweeps find themselves booked out two, three, or even four weeks out when fall rolls around, and many customers don’t want to wait that long, so they end up calling a competitor who can get to them faster. Get ahead of this by offering discounts to existing clients who schedule their annual services earlier in the year. Forward scheduling is a great way to do this. When you finish at a customer’s house, see if you can get them on the books for an early time next year. Make sure it’s not a binding agreement and call to verify a month or so out. What you’ll find is that this helps get your repeat customers used to you being there during your off-season.

It’s a win/win:

  • It works out better for your customer because you’re able to get to them quickly and at a reduced rate.
  • It works out better for you because now you’ve freed up some time during your busy season for new customers, while also keeping income coming in during your slow season.

Another option may be to adopt an alternative service that’s big during your slow season. For a chimney company, that may be air duct cleaning or gutter work. Something that is more likely to be needed when you don’t have high demand for your other services. Like I said, this varies greatly from industry to industry, so you have to be creative and figure out what works best for you.

For more on what you can do to make the most of your slow season, check out “What You Can Do To Make Your Slower Season Your Most Productive One To Date.” 

#3 How Do I Get My Business Name/Brand Out In The Community?

The key to getting your brand name out there is community involvement. You can sponsor youth sports teams, charity events, participate in festivals, form an office bowling team for a local bowling league, put together a BBQ team to compete at BBQ cook-offs, etc. Basically, be present in your community under your brand name. Being present at the events in your community goes a long way and it goes hand in hand with company culture.

Another possibility that often gets overlooked is scholarships. Offering scholarships is a great way to get your name out there, as many people from all walks of life have kids applying for scholarships.

Social media platforms can also be a great tool for building community presence and relationships, but you do need to educate yourself on the DO’s and DON’Ts before diving in. No one likes to be sold to on Facebook 24/7, and learning how to properly use these tools can be the difference between bringing people in and driving them away.

For more on building your business offline, check out “4 Things You Should Be Doing Offline To Build Business Online.”

#4 IYO, Is It Worth Becoming BBB Accredited?

One thing worth mentioning is that you can have a rating on the BBB, regardless of whether or not you’re accredited. In other words, you could have an A+ rating, benefit from that, and tout that on your website, without accreditation.

That being said, many people hold the BBB with high regard and accreditation may hold a lot of weight with potential customers. When you become accredited, you agree to hold your business to certain ethics and practices, which ultimately, may make those using your services feel secure and confident they’ll receive service with integrity.

Long story short: you’ll need to decide for yourself whether or not it makes sense for your budget and business.

#5 How Can I Get More Referrals?

There are a lot of B2B groups out there that are worth joining: BNI, Chamber Events, etc. These organizations can help get you connected with a lot of other business owners who can refer you to their clients. Just remember that, when appropriate, you’ll want to refer people to them as well. As with many things in life, you get back what you give.

For word-of-mouth referrals, I always suggest some sort of perk or benefit if you get a new customer via a referral from a current customer — maybe the existing customer gets $25 off their next service and the new one gets $10 off. This is just an example, of course.  There are lots of ways to make this work that make sense for your service and your business — so get creative!

No matter what type of benefit you decide to offer, remember that the single most important factor in getting word-of-mouth referrals is the WOW factor. Go above and beyond what the job requires and really WOW your customer. These are the things that will lead your customers to want to tell others about the amazing experience they had with you.

Lastly, never neglect customer service. Even if you do the job perfectly, a poor interaction with the person on site or on the phone can leave a bad taste in your customer’s mouth. Customer service is as large a part of your business as the work you’re doing — never let that fall by the wayside.

FAQs With Chris: Chris Pitts Answers Some Of Your Most Frequently Asked Questions (Part Two)

FAQ With Chris: Chris Pitts Answers Some Of Your Most Frequently Asked Questions (Part One)

The world of search and SEO can be confusing, but if it’s all Greek to you, you’re not alone. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions answered by Account Manager, Chris Pitts. If you have questions you’d like Chris to answer in the next round, please leave them in the Comments section and we’ll do our best to get to all of them in time!Women-With-Question-Marks-Above-Her-Head

#1 How Do Rankings Work & What’s The Difference Between Organic & Maps?

There are three places on a Google Search Results page that are completely independent of one another where ranking comes into play.

The first section (at the top of the page and sometimes at the bottom as well) is Google AdWords. These are marked by a green “ad” symbol and are determined entirely through the AdWords PPC (Pay-Per-Click) advertising program. These spaces are not subject to the Google algorithm and instead depend on how much a company is bidding per click, as well as quality score (relevance of the content on the landing page to the search), and competition. You will not show up there if you aren’t in the AdWords PPC program.

The second place is Maps. Maps results are delivered to a searcher when they are searching for a business or service “with intent.” What “with intent” means is that Google has determined that the searcher is looking for a business near a physical location. If you expand the Maps results, it will take you to Google Maps, which shows a much larger bank of results within a given area.

The problem with Maps is that it is built for brick and mortar stores, not service businesses. Despite this, Google still shows Maps results for service searches, which muddies the water a bit. Because results are so tied to physical location, you will not show up in the Maps pack if you are not physically located near the area the searcher is physically searching from or near the central area the searcher has put into the search bar. All ‘near me’ queries are treated as a search for a brick and mortar location.

There has been a rich history of people spamming Maps by creating listings in places other than physical locations (i.e. P.O. Boxes and UPS Stores). This is against Google guidelines, but Google is spotty with how they treat spam, so while it’s risky to operate this way, we do see companies have success doing this from time to time. Of course, you risk losing your Google Maps listing altogether, which means losing all of your reviews as well, since they are housed within Google Maps. Not worth it in our opinion!

The third section is organic. Organic rank is determined mostly by the content, quality, and markup on the site itself. Several factors go into this determination, but some of the biggest ones are:

  • Site speed (page load time)
  • Relevance and readability of text content on the page (Google works because it delivers results that are relevant to the searcher. Text content is the only way for Google to determine this, outside of the coded information we send to them)
  • SEO Titles/Meta Descriptions (the titles and descriptions on the back end of the page that make up the snippet that shows in search results and gives Google an overview of the content on the page)
  • Relevant links to the page from high-quality sources

Each page of a site can be indexed separately, so you may see several pages from the same site come up for searches.

When you’re dealing with organic rank, specifically on a home page, you have to take into account NAP info (Name, Address & Phone Number), and potentially competing websites. If your business has more than one website (especially if each website has a different phone number or address associated with it), Google will get confused, and could drop your ranking on both sites. Keeping your NAP info consistent on all sources online helps keep your organic ranking up. Any place your NAP is incorrect or inconsistent can be seen by Google and lowers your site’s trust rating. After all, if there’s conflicting information, how can Google be confident that it’s presenting the correct information to the searcher? It can’t, so it will drop your organic ranking.

#2 What Does NAP Mean & Why Is It So Important To Be Consistent?

NAP info stands for Name, Address & Phone Number. When it comes to information Google is looking for from your business, these are the big three. Why? These are the three things that Google believes a searcher will be looking for most often. They want to know your name (for obvious reasons), they need your phone number for scheduling or questions about products/services, etc., and they need your address to actually get to you if you are a brick and mortar store. Google treats all businesses as if they were brick and mortar stores in most respects, so even if you are a service business, Google still views NAP information as very important.

Because Google indexes sites all over the web, it has access to almost every place your business is listed online, whether you know it’s listed there or not. If you have different phone numbers, addresses, or versions of your business name online, Google loses trust that the information presented is accurate.

Google only works because the search results it presents are accurate and helpful to the searcher. If the searcher can’t trust the information Google is presenting, he or she will stop using Google — and Google doesn’t want that.

If Google is getting mixed signals from all over the web with different phone numbers, addresses, and variations of your business name, it will suppress your business in search results in order to prevent a potential searcher from getting the wrong information. This is critically important and is often overlooked by businesses. Many companies use tracking numbers to determine where business is coming from, but when these get online, it confuses Google. This is where many companies slip up.

Note: It’s a bit different if you’re a business with more than one location.

#3 Why Don’t I Show Up In Maps Anymore & How Can I Change That?

