Make Local Search Work For You: Strategies for the Home Performance and HVAC Industries

Evan Beck

Every year, Moz produces the Local Search Ranking Factors report, a compilation of the views of local search experts across the world on how local businesses can most effectively rank in search engines. Google is notoriously secretive about their algorithm, and constantly tweaking it, so this report is much anticipated by the Energy Circle team for both its guidance and specific impact on HVAC, home performance, solar and other better buildings contracting companies.  

The report looks at the factors for ranking within the Local Pack, that elusive three company box that is so critical for winning clicks, as well as how local businesses can rank in the general organic results. As we’ve talked about repeatedly, Google’s real estate squeeze--where it’s paid products are devouring an increasing amount of page one real estate--makes this ever more important.

 

Factor #1: Link Signals

When we talk about link signals in relation to local ranking, we’re focusing on backlinks, which we’ve discussed before.

“Backlinks are other websites that link to yours. For example, if your listing on BPI’s site is properly setup, and there is a link there to your site, that’s a backlink. Amongst the oldest of Google’s fundamental concepts was the idea that a link is essentially a vote, and the more votes, and more authoritative those votes (not a democracy), the more highly Google would rate your website.”

Link signals, as shown in the graphs above, place as the most and second most important variables in organic and local pack ranking, respectively. Quality links (we’ll get to what that means in a second), were the cornerstone of Google’s initial search formula, and so it comes as no surprise they continue to place high in the sphere of local ranking.

Quality links are links from sites that are considered to have a high domain authority. Domain authority is also something we’ve covered in the past. It’s a measurement system developed by Moz that functions as a best-guess for how high quality a site is in the eyes of Google. We know that the number of backlinks a site has is highly correlated to its domain authority. Our team at Energy Circle has uniquely studied our industry-specific relationship between links and domain authority. Using our proprietary dataset we’ve created the graph below.

Domain authority is a logarithmic function and as a site moves up on the 0-100 scale, higher scores are progressively harder to obtain. Now, while this may seem overly technical, we’re going to apply it directly to the home performance sector and hopefully, its importance will start to sink in. We’ve been able to use our dataset to map out the domain authorities of websites in the home performance, HVAC and better buildings sector.

The vast majority of sites in these industries have a domain authority under 30. This means that efforts to tie your site to others in the industry via backlinks will be able to give your site, and business, an impressive boost in search.

Applications for your home performance, HVAC or solar company:

There are many legitimate ways to increase your site’s reach with backlinking, but the number one rule is quality over quantity. Peter’s written about this before, but there are several industry-related directories with high domain authority where securing your place and having your URL accurately listed can achieve a meaningful bump in your domain authority. Backlinks from these sites are considered “superlinks” and include links from the likes of Energy.gov and BPI.org. A backlink from these sites demonstrates legitimacy and is rewarded in the eyes of Google.

Factor #2: Google My Business

Moz data illustrates that “business signals” are among the most prominent variables in local search ranking. These business signals are referring to the data in your Google My Business (GMB) page. The information behind GMB is foundational to your company and is illustrated below in the highlighted Google Knowledge panel. 

 

A solid foundation for GMB requires an accurate listing of business categories, directions and your company’s hours. Business categories are supplied by Google with you, the service provider, subsequently choosing and ranking categories associated with your business on your GMB page. Google recently expanded its offering of categories in the HP/HVAC/solar space to include new options. We’ve got the full list on the slides from our recent webinar on this topic, and solar got a huge boost, adding the categories of Solar Energy Company, Solar Energy Contractor and Solar Hot Water System Supplier. The Google Knowledge Panel is your owned real estate on the SERP when a potential customer searches for your business.

Applications for your home performance, HVAC or solar company:

You’d be surprised how many businesses in our industry haven’t even claimed their business listing with GMB. Of primary importance after claiming your listing is making sure data related to your business, including directions and open hours, are accurate. Secondly, be aware of the prominence of online reviews in the Knowledge Panel. We covered this late last year, Google aggregates multiple online review pages in your businesses Knowledge Panel, making potential customers aware of your business reviews on a range of sites. Our third and final recommendation is to be proactive in selecting and ranking the categories associated with your business when you claim your page. You’ll need to seasonally adjust your categories to fit what you believe potential clients are searching for. For example, in the winter months, categories related to heating should be placed above those associated with air conditioning.

We also recommend adding photos of your team and business to your GMB page. This will add a level of authenticity and recognition to your result in the Knowledge Panel and further fill out your SERP real estate.

Factor #3: Review and Citation Signals

Review and citation signals together account for 26% percent of your Local Pack ranking according to the experts (refer to Moz survey charts), and Google Reviews in particular play an outsized role in the terrain of customer engagement with your brand.

