It’s not a matter of if you become a digital contractor, but when. And if when isn’t soon, your company will eventually fade from the public eye.
That’s the reality many businesses faced a decade ago, and the digital imperatives are quickly catching up to the construction world – even earthmoving and heavy/highway contractors with a small customer base.
A “digital contractor,” according to Brett Sutherlin, is one who uses all the technology available, particularly the technology that enables you to reach more customers, partner better with suppliers and recruit a topnotch skilled workforce. Technology like GPS, BIM and telematics are important too, but their value and necessity depend on the work you do. Not everybody needs GPS machine control. But the technology you need to market your company is important for every kind of contractor.
Sutherlin is the founder and CEO of Lead Revenue, a website and digital services company, and founder and chairman of fusionZONE Automotive. He’s helped dozens of automotive and industrial customers, contractors and dealers up their digital game. We asked him how contactors can get started in and master this new digital marketing realm.
“It's about exposure, it's being found,” says Sutherlin. “Ninety-nine percent of our efforts go toward being found, first-and-foremost, on Google. If you're not there, and you can't be found, that is one of the main reasons you lack customers.”
1. Start with Google
Sutherlin highly recommends Google My Business, a free app that enables businesses and organizations to manage their online presence across the Google ecosystem, including Search and Maps. With it you can help customers find your business, tell them your story and edit your business information. You can also read and respond to reviews from your customers and post photos that show what you do.
When your Google My Business pages and social media are set up correctly, and you are regularly feeding new content into your website, you will start to see results. “Content is king with Google, that is the key to really showing up and driving relevancy,” says Sutherlin.
When you create content and social media posts, you are driving your relevancy score with Google and really helping your business to be found on Google. “All of that is step one. Without traffic there is nothing else,” says Sutherlin.
Brett Sutherlin2. Educating customers
A big part of marketing is educating customers, says Sutherlin. For a paving company that education could take the form of web posts that show customers how to get pavements ready for winter, how to create a paving budget or what to expect when the paving crew arrives.
“That’s what's going to separate you from the guys that are just constantly trying to hard sell,” says Sutherlin. “Once people are reading your blog articles, more than likely, they're going to dive in and read more than one of them.”
“You want to provide a wealth of information for the client, first and foremost, to make them comfortable,” Sutherlin says. “Be that knowledge base where people go to, to learn. Once that happens, they will dive into your website, look at all the products and services you offer, and ultimately convert into a customer.”
3. Low-cost advertising
Google AdWords and Facebook are two great ways to target specific customers and spread your message, says Sutherlin. Google AdWords is a pay-per-click online advertising platform that allows advertisers to display their ads on Google's search engine results page. Facebook retargeting shows your ads to people who already know your company through Facebook or Instagram.
“It's great to find customers on Google and then retarget with social media, because once they see your name five or 10 times, they will remember it versus just seeing it that one time on Google,” says Sutherlin. “That is the one-two punch I like to use. And it's bringing some great results for our clients.”
Neither platform is particularly expensive. In fact $5 a day can be enough to keep your business message in front of prospective clients, says Sutherlin. “Facebook is pay-to-play. If you don't have a budget, you will likely reach only 1 percent of your audience. But even a small budget will generate big results because the ads are targeted at a very specific and local audience, not broadcast to the world at large.”
4. Recruiting through social media
Almost every contractor struggles to find skilled employees. A lot of contractors rely on word of mouth, asking employees to put out the message, but you won’t find a bigger or better word-of-mouth network than your social media presence.
“Recruiting today is an extension of your marketing,” says Sutherlin. “You want to show how satisfied your current employees are within your company and broadcast that on social media. Post something like five facts on why you would want to work for ABC Company and then link back to the employee reviews talking about the company culture.”
Brett Sutherlin5. The importance of photos
Photos and videos are a huge part of getting your information found by Google. In addition to scanning your text, the Google bots read the meta-data behind your photos and boost your search-engine rankings accordingly. And, says Sutherlin, don’t forget that YouTube is the world’s second-most-popular search engine.
“Research has shown if you have over 100 photos on your Google My Business listing, your calls will increase 500 percent, and your website visits will increase over 1,000%, says Sutherlin. “So, photos and videos are significant and should not be neglected.”
The research Sutherlin cited was done by the company Brightlocal and can be found here: https://www.brightlocal.com/research/google-my-business-insights-study/
Brett Sutherlin6. Don’t set it and forget it
While much of the functionality of any website is automated, making your digital outreach work for you still requires lots of work.
“You need a writer who can come up with new content daily and touch on employment weekly,” says Sutherlin. “A lot of hours go into it. I think it would be a full-time job to have a writer on staff to do what is necessary to get front and center in Google's eyes.”
And once your website and advertising outreach programs are up and running, you need to compile data and measure results, says Sutherlin.
Track things like inbound calls, requests for directions, form submissions, requests for information, the number of times an article or blog is read, how much time is spent on the site. A good website will give you all these metrics and from these, you can gauge what’s working and what’s not.
Brett SutherlinAdapt or disappear
In the last decade car dealers who didn't embrace digital marketing, who stuck with the old-school newspaper ads are gone,” says Sutherlin. “I think that is going to happen in the construction business,” he says. “From a digital perspective, construction is about a decade behind most businesses. But if 96% of people start their search online, contractors will have to have a digital presence there to grow.”
If you’re looking for examples of construction contractors who are doing digital right, take a look at the links below for a few of the sites Sutherlin’s company has developed for contractor clients: