Managing Online Lead Generation

When it comes to a company’s website, high-quality and productive leads that turn into profitable, first-rate customers are all that really matter.

Pool and spa businesses need leads—lots of them. It is no secret leads are the source of new customers. And with the explosion of the Internet over the past decade, online sources have become a primary starting point for finding new leads. However, it is not easy. In fact, figuring out online lead generation can be confusing, time-consuming, and expensive.

To make matters worse, as the Internet matured so did a system full of media sales hucksters, advertising agency pretenders, and virtual carnival barkers—all of whom are happy to promise all the quality leads a pool and spa/hot tub company needs. They will spend a company’s money to generate ‘impressions,’ ‘events,’ ‘conversions,’ and all sorts of other activity, but what really matters are high-quality and productive leads that turn into profitable, first-rate customers.

Exploring the following six myths will help pool and spa/hot tub business owners better understand how online lead generation works (and how it does not).

Myth one: Paid search is easy to do

Paid search (also known as pay-per-click) is a straightforward process. Provided a company bids high enough, their ad will appear on the page of a given pool or spa/hot tub search query nearly every time.

This is the good news. The bad news is, this method can be expensive and is easy to do poorly and ineffectively. A business (or hired marketing agency) can waste thousands of dollars generating impressions—even clicks—all without getting quality leads.

A large agency, for example, may say they will spend $5000 of the company’s money on paid search advertising in Vancouver during the month of March. And they will find a way to do this whether or not there is really $5000 worth of effective search terms they can bid on.

It is all done by software, without human intervention. Their technology spends the allotted money to fit the company’s budget, not necessarily to drive cost-effective, high-quality sales leads from homeowners looking to install a pool or spa/hot tub.

To do this properly, many factors must be understood, such as which search terms to buy and which to avoid, the value of phone calls, the right level of qualification, and the dangers of over-incentivizing.

Buying the term ‘pool,’ for example, may seem like good use of a pool and spa/hot tub company’s paid search budget, unless, of course, the ad shows up on a search for ‘pool toys’ or ‘D-I-Y swimming pool,’ in which case the company’s money has been wasted.

Well executed campaigns can be complicated; therefore, hiring a company or an individual who has expertise in paid search campaigns—and the pool and spa/hot tub market—is particularly important.

It is possible for a business owner to take it upon themselves to perform paid search campaigns; however, they get more complex and competitive every day. Despite having the businesses’ best interests in mind, the complexities and constant change involved with online advertising may leave one spinning their wheels and wasting their money.

Myth two: My site is already optimized for organic search

This is almost not a myth since, at its heart, it is true. There is nothing more valuable than organic search (a.k.a. search engine optimization [SEO]), as it is free. However, doing this in a way that makes the company’s website consistently stand out amongst competitors can be difficult.

With organic search, a company’s website ranking is never finished—it needs constant care and updating. Further, everyone who develops a website today builds it to be optimized for search engines; therefore, any advantage is hard won and even harder to hold onto.

Unlike paid search, Google, Yahoo, and other search engines do not share their algorithms to determine rankings. Even if a business manages to get to the top of a particular category, the next time Google modifies its algorithm (which it does regularly), the website may suddenly disappear.

It gets worse. Within organic search, Google is actively choosing winners and losers, and with a bias towards larger players and bigger brands. Google views larger companies as a sure bet over most local providers. While this may change, it is still a major frustration for many local pool and spa/hot tub companies.

Finally, many SEO firms trumpet their successes all the time. They delight in showing a business owner their website now ranks high on specific terms in their particular town (e.g. pool installation, Ajax, Ontario). While this appears to be a success, reality often tells a different story. The term ‘pool installation Ajax Ontario’ may only attract half a dozen visitors for an entire year.

In this case, the SEO firm has essentially spent a lot of time, effort, and money to get a company’s website half of a visitor per month. In effect, the website is leading a race no one else has bothered to run.

This is not to say a company’s website should not be optimized in this manner, it is just that at this point in the evolution of Internet searches, doing SEO is table stakes—the price of just being in the game.

Here are the factors that matter most when it comes to SEO:

  1. Longevity: The website/domain age is what matters most in the eyes of Google. So, while the firm hired to improve the company’s SEO will hopefully do their best, the website needs to be in the game for years, not months, before it can reach the top.
  2. Inbound links: This refers to links from other websites that link back to a company’s website over the course of time. Essentially, this is a sign that others like the website. Even though there has been talk about how inbound links and link history are losing their importance, this is still a significant factor in organic search rankings.
  3. Quality, fresh content: Google likes active websites with active pages. The more posts there are about pools and spas the better.

Other factors come into play as well, but these are the top three when it comes to organic search rankings. Keep in mind, these three factors are hard to achieve quickly and reliably. This is not to scare or dissuade business owners from paying attention to organic search, but more so to point out where this fits in the mix and to be clear on what can and cannot be achieved.

Myth three: Social media is all that really matters

“Everybody’s doing it. And my customers spend a lot of time there, so this is where we need to be as well.” It is a common refrain, but it is not very effective for quality pool or spa/hot tub leads. There is an immense gulf between the hype, the metrics, and traffic that matter. Social media has its role, but it is not in lead generation—an area where it has in fact been historically weak.

Social media definitely adds value for some businesses; especially big name brands like Starbucks, Coke, and GM that want to connect with their customers on a more personal level. But so do offer-based companies like ‘cash for gold,’ free e-book giveaways, and even online classes. To get the phone to ring with qualified leads, however, most social media activities (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram updates and banner ads) are going to have a hard time generating any return on investment (ROI).

When can social media work for pool and spa/hot tub companies?

One aspect beneath the social media umbrella that is worth attention is customer reviews. Places like Angie’s List, Google, and Yelp provide opportunities for customers to perform local searches and read reviews across a wide range of businesses. And while these reviews can be faked to some extent, in the eyes of Google and organic search, they can be an important differentiator.

Keep in mind, some homeowners feel a big sense of risk when hiring a pool and spa/hot tub company. Reading positive reviews about a business will help allay customer fears. Since most local businesses do not have any reviews, just having a handful can make a big difference. So businesses should encourage customers to post them.

What about negative reviews? A negative review will not necessarily hurt a company—every business that has reviews has some bad ones. However, there is more to lose by not having any at all, so long as they are not all negative comments.

Myth four: Online listings will make the phone ring

Every company in the pool and spa/hot tub industry has no doubt received solicitations to list their business with an online directory service (e.g. Yellow PagesSuperPages, etc.). These types of services drive a small fraction of traffic. In fact, all of these listing services combined deliver less than 10 percent of what the major search engines do.

That said, do not ignore online listings entirely. They serve a legitimate purpose, mostly by helping local businesses get found by the real search engines. Therefore, businesses should make sure their listings are set-up accurately, once, and then leave them alone. A pool and spa/hot tub company can assign somebody to handle this or, since there are so many of these sites, a third-party service (e.g. Yext, Universal Business Listing) can be hired to perform this task.

The right way to create these listings is to load them up with as much information as possible by maxing out the number of images, videos, logos, payment information, and descriptions the company is allowed to submit. The more information the listing has, the more search engines and directories have to display to their visitors.

Myth five: Mobile Internet is having a huge impact

According to statistics, 50 percent of total website visits come from some type of mobile device. So, does this mean a pool and spa/hot tub company’s website should focus on mobile as well? The reality is mobile matters a great deal more for some businesses than others. But for those who sell high value, high consideration products—like pools and/or spas/hot tubs—targeting mobile customers is still just ‘nice to have.’

The industry’s target customer base is 45 years old and up, he/she is not going to be as mobile-friendly as today’s twentysomethings. These folks are just getting used to searching for products on the web, and for them, a computer is still the device of choice. So, by all means, keep an eye on mobile Internet opportunities, as it is certainly easier than ever to optimize a business’ website and advertising for mobile devices. That said, avoid the temptation to believe a company will win or lose based on its mobile Internet efforts.

Myth six: Now that everything is online, the phone does not matter so much

One of the key mistakes made by pool and spa/hot tub companies when it comes to lead generation occurs when it loses focus on telecommunications. No matter how smart and efficient a company is in generating leads if its people are not great on the phone, the leads will be ruined anyway. Being good on the phone means:

  1. Lightning-fast callbacks: In the eyes of a prospective customer, the speed with which a company responds to an inbound lead is a test of its service quality. Every minute that goes by between the time a homeowner submits an e-mail inquiry and when someone actually calls them can hurt a business.
  2. Dedicated, well-trained phone staff: This is the front end of the entire business. A pool and spa/hot tub company can lose customers if the person who speaks with potential clients first is unfriendly or uninformed.
  3. A smooth, systematic, efficient phone process: Are prospects pre-screened adequately? Are appointments set consistently, and are confirmation calls made for sales appointments? Finally, are customer inquiries followed up on? The company’s phone operation needs to work well, 100 percent of the time.

In conclusion

Online lead generation is fantastic; it has changed the pool and spa/hot tub industry for the better in many ways. It has also raised the bar on what it takes to be successful.

Far too many service providers are more than happy to take a company’s money in exchange for simply getting them online visibility and impressions. Unfortunately, so much of it never adds up to what the business really needs—leads.

Keep these six myths in mind the next time the opportunity arises to invest in online marketing. They will help to ensure the business snares more than its fair share of great pool and spa/hot tub leads from the Internet without exceeding expectations or budgets.

This article was written by Todd Bairstow and originally appeared on Pool & Spa Marketing [link].