Archive for December, 2011

More about Plumbing Keywords

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

After you get past basic plumbing keywords you quickly enter the world of product related searches and life gets to be more fun. The challenge here is that the words are clearly related but they are not purely in the domain of the plumbing industry. Other industries such as hardware, kitchen & bath own part of this traffic and the trick here is to buy what has enough of the plumbing traffic to remain viable.

To give an example of this, let’s look at Water Heaters. When extended with installation, repair, or service you’ve got some pretty good traffic. True you still have some DIY content but you can get rid of lots of that with instructional extender words like manual, book, or instructions. The tough one is Water Heater by itself, and unfortunately that will be the highest volume keyword. This is where experience comes into play by helping us judge how much of that big number is really reactive traffic. In the case of Water Heater it will be high enough quality for some businesses but not others. Within the volume of that base word will be some jobs but there will also be a degree of junk traffic.

I picked Water Heater for this conversation because it is not a common do it yourself product, but there are certainly people that like to play plumber and will install this item. Should they, no, but they do. If the product is a Water Faucet then the pattern goes the other way. Many homeowners will attempt a Water Faucet that would never consider installing a Water Heater and sometimes they even get it right.  If Water Heaters makes the grade and is a profitable word for your business, Water Faucet may not. All your other product will be on spectrum from likely DIY to unlikely DIY.

Next comes a source consideration in these products and if the source extender is Lowes or Home Depot you can almost bet the traffic is not service related. There might be subcontractor work from these sources but getting from their products to your services is a tough battle and not one you are likely to win. Now brand extensions like GE are an entirely different situation and here you have to put your thinking hat on. If the person is brand searching then they are probably price shopping the item and that could mean they have not fully committed to the purchase making it very possible to get your business onto the short list of prospective providers.

Beyond the qualification of the keywords you also have to consider the stage of the investigation.  Purchases go through the following stages:

  1. Awareness
  2. Research
  3. Alternatives
  4. Purchase Decision
  5. After Purchase Referrals

In plumbing awareness is only a factor in new options not really in the function. People are aware of water heaters but they may not understand or be aware of tankless technology. Awareness is rarely ever driven by AdWords and certainly not in search. Awareness can be helped with the display network but is a lost cause in search. The Research stage is where the search engines first come into the picture and in reality most research traffic is looking at the organic results not the paid advertising. Alternatives is when search really starts to be a player in the process and if you think about it looking at the ads when you are looking for purchasing alternatives to the product or service makes perfect sense. The purchase decision is simply a refinement and conclusion of the alternatives investigation. The after purchase referrals are outside the area of influence that you are likely to see for search traffic.

Now let’s look at some data to illustrate what we have been talking about here.


This chart shows the relative traffic of the water heater and the more qualified searches of installation, price, and repair. As you can see the broad search of Water Heater dwarfs the other forms of the search and so you have to consider this when deciding if you want the unqualified search of the broad term.

This next screen shows the distribution of the other words without the dominant keyword and you can see that the share of traffic is not even but it’s close. In the case of marketing a plumber we would want installation and service but certainly not the manual or DIY. Repair and price are interesting words in this mix because it is probably shared between product and service. On one hand looking for a price could indicate a product search but it could also be a service request. The word estimate would lean more toward service and sale price would lean toward the product.



So what does all the work tell us about the base word of Water Heater? Based on this data we would estimate that the core word of Water Heater is about equally split between product, service, and DIY so if we are okay with $10 per click on Water Heater Installation then $3 will probably work on the broader term and the volume will go up huge.

Getting from the Click to the Job

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

In marketing your plumbing business different systems are responsible for moving prospect to the ultimate value of a paid service ticket.  AdWords’ role is to connect the initial clue of service need to the right part of your website. The website needs to inform, educate, and bring site visitors to action and your customer service needs to close the deal and your service provider needs to deliver the goods. An oh-shucks anywhere in this chain of events will send the prospect off to your competitors.

Message Shifting – Don’t Do It!

In the ideal situation a person performs a search for your services and gets an ad that matches that search. The person clicks on the link, arrives at your website, and hopefully you continue that conversation by reinforcing the initial search which moves them to action.  The degree of message shifting is a balance of cost versus value. As an example let’s say the initial search is “Manhattan Plumber” and the visitor arrives at a generic home page that indicates service to New York and New Jersey.  That is much weaker than landing on a page that reads “Serving Mahattan Since 1980” because the more you are about a bunch of keywords the less you are about the one.  There are challenges with New York City in particular in that there are many different area names in the region so matching every search is going to result in lots of landing pages or some fancy coding. The question becomes, how much do you want to personalize the conversation? This is hardly a simple question and it can be difficult to find the right balance. You want very granular landing pages, but you don’t want to invest a lot of time and money on pages that nobody will ever see. Every region has a variation of this challenge, but there is no doubt that the more local you are the higher your response is going to be, especially in emergency traffic.

Design for Your Goal

It is absolutely vital that you understand the goal for the traffic and design to that goal. The most common goal for plumbers is to get the phone to ring, oftentimes an online service request form serves as a backup. Make sure your phone number is easy to see and on the top of the page. Whatever you do, do not make visitors search for the number! Remember your competitors are only a click away, waste too much time and the visitor you paid for is going to escape via the back button. Remember, the purpose of the page is get the phone to ring – nothing more and nothing less.

Answer the Phone!

Way too many businesses depend on automation and voice mail to handle taking messages and in the plumbing business, especially in emergency traffic, this can be a huge mistake. Plumbing is a 24/7 business but staffing the phone around the clock is prohibitively expensive. So is not answering the phone.  It might be tempting to use automation, voice mail, and cell phones to solve this, but you have to think about the prospective customer. If they are in emergency mode and they hit automation they may leave a message, but they will certainly move on to your competitor. Many people will not stop shopping until they talk to a person that gives them the warm fuzzy confidence that their problem is going to be solved. Even if you are lucky enough to get the message, it is very likely that your bought and paid for prospect has already moved on to a competitor. In this game second place is called first loser, don’t give away jobs by not having a solid system for dealing with phone leads. Regardless of how the phone gets answered they need to operate as part of your team and they need to communicate that to the customer.  A great answering service can be a huge asset to any plumbing business.


There are lots of things that can go wrong from the search to the payment of the job but it does not have to end badly. Do the basics in a dependable consistent and high quality fashion and you can move most of that traffic to the income account in your financials.


Watch What You Say, it Could Cost You!

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

A plumber’s income, especially an emergency plumber, is highly dependent on the telephone and handling calls correctly. That being said, there are certain words that need to be purged from the vocabulary of anyone involved in the inbound phone calls.

20 Words You Never Want to Hear on a Plumbing Service Call:

  1. Please leave a message at the tone
  2. Can you hold
  3. He’s not available
  4. I need to check
  5. I cannot help you
  6. It’s not my job
  7. I don’t think
  8. What’s your problem
  9. We cannot do that
  10. It’s company policy
  11. I’ll try
  12. The truth is
  13. To be honest
  14. When we can get around to it
  15. I am new at this
  16. Opps I have never had that happen before
  17. You’re wrong
  18. They
  19. Calm down
  20. [silence]

Not all of these words are horrible but there are better ways to say what needs to be said. For example replacing “What’s your problem?” with “How can we help you?” can completely turn a call around.  A person handling your inbound calls needs to be empathic to the caller and they have to create confidence in the caller that their problem will be addressed quickly.

Having phone calls answered directly by a technician in the field is normally a bad idea. This practice can distract the person from the work being done and the person may not be focused on the job of handling the phone. A cell phone for a plumber is an absolutely essential tool, but having your public phone number going to a cell phone is probably not something you want to do.

Why Can’t I Run AdWords Myself?

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

The short answer is you can, but the real question is should you? Ask yourself, is your business better served by staying focused on plumbing or AdWords? Are you really going to dedicate the time necessary to learn AdWords? Google has invested millions trying to make it simple enough for anyone to run. However, like any profession the devil is in the details.  It seems easy enough – you create a campaign, write an ad, and select a few keywords and AdWords is running and money is going to Google. Unfortunately what is not happening with this basic simple set up is the creation of value for your business.

I have made my living as a search engine marketing expert since 1994. In all that time I have never had a client that did not know their primary keywords and more about their business than I do. They rarely understand the issues involved in effectively targeting those keywords.

Plumber keywords are a classic example of this because the typical plumber should only target searches with “Intent to Engage Services” but many searches will be either non-specific or off topic.  The keyword “Plumber Los Angeles” is a good example. At first blush this would seem to be a great keyword but what if the real search is “Plumber Jobs in Los Angeles”? This search matches the “Plumber Los Angeles” keyword and most plumbers are paying big money for that search and many others of questionable value.

I own a pipe wrench but that in no way makes me a plumber. I can install a faucet and sometimes it does not even leak very much. However it takes me twice as long and it never lasts for a long time because I do this so infrequently that I never do it right. It always takes five trips to the hardware store to get all the right parts and most times I need to buy a few of the parts a couple of times.  Plumbing only looks easy until you have to actually do it, AdWords is the same way.

AdWords is like plumbing in that it seems simple enough until you get into the details. There are three major networks, seven types of keywords (Positive/Negative; Broad, Modified Broad, Phase, and Exact).  Matching is not just to keywords because you also have keyword themes, direct placement, and remarketing audiences in the Display Network. The keywords are a selection model for a system that has millions of searches per day and the system is an interactive auction with literally thousands of variables involved.  As a person that was trained as a computer programmer I can tell you without hesitation that AdWords is the most complex system I have ever worked on because you never know what a person with a blank search box will type in.

Marketing is an ecosystem and AdWords has a role that interacts with other parts of the process.  AdWords creates traffic to your website but to create value the website much bring the person to the action of contacting your business.

The question is not can your run AdWords because you can. The question is should you, or is your business better served by staying focused on the business of your business.

What are AdWords? Why Plumbers Should Care?

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

AdWords is what controls the paid advertizing placements within the Google Network. Above is a typical search result in Google for a plumber search in a city.  “Plumber” is a word that Google automatically localizes with the searcher’s location. A person searching for “Plumber” while physically in Los Angeles is the same as search for “Los Angeles Plumber.” This is referred to as localizing the search and Google knows that some words, like plumber, are best served by localizing.

Google gives priority to paid advertising and Google Places in many localized searches. You have probably been contacted by an SEO expert that proposes website optimization for plumbers. This is a failed strategy because there are no organic positions visible on the top of the page. They are proposing to optimize for a position that is not there! Anyone that claims that organic optimization is the only way to go simply does not understand local search for plumbers. In some searches you will find a few organic listings between the first AdWords section and the places listing but in the more competitive markets it will often look like the example here. Even if your city shows organic listings there is no guarantee that your website will earn one of those positions or that it will stay there.

In the old days a plumber was not really in business until their ad appeared in the Phone Book, but Google has become that must-be location. People in large numbers turn to Google to find the service provider they need and this is very true of plumbing.  Places and AdWords are the two choices of how you get onto the coveted top of first page.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Do AdWords Express

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

The psychology of what is going on here is easy to see. Marketing is difficult and many in the market want the easy way to success. So Google offers a program that fits that want but it cannot serve the need.

Here is Google’s description of what AdWords Express is:

What It Is

AdWords Express is the easiest way to advertise on Google. Creating your ad takes just a few minutes, and that’s it. Everything else is managed automatically, ensuring your ad is only shown to people looking for what you have to offer. Now you’re advertising to an audience that’s already interested in you.

Who It’s For

AdWords Express is for local businesses looking for local customers. It’s for business owners who want the benefits of a targeted online ad campaign, without having to spend time managing it.

End of Google site content.

