Contractor and construction friends! I have outstanding news for you! You ready? People all over your community need your services. Lots of people. Wondering why they haven’t called you yet? Well, it might because they called your competitor instead (sorry). But it’s also entirely possible, even probable, they simply don’t know you exist. 

That is what we, in the digital marketing industry, call A Big Problem. Fortunately, it’s also an Entirely Solvable Problem — using the magic of SEO, or search engine optimization.

In this post, I’ll:

  • Explain what SEO is, in plain ol’ English language
  • Unpack the difference between SEO and PPC (pay-per-click ads)
  • Give quick tips to dramatically improve your SEO in several critical areas, including keywords

What in the world is SEO for contractors? 

SEO stands for search engine optimization. In a nutshell, SEO is behind-the-scenes magic that increases the chance (optimizes) that Google (search engine) will display your website among your potential customers’ search results.

Here’s how an online search works:

  1. Your potential customers type a phrase or question into Google’s search bar. 
  2. Google scans dozens of billions of web pages looking for matches.
  3. Google spits out a list of websites that likely address their query. 
Google's search engine results page
Here’s a familiar sight: Google’s search engine results page (SERP). This example uses the phrase “Servicemaster” as a search term.

SEO is the process by which you make it super easy for Google to find your business, so it can tell people looking for you: Check out this one! Looks like they can help!

Here’s another way to say it: Websites are full of little homing beacons — words and other elements (which we’ll get to in a minute) that “light up” when they match search signals. The key to SEO is making sure you have your homing beacons configured correctly so they respond at the right time in the right way.

Fortunately, SEO is more science than art — which takes away all of the subjectivity on Google’s end and a good bit of the guesswork on ours. Unfortunately, to the average business owner, it can feel like a PhD-level organic chem lab. But don’t worry! This post will demystify the whole thing (as much as it can be demystified, anyway).

First, though, let’s talk about how SEO is different from paid advertising.

What’s the difference between SEO and PPC?

SEO and pay-per-click (PPC) are different advertising means to the same end: getting more prospective customers to your website. The major difference between them? SEO is “free.” PPC is not. (The official language is “organic” and “paid.”)

Get the scoop on paid advertising options for contractors, home services, and construction

Now, here’s why I put “free” in quotation marks. Doing SEO effectively is tough, so to do it right, you’ll have to invest either time or money. In other words, you’ll either spend gobs of time reading and trying to implement SEO tactics recommended by experts like these, or you’ll spend some money letting someone else do it for you.

Which brings us to the second major difference between PPC and SEO. PPC is comparatively simple: You write Google Ads (with plenty of help from Google itself), you set a budget, and you launch the ads. If your budget is more attractive to Google than your competitors’, you win; your investment will launch you to the top few options on page one of the search engine results page (SERP).

SEO, on the other hand, can be ridiculously complicated and nuanced. It’s slow, and best practices change constantly. If you don’t pay attention, your website will — before you can say keyword stuffing — drop to page two of the SERP. That’s bad. That’s no-man’s land. As we marketing nerds like to joke, page two of the SERP is the perfect place to hide a dead body. No one will ever go looking for it — or for your home services or construction company — over there.

If you’re thinking, “OK, seriously: How complicated can it possibly be?” Ridiculously dang complicated. Currently, there are 210 known SEO attributes that affect your search rank. Some are obvious (keywords) and some are super obscure (poison anchor text and Easter egg results). Not all of those attributes have equal weight, but Google is tight-lipped about what matters most. And while it’s possible to game the system by using black hat SEO techniques, it’s not recommended. No one likes to get played — especially Google. If you want to win in the long run, you have to go about it the right way, with good strategy and honest, thoughtful tactics.

Improve your SEO by using keywords correctly

Keywords are the terms, phrases, and questions people type into the Google search bar. If you use those same terms, phrases, and questions on your website, Google’s more likely to find it and include you on the SERP. 

