Construction Company Web Site Best Practices — What You Need, and What You Should be Thinking During the Process
Construction is a particularly interesting niche because, perhaps more than most other industries, contractors tend to largely ignore their web sites. Or, if they’re not outright ignoring the sites, they’re perhaps not focusing too much on internet marketing. I’m not sure why… It could be that web sites are simply too far removed from the skill sets and ways of thinking that contractors are used to. With most other industries, computers are at least present all day long during the work day. The internet for so many others is a constant presence; contractors spend their days out building things.
Before I get going on this article, I want to mention a few things. From time to time, contractors ask me how it is I’m familiar with some of their industry-specific issues and trade-talk. Well, there’s a two-part answer to that… First, I’m a DIY fanatic — have been for 20+ years. I own more tools than the law allows, and am experienced in general carpentry, cabinetmaking, framing, drywall, plumbing, electrical, and various specialty trades. So, it’s a personal thing, for one.
Aside from that, I spent 10 years as a marketing and business development director for a CPA firm that specialized in serving contractors. So, as part of my job, I spent a ton of time networking with large construction company owners. It was pretty interesting work because, at that level, certain distinctions come into play, such as whether a contractor was a union shop or not. From a political standpoint, this was pretty interesting because sitting in on their trade meetings gave me an opportunity to more or less learn their core beliefs (which basically are polar opposites). I have to say, both sides made sound arguments that appealed to me. (It’s interesting, and awkward, to actually become involved in both sides of an issue!) Thankfully, from a marketing perspective, the best practices are essentially identical for either type of client; it’s just your *message* that changes.
So, let’s take a look at what are, in my view, the top 10 elements of a construction contractor web site. I’ll then explain why I selected these elements, below.
The List: 10 Most Important Contractor Web Site Elements
- Photos / galleries
- Product or service specifications / qualifications / experience
- Request bid / quote / price form
- Inquiry form
- Contact information
- Social media integration
- About us / company history
- Well developed, on-point content
The Rationale Behind the List
Photos and portfolios are the top element of a well-done construction web site. Nothing shows a contractor’s capabilities more than a photo of the finished job (or, numerous photos, well organized into sets). And, let’s be honest — you have no legitimate excuse not to have these photos. After all, you’re there on the job site through completion, so you’ll definitely have ample opportunity to take the shots. So, get those photos, and get them organized. I won’t go into a lot of detail here about technique and or nuances of taking, organizing, and displaying photos. But, once you do have your photos, know that you have a ton of options — from housing galleries on your site to using Flickr or other photo sites, and certainly we’ll get into social media in a bit here.
The reason for all of this, of course, is that photos work just as hard as you do! Via their lonely little pixelated existence, they convey a ton of information to prospective clients. Trust me: While most of your clients would be lucky to drive a single nail without hurting themselves, they *can* nevertheless tell what looks good and what doesn’t. By “good,” I mean well-built, clean, detailed, level, solid, complete, etc. — all things that the client infers from your picture almost instinctively. If you’re not showing this, you’re leaving your clients with doubt about your ability to finish the job successfully.
Other things are tougher to convey with a photo. For example, your ability to complete the job on-time and on-budget. For this, I suggest two strategies: First, you can say this outright on your site, mentioning it in various places where appropriate. Second, this is a super thing to have others say about you. There’s actually a well-documented marketing principle that people will take others’ word about you more than they’ll take your word. What this means is that testimonials and recommendations mean a lot to consumers. How that happens off-site depends on the type of contracting you do, the size of your company, etc. But on your own site, you have full control of this. Get some testimonials on there. It’ll go a long way (and I guarantee that visitors will read them).
You also have full control about all written content on your site. So, I highly recommend writing up articles that describe all of your service offerings. Not only does this tell clients what you’re all about, in writing, but it’s good for SEO as well. After all, Google needs text to find you. So, be sure to get a lot of detail and key words into your articles. And, don’t worry… if you’re not a writer by nature, there are tricks to generating decent content for non-writers. One good way is for you to dictate what you want to say into a voice recorder. (There’s probably an app for this on your smartphone right now.) Basically, just fire up the voice recorder and then talk about what you do. You can then find someone on Craigslist to transcribe the audio file(s), and maybe edit them for you. You’d be surprised… whole books are written this way.
Okay, so bid requests and inquiry forms… these are essential! Depending on your specialty and the volume of your business, these forms may vary from contractor to contractor. Some contractors want any and all inquiries. So, their forms are broad and general. Others use intake forms to prequalify potential clients — e.g., asking about budgets, specific measurements, etc. The sky’s the limit, of course.
Contact information. Yes, this sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s important. For most contractors, I recommend putting contact information in many places on your site (even on every page). Once someone feels an impulse or makes a decision to call you, you don’t want any further barrier. So, get your info on you site in a prominent way.
Social media is a super thing for contractors because jobsites are the perfect kind of content for such sites. Imagine if, every day or two, you posted some upate pics of your current job. Over time, this builds up super-interesting profiles that automatically document job histories in a very interesting and informative way for your customers. Facebook has become more or less a mainstream replacement for blogs. And, provided you have it setup correctly (for example, you should set up Facebook as a business page — not use your personal Facebook profile for your business), you’ll find it rewarding. You should also of course link your site with your social media profiles.
A web site “About Us” page is so commonplace, one might wonder why I’ve even included it as an essential component of a contractor web site. But, I think it’s particularly important for this industry because, like it or not, construction clients (particularly new ones) are inherently nervous. They’re spending a lot of money and thus, in their minds, taking a real risk. Anything you can do to help mitigate this whole problem is a very good thing. So, the About Us page should let potential clients know that no one else brings the level of experience that you do with your specialty. In many ways, everything we’ve discussed so far is exactly the same — offering clients assurance that you’re the one who’ll do the job best. This is the rationale behind the “well-developed, on-point content” item as well.
The above concludes my list of essential web elements for contractors. I hope it helped some people out — and, as always, please know that the above items were merely what I felt was most critical for contractor web sites. Each one will be different, though, and you’ll no-doubt want to include a lot of things I didn’t mention (e.g., your license number).
On a side note, did you know that the back end of your web site (meaning, the private area only you see) can also be extremely helpful in running your business? Web developers can add on programs (that only you and/or your employees can see) to do all sorts of helpful things. Examples might include a custom workorder system, job management functionality, various custom tools to help you do estimates, bid generation systems, etc. I’ve had builders ask me if they can use their site to offer password-protected access to post reports for owners and project investors. (The answer was yes!).
Below, I’ll touch on some related industry philosophy that may help contractors understand why internet marketing is important.
Changing the Consumer’s Perceptions
Construction is often mistakenly viewed as a commodity, right? In basic economics, a commodity is something that it really doesn’t matter who you buy it from; it’s going to be exactly the same whether you pay $10 or $20 for it. In this scenario, the consumer’s goal is to pay the lowest price, without regard for anything else. The whole “lowest bid” system is largely to blame for this.
Of course, you know better… you know that a lot of the intangibles matter a lot — things like workmanship, adherence to code, timelines, project management ability, safety, bonding, reputation, etc. So, your web site can also serve to demonstrate all of these things to potential clients. As a bonus, as clients come to view you not as a commodity but as a value, they’ll actually pay more for what you do (or they’ll be happier to pay whatever you do charge). These are items that should be kept in mind during a construction web site build-out.
Jim Dee heads up Array Web Development, LLC in Portland, OR. He’s the editor of “Web Designer | Web Developer” magazine and a contributor to many online publications. You can reach him at: Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. Photo atop piece is adapted from “Knife River crew” by Oregon Department of Transportation (Flickr, Creative Commons).