HVAC Digital Marketing in 2018: How to Get It Right
It doesn’t take a marketing genius to understand that every generation consumes media differently. Think about it—smart TVs, cutting cable, connected homes, Alexa and Google Home, autonomous vehicles—we’re in the midst of a transformative shift right now.
If you’re interested in growing your HVAC business in 2018 and beyond, you need to quickly evolve your digital marketing plan.
I’ll tell you the exact moment I realized how fast—and how much—the world is changing. One day, I came home from work and, like most days, my ten-year-old was simultaneously watching YouTube on our smart TV and playing a video game on his iPad.
He paused YouTube only long enough to say, “Alexa, what are the chances it will snow tomorrow?” To my surprise, Alexa responded, “There is a 63 percent chance of snow in Olney, Maryland.”
Devices like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home have catapulted us even further into the age of technological assistance. My kids are constantly asking Alexa questions and giving her commands, “Alexa, how do you spell bureaucracy?”, “Alexa, play Jingle Bells by Frank Sinatra.”
Obviously, my ten-year-old is not your target customer…yet. But my kids’ tech and media consumption habits provide a glimpse into what is quickly becoming the new normal. Think about millennials—for the fourth year in a row they’ve been the largest home-buying demographic, and 35.8 million of them are expected to use a home personal assistant in 2018. The world is changing rapidly and so must your marketing plan.
But before you start planning for 2018 and the age of assistance, we need to recap what the most successful HVAC companies did in 2017. Why? Good question.
The bare minimum that was needed in 2017 to maximize your ROI on marketing investments will still be needed in addition to what’s coming for 2018.
Industry Analysis: The Current State of HVAC Digital Marketing
Every year for the past three years, my company, Blue Corona, has used our digital marketing analysis software to analyze the web presences of more than 5,000 HVAC contractors—including many ACCA members. We’ve reviewed everything from their company websites to their social media profiles.
In addition to looking at the industry as a whole, we also gathered some data and insights from our own 50-plus HVAC clients.
Like many large-scale analyses, most companies fall into one of three buckets:
- Those asleep at the wheel
- Those doing something, but not much
- Those who have made a serious commitment to their digital strategy and presence
Today’s Digital Marketing Playbook
Those HVAC contractors that made a serious commitment and really got it right in 2017 all used the same strategies—they tracked their analytics like a hawk, they paid close attention to their website and whether it matched the needs of their consumers, and they maximized their online real estate with tactics like pay per click (PPC) ads, social media, and review generation. All of these strategies will be necessary in 2018, so I’ll break down what’s needed for your company to start on a level playing field.
I’m baffled by HVAC contractors that don’t use any type of analytics tracking. If you don’t know how much revenue each advertising and marketing campaign produces, chances are you’re being left behind by those contractors who do. That’s why we implement advanced analytics on every single one of our HVAC client websites. While the specifics vary widely, one thing is clear—the leading HVAC companies are using data to make better digital marketing decisions.
Most HVAC contractors are aware that web analytics are important for their company. But only a few of them actually understand how to translate the numbers into a plan to maximize ROI. That’s where different tracking features come in. The most advanced companies utilize Google Analytics features such as geographic filtering, goal tracking, and Google Tag Manager. Not only that, they also use call tracking so they can see exactly which advertising campaigns and marketing channels are driving the most leads and sales. We’ve seen contractors throw away thousands—even tens of thousands—of dollars on YellowPages and TV spots until we showed them data that proved those two channels weren’t producing any leads or sales. These detailed analytics reports literally saved them hundreds of thousands of combined dollars on wasted marketing spend.
Some of the best are even using web visitor recording software tools like Clicktale and Hotjar, which show user behavior by essentially making a video recording of a prospect’s journey through the site. You get some pretty interesting insights about how to improve your website’s usability when you can anonymously watch how hundreds—even thousands—of visitors traverse your site.
The net effect of having these advanced analytics tools is better data, which can be used to inform better decisions and marketing strategies.
Secure, Fast, Sophisticated & Content-Rich Websites
The leading HVAC companies recognize that their website is arguably their single most important marketing asset. Recognizing the importance Google has placed on website security and speed, the top HVAC contractors have upgraded their websites from non-secure (http) to secure (https), and many have defined budgets for continual website testing and speed optimization.
