Energy Circle’s 2017 Marketing Predictions
As the digital marketing landscape reshapes over 2017, the Energy Circle team is dedicated to staying on the cutting edge of the best solutions for the increasingly complex digital world of marketing healthy, efficient, comfortable buildings.Here are our top marketing predictions for the coming year:
1. More Paid Search Products
As 2016 ends, it is clear that Google is very serious about monetizing much of local search, particularly for any service area business involved in home improvement generally. We expect this to affect virtually all sectors of better building contracting. Google’s Home Services Ads (HSA) experiment has now extended to nearly all of California, and signs point to this going national in 2017. Where the game in the past was winning local search to rank in the organic local pack, it looks like the new world order is pay to play.
From our perspective, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. So far, our clients who fall within the HSA test area are cranking leads. During the test, Google isn’t charging yet, so cost remains a bit of a mystery. But it’s important to keep in mind that even though the organic Local Pack wasn’t pay per click, it still demanded investment in content and local search tactics. As frustrating as it is that Google’s search can be owned by the highest bidder, a clear pricing model that gives contractors the flexibility to participate may turn out to be just plain easier.
Implications: Contractors should have a toe in the paid search waters in order to stay competitive. Because HSAs require background checks on all employees, and 100% have to pass, you’ll want to get ready for this. It’s time consuming. Plus, since leads can now be easily and simultaneously presented to multiple contractors, it is critical that your CSR team is set up for rapid response.
2. Less Organic Real Estate
The corollary to Google getting more aggressive about paid advertising products is that there will be less real estate available for winning organic searches. Combined with Google’s recent tendency to give high rankings to directory and review sites like Yelp and HomeAdvisor, this should translate into reduced organic traffic. But has it?
As 2016 came to an end, we’re still not seeing a decline in either traffic from organic or conversion rates (the % of traffic that becomes an identifiable lead), even for contractors in the Home Services Ads test. However, all indicators are that the pressure on organic real estate won’t subside in 2017. Good search engine optimization (SEO) fundamentals remain key, and quality, consistent content still drives steady organic performance. With machine learning now core in the algorithm, we expect engagement--how people actually interact with your content--to become much more important as the year progresses. That’s a big initiative for our content team this year.
Implications: Watch your analytics closely as the year progresses for signs of change in organic traffic and lead flow. Maintain good fundamental SEO and local search optimization practices. Beware of routine blog posting that sees little traffic or engagement; it may be a better strategy to reduce frequency in favor of more compelling, deeper content that drives better engagement.
3. Review Madness
Reading third party reviews is now completely standard for homeowners who are in the process of selecting a contractor. That, combined with the fact that reviews are now everywhere--in organic search, in the Google Knowledge Panel--means you cannot hide. Google’s embrace of Schema (the wrapper that identifies content as a review) means that more reviews from more diverse sources will be exposed. It is unclear whether the crop of new review sites--Thumbtack, Porch and the other Uber wannabees of home improvement--will gain momentum in the high-performance building sector, but we’ll be watching closely. For now, Google My Business, Yelp, Facebook, HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List are the ones to watch.
Implications: First and foremost, monitor the review landscape; you will get reviews whether you actively solicit them or not. Successful companies will have an active and regular process of surveying all customers and identifying their evangelists. This is the new competency that contractors must incorporate as part of their daily process.
4. Preparing for a Voice Search World
Siri, Alexa, Cortana…the digital assistant party just keeps getting bigger. No matter what platform you use, voice search will continue to edge its way into the norm. For example, when people want to know the score of the Patriots game, they can get an instant voice telling them that the Patriots are up 41-17 and Brady has another 300+ yard game. Gone are the days of users going to NFL.com to keep tabs on the game.
The uses for voice search--like sports scores, weather and directions--are expanding into more complex searches. People are beginning to search for everything using speech. According to a speech given by Behshad Behzadi, Director of Conversational Search at Google, 41% of adults use voice search on a daily basis. This shifting reality can have a huge influence on those offering home improvement and efficiency services: Now, when a Amazon Echo-using homeowner’s furnace breaks down, they’ll ask Alexa what to do about it.
