Although a recommendation from a family member or friend remains the primary way many people find a contractor, internet searches are rapidly gaining ground. Even with a referral from a trusted source, many people however still research contractors online before signing on the bottom line. And these investigations are no longer limited to looking at your company's website.
This trend does not signal the end of the personal recommendation. It is simply the natural maturing of the practice in the digital age.
Obviously the greatest benefit of receiving referred business is your existing customer has first-hand knowledge of your work, expertise and professionalism, and can endorse or "vouch" for you. This often eliminates sales objections and the dreaded, "I always get three quotes" stall tactic. Of course recommendations also limit a person's options to only those contractors used by people they know personally, until now.
Compliments of what is called Web 2.0, consumers have more verifiable options than ever before. And contractors that want their businesses to grow while operating under this digital microscope need to adjust and learn to exploit these changes in the way consumers are using the internet.
In the past the internet was not much more than a catalogue of one dimensional, static websites that resembled digital billboards. Most sites only provided basic company information, topical product and service overviews and obviously promotional messages, not unlike traditional advertisements.
But today, more than 73% of consumers say they go online first when seeking a service company. And what they are looking for may surprise you.
Unlike Web 1.0, where the only information available on a company was on a commercial website (.com is short for commercial) or in a newsgroup, Web 2.0 signifies a shift to interactive searches where information is shared among consumers, often in near real time. Instead of going online to read what you have to say about your services via your site, your prospects are now logging on to find out what others are saying about you, including your current customers. Some of the more popular ways this is happening includes Social Network sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Digg, and dozens more.
These interactive sites are huge virtual communities that are enormously popular and very influential. These sites allow open discussions between large numbers of people on an almost limitless number of topics. Most host groups with specific focuses and many allow these groups to form to discuss issues of interest in a specific geographic region.
Although still somewhat popular, service recommendation sites Angie's list, which allow consumers to rate and recommend contractors, are having less and less influence as consumer are discovering a wealth of first-hand information is readily available in these online communities .
In addition to the growing number of social networking sites, people can post requests for information, seek recommendations and make comments, both good and bad on a massive number of smaller public issue specific forums and discussion boards.
Why these intense searches for information?
Consumers no longer want a contractor that can merely get the job done. They want the best they can afford. And companies that generate the most positive "buzz" usually get the business.
So how do you foster a positive online reputation and influence people to choose you?
First, understand content is king! The information available on your website is just the tip of the content iceberg. Content is defined as the total body of information that is available online about your firm.