Marketing is not simple and that did not suddenly change because Google changed the name of the product from Boost to Express. The name was changed to protect the not so innocent because the results of many tests we saw of Boost where like watching a train wreck in slow motion. We saw clients pay ridiculous amounts of money for some of the worst qualified clicks. What Boost was very good at doing was spending money but that is not typically a goal of our clients. The only thing express about this is the transfer of money from your credit card to Google’s bank account. There are so many things wrong in Express that we hesitate to waste your time detailing all of them but at its core Express is trying to target traffic without knowledge of the business.

Google is a great company, but the reality is that marketing requires a level of thinking that is currently beyond all software in the market today. Google is trying to take a keyword model assembled without knowledge of your business or your customers and produce traffic that benefits your business. That is a nice goal but it is not possible in today’s world.

AdWords is a giant step forward for advertisers but it requires thought and planning to make it produce results. If your business specializes in something other than AdWords and you need an AdWords Expert on your team please contact us.

10 Things about Plumber Keywords

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Understanding and selecting the right keywords is the secret to success in AdWords. This process only seems simple until you get into the details because the devil is in the details. Keywords exist in a universe where they change meaning based on the context of their use and search engines make this even worse by removing much of the context. Most searchers do not pose a contextually complete question but rather enter the essence of their intent and express that it as a base subject and qualifiers.

Some people will put qualifiers in front of the subject and some after it so a common search like “Plumbers Los Angeles” and “Los Angeles Plumbers” are both going to exist. Common qualifier types include:

  1. Geographic Qualifier: These are typically city or regional names and they are very common in service searches such as Plumbers Los Angeles.
  2. Information seekers: These are words like “Reviews” or many others that indicate the person is seeking information and are likely to be earlier in the purchase cycle.
  3. Action Indicators: Words like “Price” or “Quote” indicate that the person is later in the purchase cycle and is probably in the service provider selection stage of the purchase. Price will sometime indicate a product search but that is not always the case.
  4. Emergency: Words like “Emergency” or “24 hour” indicate the person is looking for immediate service. These keywords often sell at a premium in AdWords and they tend to be very low volume with great intent to contract services.
  5. DIY (Do it yourself): Includes words like instructions, manual, or how-to and indicates that the person is seeking instruction more than service. These are often high volume and low value to a Plumbing business.
  6. Products: This one is tricky in plumbing because its intent value varies based on the product involved. Some products have low service values such as faucet while others like water heater are more likely to be installed by a professional.
  7. Service Indicator: Words like “Licensed” increases the intent toward a service provider making them high value but also low volume. Examples would be “Licensed Plumber” although with this term you have to be careful of jobs traffic. So a better example would be “Licensed Plumber for”
  8. Education: Words like licensing, course, class, apprentice, certification, and others that change the meaning of the base subject and shift the intent of the keywords towards schools and away from plumbers.
  9. Careers/Jobs: Words like help-wanted, jobs, and others that indicate the searcher is seeking employment in the plumbing field can be high volume and low quality for a plumber.
  10. Branded Traffic: Driven by your brand or the brands of your product partners this traffic is often highly responsive especially if the brand is hard to find locally or if you have exclusive territory rights to sell and install.

These 10 points are just the tip of the iceberg and how they interact with each other can be even more fun. The way I like to think about this is that my goal is towards the service indicator and my evaluation of the keyword is how much it leans towards the other concepts.

Ultimately this becomes an evaluation between quality and quantity. The quality is based on how much intent towards the services spectrum of words there is, and the quantity is determined by the volume of traffic. If you go purely for the quantity then you end up spending inordinate amounts of money, but if you go purely to after quality your volume can drop to the floor.

The challenge is to find the right balance between these two. Enough volume to feed your business with the leads you need with a high enough quality that the sales lead generation costs do not get out of control. What you will find is that 5% of your keywords create highly profitable and predictable leads, but not enough volume to support your business. So to fill the volume you have to go into the less qualified words. Time, testing and experience will help you find the right mix to keep your business running right.