Content marketing has surpassed all traditional forms of advertising. If you're not fully onboard, you will likely be invisible to users of the internet; unless everyone has already heard of your brand, and searches for you by name. 90% of all businesses are currently using content marketing to generate inbound leads. Even SEO (the search engine optimization of your website) relies on content. You will never earn top-5 rankings on Google and Bing for content you don't have on your site. But what is content marketing, and how is it essential for the construction industry?
Twenty years ago, the lifeblood of the construction industry was a combination of word of mouth, hours logged in trade shows and home shows, and some time spent networking at the lodge or chamber or commerce, getting to know the people who needed homes built, or the developers who could send you contract work. Life, and the industry, has become far more complex and fast-paced, and to really succeed in the marketplace, contractors and builders need to be booked solid. But that level of busy also means you don’t have time to get out there and market yourself in the traditional channels anymore. Content marketing keeps your company top of mind, even while you're working on your current project.
Attention is the new currency. If you can't get their attention, you'll never have their business.
- Anoop Gupta, CEO and Co-Founder, Nextio
Too many people in the industry still treat their website the way they did in the mid-90s, when all you needed was to just have a website. Then — and unfortunately, in many cases today — they act as little more than a contact page, an online brochure at best, or a place to put up a few gallery photos of a couple of projects.
Meanwhile, consumers are becoming increasingly more reliant on search results, the calibre of information they find on your site, articles and press release sites, and reviews left online by other clients.
Many millennials — also known as the generation that’s building new houses and starting families — base their choices on which provider comes across as the most respected authority, and who takes a real interest in the customers who will reside in the homes. Roughly translated, that means, if you want to grow your client base, especially among the demographics that are actively looking for new homes, you need to be speaking to them in the language they understand, and that means giving them consistent online content that relates, answers all their questions, is completely transparent and builds trust.
In a nutshell, content marketing is focused on the softer side of the business, rather than the hard sell; it’s the side of your business that gives customers more than merely a new building. It’s the part of your business that walks the journey with them, understands the various frustrations a new home-owner will go through, what it’s like to live in your home while it’s being renovated. For new developments, your content paints a detailed picture of the lifestyle and surroundings. Content marketing is the voice of your company that speaks to customers and says, we’re not just going to do a job for you, we’re going to build a working relationship with you. This journey is going to change your life, and we're happy to be a part of it.
Your content marketing consists of all the information and communication you put out online. But it’s more than just tweeting your news and posting pics of ongoing projects on your Facebook page or Instagram. It comprises all the interesting, useful, entertaining stuff you can give your customers without pushing sales; at least not directly. Getting content right can be tricky, though, because it is very easy to slip back into the sales mindset. To help you get your content marketing right, I’ve broken down a few of the channels you can use for providing content, and how to use them to your best advantage.
Think of social media as an immediate conversation. It can be a quick chit-chat while passing by, like Twitter, a longer, more intensive conversation, such as on Facebook, or the equivalent of showing your holiday snapshots, for instance using Instagram. Social media serves three distinct purposes in your content marketing efforts: firstly, it is a great place to disseminate larger and more involved pieces of content, such as introducing blog posts, and secondly, it is perfect for maintaining an ongoing conversation with customers, potential clients and your community at large.
The third purpose of social media for your business is to help build your brand, develop a brand identity that makes you recognizable as an entity in your industry. By building an authentic brand and holding real conversations — in other words, providing useful interactive content — you are already using content marketing to start growing your contracting business.
When engaging on social media, always be genuine. Don’t try to force a call to action into every interaction. Just answer questions in detail, address any issues, be transparent and honest about how you do business and your involvement in your community. Focus on the customer in every interaction, making sure they feel that you are paying attention to their questions and concerns.
Blog posts on your own website, as well as articles featured on other platforms like Medium, Quora and LinkedIn, are generally short to medium-length articles, somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 words. That deliver valuable information, while building your reputation as an authority in your field. They can range from helpful, list-style tips related to the type of contracting you do, answers to questions, to stories that bring across your brand personality - funny experiences on a site, the time you narrowly averted disaster with some quick thinking... and stories that make your customers the hero. Homeowners also love to hear about how other people, just like them, who transformed their living space, to make their home more functional and enjoyable.
