Business owners today scramble for market share through SEO, Pay per click and a sundry other web related approaches.
I have attached one of the most encompassing, well written articles I have ever read relating to the subject of SEO, Google and Ad words.
I strongly suggest you take the time and read.
by Jonathan Grubb, Partner, United Restorers
In the early months of 2012, a shocking new trend emerged in the online advertising war over the search term “water damage”: a single click on a Google advertisement prompted by a user “googling” this term broke the $500 barrier. The armies engaged in this war were restoration companies located in and around Atlanta, Georgia. The concept that brought these companies to the battlefield was “lead generation.”
“Lead generation” is typically managed by a third party who, through their own paid or organic online marketing efforts, connect an end-user in need of water damage restoration, mold remediation or similar service with a restoration company who has agreed to pay the manager of these efforts per phone call, per appointment or a percentage of the gross revenue the job produces.
We’ll discuss each lead generation price model a little later. Let’s first look at the brief history of online marketing within the restoration industry so that we can better understand what happened in February 2012.
If you’ve been around the industry for a while, you know that marketing efforts in the restoration industry were usually limited to the phone book (or, as my kids call it, “kindling”). But something very special happened in October of 2000: a three year old idea that had morphed into a two year old tech company called “Google” launched a product called “AdWords“. Google AdWords changed everything. Where Lycos, AOL, and a dozen other search engines failed to gain traction in user-initiated searches for service providers, Google dominated. Google made online search simple for those searching and simple (as well as inexpensive) for those wanting to be found. Before long, Google accomplished want all brands strive for: they had become a verb.
But as often is the case in niche service industries, we were slow to adopt the new Google trend. Yes, there were exceptions: some franchise systems grew overnight because of their ability to generate leads for their franchisees. Some of you built websites and spent hours (days/weeks/months) learning how to create your own ads on Google. I’ve argued before why restoration companies should always be marketing their services, drawing insureds directly to them, and those who made this effort saw success. By and large, though, our industry didn’t find its way online — let alone into Google ad space — until the last few years. And the companies who were responsible for getting retailers, pharmaceutical companies, law offices and the rest of American commerce online took note.
Here we were, a profitable and booming service-based industry, desperate for our next lead. We needed to get online. We needed to make our phone ring. And the online, paid advertising companies who had paid attention to us — the Lead Generators — were the ones who came to our aid.
Three Paths to the First Page
For the uninitiated, there are three paths to Google’s first page: paid advertising, organic results, and local listings. Let’s work in reverse order: local listings (referred to as Google Places or Google Local) is the simplest way for real companies to obtain a first page rank. It’s also completely free. [You’ll find a link in the Resources section that walks you through setting up a local listing for your business. If you haven’t done so already, I strongly recommend it. When a client has experienced an emergency in their home or business, they’ll often look in this section to find the company closest to them]. Ironically, Lead Generators often avoid local listings as they are very difficult to fake. This is yet another reason why you should make the effort to occupy one of these listings with your very real business.
The second path leads to the organic search results (the area below the paid ads) and comes by way of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Organic ranking, while “free”, often takes several months — even years — to achieve. The better the SEO techniques used, the higher the page rank. Result #1 on Page #1 is the Holy Grail of SEO efforts. [In the Resources section below you’ll find links to sites and blog posts that I’ve found helpful in my own SEO efforts; if you plan on managing your own SEO efforts for your site, prepare to spend a lot of time doing so; the payoff is worth it, but the journey is long and treacherous; if you plan to outsource this, hire an SEO company who knows our industry and one that can provide case studies from other restoration clients showing the arch of launch, page-one placement and ROI].
The final path also happens to be the most expensive and the fastest: paid advertising [Google’s product for managing paid advertising is called AdWords; the method is generally referred to as Pay-Per-Click]. But just because you pay to advertise with Google doesn’t mean your ads will show on Google’s first page. Within a desktop search, Google typically shows 10-12 ads. There are dozens of variables that determine where and when your ad will be shown to a client who has searched for a term you’ve bid on. In addition to this, your competitors are also vying for these first page placements. Good AdWords managers know how to optimize campaigns and budgets to keep their ads on Page 1. In my experience, I can count on new ads I’ve created showing in the #1 or #2 spots within a few days of activation.
The Little Big Horn of Auctions
Lead Generators needed instant results that could be replicated over a vast client base: paid ads fit these needs perfectly. But there’s one problem: Google’s AdWords program is an auction. As more buyers enter the auction, it becomes more competitive and bids are driven up. Google doesn’t make information about specific auctions public, but analyzing the results of the daily Google auctions in February 2012, I can safely conclude that Lead Generator’s got greedy. By selling their services to multiple companies within the same city (and auction) the Lead Generators so inflated a single term — “water damage”– that the result were clicks costing more than $500 a piece (referred to as Cost Per Click or CPC). The Lead Generators had loaded their own auction. Two years later, the term “water damage” in Atlanta still hovers around the $120-mark for a single click. This effect, however, is larger in scale than Atlanta. It has defined the current tactics used by Lead Generators and has determined what restoration leads are “worth”.
To avoid similar disasters such as the Atlanta auction, Lead Generators have turned to two strategies: SEO efforts that produce organic results and tightly tailored territories for paid advertisements.
Because Lead Generators were footing the Google bill for paid ads (which you pay for in the form of higher per-lead costs) and because they now understood the lunacy of entering into a city-defined auction on behalf of multiple Restorers, many Lead Generators have turned to SEO.
Lead Generation via SEO
Here’s how it works: the Lead Generator creates a very generic site. They then create landing pages for each state and sub-pages for each city — equating to thousands of pages. If you’re a client of this Lead Generator, your service area will determine which and how many of these pages direct clients to you (through your direct phone number or a forwarding number). If these sites are organized, maintained well, and updated regularly, over time they may begin showing (or ranking) on Google’s first page. So if the Lead Generator you are contracted with manages to work your page or pages to Google’s first page of search results, you’ll pay (in one way or another) if this customer calls.
You might be asking yourself why I’m insinuating that this is a bad thing. Inherently, it’s not. These Lead Generators are able to do something many of you can’t (rank organically on Page 1). And because of this, you occasionally get a lead you wouldn’t have normally gotten. But I’d like you to think about these things:
1. Because Lead Generators create these types of sites to be scalable (in order to maximize the number of restores it feeds), most sites must represent a generic and fake restoration company. If you currently use a Lead Generator or two, you’ve learned to answer your phone “generically” to avoid confusing your prospect. While there are more grievous sins we could commit, I’m not a fan of this practice. “Deceptive” is a strong word, but if we are willing to call things what they truly are then we must call this practice deceptive. If we think beyond today and our own needs, does this tactic help or hurt our industry? And since we’re being candid, I should point out the danger of creating a relationship with a client under any other terms than complete honesty.
2. Next, these efforts do nothing for your brand. The customer, remember, visited the website of Restoration Company X, or, more realistically: