Marketing Trends in 2020: What’s on Energy Circle’s Radar

Jake Van Paepeghem

It’s that time of year already, where we start to wrap up 2019 with a bow and take a look at what the past has taught us and what the future holds for our industries. It has been a productive year for us here at Energy Circle, with 47 blog posts and 31 webinars aimed at helping HVAC, solar, and home performance contractors generate more leads and take control of their digital marketing. But what has all this talk taught us about the future of digital marketing for the better building sector?

Here's what we’ll likely be talking about at our holiday gift exchanges and end-of-year meetings:

Zero-Click Searches

2019 (June, to be specific) was the first year that the majority of Google searches were zero-click—when someone searches Google for something but doesn’t click on any links on the search result page. This is where Google has been heading for years—less like a search engine and more an app.

The primary implication for home services companies is that more interaction with customers is happening within the Google My Business Knowledge Panel or the search result page for your company name. Increasingly, there is an enormous amount of information on that page. We’re seeing situations amongst our clients where nearly 50% of all internet generated calls never visit the company’s website.

Beyond just having a great brand search page, there are other ways to win this battle. We’ve had some success with winning featured snippets (the Google answer boxes that pop up at the very top of results pages). Fundamentally this is about demonstrating to Google your home performance, HVAC, and solar related expertise—which is a priority well beyond just search marketing.

Content: More Than Just Keywords

Most of us know that Google loves content. But with every passing day, the Google algorithm changes (the BERT update being the latest) are getting more sophisticated. It’s a complex subject that gets a few gazillion words of discussion in the Energy Circle team Slack channels. Suffice it to say, Google is looking for deeper content aimed at the searcher’s intent—not just keyword matching. In short, the days of beating the heck out of one priority keyword—like “furnace repair”—are becoming much more nuanced and complex.

Privacy, Security, Accessibility Issues No Longer Just a Company Worry 

Due in part to the 2020 US presidential election, as well as ripple effects from Facebook’s data scandals and mishandling of user data and the effect GDPR has imposed on tracking overall, governments and advocacy organizations will continue to crack down on just about everything on the web. Small businesses have been given a pass up until now, but that’s changing—and the consequences are real. Witness the lawsuit against Domino’s Pizza for their sites and apps being unusable by blind people. Clients of Energy Circle need not worry; we’re on this.

It’s Time to Embrace Live Chat

We helped a number of our clients adopt online chat over the course of 2019, and it has been a complete success both from the customer experience standpoint and as an incremental source of leads. In simple terms: there is a growing segment of your potential customers that want to use chat rather than a phone or an online form. In 2020, our guidance is more firm and direct: Quality home services companies should be using live chat.

The core worry on most companies’ minds is how to staff a live chat system. In our experience so far, outsourced options do not offer the level of customer experience that lives up to the expectations of high performance contracting firms. Fortunately, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have made great strides. Customers are looking for immediate, useful answers, and chat bots that have historically struggled to keep up with quality can now deliver quality conversational experiences and an overall quicker, more human-like feel. Most importantly, they’re increasingly easy to setup. In other words—don’t be intimidated by AI and ML; there are good software options that have got you covered, and they will only get better in the year to come.

Total Search Presence: Capture the Page, Capture the Lead

It’s no secret that PPC is an incredible lead generation channel, but there’s far more than paid ads on the search results page (and more competition than ever these days). Google’s results pages include paid search ads, organic search results, as well as local and map listings—each of which requires a strategy to be present and effective in. In 2020, it will be important to capture as much of that page real estate as possible by implementing a total search strategy comprised of PPC, SEO/Content, and managed Google My Business services. The differentiating power of appearing in multiple places on a Google search results page is extremely effective in building brand awareness and capturing the click. 

TV Advertising Now Viable for Very Small Businesses (Via Streaming)

Traditional TV advertising has historically been out of reach for most home services companies—too much advertising waste for how expensive it is to both purchase and produce. Now, with the advent of streaming services like Hulu and YouTube TV, hyper-targeted advertising is now much more accessible and affordable. Not to mention, more trackable! In 2020, as the big players (Hulu / YouTube) grow their ad offerings, we’ll have access to even more data around exactly where, when, and to whom our video ads are being served, and how that audience is engaging with them—reducing the historical issues with waste and lack of visibility into where those expensive media placement dollars are being spent.