The most important thing is to avoid turning the focus on yourself, because it just comes across as sales-oriented and self-aggrandizing. A good rule of thumb to work with is that at least 80% of the content you put out should be about the reader, the potential customer - things that they will find useful and interesting. No more than 20% should ever be about you, your company, events, projects and services. Content marketing — including blog posts, pillar articles, press releases and social media — must never look like advertising, but simply provide ridiculously valuable information to your reader.
To really get the message across that you actually do care about customer experiences and desired outcomes, tell stories about your clients, how their problem resolved, and how happy they are with the improvements. Focus on the homeowner, and the way they use their living space; not on your problem-solving skills. Your readers really don't have to be reminded that it was you who solved the problem. They are on your website. When creating lists of tips, or responding in your Q&A posts; make it situations that you’ve dealt with, and information you know your future customers will want to know.
Your blog is a web log; a public journal. It's a fantastic place to post about updates, respond to recent questions, etc. Your website also needs some epic pillar content. Epic means it's the best article on the planet for the topic. And evergreen means it's not time sensitive. It will probably be as current five years from now, as it is today. It becomes a resource for your industry, and will be highly link-worthy. Inbound links are still one of the best ways to build search engine rankings.
To write these articles, we Google the very best articles already out there for the topic or question answered, and then "out content" those pieces, by at least 300%. Pillar articles are typically 3,500+ words, and many will grow to over 10,000, with custom graphics, infographics, graphs, photos, Slideshare slide decks, embedded video, etc. Pillar articles provide ridiculously valuable information to your readers, and should earn top rankings on Google and Bing within months.
What should you write about? What are the most pressing fears and questions your prospective customers have? And don't be afraid to address the big elephants in the room, like pricing, and problems with the solution you sell.
If you're a plumber or roofer, visitors to your site will be concerned about getting a big unexpected bill. It's probably happened before. You don't have to provide a quote in the article, but you should cover how plumbers arrive at their base pricing and the kinds of discoveries that can add to the repair project's scope. Transparency about your pricing and how you communicate with your customers, so there are no surprises, builds trust. Again, find the best articles on the topic, and then create a much better one. Don't be afraid to get some help from a copywriter so your information is presented well. (You want to put their minds at ease, not scare them.)
Let's say you're a condo developer, and you build concrete structures. Ignorance (the woefully uninformed customer) is no longer a marketing strategy. Today's consumer has access to the internet, and if she or he is in the income bracket to afford your condo or townhome, you can conclude they do their homework, and research anything they're buying. It's safe to assume they already know about potential concrete problems like cracks, scaling, buckling, crazing and discolouration. They know about competitive building solutions, and they've visited your competitors' websites. So how do you build trust, and turn this into an advantage?
Talk about it first. Don't hide from the elephant in the room. Provide a very thorough article that provides an unbiased comparison of building materials and practices. Express the pros and cons for each one, including concrete. It's best to admit that the solution you've chosen may not always be the best fit, with the reasons why you chose it for your development(s), in the geographic area you live in. Never, ever bash the competition, their ethics, approach, products and services. Your professionalism here, with full transparency, and honesty about a topic many competitors would rather avoid, will be impressive. Leave it to your readers to think, "Hmm... if these people are so forthright about their pricing, and potential issues, and solutions to problems, maybe the others are hiding something."
Until recently, people searched the internet with keywords. They would enter something like "new townhouse developments north vancouver" or "renovation contractors surrey" into Google. But now, it's all moving towards voice search and schema. Today's consumer will direct a voice query to their Echo device at the office, mobile device, Siri in their car's dash or Apple TV, or Google Assistant in their browser like "I need someone to fix my air conditioner", and they'll receive a list of the top ranked HVAC contractors in the area.
So how do you come up in these vital search results? Hyperlocal content and schema. Hyperlocal content simply means your site is 'more local' than the other guys. You've got far more well researched well written in-depth content on the topic, that references your geographic area. And you've promoted it well. This hyperlocal content usually includes pillar articles, blog posts, case studies and testimonials.
Where most contractors mess up is they target more than one geographic area in their website. Google and Bing become confused, because there's no focus, and the site ranks therefore ranks for nothing. Including a line like "Proudly serving Vancouver, Surrey, Langley and Richmond" will probably work against you. No focus! Fortunately, there is a way around this challenge: carefully constructed content silos. We've had great success with building content silos with WordPress Multi-Site. Each city gets its own, completely separate website. The sites are all administered under one WordPress dashboard, and visitors experience a single seamless site, even though it may be 2 or even 5 geographic sub-sites.
Many developers will set up a fairly basic 1 to 3 page website for their new condo, townhouse or master-planned community development, weeks before the showroom opens; and then drive traffic to it from Google AdWords and Facebook Ads. These ads are quite expensive, largely because the sites are so simple, so the bounce rates are through the roof. There is a much better way.
With the hyperlocal approach, the site is built before they even break ground. There are renderings, floor plans, some initial information about the project, an About the Developer page, and a Contact page. The blog begins following the progress, with photos and updates as well as local neighbourhood/community information. Instead of the social media posts being 'an island', unto themselves, each links to a corresponding blog post and article on the site, creating an inbound following. But where the hyperlocal site really shines is the many pages that are continually being added during the entire construction process.
Let's say the condo is in Central Lonsdale, North Vancouver. People searching for Central Lonsdale parks, for example, will find themselves on the website for the new condo building. Central Lonsdale schools... Central Lonsdale recreation facilities... Central Lonsdale dentists... Places to walk my dog in Central Lonsdale... Fine dining restaurants in Central Lonsdale... You get the picture. All of these searches bring searchers to incredibly useful content on the topic, and a map with pins showing where each of the described attractions, venues or businesses are located. Each map just happens to also show a pin for the new condo building, in a different colour, so visitors can see it's proximity to the places they are interested in.
By the time the showroom is ready, and it's time to sell units in the complex, the site has earned great search engine traffic, and there are regular daily visitors, eagerly waiting for the next post and project announcement. Developers typically share the cost of these hyperlocal sites with the primary real estate agent, and the asset is turned over to that person when the project is sold out, so it can be used for the resale of units down the road.
For the adventurous and outgoing, or those who enjoy the limelight, there are video platforms like YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook and Twitter; where you could post content about ... well, anything really. You’re the developer or contractor! Show people anything from how to clean the gutters of fall leaves, to basic seasonal furnace maintenance they can do at home, or a tour of the parks and trails in Central Lonsdale, to the role of structural steel in a concrete condo complex. Whatever your specific area of expertise is, there are things people want to know, so answer them. Readers also love unbiased A "vs" B comparisons, like traditional fibreglass insulation vs rock wool.
Video falls somewhere between the information-driven content of a blog or article, and the interactive nature of social media. It’s a fantastic medium for building your brand and community, as well as developing a reputation as an authority on whatever subject you’re discussing. Before launching into video content, have a look at some very successful videos for inspiration. You might be astonished at just what you have to offer.
There are more than enough video fails out there, so before you publish anything online, take the time to properly script, rehearse and shoot your video. While it doesn’t need to look like it was filmed in a big-budget studio, at least make the effort to present something polished and interesting. Just like a carpenter will always measure twice before cutting, there’s no harm in doing more than one take to get your video right.
Ultimately, the purpose of content marketing is to get potential customers to your website, contact you to discuss a project, or enter your lead generation funnel. While a very small proportion of people will actually contact companies directly through social media, the majority still go to the website when they are getting closer to a buying decision.
That’s why you need to make sure your website is a show-stopper. You can’t spend all that time, money and effort getting your social media, blog and video content perfect, only to drive customers to an out-of-date, unattractive website that's slow loading and difficult to navigate. In fact, you have about three seconds to engage your potential customer once they land in your website, before they decide it's not what they were looking for, and 'bounce' somewhere else.
Your visitors need to know immediately that they're at the right place. If they're arriving to read the rest of the post, from a social media teaser, make sure the title and image match the one in social media. Boring, excessively “professional” language, and boasting aren’t interesting. How do you speak to customers you've worked with for years? You may have enjoyed a few rounds of golf; had a few beers. It's more informal, friendly... there even might be some humour. If you want your prospects to feel like they're already a customer, don't treat them like strangers. Don’t bore them with statistics, graphs, technical data, awards, and the company history that will be of interest only to a very small group of people.
