© adobe stock

Practicing strong search engine optimization is like tending a commercial property during a winter event: There’s multiple important components that make up the whole.

That’s how Jack Jostes likens it to his clients in the green industry. He’s the president and CEO of Ramblin’ Jackson, a digital marketing agency based in Boulder, Colo. Between getting strong Google reviews and properly listing your company’s contact information online, Jostes says there’s not one clear-cut path to strong SEO.

“There are multiple components that need to work together to get found online,” Jostes says. “There isn't any one single thing that you do, just like there isn't any one single thing you're going to do if you're [clearing a commercial property].”

While there’s no secret formula to finding success online, SEO experts say there’s certainly several steps that convert website users into leads. And here’s the positive: Chris Darnell with The Harvest Group believes there’s very little competition online because professional contractors simply haven’t put in the time as an industry to learn about SEO.

“I would say if somebody would spend four or five hours a month on it, they’d be ahead of 90 percent of the other competitors,” Darnell says. “It takes very little to move the needle in [the green and white industries] because people don’t take advantage of digital marketing.”

Two thumbs up

Getting strong reviews online is among the first things contractors can do to improve their SEO. Jostes says clients look at the reviews online before deciding to invest money in a company, and three out of five stars doesn’t look good when someone else has five out of five.

So, Jostes recommends asking for an online review while building that relationship with the client. He’s told companies to make it a part of their process, where managers will ask clients for a Google review before final walkthrough of the property. Others can secure the review months in advance by getting an agreement that they’ll leave their feedback at the end of the process.

It’s important to get Google reviews, Jostes says, but it’s also important to give clients options in the event they don’t have a Google account. Put a reviews section on the company website where people can write firsthand feedback without needing to create an account. Reviews on social media also factor into the SEO equation, so he says contractors can’t ignore those, either.

“The clients who are not getting strong results from the internet don't have reviews yet,” Jostes says. “They all say that word of mouth is their number one source of business. Online reviews is still word of mouth.”

A work in progress

Chad Diller says it’s easy for companies to forget that people – not computers – are on the other end of a Google search. Real, live humans are the ones viewing a website, so the site should be as user-friendly as possible.

“Every move that I’ve seen in Google over the last 10 years has been rewarding websites that provide a meaningful, valuable user experience,” Diller says. “If a person finds your website and they stay there…that is a big, big indicator to Google that things are going good.”

Diller is the director of client success at Landscape Leadership, which focuses on improving marketing and sales for companies in the green industry. He tells his clients to ensure their websites look good on both desktop and mobile devices, plus warns them to watch for slow loading times.

He also urges companies to consider what’s on their website. Don’t just tell people what services you offer – tell them how their solutions will help them get what they want. For example, the writing is often something like, “we provide mowing” when it should be, “we’re giving you your weekends back.”

“(The best sites) are writing for a human. It’s actually funny or clever or meaningful,” he says. “This looks different than the 12 other [industry] websites we went to.”

Creating solutions

Tone is not the only important factor to consider when evaluating a website’s content. Darnell says it’s important, and for a prime example of why, contractors should look at Apple’s website. They’re not posting photos of the latest chip that goes in their phone; they post photos of people dancing and having a good time.

But he also reminds professionals that creating original, unique content is vital to success online. Darnell says SEO is like your digital reputation, and creating a strong reputation means doing and saying the right things over a period of time to establish yourself online. Showing off how many awards your company has won or that you can take nice photographs in front of a truck is not enough – potential clients want to see expertise.

“The misconception is that you want to talk about yourself a lot. You don’t,” Darnell says. “You want to identify the issue, the solution and basically why you’re the best choice to provide that solution.”

There are some elements to SEO that can’t really be changed: Search location proximity factors into what people search, so a contractor in Ohio is always going to show up higher than a snow prow in Michigan if that Google user is searching “snow contractor.” But Jostes says creating several web pages on a website helps build up SEO and including relevant links and keywords like the city names or services that the company offers will help. A four-page website won’t stand up against a 50-page website, especially if the pages on the latter are relevant.

Developed pages answer questions a client might have and provide education, while underdeveloped pages focus simply on why that company is so great – a marketing pitch.

“If you don't mention the individual cities and pages, you're not going to stand out online,” Jostes warns snow and ice management contractors. “And you could because most landscapers have a very thin, weak website with no content. If you build out the content, you will rank (and get) those leads.”

Monitoring changes

Diller urges professionals to remember that SEO work is never really done. Not all a company’s problems will disappear if they reach the coveted top landing spot for when someone searches “snow contractors near me.” He reminds companies that the goal is to get quality leads, not simply to get views.

“I think companies are looking for shortcuts,” Diller says. “They want someone to do this for them. They don’t want to be tied up with it.”

There are other search engines out there, but Diller says contractors should max out what they can do with Google first since it’s king. Plus, if they do find success on Google, pros will likely inherently find success on the other search engines.

Monitoring the changes in algorithms can be complicated, Darnell admits, but using tools like Google My Business, Moz and Search Engine Journal will help. Constantly reading about what Google uses in its algorithms helps people stay ahead of the curve in SEO.

Jostes compares SEO to a “tree of good fortune” – you can go out and buy fruit, but if you grow it instead, it’ll be plentiful and more productive in the long run.

“It takes more work to get started and it takes time,” Jostes says. “But once you plant it and nurture it, every season you're generating those leads, but not necessarily paying as much as you did to build it and plant it.”