For construction and general contracting businesses, the best form of marketing has traditionally been word-of-mouth. When you do good work, clients recommend you to others, and business builds from there. But word-of-mouth can only take you so far. In an increasingly digital world, you need search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) to propel you to the next level. Here’s an overview of how these tools work and how you can use them to generate leads, and ultimately, more business.

The basics of SEO and SEM

SEO and SEM are marketing methods that help your business rise to the top of results when potential customers search for providers online using search engines like Google and Bing. SEO includes the techniques you can use to drive quality traffic to your website. On the other hand, SEM includes paid marketing techniques on search engines. While these SEM methods require an upfront investment, they can be effective at creating and increasing awareness of your business in your local area. What’s more, you can combine SEO and SEM to increase your visibility on the internet and boost your flow of customers. But before you add these tools to your toolbox, here’s what you need to know:

Strategies to boost SEO

The simplest way to utilize SEO involves researching the top keywords that people may use to search online for businesses like yours, and then scattering these words and phrases across your website and business listings. This makes your website and listings more likely to appear when potential customers use them on Google, Bing or other search engines. With that in mind, here are four things you can do right now to boost your SEO efforts:

1. Create a list of keywords and phrases

Put yourself in the shoes of your potential customers, and ask yourself what you would search for when looking for a business like yours online. Remember to be specific and detailed. Come up with 5-10 phrases that you think fit your business best. For example, if you run a construction business, simply using “construction” won’t cut it. Using a more specific phrase such as “custom cabinetry in Aurora, Colorado” is much more likely to make your business visible in search results.

2. Optimize your website’s content

After you come up with your list of keywords and phrases, weave them into the content and business descriptions on your website. For example, if the phrase “best landscaping service in Kansas City” appears on your website a few times, there’s a higher chance your site will appear in search results when potential customers search for that same phrase. Be careful not to overdo it: using unsubstantiated or misleading claims could backfire for your business.

3. Create a blog for your business

A business blog is great because it allows you to constantly place fresh content on your website, which helps keep visitors coming back. Business blogs also create more opportunities for you to use your SEO keywords and phrases. Creating a blog does require a consistent time commitment, however. If visitors to your website see your most recent blog entry was from July 2015, they’ll be less likely to take you seriously. If you launch a blog, commit to publishing something new on it at least once every week.

Need ideas for what to post? Make a list of common questions you get about your services, and start with those topics. Some ideas include:

  • How much does an in-ground swimming pool cost?
  • How much paint will I need to paint my living room?
  • How long does it take to refinish hardwood floors?
  • How often should I get my windows cleaned?
  • How can I protect my home from ice dams?

4. Make sure your online listings are consistent

When consumers are starting their search for a contractor, they typically start with an online directory. Make sure your business is listed accurately and consistently on listings sites like Angies List, Yelp, and Google. You’ll want to include the name of your business and the relevant contact information such as your address and phone number. Any discrepancies can confuse internet search engines and hurt your chances of appearing in searches.

Is SEM right for your business?

Often referred to as paid search, SEM involves pay-for-play efforts that give your business more visibility on search engines. It’s similar to SEO in that it’s based on a defined set of keywords and phrases. The difference is that you pay for higher placement on search engines like Google, Yahoo or Bing.

Paid search uses a pay-per-click (PPC) model, which means you pay a small fee to the search engine each time someone clicks on your ad. While that fee may be a turnoff for some, it’s minimal if that click eventually leads to a sale.

So, is SEM or paid search right for your business? With approximately 74 percent of internet users performing local searches, SEM can be a boon for your business. It’s relatively inexpensive to get started, so it’s certainly worth a try.

Finding the right (pay-per-click) words

If you decide to try paid search, one of the first things you’ll need to do is create a list of pay-per-click keywords to use in your campaign. But which keywords should you choose?

In general, keywords that have high volume, but low competition, will deliver the best returns. There are several online tools you can use to determine how common various keywords are. For example, this free Search Volume tool shows that the keyword “roofing” receives a whopping 27,100 monthly searches on average. Paying for this keyword would probably result in lots of competition. However, the phrase “roofing in Baltimore” only receives an average of 10 searches per month. Being more specific can help connect your business with potential customers who are relevant, and it reduces your cost per click due to lower demand for the keyword.

Similar to SEO strategies, your SEM efforts should include pay-per-click keywords that are specific to your business, the services you offer and the region you’re located in.

Highlight your unique services in SEO and SEM

For contractors and construction businesses, SEO keywords such as “construction,” “roofing,” “landscaping” and “contracting” are very common. That’s not to say you should steer clear of these types of words completely, but just know that there will likely be many other businesses using similar words.

If possible, use those words in conjunction with others to highlight the unique services your business offers. For example, if your business excels in building sheds for storage or recreational use, a keyword such as “shed construction” will be much more effective than simply “construction.” 

Inserting a location into your keywords is also useful and can help you target potential customers in a particular town, city or suburb. For example, a roofing company based in Minneapolis that’s looking to generate business in more affluent suburbs may use a keyword such as “roofing services in Wayzata,” with hopes of generating clicks from that specific community.

SEO vs. SEM: Which should you choose?

Now that you understand the basics of SEO and SEM, you can put them to work for your business. But where should you focus your efforts?

SEO is a must for any construction or contracting business. Optimizing your website for important keywords can go a long way toward generating organic traffic to your website, which in turn can boost your bottom line. SEM is a valuable tool for acquiring new customers, should your marketing budget allow it.

In a perfect world, your business would use a combination of these techniques to maximize your results. SEM and SEO both work toward making your website more visible to search engines by using different techniques that work well in tandem and can be a valuable component of your marketing plan.

However you decide to use them, SEO and SEM can help build your business’s presence on search engines and get more customers both to your website and through your door.

Get traffic moving your way

Establish a stronger online presence with a strategy that increases your organic search rankings.



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