Implications: Contractors need to get ready to optimize for voice. What can you do to convince Alexa and the A.I. gang that your website deserves some lip service?
Go after more longtail keywords: Simply put, speech search leads to more complex search terms. People speak more exhaustively than they type, meaning common search terms may expand to 8, 9 or 10-word searches.
Create in-depth FAQ pages. Much like a round of Jeopardy, speech searches often come through in question form, so your content should reflect that. FAQ pages are easy to build if you listen to what your customers are asking compile simple, factual answers.
Invest in Schema (see prediction #9). Voice search results often match either Answer Boxes or Local Packs. Having Schema that tells Google exactly what you are writing about will increase the chances that the A.I. chooses your company.
5. Mobile Gets Very Real
Google has started using the mobile version of the web as its primary search engine index. In the past, Google has crawled the web from a desktop browser point of view. Now, Google is changing that to crawl the web from a mobile browser view. This change is affecting more searches by the day, and could make your mobile site’s usability even more important than that of your desktop site.
The growth of mobile has been an annual prediction of ours for the past 4 years, and each year it gets increasingly real. All of our clients--across the spectrum of mechanical and envelope-oriented companies--saw significant leaps in traffic from mobile devices last year. In some cases, mobile represents as much as 40% of overall traffic. If your website is not mobile friendly, then maybe these statistics will encourage you to take some action:
Home performance sites that are mobile friendly have seen a 73% increase in mobile traffic in 2016 compared to 2015.
Home performance sites that are not mobile friendly saw a 46% decrease in mobile traffic in 2016 compared to 2015.
While mobile traffic has still not eclipsed desktop traffic in our industry, if your site is not mobile friendly, you are most likely being penalized by Google. A 46% decrease in traffic is not something a lot of companies can afford, and we predict that in 2017, the penalization will only get harsher. And remember that avoiding a penalty isn’t really the ultimate goal here, facilitating a high-quality experience for people viewing your company on a mobile device is.
Google is among the backers of the Accelerated Mobile Page (AMP) Project, which is a way to build web pages that load quickly on mobile devices. While we have not seen a big impact in the home performance industry from AMPs so far, it is definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Implications: Everyone should have a mobile friendly site at the very least, since the development of more mobile initiatives like AMP appears imminent. Soon, just being mobile friendly will not be mobile friendly enough.
6. Lead Channel Expansion
Leads are the endgame for digital marketing. Converting visitors on your site to paying customers is why we are here. In the past (and present), leads have primarily come from forms on the website and phone calls. But with the expansion of social media advertising and other channels of communication, the potential for new customers lives everywhere.
Here are a few sources that could possibly be a part of your lead generation mix in 2017:
Live chat is rapidly becoming a popular B2C communication avenue. No need to actually make a phone call or write a whole email, just send a message and get a quick answer from a qualified professional! Adding live chat to your website could help customers get answers to questions quickly and even lead to them booking appointments if the answers are favorable. This obviously requires someone at your company who can answer live chat and is somewhat tech-savvy. Getting your CSRs ready for this is going to be key.
Most likely, your Facebook notifications go to your phone or someone at your company's phone. We have seen few instances of users contacting home performance companies privately through Facebook, but if you are equipped to quickly answer Facebook messages, then it is worth stating that you can. Announcing that you are responding to Facebook messages may encourage people to reach out and ask interesting questions or schedule appointments at their convenience.
Texting is how people communicate, and lots of phone tracking services are offering texting options. People feel comfortable texting, especially younger homeowners, so why not let them text your company? Again, someone on your staff would have to be in charge of answering the texts, but in this case, the maintenance cost might be worth the increase in people who contact your company.
Implications: Definitely take some time to consider if someone on your staff could provide chat or text support. While we’re not yet totally convinced all home performance professionals need to take this route, it’s best to be prepared if the channel really takes off in our industry.