The digital marketing leaders in the HVAC industry have sophisticated websites, often with integrated review generation and management systems. They have dynamic pages, video content, and a regularly updated blog with well-written, in-depth articles. Another common trait they all share? Their website is optimized for smartphone users. A full 69 percent of smartphone users are more likely to buy from a company whose mobile site can help them find answers to their questions easily.
These successful companies understand that today’s consumer has the world’s largest library instantly accessible at all times. Today’s mobile buyers prefer to self-educate before calling a company—81 percent of them do research online before they have much of a commercial intent. Mobile searches for “best” have grown 80 percent in the past two years, and there have been 1.5 times more mobile searches ending with “to avoid” in the past two years. Consumers want website content that answers their questions and helps them through this research phase.
The successful HVAC contractors also recognize Google doesn’t rank websites per se—Google ranks individual website pages. The more pages an HVAC company has on its website, the more opportunities it has to rank on Google; and each individual page has a unique opportunity to rank, so each one needs to be optimized for SEO and search intent.
We have some pretty impressive stats that prove optimizing content works. We were able to get one HVAC client over 600 new Google rankings and double the organic traffic just from updating the content on their site. With SEO alone, we increased another contractor’s organic leads by 128 percent.
Paid Advertising on Search & Social
While your website is a key source of leads and sales, it’s not the only thing you should focus on in 2018. Pull out your phone and do a quick Google search for “furnace replacement” in your city state (e.g., “furnace replacement Gaithersburg MD”). Notice the paid ads at the top of your screen. Paid ads occupy some of the most valuable real estate on search engine results pages. These days, you’ll have to scroll down pretty far to find the first organic listing.
Not only do 41 percent of searchers click on paid ads, visitors that land on your site through a PPC ad are 50 percent more likely to purchase something than organic visitors. I know that’s true for our top HVAC clients—one contractor we work with saw a $1,214 return on ad spend (ROAS) and a cost per lead (CPL) of $28. That client isn’t unique either—another increased leads by 50 percent and reduced CPL by 38 percent.
The most common and currently most effective forms of paid advertising are paid search ads on Google’s AdWords platform and Bing Ad Center. The most successful HVAC companies are using these ads as well as others—remarketing and social media ads, for example. A remarketing ad is displayed to someone that has visited your website already. You can also target past customers and prospects with Google display ads, and serve video ads on YouTube.
While you may brush off social media platforms like YouTube because it’s “kid stuff,” think again—Gen-Xers account for more than 1.5 billion views on YouTube every day. And other social media sites? Studies show that Gen-Xers are actually more active on social media sites than millennials. I know that’s true for my peer group—you can’t go to any sort of kid’s function without seeing an army of parents scrolling through social media on their smartphones. By serving similar cohesive ads across several of the different platforms your target audience uses, you’re more likely to be seen and recognized in a multi-screen universe.
Organic Social Media & Reviews
Paid ads weren’t the only social media focus in 2017. Over the past few years, consumers have been treated to an ever-increasing choice of services and companies to choose from. As a result, they’ve smartened up to big-brand marketing ploys and demand more accountability with the promises and claims companies make. One result of this shift is that seven out of ten consumers expect a business to have a well-maintained social media presence, and 17 percent of consumers actively use social networks when looking for information about a business. Companies with outdated social media profiles are seen as out of touch with the market place.
With social media, you can’t just set it and forget it, either. Consumers also expect you to be listening and monitoring your company’s social media profiles. When someone has a problem with their HVAC system, they might call you or they might fill out a form on your website, but they might also contact you via your Facebook page or through Facebook messenger. An estimated 67 percent of consumers now use social media networks like Twitter and Facebook to seek resolution for issues, and 60 percent of them expect their issue to be resolved within one hour. If you can’t do it, you better believe that customer will ditch your company for one that can. Savvy HVAC contractors have at least one sales person or customer service rep who is constantly scanning the company’s social media profiles and responding.