YouTube TV ads can be purchased for as low as $0.03 per view, but are currently only available to Google Preferred members. As YouTube TV subscription numbers increase (they’ve quadrupled in the last two years), it will make sense for Google to open up YouTube TV advertising to more buyers.

Furthermore, in 2020, we’ll see more video ad placement options, and more options for cross-channel video ad campaigns as streaming audio services, like Pandora, Spotify, and Apple Music, throw their hats into the video ad product ring. 

Purchased Leads: Continued Decline, and Very Limited

While great initially, Local Services Ads—Google’s price per lead product—have shown their limits as markets get saturated (which is inevitable in every market). There just aren’t enough searches to get Local Services Ads to produce the leads necessary to make it a solvent lead generating tool. For HVAC contractors, we’re seeing the max number of leads from this channel to be less than 20 per month, at best.

Meanwhile, HomeAdvisor continues to sell every lead so many times that conversion rates are embarrassingly low. And let’s call it what it is—the sleaze of so many of the solar lead sellers is a stain on the industry, potentially ruining it for earnest solar contractors looking for more qualified leads. 

Changing Review Priorities 

For much of the past year, our advice on reviews has been: focus on volume in Google, cover your bases in Yelp, Facebook, etc (assuring good star averages), and even-handedly respond to all negative reviews, as well as a chunk of positives.

Our view going into next year is that review priorities are no longer just a Google volume game. We’re not saying that volume is no longer important—it remains a critical ranking factor in local search. What is changing is that review content is taking on greater importance. 

Many companies have cracked the volume nut by asking the employee doing the work to operationalize review request process in the home, right then and there. We’re all for this, and it works, but very often results in a review that says simply, “{Employee name} was polite and did a great job.” Reviews like this neglect to mention what the service was, and do not provide any depth about the customer experience. As if getting reviews wasn’t already difficult—yes, we’re now saying that review quality is critical too.

First party reviews—those that are published directly on your website and not in an embedded widget from a third party review software—are also increasingly valuable.

We know how much of a challenge this is, which is why we’ll be talking a lot about this as the year progresses.

Effective Local Search Strategy: More Than Google My Business

Across 2019, we’ve seen just how important Google My Business is for our clients in reaching customers locally. 2020 will only see this continue, and expand to include a more holistic approach than just Google. A comprehensive local strategy in 2020 will require an active, quality-focused, and managed approach across Google, Apple Maps, Bing, and Facebook. All of which are common touch-points where customers are looking for not just information, but also to get an initial impression of a company, judge the quality of their brand, and gauge how they interact with customer reviews.

It will be vital to have quality photo content, accurate information, and a strategy for review management and spam control in 2020.

The Rise in Spam (aka Fake Companies Stealing Your Traffic) 

There has been a pronounced rise in spam listings, often by unscrupulous lead gen companies masquerading as real contractors. Typically, these spammers set up fake companies with names like Spray Foam Chappaqua and fake GMB profiles with 2-3 fake reviews. Their goal is to try to skirt Google’s proximity bias. They are especially prevalent in spray foam, HVAC, and solar.

One would think that Google would have more automated ways to stop this, but far too many are never caught. We’re finding excellent success petitioning Google to take these down, and the improvement in rankings is well worth the effort. 

Brands Reign Supreme Online (and in the Real World)

We all constantly hear about the importance of building our brands online, but what does that really look like moving into 2020? The competition in the home services industry is thicker than ever and demands an intense focus on brand and differentiation. Facebook has shown to be extremely effective in building memorable brand recognition for years, and in 2020, it will continue to be one of the lowest barriers to entry and one of the most cost-effective branding channels available.

A strong video and remarketing strategy on Facebook will be crucial in accompanying and maximizing the ROI of lead generation efforts and building lasting brand power in a crowded market.

Feeling lost when it comes to deciphering the future of digital marketing? We’re here to help. Get in touch today to learn more.

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