In the previous section, we discussed the role of your GMB data and highlighted the Knowledge Panel. This Knowledge Panel hosts Google Reviews which are visualized with stars. Previously Google required five reviews to show the “stars,” but now only one review is needed for this visualization. Other review aggregators factor into local search and customer engagement as well. Reviews of your business on Facebook will appear in the Knowledge Panel while Yelp reviews will factor into your ranking due to Yelp’s organic strength.

Reviews are factors external to your website itself, or off-page. Citations are another of the prominent off-page factors that act as a guiding hand in informing Google of your company’s existence across the internet. Citations are made up of three factors: name, address and phone number, colloquially known as, “NAP.” Since it can be easy to sometimes feel crowded out by your local competitors in the digital space, it’s important your NAP is consistent across the web wherever it is listed.

Citations are the listing of your NAP on a slew of digital directories that includes search engines (Google, Bing, Apple Maps), and global digital aggregators (InfoGroup, Acxiom, Localeze, Factual). Strong customer engagement and a proactive approach to listing your NAP will ensure your company has a foot to stand on in local search rankings.

Applications for your home performance, HVAC or solar company:

It may seem you can’t control online reviews, but there is space to influence them. Consider follow-up emails after providing service asking clients to review your company online, or leave behind thank you notes when done, asking customers who had a positive experience to go online and let their “voice be heard.” Of the factors that affect your local ranking, reviews have the added benefit or cost of also directly influencing if potential customers want to hire you, so keeping an eye on reviews and following up when feedback is less than ideal is important. This requires being level-headed with negative reviews and asking individuals to follow-up with you directly.

Factor # 4: On-Page Signals

Thus far we’ve focused on the off-page factors influencing your SERP placement but now we will shift to the information on your site. These on-page factors include NAP consistency discussed in the citation section. A quick and meaningful way to incorporate your NAP on a page is to build it into each page’s footer. Novel factors to incorporate on-page include the practice of meta-optimization. Meta titles should be concise and accurate, coming in at 60 characters or less. Meta descriptions, the text that appears under a results title on the SERP, must be under 160 characters. Given their placement beneath a page’s title, a meta description is your digital elevator pitch.

As a quick shoutout to content strategy, remember that making your content compelling counts in the eyes of Google. Content that draws eyeballs and engages users is important because it lowers the “bounce rate,” people who click away immediately. This, in turn, is a ranking signal important to Google.

The final piece of on-page advice we would make is leaning in towards schema incorporation. The development of schema was a collaborative endeavor from all major search engines to create a data format that bots can actively crawl and recognize. Content specific wrapping can enhance your organic representation and the information displayed to customers.

Applications for your home performance, HVAC or solar company:

When you’re a trained expert in this sector you may forget the search factors a non-industry client may consider. Meta-optimization requires terminology that is commonly used by customers, not contractors. Be sure to do keyword research into what customers are actually looking for. For example, while “home performance” means something to you, searchers might just be looking for “insulation” or “why is my dining room cold?” We recommend rereading our post on the “long-tail” of search to get in the mind of your potential customers when crafting your HTML.

Pulling it Together: A Formula for Success

We’ve covered a lot so far, starting with a discussion of link signals and domain authority. From there we covered the GMB Knowledge Panel and the importance of external signals to Google in the form of reviews and citations. Finally, we dove into the nitty gritty of meta-optimization, content and schema. It’s a lot of information to digest, especially when your focus is on providing a quality energy audit or water heater replacement. We’ve developed a shorthand formula specific to professionals in home performance, HVAC and solar that will lend a hand in forward-thinking search ranking:

  • Strong domain authority: Scoring above 30 in Moz’s calculus is a strong indicator your company will outpace others in the industry’s local pack and organic ranking (refer to the above histogram).

  • Healthy incoming links: We’ve found a baseline of 30 incoming links from other websites is a critical mass to reach for ranking. The websites linking back to yours should be quality pages with high domain authority in their own right.

  • Pages to match service search: Employ separate pages within your site for each service supplied, ideally at least 20. Keep in mind that Google is crawling for keywords in your meta-title, so if you offer heating and cooling services it would behoove you to have a unique page for each.

  • Sustainable and fresh content: Our recommendation is that you add at least one new piece of content to your site on a weekly basis. This includes, but is not limited to, a new testimonial, blog post, or service page.

Securing Your Spot: Why Search Matters

The world is constantly leaning into search to find everything from where to get a great haircut to which solar installer to go with, and yet, the local search ranking factors we opened with are the pieces to a puzzle no one outside of Google can solve completely. That said, as digital strategists exclusively for home performance, HVAC, and solar, mastery and execution of industry-related search factors are at our core.

Overwhelmed by all the information in this post? Want an expert’s opinion on your local search ranking strategy, or even to have industry specialists develop one from scratch? Reach out and our team can lead the way!

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