Sunday, March 6, 2016

SEO in Real Life: The Search for a Good Local Company

The Organic SEO Blog is once again on the road this week--in Brigantine, New Jersey, for a trip away from home. The trip was inspired by a broken steam boiler--and a terribly cold house. Yes, two weeks ago our steam boiler effectively said, "Goodbye", after thirty years of service!

To find a new boiler, we spent a great deal of two (chilly) weeks researching heating companies and steam boilers. Most of this research was performed online. By late last week, we had found our company and boiler--but not without confronting a few snags. Happily, though, our knowledge of SEO guided us to the best company for our needs.

Without this knowledge, we would have likely paid double the price for essentially the same service--and a similar boiler. Our experience might be instructive for browsers, yet the prime lesson, we believe, is for smaller and medium-sizes local businesses--businesses who do not use SEO.

Here's a brief recap of our experience--plus a few SEO lessons along the way.

A Tale of Two Companies: Emergency Maintenance Company 

After our boiler broke, we were introduced to two heating companies. First, our home warranty company sent Emergency Maintenance Company to our house to diagnose the problem. A cheery fellow, Constantine, inspected and clanged the boiler for about fifteen minutes before stating the verdict in a rich, Ukrainian accent: "You need a new boiler."

Without any knowledge of the costs, we were somewhat stunned by Emergency Maintenance's estimate to replace the boiler. Nevertheless, the home warranty company accepted the diagnosis, offered a certain amount of coverage, and suggested working with their vendor, Emergency Maintenance.

The advantage of working with Emergency Maintenance, we were told, was that the home warranty company could reimburse the vendor directly. If we chose our own company, however, we would have to pay for the entire project out-of-pocket--and then get reimbursed a month later from the home warranty company.

We were inclined to go with Emergency Maintenance, but first we decided to perform our due diligence online. The SERPs for Emergency Maintenance Company paint a grim picture. The website itself is basic--clearly not optimized. No big deal. Worse, however, is the Yelp reviews, the second result, which include two blistering one-star reviews.

Now, we've written before of the importance of reviews for local businesses:

"The key that online reviews can make or brake...a business' online marketing efforts. You can perform all the website optimization you like, but if you're local reviews do not reflect a good customer experience--well, then, your optimization efforts will be for naught."

The problem for Emergency Maintenance was two-fold:

1. The website had clearly not been optimized for content, so there was not enough valuable information to counter the perception made by other online outlets.

2. The other online outlet(s), mainly Yelp, painted a bad picture of the company.

The diagnosis for Emergency Maintenance? The company was not controlling its online image, so the negative Yelp reviews were standing as the central portrait of the company's services.

The solution: A comprehensive SEO campaign that would improve the company's website with informative content, inspiring browsers to trust the company. And, of course: to perform good customer service to inspire more (better) reviews.

An antique steam boiler pressure gauge--ours burned itself out.

A Tale of Two Companies: Marshall Home Comfort

A friend, the owner of a local heating and air company (that does not service steam boilers) recommended another company: Marshall Home Comfort.

Marshall's online reputation exceeds Emergency Maintenance Company's reputation in every way: The website has been optimized for content and the Yelp reviews are (generally) good. However, we balked at Marshall's price: double the price of Emergency Maintenance.

We were baffled, unsure who to trust: Was Marshall's price exorbitantly high or was Emergency Maintenance's price to low? In search of answers, we called both companies.

To Marshall's we asked, "Why is your price double the other quote?"

To Emergency Maintenance, we asked, "Why is your price half the other quote."

The answers were illuminating. Emergency Maintenance is an immigrant-run and owned company that does not perform any marketing at all. They receive most of their business through home warranty referrals.

Marshall's, on the other hand, is quick to tell you that they're an American-owned company, in business for over 65-years. A service manager detailed their experience as the main factor in price.

We spoke to both companies extensively. In the end, we discovered, their was not much difference  between the two in terms of expertise or experience. Marshall's was essentially asking us to pay double the price for their reputation--and we were inclined to believe them.

The takeaway: Online reputation matters. To justify your costs, you must present a good image online. By optimizing its site's content and inspiring good Yelp reviews, Marshall's clearly presented a better picture.

The Final Decision

You might be surprised to hear our choice--not necessarily based on price alone: Emergency Maintenance Company.

In the end, the company proved to be much better than its online image. Our knowledge of SEO pointed us to the best company.

The problem with Emergency Maintenance, we learned was not the company itself, but its online reputation. They installed the boiler on Friday--the work and the workers was excellent. Our dealings with George, the Service Manager, were also excellent.

The tale of Emergency Maintenance, however, is a cautionary tale: most browsers would've dismissed the company out-of-hand.

Stepmans SEO: Optimize Your Company's Reputation Now!

A good SEO specialist will ask several key questions when speaking to potential clients--especially local clients. If you sell a high-quality product at the right price, you deserve customers. If you perform excellent customer service, you deserve repeat customers.

However, you, the business owner, must honestly asses your business before choosing to optimize your website. Ask yourself these two key questions:

Do you really sell a high quality product at the right price? Do you excel in customer service? If not, now might not be the best time to perform website optimization.

The information offered in this post (and elsewhere on this blog) is not typical of most Internet marketing companies. What separates Stepman's PC from its competitors is a focus on human beings. Alex Stepman, the owner of Stepman's PC, and the sponsor of The Organic SEO Blog, understands that website optimization is not simply about websites and codes and content--it is about understanding the motivations of real, actual people. If you want to speak to an SEO company with intelligence and empathy, call Stepman's PC now: 215-900-9398.