Chris Marentis is founder and CEO of lead-generation marketing company Surefire Social. With more than 25 years of experience leading traditional and interactive marketing businesses, he is a leader in helping businesses of all sizes use new technology to enable dramatic growth. During his seminar, “Social Media and the Digitally Empowered Client," at the 2012 Remodeling Leadership Conference, Chris showed how an integrated social marketing approach — including SEO (search engine optimization), social graphing, and before-and-after success stories — can start a dialogue with digitally empowered clients and help them through the process of planning a dream remodeling project.

Remodeling: Why did you start Surefire Social?

Chris Marentis: My dad started a contracting biz in 1948. I’d come down for breakfast and see guys at the breakfast table. I have an affinity for the industry and created Surefire as an educational platform for small businesses. As owners, you can’t abdicate from marketing. Leads are the lifeblood of your business, and the Internet is such an important part of lead generation today.

RM: Why is social media an important part of Internet marketing?

CM: People positioning their companies on Facebook or Twitter are doing it as separate silos. Facebook won’t solve all your problems. Twitter won’t solve all your problems. Most small-business owners don’t have someone at their company creating an integrated program. They don’t understand how social media drives people to their website where they get a lead. They don’t understand how social media is part of the search-and-discovery process for consumers.
Social media lets you provide social proof for these consumers. When you post testimonials or before-and-after photos or a map of jobs you have completed in a neighborhood — all this creates social proof in the mind of the consumer. When someone you work for comments on your different sites, we call these “citations.” Those citations are really important signals for search engines. It shows that people are talking about your company — outside of your own website. The search engine places your site at the top of the list. Also, if you post stories on your website, such as “top trends for kitchen design” or your views about why you like or don’t like a new product from a manufacturer, you start to become an expert and to build authority.

RM: Is social media especially important for a remodeling company or service companies in general?

CM: Social media is being used more and more by people during the discovery process. They want to know which companies their friends are using. That communication is more powerful than a review by someone they don’t know. You also need to know what keywords and phrases people search for. With the Internet, you don’t need to guess. If you reverse-engineer the searches, what comes up a lot for remodeling companies is the term “dream.” People will search for “dream kitchen” or “dream bath.”
People are aspirational about their projects. For you to be really visible, the terms have to appear on your landing pages, not just in your SEO rankings. The key is for all your outreach to have a congruent, consistent message.
The other part is not the quantity of leads, but the quality. If you include keywords on your site or visual clues, you’re bringing those people to your site and you have a better likelihood of converting those leads into jobs.

Key Ingredients for Success

RM: What items are required for a successful Web marketing campaign?

CM: You need three things:
1. A website. You need to have one. Your website is your living room — your home space. It’s where you want to close the deal for someone to contact you. Your site should be properly structured with landing pages. If you do kitchens, baths, and sundecks, you want to make sure you have landing pages that are tied to your keywords. If someone is looking for a kitchen, they want to see how you will help them build their dream kitchen — they don’t care about bathrooms or sundecks. You need the right conversion mechanism on that landing page to get the person to engage with you so you have a lead to follow up on.
2. Social media. We define it in broader context — it’s not just Facebook or Twitter, but local online directories like Google Local. You’ll lose your presence in Google Local if you are not updating your listing with pictures, reviews, special offers, or comments. Facebook is being used a lot more by consumers for search and discovery. Facebook views itself as a competitor with Google. There is a search bar at the top of Facebook pages that categorizes people, groups, and websites.
It’s important that you have the structure for your Facebook business page. It has to give people a sense of who you are. It should tell people how to contact you and list awards and recognitions so consumers know you are a legitimate company. Include reviews of people that like you.
Your page should also have a map to your showroom or office. For you to be able to create authority and have recent content, social media needs to be part of your workflow. The algorithms are changing, and more and more they favor smaller local businesses. The new world is a level economic playing field. You need to be smarter about how you participate in this new Web world.
3. SEO. You have to regularly change and update your website. The biggest thing you can do to raise your Web ranking in a search engine is to have a blog, but you have to post every day. You can also tie each blog post to keywords. The data on your website — such as company address and testimonials/reviews — have to be in a specific format that will allow that data to proliferate.
Your website is being crawled by directories every day, but if you have the wrong data structure, it affects your visibility. We spend 60% to 70% of man hours for our clients on things that are outside their website — adding reviews to directories, writing and distributing articles for clients to article directories, and commenting on forums and blogs. We’re creating a digital footprint and presence to create that authority. You need a consistent structure in those three areas so it all works together.

