Cody Taylor of SupplyHog

Remember how much effort it took to open your first store? You stressed over your location to make sure it saw enough traffic, you purchased trusted brands and products, and you got the delivery trucks to ship what your customers needed. You put long hours into making sure every part of your business looked perfect. A lot of your energy goes into capturing your local market, which sees maybe a few thousand people. This is a common story in construction supply. And yet, a huge portion of businesses within our industry completely ignore one of their most vital locations: their website.

If your physical location is seen by a few thousand people in the local area, then your website is the store that the entire world can walk up to. Most businesses are hesitant to put a lot of effort into learning about or investing in their web presence, but this is a huge mistake.

To illustrate, picture your website as one of your physical locations. A customer walks up to the door. The sign clearly reads “Open!” but the door is locked. There’s a sheet of paper in the window with your phone number and some store hours, and, inside, they see a disheveled sales rep staring back at them. They knock and they wave, but the staring continues. That customer then awkwardly shuffles to the neighboring shop, where a different rep kindly ushers them in, instantly helping them find whatever they need. From across the parking lot, they see your shop, and that lonely sales rep staring longingly out of the door.

This ridiculous scenario sums up the online construction world. While working at SupplyHog, I’ve contacted and collected information from every type of business in construction, from suppliers to manufacturers, contractors to customers. And nearly all of them share this same unfortunate trait: terrible online personas. They lock out their customers from learning or buying anything from them. And while there are a lot of elements that come into play here, the most important is the content you choose to publish on your website.

A significant portion of construction businesses have the equivalent of an online business card, with a phone number, an address, and not much else. Think of your website as another physical location, because the principles are very much the same: you want them to trust you, you want to educate them, and you want them to come back. If you orient your perspective around that, then the more technical web elements will find a natural place in your content.

Establishing Trust
What makes you trust a sales rep when you walk in? For most, it’s a fine line. You don’t want a creepy, mute stare, but you don’t want overly pushy salesmanship. When you speak to a customer, the most successful interactions are genuine and focused on their needs. Remember these same concepts when you choose your content.

One of the easiest first steps you can take to building that trust in your customer is telling about yourself. “Customers do not care about our history,” you might say. You would be right. But they don’t care about it in the same way they don’t care about your stores wallpaper, your countertops, your banner with your mission statement. Having a company bio, written with your personality, implies your credibility. It puts your customer at ease; if you're into rhetoric, this is about lending you ethos. The same concept applies to product information, project history, or anything you can write about your company. Write it, write it with feeling, and write it to appeal to your customers’ sensibilities.

Doing this works for you on a technical level as well. By writing about your business, your products, and your location, you’ll be hitting keywords that will drive traffic to your site. If you sell a particular Double 5” vinyl siding in Hillsboro, Tenn., you need to say that.

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is all about having a healthy mix of keywords relative to your field in your content. Obviously you can’t put in an unnatural list of words and expect Google to not penalize you, but that’s why you should write these portions using your own voice and personality to highlight your unique qualities. And the more unique aspects of your business that you can highlight, the more keywords you will have associated with your page. Using a crowded term like “siding” won’t do much; you’ll be lost in all the noise of other siding sites. However, being precise in your language means that you will be in front of the customers looking for that particular Double 5” vinyl siding in Hillsboro. Be personal, be specific, and be found.

Teaching Them Something New
If you already have all of this down, that’s great. But if your website is functioning as a basic contact and bio page, then it isn’t living up to its potential. A major online traffic driver is consistent, informative content.

You want to regularly post content that is relative to your field and is designed to educate the visitor. If you have some renovation tips using a particular product that you sell, record a video. Write a blog post to accompany it. Check a keyword planning tool or Google Trends to find an interesting topic in your market segment, and then write something about it.

If a customer can come to your website and learn something, then they see you as a voice of authority. And, if you are fulfilling a specialized need in this industry, or if you can teach your customers about an obscure but important topic, then that’s even more attention you will draw to your business. If you can write “The 7 Unknown Accessories that Will Make Your Next Siding Project a Breeze” (or some other enticing title), then you are fulfilling a very real need. And if your content is valuable enough, then it will be shared among professionals, driving even more traffic to your site, and solidifying your position as an authority in your field. Few things influence a customer more than ensuring them that you know what’s best, and having the reputation to back that up.

Build It and They Will Come (Back)
Another valuable part of educating your audience is that you incentivize returning to your page. In the same way a regular customer may come in to see new stock or hear the latest about your business, they will return to your website to learn more things that they find valuable. But if your site looks like a ghost town, how much does that say about the life of your business? Be active and update your website and social media often. I’ve seen far too many sites that last updated their “Trade Show Schedule” three years ago, and their last catalog update was in the decade before this one. If you want to remain relevant in your customers’ minds, you must be vigilant in making sure you have new things to say, and say them often.

By the same token, make sure you immediately show your customers what they want to know. Something you need to consider about showing up in Google (i.e., the thing you want to do) is that if someone comes to your page and can’t find what they are looking for, they’ll go back to their Google search and pick another page. This process is called “pogo sticking,” and it hurts you. The more users that do this, the lower your page will appear. So waste no time.

Know Your Audience, and Tell Them What They Want to Know
If a lot of people are coming to your site from one specific search term (a trend you can check using Google Webmaster Tools), then you should be writing about that. Do not keep them waiting. All of the biographical and supplementary content I mentioned earlier is just that: supplementary. They build and contribute to your online persona, but the spotlight should be on what your customers are looking for. Make sure visitors can find what they are seeking within the first four seconds of looking at your website. Your customers, and your search engine rankings, will thank you for it.

For a concrete example of what I’m talking about, check out this SupplyHog profile for stone veneer manufacturer Horizon Stone. As soon as you land on the page, you can learn about the company and their contact info, request a quote, chat with a sales rep, and find a vendor that sells their products, all from one page. If a customer wants to learn more, they can click through to product pages, watch Horizon Stone’s video, or click through to their website, but that is all supplementary.

Immediacy and efficiency are your friends when designing your page and deciding upon your content.

While these points may seem to be common sense, so many businesses within our industry forget them. They let their web presence fall to the wayside, and that ultimately damages their brand in many ways. That's why relating these abstract internet concepts to something physical is a beneficial thing to do. You would never let your customers walk out of your office without ensuring that they value your reputation and see you as an authority figure. You would do everything in your power to ensure that they will return in the future, and even advocate for your business. Apply that same logic to your website, your LinkedIn, your Instagram, whatever it may be. Do not be the creepy sales rep staring from across the parking lot.