The market for remodeling and home improvement is strong, so the leads are flowing like water, right? Not necessarily.

It really depends on how much you want to spend on pay-per-click. For example, to bid for the top position for the phrase “window replacement” in the hyper-competitive Dallas MSA, a marketer can expect to pay $25 to get a click. And if a good remodeling or home improvement website converts every 10th visitor, that’s $250 for an inquiry that may potentially become a lead.

A private survey of 200 marketing-savvy home improvement professionals found that their average cost for an appointment was well in excess of $400. Yes, the demand for services is strong, but lead costs for many companies are dramatically eating into profits. Qualified Remodeler asked readers and industry marketing experts to supply ideas that are working now, with the goal of helping remodelers get a grip on marketing costs.

‘De-commoditize’ Your Website

If you are among those who are pushing a lot of clicks to a website that is a few years old, it would be wise to step back, improve your website, then resume the flow of clicks for a better conversion rate, says Chris Behan, CEO of Socius, a digital marketing firm specializing in remodeling and home improvement.

The first order of business is to objectively assess whether your site tells the story of your firm. “You don’t do business with a product,” Behan notes. “You obviously do business with a company.

“Remodelers need to sell themselves and their companies, just as much as they talk about their products and services. There should be a conscious effort to de-commoditize the product. Talk about things that your organization does as a company. If you’re involved with children’s charities or your local Rotary, tell that story,” Behan explains. “When you look at a website-conversion process, clients want to feel comfortable with the organization that is going to be in their house and around their belongings.”

A good example is the website for Reborn Cabinets in Anaheim, California——where the company’s origin story is told in words and video. That story even includes a photo of the station wagon that carried the company’s founder and his family from New York to California in 1974.

Screenshots from Reborn Cabinet’s website, which does well converting clicks to inquiries. Telling the company’s story happens throughout the site, not just the “About us” page.

Current CEO and CFO, brothers Vince and Anthony Nardo, are kids in the photo. The Reborn site also shows that storytelling is important even for very big companies. Today the company is No. 27 on the QR Top 500 list, billing $49.7 million in revenue on 3,763 jobs.

Behan’s company helped Reborn redesign and relaunch its site with special care to communicate the company’s many storylines throughout the site. While it’s a good first step to tell your story on the “About Us” page, it’s even better to intersperse stories on as many pages within the site as possible.

For example, when you scroll down Reborn’s “services/cabinetry-solutions” page, the narrative is folksy and includes details about the company’s established processes. Further on, there are testimonials in video and written format. And there is a copy-block highlighting the company’s manufacturing capability.

“We Are the Manufacturer!” the website announces. “At Reborn Cabinets Inc., we strive to manufacture the finest kitchen and bathroom cabinets and Signature Refacing products. It’s our focus to provide our clients with The Ultimate Remodeling Experience with service unparalleled by any other remodeling company. We do this by remaining goal-focused and creating your dream kitchen right here, in our Anaheim showroom and manufacturing center.”

As the cost of leads grows, it does not make sense to fork over more dollars to support a website that is not functioning at peak conversion. Stories are proven to be a very important piece of the puzzle.

Mobile First, Mobile Last

The second most critical factor, after telling your company’s story on your website, is to develop a site that performs well on a phone. According to Socius’s Behan, “When we design a website, we do so from the cell phone first, then for the tablet, then to a small laptop, then to a desktop. At least 60 percent of the traffic in the home improvement industry is coming in on a mobile device. And if you ask a millennial and many Gen-Xers, they don’t have a home computer anymore.”

As business owners, most remodelers are conditioned to design their websites from the perspective of a desktop. Not anymore. Google tells its developer community to think of a person looking at their device in one hand, with the bottom resting on the pinky finger, which frees up the thumb to scroll, swipe and tap navigation menus. If people need to re-grip or use two hands to find the information they are looking for on your site, chances are they will reach a break point and give up, the experts say.

According to Behan, each task needs to be meticulously planned and tested. A good example is the page where prospects enter their contact information. If they click on the first name, a keyboard should pop up automatically. When promoted for a phone number, the keyboard should automatically switch from letters to a number pad.

These details make a huge difference, particularly in an environment where Amazon and other online merchants have raised the bar dramatically in creating frictionless mobile experiences. The experience must also compete with the experience of extremely refined social media app-like experiences found on Instagram and Facebook.

“Every site needs to be pinky-boundary compliant,” Behan explains, suggesting that many people are watching TV or passing a billboard or listening to the radio as well as searching Google at the time they encounter your website. “Everything needs to be within the range of the thumb and very navigable, with all key menus clickable within the footer of the website.”

For reference, a good example of frictionless mobile design within the home improvement space is the site for Tundraland Home Improvements of Kaukauna, Wisconsin: The bottom navigation bar slides left to right to display icons for different product lines, decks, walk-in baths, windows, sunrooms and roofing.