Seems simple enough, right? Yes. Except no. Here are some tips for playing nicely with Google when it comes to keywords:

  1. Do your research. Don’t just guess what words and phrases people might be using to find you. Instead, use Google’s Keyword Planner. You’ll have to set up a Google Ads account to use the Planner, but it’s free to use —even if you don’t plan to buy ads. 
    Brainstorm some keywords, enter them into the Keyword Planner, and Google will let you know how effective they might be and suggest some other ideas. Ideally, you’ll want to use high-volume (frequently searched) keywords that are low-competition (aren’t being used on a lot of other websites).
  1. Choose keywords by thinking like a customer. Look through the last year of records from service calls or consultations. What sorts of problems did your customers have? What do you suppose they might type into Google to find help for those problems?
  2. Don’t overdo your keywords. In the early days of SEO, marketers tried to trick Google by stuffing websites with keywords. Some even went so far as to hide keywords randomly throughout the site — making them the same color as the background so Google, but not website visitors, could see them. Google was not amused, and these cheater websites now take a hit on rankings. Use keywords naturally, meaningfully, and helpfully. 
  3. Use keywords often. OK, we just advised against keyword stuffing. But there’s a difference between using keywords too frequently on one page of your site and using them appropriately often — across multiple pages and across time. SEO algorithms require you to continually produce fresh, meaningful content. You’ll obviously have some static content on your site (your “contact” or “about” page, for example), but you can keep Google happy by creating and sharing engaging content through a blog.
  4. Write well. In general, your website copy needs to be well-written and updated frequently. It should answer questions your potential customers are asking.
  5. Link wisely. When providing a link, use keywords as the link. For example, rather than writing, “We’d love to help serve your furnace. Click here for more details,” write, “Schedule your HVAC maintenance visit now.”
  6. Use keywords everywhere. The best SEO isn’t limited only to the main copy on your website. Google looks at everything: the URL, page titles, alt attributes (the information about photos and videos on your site), and headings. So use keywords wherever you can. Google gets giddy when it finds keywords in H1 and H2 headers. Which brings us to the next factor: HTML analysis.

TIP: Learn more about how to find the best keywords to use on your site.

Improve your SEO through HTML analysis

Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) is how websites are written. It dictates what fonts are used, where things show up on the page, how big the words are, what color they appear in, and more. To optimize your HTML:

  1. Use meta description tags. The 160-character meta description summarizes a web page’s content, and Google both searches it and displays it on SERPs. Having a meta description helps both Google and your potential customer know if you’re a good fit for their query.
  2. Include relevant keywords in your title, header, and subheader tags. When Google finds keywords that match a search query in your title, H1, and H2 tags, it knows a good portion of your content is relevant to the consumer. The result? It’s more likely to bump your site closer to the top of the SERP.  

Improve your SEO through content analysis and site architecture

Google likes websites that aren’t just covered in words. It’s looking for images and videos, too — properly tagged ones. It analyzes the number of words on a page, the number of pages on a site, and more. 

At the moment (remember it changes all the time), Google seems to care most about:

  1. Bounce rates. Google can tell how long website visitors stick around, and that affects your placement in search results. If someone clicks on your website from a SERP and then immediately backs up and tries another site (your competitor’s, perhaps?), that tells Google maybe your site wasn’t as relevant as it thought — which influences your site’s rank the next time.
  2. Site activity. Do your visitors watch a video? Complete a form? Do they spend time on each page, or are they just clicking around, perhaps having a difficult time finding what they’re looking for?
  3. Quality backlinks. When another website links to your website, or when you link from one page of your own site to another page of your own site, that’s called a backlink. Having plenty of high-quality backlinks basically tells Google you know what you’re talking about and it can trust you enough to include you on its SERP. Three-quarters of a solid SEO strategy involves off-site work to get quality backlinks
  4. Mobile-responsiveness. Your website must, must, must be mobile-responsive. More than half of web traffic occurs on mobile devices, and that percentage is only going to climb. Way back in March 2018, Google announced it’s now using the mobile version of websites for indexing and ranking, rather than the desktop version. So, if you don’t have a mobile website, you’re invisible to Google and to all of your potential customers.
  5. Offer security. Google shies away from sites that appear to come with privacy or security concerns. Make sure your site is certified as HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS).

You can discover these site metrics and more using Google Analytics.

Get our free guide to online marketing for home & building services

A solid SEO strategy is only part of a comprehensive digital marketing plan. Be sure to check out The Download: Making Sense of Online Marketing for Home & Building Services! This free, step-by-step guide will help you connect the dots in online marketing so you can move forward with confidence. You’ve got this!