Word of Mouth vs. SEO Marketing


There is a common trope running through a lot of conversations, emails, and forum posts by HVAC business owners.

It’s this:

Good service at a good price will bring you plenty of business through word of mouth.

While this is a great message, it doesn’t work if you want to scale your business.

There are three big problems with word of mouth that SEO overcomes:

  1. Points of Failure
  2. Speed
  3. Scaling

If you sincerely believe that word of mouth is your sole marketing and that you are successful, think about the following:

What Word of Mouth Really Means

When an HVAC contractor says they are succcessful and it’s because of “word of mouth” it means only one thing:

He has no idea where his business comes from.

He doesn’t use the analytics on his website.

He runs ads, but doesn’t know his call rate.

He pays $300/month for marketing, but has no idea what the ROI is.

He has no backlinks running to his website and doesn’t know his keywords.

If he runs PPC, his ads have never been optimized.

He says he’s “growing”, but has no revenue targets for the year and no idea how to get there.

Saying that your marketing is word of mouth basically means that you don’t know your numbers. Usually, this type of owner is, in fact, paying for various types of half-effort marketing, but has no idea what channels are producing ROI.

If you don’t know your numbers, you can’t systematize your marketing. It hurts your growth and you waste money.

Points of Failure: Word of Mouth vs SEO

Word of mouth fails much more easily than SEO:

SEO fails when you have the wrong SEO company.

Word of mouth fails when your tech is in a bad mood, you have poor sales skills, the customer is picky, the timing is bad for a referral, and many other ways.

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Word of mouth relies on a chain of actions to take place:

You do a job

Customer loves your work

Customer talks about you to a friend, family, or a coworker (FFC)

FCC needs your services

FCC gets a quote from you

You close the FFC

In the best case scenario, you’ve systematized this process. You ask for referrals from customers. You incentivize customers by discounting future work when a referral closes. You track your referral and referral close rate.

But most HVAC owners don’t track referrals, and most of the time, the above chain is pretty brittle. The customer’s perception of you and your work, your selling ability, and bad timing can easily break the chain.

There are several points of human failure.

Is your tech having a bad day? Don’t expect a callback from that customer.

Does your tech stink at upselling? Enjoy lower revenues.

SEO, on the other hand, has a much shorter chain:

Customer needs your services

Customer Googles for HVAC in location

Customer clicks your site in search results

You close the customer

This chain has fewer points of failure. The first links of the chain are determined with statistics and research and the biggest point of human failure is the sales process. (If you didn’t catch it, this is a plus.)

And, of course, you can always run a systematized referral program on the customers that you close.

This process also requires that the correct SEO strategy is applied to your website. You need to find a good SEO company to do this (like us), but once it starts working, it’s one of the best investments you can make in your HVAC business.

Speed: Word of Mouth vs SEO

There is simply no comparison between word of mouth and SEO if you’re focused on the speed of your growth (i.e. hiring two more employees within the next 8 months).

Word of mouth relies on your existing customer base to provide you with new leads.

SEO creates new customers and these customers become a part of your existing customer base.

While no one truly relies solely on word of mouth, it would be insanity to say that a business built on word of mouth could compete with a business built on SEO (which will obviously still utilize word of mouth).

A typical year long SEO campaign can transform an HVAC business. You will never, ever talk to an owner who transformed their business based on word of mouth.

Scaling: Word of Mouth vs SEO

Want to expand your service area and get more calls from a larger geographical radius?

With SEO, it’s easy:

Add some local landing pages to your website and more backlinks. Boom. Done.

This is much more difficult with word of mouth, since you’ll be relying on your current customers telling their friends/family/coworkers in outlying areas that they should use you.

How long is that going to take?

When Word of Mouth Works

New HVAC businesses should use word of mouth as one of their primary strategies. It’ll help you develop a hyperfocus on pricing, customer service, and selling.

When you’re starting out, you may not have a lot of marketing options if you’re strapped for cash.

The problem is you simply don’t have a lot of options for leads:

But word of mouth works great:

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