Next to the footer slider is a conversation-bubble icon with the words “TEXT/CHAT” underneath. Click on it and three options appear: Call, Text or Chat. It’s all right there. Indeed, the website for fast-growing Tundraland converts as well as any site in the industry for its mobile-first design. Last year the company was ranked No. 30 on the Top 500 list with $42.3 million in revenue on 3,927 jobs.

The mobile version of the Tundraland website is a good example of state-of-the-art user-interface design. All parts of the site are quickly navigable using just the thumb on one hand.

Telling stories about your company and building mobile-first websites are not the only updates that websites require today, but they are perhaps the two key fundamental must-haves on your website wish list. Taken together these two updates can mean the difference between success or failure of your business, Behan says. “If you do any form of advertising and your website does not work correctly, people will instantly leave. We are all conditioned to behave this way.”

Engraved Invites to Past Customers

December is typically a slower month for exterior-focused remodelers and home improvement companies. This is true even in southern states when the temperature begins to dip. Anticipating the slower lead flow that month, Jason Durante, owner of $12-million-plus firm Durante Home Exteriors, based in Birmingham and Nashville, has developed a systematic way to generate business from past customers using a clever direct-mail program.

There are several elements to the program, but perhaps the most ingenious is the initial outreach. It takes the form of a wedding invitation. For all intents and purposes, it does not just look like a wedding invitation; it is everything but the actual wedding. They use 100 percent cotton stationery and envelopes. And each envelope is hand-addressed to past clients by a professional calligrapher. Each December all 4,800 past clients get the envelope with a special offer inside—a 5 percent discount.

In short order, the invitation is followed by a series of oversized 11-inch by 17-inch postcards each featuring a different type of exterior renovation—decks, siding, windows and roofing. Operators in the company’s call center follow up to the list with a special script.

According to Durante the program, which he’s run each December for 13 years, really works. About $800,000 of the company’s $1 million in December 2019 billings can be attributed to it. “We spend about $25,000 on it, and it’s been very successful,” Durante says. “It all starts with having a good relationship with our past customers. They trust us, so it all falls into place more easily.”

Digital Response-ability

Tim Musch, director of business development for MarketSharp, a lead-management and CRM tool for home improvement companies, says oftentimes good digital inquiries don’t get to be a bona-fide lead for lack of a quick response from your company. And often, a fast response isn’t enough. A lack of scripting or training on how to best handle a digital inquiry will doom an opportunity.

“Acquiring digital leads is exciting,” Musch explains. “But they are essentially worthless until they are converted, most commonly to a set appointment. So I ask, does your company have ‘response-ability?’ Do you and your staff have the ability to respond effectively to your digital leads? Speed and skill are critical.

“Statistics show that if you don’t respond to a web lead within minutes, your chances of converting it to a set appointment diminish drastically. Additionally, if your staff don’t have the scripted skills to sell the value of the visit, many expensive digital leads will be stopped in their tracks. You have to squeeze the most out of your digital marketing spend, with speed and skill.”

Musch cites statistics from marketer Keyword Connects, a firm that, among other things, conducts paid search on behalf of home improvement companies and operates a call center to handle the resulting web inquiries. If someone fills out a form on your website and they receive a call back within one minute, they are 28 percent more likely to set an appointment. That number drops to 15 percent if you get back to them within 2 and 3 minutes after the form is completed. So speed is vital, but so too is the skill and training of the person making the call.

Dave Yoho, the respected industry consultant, often refers to the idea of “selling the value of the visit.” For those calling back inquiries there is a real skill to avoid deep conversations about price and product. If they keep the focus on selling the visit, the conversions can be much higher, Musch says. Acquiring those skills takes time, training and scripting.

“And if that call is scripted properly, the first question that comes up almost always is, ‘How much is this going to cost?’ And if they can’t handle that question elegantly and effectively, the call is just done at that point. You have to continually refocus things on what’s in it for this prospect to spend the time with you.”

Organic Traffic

The more things change, the more they stay the same. With all of the focus these days on building websites that convert clicks to form fills, better storytelling, better mobile design, chat and other features—the blocking and tackling of SEO (search-engine optimization) tactics is sometimes under-appreciated, says Robert Buchan, marketing director for Cipriani Remodeling Solutions of Woodbury, New Jersey. A well-written and maintained website with very apt SEO keywords is a cheap and effective way to drive inquiries, he adds.

“Our top online sources for leads are organic—42 percent direct, 35 percent social media and 12 percent referrals,” Buchan explains. “Organic leads are also the best at goal conversions for phone calls and form fills. So the best way to get organic traffic is to have a great website.

A great website uses the right SEO keywords to describe the services being offered. They are also key for describing what your company stands for. Lastly, the best way to get leads from organic traffic is to have prominently placed phone numbers and forms that are easy to use.”

Cipriani Remodeling Solutions is also on the QR Top 500 list. Last year they ranked No. 302 with $5.1 million in revenue on 70 jobs. Buchan indicates that by focusing on organic traffic and good SEO keywords, they can keep a handle on their costs.

“Sorry, it sounds basic,” he says, “but it’s working for us.”

When it comes to what’s working, no apology is necessary. QR

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