Google Maps is an ever-changing landscape. As Google changes its Maps algorithms, companies find ways to exploit it and spam the system. Every time this happens, it forces Google to re-examine the algorithms to try to combat these spammy tactics. This is the largest factor contributing to changes in Maps rankings — however, it is far from the only one…

Every day, more and more people are using their phones and tablets to search for businesses and services. As this shift happens, it changes how Google delivers results and what those results are. Fifteen years ago, people didn’t have the Internet on their phones, and tablets weren’t even a thing. All searches were being performed from desktops in the home or office, which meant that people had to put the location they were searching for directly in the search bar. As technology advanced and people were empowered to search on the go, the whole system changed. Now people are looking for things close to their physical location, which can be derived from a phone or tablet’s GPS location. They are also generally looking for something more immediate, and many times, they’re not willing to dig as far into the search results. This shift has caused Google to shift things a bit in terms of how they present Maps results.

The Maps views themselves zeroed in as the majority of the searches were deemed “on the go” and needing to be tailored to the physical location of the searcher. This change also eradicated the need to include location keywords in searches. Now, instead of searching for “coffee shop Nashville, TN,” (a search that would center around downtown Nashville), a searcher might search “coffee shop near me,” or even simply ask their voice assistant to “find a coffee shop nearby,” which centers the search around the searcher’s physical location. This means that every searcher will get a slightly different Maps result.

What does this all mean?

The big takeaways are that your physical location is key to showing up in Maps. If you’re not physically located near where most of your clients and customers are searching from, you may not show up in their personalized Maps results. The other important factor here (and the one you, as the business owner, can actually control) is reviews. Reviews are housed within Maps and are the most important factor in a potential customer choosing you over your visible competition. If you focus on getting good reviews and responding well to bad ones, you will stand out among anyone else that shows up in the same Maps space. It doesn’t matter if you are one, two, or three — if you have 100 more positive reviews than the other two, you’re likely to get the customer.

#4 How Do I Get Reviews?

Ask everyone for a review! Obviously if you have a visibly unhappy customer, you may not want to ask that person, but in that case, you should be doing things to correct the situation and leave them satisfied. Outside of those small instances, you should be asking everyone for a review. Explain how important reviews are to you as a business owner, and that you value feedback, both good and bad. You want to know how your people did and, because you have confidence in your company, you aren’t afraid for that feedback to be public.

Many people don’t think their opinion is important enough to take the time to leave a review, and many often don’t know how to leave you a review even if their opinion does matter. Familiarize yourself with the review process so that, if a customer asks you how to do it, you can tell them with confidence. Some other things you may want to try:

There are two big DON’Ts though:

  1. Don’t publicly incentivize reviews. This is strictly against Google guidelines, as they don’t believe incentivized feedback is legimiate. If a customer puts “thanks for the gift card” or something to that effect in the review, you risk losing all of your reviews and maybe your listing altogether.
  2. Don’t leave reviews for your own business. The only people who should be leaving you reviews are people who have actually used your services or visited your store. If you are a service business and you start getting reviews from family members several states away or get one from an account that is tied to your business, you could lose all of your reviews and your listing. It’s not worth it!

The last thing I will say is, don’t be afraid of negative reviews. You can’t please everyone all the time — it’s just not realistic. A negative review with a well thought out, amicable response is worth 10 five star reviews. Many times a searcher will look at negative reviews first, so this is your chance to make a great first impression on a searcher. Don’t ever underestimate the power of a well-answered one star review!

And while this may sound counterintuitive, a few three or four star reviews mixed in with many more five star reviews boosts the overall credibility of the other five star reviews. They look more authentic and genuine because people trust that the reviews there were not incentivized in any way to create a “perfect” star rating.

#5 Do I Need To Respond To Both Positive & Negative Reviews? How Should I Respond?

Definitely respond to negative reviews. Every negative review that comes in should have a written response. My advice is to post it the day after it comes in, if possible. You don’t want to respond the second you see it, because oftentimes, when it’s that fresh, emotions are high. Let yourself calm down and revisit it the next day when you have a clear head.

Try to take the conversation offline — you never want to go tit for tat with a reviewer. A good response might look like this:

Hello, my name is __________ and I’m the business owner. I’m so sorry you had a bad experience. It is very important to us that we deliver a level of service that meets your expectations. Please give me a call on my direct line ***-***-**** at your earliest convenience and let me know what happened and what we can do to make it right.”