One benefit to monitoring your social profile is that you can easily turn a customer’s bad experience into a good review. I remember one particular HVAC client of ours who got a scathing 1-star review on Facebook. After the contractor quickly reached out to the unhappy customer and made a genuine effort to rectify the situation, the customer changed it to four stars and noted how impressed they were with the fast customer service response. And get this—it wasn’t a huge demand. They didn’t want a free furnace or an outrageous refund. They literally just wanted to feel heard.
In 2018, you can expect more of an emphasis on social media, especially as new niche platforms—like Nextdoor—become prevalent. I recommend you dive into the preferences of your target audience to help pick the best social platforms for your brand.
In some markets, the most successful HVAC companies have one distinct problem in common—they’ve got more leads and jobs than they can possibly handle but have a hard time finding qualified technicians. When that happens, it’s time to expand your digital marketing strategy to include recruitment advertising.
The best recruitment campaigns are stretched across several different mediums—your website, PPC ads, and relevant recruitment platforms like LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and even Facebook.
I’ll give you an example of what we’re doing right now for one HVAC client needing new talent. We set up a comprehensive campaign that included advertising on their website, Facebook, Google for Jobs, Indeed, Craigslist, LinkedIn, and PPC ads. But it goes beyond just listing your open positions.
A successful recruitment campaign also includes competitive research in the job market for responsibilities, requirements, and benefits to make the job postings competitive. Another factor? Reviews. You need to encourage your happy employees to leave reviews on sites like Glassdoor, because 69 percent of potential employees would not take a job with a company that has a bad reputation, even if they were unemployed.
Things to Keep in Mind in 2018
So, how is your current digital marketing strategy shaping up compared to what the most successful HVAC contractors did in 2017? Which bucket do you fall into—are you asleep at the wheel? Doing something, but not much? Or did you make a serious commitment to your digital strategy?
Certainly, every market is different, and what you should do ultimately depends on your business goals. That said, if you’re not doing at least some of the things mentioned above, you’re probably getting left behind.
If you are doing some of the things listed above, good. You’re on the right path toward success. No matter where your company currently stands, there are some questions you should ask yourself and your team as you head into the new year. I’ve broken them down into strategy levels one, two, and three, so no matter which bucket you fall into, you’ve still got a clear way forward.
Strategy level 1: What data are we collecting from our website?
Strategy level 2: How are we using the data we have?
Strategy level 3: How do our website and marketing analytics capabilities stack up to our competitors?
Website & Content
Strategy level 1: Who is responsible for our website? Do we “own” our website and its content? Is our website secure? How fast is our site compared to our competitors?
Strategy level 2: What do customers and prospects expect from our site? What is our strategy to better address customer and prospect needs?
Strategy level 3: How often do we update our content? Which pages of our website are the most/least productive? What are we doing about this?
Strategy level 1: What does our offsite presence look like? Do we have social media profiles set up?
Strategy level 2: How can we increase our footprint across the web with paid ads and social media ads? What other social media platforms is our target audience on?
Strategy level 3: How can we tie together content from our website and translate it into a social media plan and PPC ad campaigns that will resonate with prospective customers?
Recruitment and Reviews:
Strategy level 1: Do we have a careers page with updated listings? Does our website align with the message we want to send to new recruits?
Strategy level 2: How can we push out job listings on social media and relevant recruitment sites? How are we soliciting reviews?
Strategy level 3: How can we encourage existing employees to leave reviews on Glassdoor, and how else can we solicit reviews from happy employees and customers?
With constant access to the web, social media networks, a myriad of review sites, and smartphones, there’s never been a more empowered consumer. You cannot create a highly-effective digital marketing strategy in 2018 without embracing this fact. The other variable is the speed at which consumer habits are changing. Marketers and business owners alike have said that marketing has changed more in the past two years than in the past 50, and it’s because the consumer’s expectations are rapidly changing.
While my son is just now asking Alexa what the temperature is, in a few years he’s going to be asking her to tell him why his house is cold. Heck—millennials are doing that now. At this very moment, the largest homebuying demographic expects connected home devices to work together automatically to solve real-world problems like security, comfort, and energy savings. Tech giants like Google and Amazon are more than happy to supply the devices for this demand, but your company needs to keep up with it as well. If not, there are thousands of other contractors lined up and ready to fill your spot in the marketplace.
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Posted In: Sales & Marketing
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