Be sure to include a gallery of professionally taken, "brochure quality" photographs of projects you’ve completed. Think Architectural Digest. You want them to be thinking, "Gee, that's amazing work," not, "what a crappy photo." While your smartphone snapshots may be great for spontaneous social media updates, they are likely not suitable for your virtual showroom.
Remember that while content is all about attracting visitors, nurturing leads and building brand awareness, you are more than welcome to add some sales-oriented copy on your website. Put that information on well designed and web pages, with effective conversion copy, and make those pages easy to find on your menu. Just don't turn your 'helpful' content into sales pitch. The more ridiculously useful content you create on the website, on a continual basis, the longer your visitors will hang out there, and the more likely they will be back when they decide to buy. They've more than likely clicked around your site, and Googled you several times... they know exactly what your company sells.
Your best 'sales people' are your customers. Case studies and genuine testimonials from satisfied customers are trusted far more than anything you or your team can say about your company. But they have to be real. Testimonials from "John H" and "Judy G" will be immediately suspect. Your visitors will naturally assume you made these bullshit testimonials up one night over a few beers, and that you had a good laugh about it. A real testimonial comes from someone who believes they are helping someone else make a good decision. These customers aren't embarrassed to add their name to their endorsement, with a headshot, Twitter or Facebook link, or backlink to their website.
The customer is the hero; not you. Case studies should speak about your customers' unique needs and how they were met. If you're a developer or builder, you can give a shout out to the Realtor®, and compliment some of the product manufacturers/suppliers and trades that brought the project home. Then include a testimonial for the project. Let the customer do all your bragging for you.
It’s so ingrained in us to prove our worth, with long lists of qualifications, certifications and official endorsements, that it can be easy to forget that your prospects don’t care about you, at all. While they may do a cursory check to make sure you’re legit, the big drawing card isn’t going to be your membership to some industry body they've never heard of; it’s going to be the fact that you provided every answer they were looking for, in addressing their pain point, or making an informed decision to better their lives.
It's just like dating. Brag on yourself all night, and there won't be a second date. People fall in love with your brand, and the products and services you provide, when you focus on them.
As a builder/developer, your image and reputation are everything. Content demonstrates your knowledge and expertise, strengthens brand awareness, presents case studies of projects you've successfully completed, and generates project interest for what's coming next. Rolling out an effective content strategy can position your projects as the ones Realtors®, sub-contractors and home buyers can't wait to become a part of.
For a contractor, building a strong content stream is going to do more than just building brand awareness. It’s going to help you load your sales funnel, then influence prospects with ongoing incredibly valuable content. You need a downloadable white paper or brochure to exchange for their first name and email address, presented with high-converting content on a landing page. And once they are on your double opt-in email list, it's important that you keep providing valuable content. You want them coming back to your site again, and again. If they unsubscribe, because you couldn't resist going into a sales pitch, you have nothing.
As you've probably already discovered, your website is not going to receive top search engine rankings and a flood of traffic simply because it exists. Almost all of the traffic to your website will come from a) inbound links from other websites, to your awesome articles and posts, b) search engine links from the first page of Google and Bing results and c) social media links. Without incredibly valuable content, you can pretty much write off regular qualified visitors to your website... forever.
You should apply the 80/20 principle to your content strategy. If you spend the bulk of your time (80%) promoting your content through the right channels, you’ll inevitably get your pieces in front of more eyeballs, grow your readership, and save yourself time when creating new articles (20%).
It's true; you can buy your traffic, through AdWords or Facebook Ads, but those ad spots will become quite expensive, and it's not the same as 'earning' traffic by being genuinely helpful and building long term value and trust relationships. The content you build and own is an asset, and can generate traffic long after the initial investment. Purchased ads disappear as soon as you stop spending, leaving you right back where you started; at ground zero.
Cole Wiebe helps brands and professionals grow their influence and value online; so they can “out content”™ their competition. Cole is a content strategist, content writer, conversion copywriter and online marketing coach.