7. Optimizing Less For Search Engines & More For People
You can find new articles a day claiming SEO is dead for some reason or another. None of this is true. SEO is not dead; it’s evolving. Very often your customer still meets Google first before they meet you. It used to be a simple game: produce regular content and be smart about your meta data. Now with machine learning, Google is taking into account what people want to see and shaping the search engine result pages (SERPs) around what it learns.
How people interact with your site could very well become the biggest search ranking factor. If users click to your site and instantly leave it, Google will see that and lower your ranking. If they spend time on you site clicking around (internal linking is still important) and reading or watching your content, Google will understand that they are happy with the results and will be more likely to show it to more people.
Implications: It may be time for a content audit of your site. Optimizing for people means less giant walls of keyword stuffed text and a more intuitive user experience, more videos, infographics and other engaging types of content. If people react well to your site, Google will, too.
8. The Case For Case Studies
For local contractors, there are usually 2 reasons a potential customer arrives at the website.
They have a problem and need immediate help.
They are interested in a larger scale purchase and want to learn more.
Offering 24/7 emergency service takes care of the first scenario, but what can you do about the second scenario to influence those users who are on your site to pick up the phone and make an appointment? The answer is high-quality case studies.
What better way to educate and inform customers of your work than to digitally walk them through a real life job site and showcase results? A high-quality case study has immense potential to boost SEO, inform customers and convert more leads. Here are a few ideas to enhance the value of your case studies:
Include internal links to service pages for better navigation and length of user sessions on your site.
Include geographic keywords about the project to further associate your services with that area and boost local SEO.
Include quality before, during, and after pictures to give users real-life insight into how your projects work.
All the great content in the world won’t do you any good if it looks terrible. Take some time in design to ensure an immersive experience. Break up text, keep it readable and tell a story. Consider creating a project video to give users another way to consume the information you’re offering them.
Implications: We predict that in 2017, contractors who put emphasis on showcasing their work on their site will see higher conversion rates. Invest some time in collecting past project info and compiling some case studies (or call us for some help!).
Schema is a collaborative effort among Google, Bing (Microsoft), Yahoo and Yandex (Russian search giant). It is a specific type of markup--a wrapper for certain types of content-- that tells search engines what is what on your site. In our view, this has become a “must-have” on your site for you to perform well in search, and for your content to appear elsewhere on the web--in organic searches, answer boxes and the Knowledge Panel.
For now, the most important content on your site to be schema-compliant are your reviews (or testimonials.) We’ve automated this within the Energy Circle Platform, and are already seeing incredible results.
Implications: In 2017, we will see Schema become even more specific as new applications and uses for it are added to the project. While site-wide Schema markup is great, failing to take advantage of new additions will cost you in the search engine result pages. The more specific you can be with how you use Schema (like utilizing the Local Business vocabulary, for example), the better search engines will be able to index your site and show it to interested users.
10. Paid Social Advertising
We’ve been seeing, over the course of the past two years, that paid social advertising is becoming an increasingly customizable and consistently affordable way to target potential customers, particularly on Facebook. 45% of marketers plan to expand social media budgets this year, according to Media Post.
In 2017, our team predicts that retargeting tools and options are on track to expand, which will give you more options than ever for reaching your past customers and visitors to your site. We also suspect that livestreaming may make its way into paid advertising in some capacity. Though Facebook’s live streaming is currently reserved for organic traffic only (rather than paid or boosted traffic), Twitter has run some sponsored live stream videos, which is likely an indication of more to come.
Implications: August 2016’s algorithm update will continue to affect organic posts from business’s social media accounts: these posts will likely be shown to users less and less in favor of posts from friends and family. Because of this, the paid ad market on social media is likely to become more saturated as more business start advertising and ads options are diversified, so having optimal targeting and messaging in place is crucial.
Want to learn more about our predictions and how these developments will influence your company’s web presence? Get in touch with the Energy Circle today and we’d be happy to talk it over with you.