RM: Why is Google important to remodelers?

CM: Google is still 80% of the search market place. There are four things that Google has that are important.
1. Google Places. The search engine determines if a search is local or national. If it determines it’s local, the site brings up a map with seven companies with mapping pins next to them. Google Places is the vehicle where you can get listed in that. Doing it properly and maintaining that listing is important.
2. Google Authorship. You can become a Google registered author by writing a blog and creating a profile for your blog with a photo of you. Your blog article ranks on the list because you have the right keywords in it. It’s another way to drive traffic to your website, and it makes you an authority.
3. Google Plus. Right now, your average consumers are not using Google Plus for social networking — they are using Facebook. But you need to include it on your site.
4. Google Panaramio. This is Google’s photo-sharing site where you can create a profile for a project and post before-and-after pictures with captions. These show up in a search. It’s very, very effective. Every remodeler should have a map on their site of the jobs they have done and include pictures using Panaramio. That is another proximity signal. When you put it on your site, it provides social proof of all the jobs you have done. I refer to it as “virtual canvassing.”
These are the four things in Google you should be using, but the most important thing is maintaining them. You can’t do it and just leave it alone.

RM: Is there a future trend on the horizon for social media?

CM: Technology changes so fast. The value we bring is that we test the new and different things and validate them. If it makes sense, we integrate them into our clients’ workflow. Some think you can’t measure social media, but you can count the number of leads based on social media. Once you set it up, you can measure and track everything. Then marketing becomes pretty simple — do more of what works and less of what doesn’t work. I wrote this blog on the nine small business trends for 2012.

Boosting Your Online Visibility

RM: What are some mistakes you’ve seen remodelers make in their Web marketing?

CM: The biggest overall mistake is having a disjointed approach. They have someone doing their website, and maybe SEO if they are using it. Maybe someone internally is playing with social media. But they don’t have anyone working on an overall, coherent strategy that will get them the leads they’d like to see. A few other smaller things:
*They are using social media, but don’t have a custom landing page so they are not capturing the people who are searching for something specific.
*They have a blog but are not posting regularly. “Recency” is an important part of being visible on the Web today.
There is an acronym used on the Internet: ISUB (I’ve seen you before). It’s the idea of creating this layered content and a presence and doing different things. People feel more comfortable buying from people they know. The more different places people see you, they think, “That guy is an expert.” That is what you want to create if you do this right over time.

RM: What should remodelers look for in a consultant to help them with Web and social media?

CM: Number one, remodelers first need to determine for themselves how important Internet leads are going to be for making their sales volume in 2012.
We start with our clients’ business goals. What services are you going to offer? What percentage of your work is kitchens? Bathrooms? What geographic area do you work in?
You need someone who understands and works with you as a business partner. You can have the greatest SEO in the world, but if it’s aimed at the wrong thing, you won’t get the results you want.
Second, online marketing is not pay per click or buying leads — that is not a plan. Pay per click is really expensive, and it’s hard to do it efficiently. It can be part of your plan. You need someone who looks at all the different aspects of online marketing — not just one. You need someone who will create a plan and tell you how they will keep up with that plan. It’s not like the old days when you could run print or television ads forever. You need to maintain your sites and feed them with new content. Our average cost per lead across our network of clients is $35 to $55.

RM: What do you hope the Remodeling Leadership Conference attendees in May take home from your presentation?

CM: I want them to take home three to five actionable things that they can use at their companies. I want to give them a few easy things they can do that will dramatically change the visibility of their business in their local market and, as a result of that, bring them more leads.

Click here to read more from the 2012 Remodeling Leadership Conference speakers.