The process of recovery from the recession has been slow for countertop fabricators. Successful investor Warren Buffet now sees signs of recovery in most parts of the economy, with the exception of housing. However, Buffet projects improvement in the housing market starting by the end of 2011.
More optimism comes from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, which projects an inflation-adjusted 3.5% annual growth rate for the home improvement industry in the next decade.
Countertop fabricators need to be prepared for recovery with an up-to-date marketing plan.
Effective use of online marketing techniques has been a focus of my countertop repair business in recent years, and I'm convinced that my company would not have survived otherwise. Every countertop fabricator ought to make the best use of these online tools.
An informative, distinctive Web site is the backbone of your marketing efforts. I first recommended Web sites for countertop fabricators in this column back in 1996. If you have a well-designed and well-written site, people will be able to find it more easily when using a search engine to look for the types of countertops that you offer.
Search engines try to display informative, relevant Web sites more prominently than mediocre ones. Look at your local marketplace using various search engines, to duplicate what potential countertop customers in your area see. If your Web site compares poorly to your competitors', it's definitely time to upgrade your site and online marketing.
Paid online advertising dramatically improves the chance that potential customers will find your Web site, especially when you have many competitors. Google is the world's most popular site and search engine and Google AdWords is the market leader in online advertising. AdWords generated almost all of Google’s $28 billion in 2010 revenues. It's effective too: Google’s economists estimate that for every dollar that companies spend with AdWords, they gain eight dollars in profits.
AdWords is a “pay-per-click” ad service offering complete flexibility to its advertisers. Google ads are displayed on Google as well as thousands of other sites. You don’t pay to display your ad online. Instead you pay when someone actually clicks on your ad and visits your site. You determine the maximum price that you are willing to pay per click, and you set your own daily budget. I pay Google $1.30 per click on average. Paying more doesn't guarantee top placement, as Google's computers analyze the relevance of your Web site's content to the search inquiry, as well as your top bid.
You can write different ads for granite countertops, Corian countertops and plastic laminate countertops, which will be displayed according to the keywords used in the search. If you operate in several cities, you can write ads tailored to searches originating in each city. You can display variations of an ad at random to determine which wording is the most effective over time. AdWords is just as useful to small businesses as it is to Fortune 500 corporations.
You specify a list of keywords that correspond to the search phrases that you anticipate that potential customers might use when searching for information about countertops. Google offers an online tool to help you develop your keyword list. Be selective, and choose only those keywords that describe your product line. Overly broad keywords may display your ad to people unlikely to do business with you. I use dozens of keywords, but the most obvious ones generate most of the traffic.
Google's keyword tool will estimate the monthly number of searches for a given phrase. For example, people search about 1.5 million times per month for "countertop" in the U.S. They search about 301,000 times for "granite countertop," 90,500 times for "laminate countertop", 74,000 times for "concrete countertop," 49,500 times for "quartz countertop," 40,500 times for "Corian countertop" and 14,800 times for "stainless steel countertop." For a niche keyword I use, there are 9,900 monthly searches for "countertop repair."
Alexa is another Web site that can help with keywords. You can enter any relevant Web site into the search box, and Alexa gives you statistics about that site. “Top Queries from Search Traffic” on Alexa identifies which keywords drive traffic to that site from search engines. These may be logical keywords for your online advertising campaign.
Google offers a wide variety of management reports that allow you to judge the effectiveness of your various ads. Google AdWords has brought 15,000 visitors to my Web site since 2006, and many have become customers.
Online home improvement lead services are also worth considering. I buy leads from ServiceMagic, the market leader in home improvement leads. ServiceMagic organizes its leads by "task preference," which is the construction specialty related to the lead. Countertop leads are subdivided into Laminate, Solid Surface, Stone Slab, Ceramic & Porcelain Tile, and Natural Stone Tile. The tile preferences are further subdivided into residential and commercial jobs, and whether the job is for installation only or includes materials. There are also countertop repair preferences corresponding to the five types of countertops. You select the preferences for your company, and specify your territory. You'll pay ServiceMagic between $7 and $50 per lead, depending on the task preference.
If you expect that every lead will be a hot prospect just itching to buy the countertops you fabricate, you may be disappointed. Many of these leads are just testing the waters, or doing research. Others are genuine prospects ready to hire a responsive, reputable countertop fabricator. They won't all be hot leads, but if you’re professional with your follow-up, you can expect to convert a substantial percentage of them into sales. Call and send a personalized email, referring the prospect to the relevant sections of your Web site. Track how your paying customers learn about your company to determine which are the most cost-effective ways to connect with new customers.
Companies that have had success with lead services like ServiceMagic are those that respond promptly to consumer inquiries, and that offer comprehensive, persuasive information about their products that helps establish credibility in the minds of consumers. If you provide excellent service to your customers, you will be highly rated with companies like ServiceMagic, as well as other online services like Yelp and Angie's List that rely on customer evaluations. For example, my company now has 18 favorable customer reviews with ServiceMagic, which makes it easier to close a sale.
If you ever receive a negative customer comment online, take the matter seriously. Do not respond with outrage and indignation, even if you believe that the complaint is unjustified. Instead, respond in a thoughtful, logical manner, and be quick to offer concessions to the complaining customer. Be aware that your response may be visible for many years to people searching online for information about your company, and respond in a fashion that will reassure potential customers as time goes by.
If you’re diligent and creative with your online marketing efforts, you’ll be rewarded with many new customers who otherwise would have done business with another countertop fabricator.