Online pool stores are eating into market share of local pool and spa shops, often by undercutting prices on high-margin products; and they seem to be getting stronger.
Many of you are saying, “No kidding, but what can I do about it?”
There’s a great temptation for store owners to complain about being undercut, but wishing that the situation would change is not a plan of action.
Instead, it’s time for local pool companies to fight back by claiming their piece of the online market. How? By learning to use the Internet to generate more sales volume.
The goal is to be found and then to look good.
In the old marketing paradigm, looking good was the name of the game, so when pool companies first went online, they designed their Websites to look great, just like their brochures.
But now, that game has changed. While a strong advertising and marketing presence is still crucial, so is being found via search engines. If a consumer can’t find your Website, it doesn’t matter how pretty the pages are. So adjust your strategy, taking into consideration the following:
- If you type your company’s name into Google and don’t see your Website at the No. 1 organic position, your inner alarm bells should be screaming.
- If you type in “Pool store + Your town” and don’t see your site, you have a problem.
- If you type in “Your town pool service” and don’t see your site in the rankings, the alarm bells should go off again.
Pool owners want quick answers. If they can’t find it fast, they’ll click to another site. And don’t think that a consumer is going from one page of search-engine results to the next looking for the perfect information. The first listing he or she sees is the one that most likely gets the call.
Major online channels
There are three major channels that local pool and spa companies can use to let customers find them on the Web:
- Local Business Results
- Organic Search Results
- Paid Search Results
Let’s look at the results for each from typing in an example, such as “pool service, Foothill, CA.”
Local business results
Experts estimate that as many as one out of every three searches has local intent. Google has adjusted to this reality by creating Google Places (formally Google Local).
A consumer in Seattle doesn’t need to find a store in Los Angeles. Instead, they want someone who can serve them. Thus, when searching the term “pool and spa store,” Google often serves results that focus on your location. These listings include a map, and can include information like your address, Website, phone number, directions and customer reviews. The user doesn’t even have to type in their town. As part of the Google Places upgrades, the site gained the ability to determine the location, with 80- to 85 percent accuracy.
Clicking on a given listing will produce a photo and description of the store, contact information, hours, directions and customer reviews.
What is the best thing about Google Places listings for local pool and spa dealers? Many of the features are free. If your store doesn’t have a listing, it’s important to get one as soon as possible. Go to www.google.com/places and follow the instructions.
When creating a listing, it’s helpful to remember a few techniques for getting better placement on the page. When writing the description of your business, include as many keywords as possible to explain what you do. Just saying, “We are a pool and spa company,” isn’t enough. Instead, try something like, “We are a swimming pool and spa service company that handles cleaning, maintenance, repair and renovation.” Using keywords in your company’s description will help make your listing come up when those terms are used in searches.
It’s also helpful to be as specific as possible when describing your location. In addition to your address, indicate if there’s a specific neighborhood that you serve. For instance, many companies in Chicago use the term “Chicagoland” to describe their territory.
You also can enlist your customers’ help to move your company toward the top of the list. Ask them to review your business via Google Places. The more reviews a listing receives, the higher up that business appears. In addition to Google Places, Yahoo and Microsoft also have free location-based searching. They can be found at http://listings.local.yahoo.com/ and https://ssl.bing.com/listings/ListingCenter.aspx.
Organic search results
Going back to the results from the “pool and spa store” search, the two listings directly under the Map results are called Organic Listings. These are the traditional entries we’ve always known, the “natural listings” that the search engine determines are probably most relevant to your search.
Organic listings are also free, and they carry a lot of clout. When doing research, consumers tend to spend a lot more time in the organic results because they have a less commercial feel to them. Very rarely do consumers just look at one organic result or one page. More often, they type in a search term and will look at several different listings so they can compare.
But when it comes to organic listings, consumers also tend to stick close to the first Google page they see for their search term. This means that if your company doesn’t appear on the first page, it’s much less likely to be seen by potential customers.
Unfortunately, an organic listing on the first page of Google is not easy to get. The best way to obtain these kinds of organic results is through Search Engine Optimization (SEO). In this case, AquaTown Pool Company has done the work, and it is being rewarded with high positions.
What did AquaTown do? No. 1, they put search-engine-friendly text on their pages. They included multiple terms that a consumer might use in order to find a pool company, such as “pool renovation,” “pool service” and “pool cover.”
A lot of companies say to themselves, “Well, I want to sell more pool cleaners.” But when you go to their Website, the text “pool cleaners” is nowhere to be found. Those types of terms should be on your home page as well as subsequent pages, since that will tell Google about your products and services. For example, if you’re a service company that also does tile jobs, you should have a page that liberally uses words related to “pool tile.”
It’s important to include those terms not only as text on the page, but also in what’s called the meta tags.
Meta tags can help business owners gain a higher ranking on crawler-based search engines. In short, they are information inserted onto the “Head” portion of your HTML code that is not seen by a viewer. Often, meta tags are the same type of descriptive keywords that a consumer might type when looking for your product or services.
And, to get a little bit technical, the meta tags on a given page should accurately describe and use the right keyword terms. You’re essentially trying to build a map for Google to say, “This page is about hot tub services, this page is about pool covers, this page is about renovating an old pool.”
Another important SEO technique is the practice of having other sites link back to your site. This is a huge factor. Google looks at the number and quality of links to your Website, and that figures prominently into how often your site is shown or how high in the rankings it is posted. If you’re taking out ads in the local paper, that ad should have a link from the paper’s Website. If you’re doing a home show or fair, have them link to you. If you’re doing any kind of community or charity work, it’s great to get a link from the organization’s Website.
Many pool companies have not done any type of optimization work to their Websites, which means lower rankings on those organic listings. By not investing in a site that is search engine friendly, they have ceded territory to competitors.
To be fair, Search Engine Optimization is not fool-proof. There’s an entire industry of con artists out there who claim to be SEO experts, but do terrible work. When hiring an outside firm to help with SEO, be careful to use a reputable company.
Paid search listings
Again, going back to the results from the AquaTown search, take a look at the ads on the right side of the page. These are paid spots, and they also are competitors to AquaTown. Every local pool service can buy this placement next to any search phrase. It’s the shortest, fastest way to the top of the search engine results page, but it’s also the most expensive.
Which is right for you? All three!
Often, local business owners ask on which of the above channels they should focus. They should utilize all three, because the more listings you have in the search engine results, the more likely someone is to click to your Website.
As new generations of homeowners rely even more on technology, now is the time to embrace the Web and all that it has to offer.
If you don’t, your competitors surely will.