This takes the conversation offline and offers a well-reasoned, measured response for other people who may come behind and see the negative review.

Some other things to remember when responding to negative reviews:

  • DO admit when you’ve messed up. Everyone makes mistakes — don’t be afraid to admit that you messed up. Many customers love that admission, because it shows your commitment to the work you do and ensures them that, if they have a problem, you will work to make it right.
  • DON’T get angry online. Even if you know you’re right and the customer is being unreasonable, a third party looking at the conversation online won’t have that knowledge. When you go tit for tat with a reviewer online, it’s your word against the customer’s, and that usually doesn’t go in the business owner’s favor.
  • DON’T use the same response for every negative review. If you have a canned response, it shows a lack of empathy, and it could send the message that you get so many negative reviews, you had to standardize the process (which is never good).

As far as responding to good reviews, that’s up to you. It’s never a bad thing to do, but if you are doing your job of asking everyone for a review, you may find that this is a difficult thing to keep up with. Do what feels right for you and fits with your flow.

#6 Why Does A Business With Less Reviews Rank Higher Than Me On The Map?

Reviews, although important, are not the only factor or even the main factor in Maps ranking — location is. Maps is all about physical location. The closer a business is to a searcher, the more likely they are to be #1. The important thing to remember here is that Maps ranking, to some extent, doesn’t really matter. Don’t think of it as a first, second, and third place. If you’re being shown in those top three spots, all ground is essentially equal.

What sets you apart when you do show up in Maps is your reviews. The majority of people will not click on a business just because it’s listed first if the second and third business has 100 more five-star reviews. If you focus on getting good reviews, it doesn’t matter where you are in the Maps three pack.

#7 Does PPC (Pay-Per-Click) Really Work For Service Area Businesses?

Yes, IF it’s used correctly. I’m speaking on Google AdWords specifically here because it is by far the most popular option for PPC. Here are a few things you need to know:

AdWords works on a bidding system, so it’s very competition driven. Different keywords in different industries in different markets have wildly different costs-per-click. This can make the question of “Is it cost-effective?” very difficult to answer, without really digging into your specific business. That being said, when AdWords IS done correctly and the ads point to a quality page on a quality site, it can generate a lot of leads.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen people make (even PPC management companies) is using location specific keywords, without actually defining the areas in which the ads are to show. In this situation, a company might use “chimney sweep Nashville” as their keywords, but because they didn’t confine the ad area to Nashville, the ad would show to people searching from all over the country. You’re guaranteed to get useless (and costly) clicks from way outside of your service area if you run a nationwide campaign as a service business, no matter how many location keywords you tag onto your search terms.

It’s also important to target your campaigns very intentionally. Running campaigns for every service you do but not bidding enough to get on the first page is useless. Instead, you’ll benefit more by picking a few services (maybe some that are seasonally appropriate) and making sure you’re bidding enough to be shown on the first page.

Another factor that influences both your cost-per-click and the user experience (which is tied directly to leads) is the relevance of the content on the landing page. If you’re running a chimney sweeping ad and you’re taking those who click to a gutter cleaning page, you will pay more per click than someone who is sending people to a page with content that’s relevant to the ad.

Also, consider that, if a user lands on your page after clicking the ad, but they can’t easily find a way to contact you, they’ll likely hit the “back” button, which means you’ve just lost money on a click. A common practice among some PPC management companies is to set up specific landing pages as stand alone sites that serve only as landing pages for AdWords campaigns. These will often have a tracking number associated with them, so you can track exactly how many calls come through that campaign.

The problem with this is that these pages, in many cases, will interfere with the organic ranking of your main site and the tracking numbers will be seen by Google as NAP inconsistency (if they are on the pages themselves). This does not mean, however, that all tracking numbers are bad. Using a tracking number in the ad itself is not picked up by Google’s algorithm and will not count as NAP inconsistency, so long as it remains ONLY in the AdWords system and does not find its way onto an indexed landing page.

Key Takeaway? AdWords is a powerful tool, and like any tool, it can be very helpful or very dangerous. Proper training and understanding is required to leverage AdWords effectively in your business.