SEO Success Story: How an engineering firm moved from obscurity to the #1 ranking for critical local search terms
This regional mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) engineering firm, like its competitors, had considered its website a glorified brochure, but certainly didn’t believe it could drive opportunity.
Having conducted business in the region for nearly 50 years, GHT was certain any fresh opportunities would come through its well-established community relationships.
Ami Kelly, GHT Director of Marketing and Business Development, walks us through the steps she took that ultimately transformed this mindset and turned an outdated brochure website into an opportunity generator.
- Attain buy-in from leadership.
- Prepare an RFP.
- Do your research. Kelly hadn’t worked on a website since the beginning of her career. To determine what would be best to include, she reached out to other marketers through the Society for Marketing Professional Services and reviewed requests for proposal (RFPs) submitted by other marketers to its online database.
- Involve IT from the outset. “Our IT director was very involved, and he wrote the questions related to platforms,” Kelly says. “I am lucky that I have an amazingly collaborative IT director. He was very supportive, yet hands off. He basically said, ‘I’m here when you need me; let me know what you want me to do.’”
- Keep an open mind. Kelly thought she already knew what she needed – a fresher brochure-style website. When someone asked a follow-up question on whether they needed search engine optimization (SEO), Kelly answered no. She was merely looking for a platform where she could easily update content.
That was until a marketing agency pointed out that GHT’s website could be used for lead generation.
At first, Kelly didn’t believe it was possible because of GHT’s limited geographic market and the fact that its sales were relationship based. The agency countered by pointing out MEP firms from outside of GHT’s geographic marketplace were coming up first in Internet searches. Meanwhile, GHT’s website was buried several pages deep. Unless a company had a personal introduction to GHT, they’d never find them online, and competitors could win the business.
“It was a real eye-opener for both me and our leadership,” Kelly admits. “It was completely different from how we were used to doing business, and it demonstrated to us how much our marketplace had changed.”
- Do keyword research.
- Develop a site map.
- Create content.
Kelly shares her lessons learned:
- Immediately reach out to clients you would like to profile. Kelly waited until a description of the project was completed.
“If I had attained their approval to be included on the website right away, the process would have moved much faster,” she says.
- Keep the approval process short. “If it is a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’ ask them to respond in a week. If they have to review copy, give them a few weeks for approval. But always give a deadline,” Kelly advises.
- Ask for help. “I tried to do content first and then images,” she confesses. “I wanted to be in control, and that was a mistake. I finally pulled in another member of the marketing team who focuses on images and technology to support me. I wish I had used him from the beginning. If content and images had been sourced and developed simultaneously, the process would have been smoother.”
- Specify upfront how you and your Web partner will share content. “This will prevent confusion and save time later on,” Kelly says. “Everyone will know precisely what page content belongs on and what images accompany it.”
- Including a blog? Make it easy for your staff to contribute.
“The focus of my coworkers is to produce billable work for their clients, not provide marketing material for me,” says Kelly.
She chose to create a blog that demonstrates GHT’s marketplace relevance by highlighting innovation and responding to issues customers are dealing with right now. She often uses this material to follow up with clients.
“I let them know, ‘Hey, I realize this is bugging you, and I recently wrote a blog about it. Let me know how else I can continue to help,’” she explains. “It’s another opportunity to demonstrate value.”
Here are tips Kelly follows to keep the blog fresh without monopolizing her team’s time:
- Be a ghostwriter. Write the blog on a team member’s behalf, and, of course, allow them to edit and approve it. The blog will look dynamic with a multitude of contributors who otherwise may not participate if they have anxiety about writing.
- Attend meetings. GHT has monthly lunch-and-learn sessions where engineers share on-the-job experiences. Kelly transforms these presentations into blog posts.
- Pay attention and be tenacious. “If I see something on a printer that looks like it would make good blog material, I will stalk its owner to find out the back story,” says Kelly. “You really have to think on your feet and not wait for your team to come to your door and say, ‘I want to write a blog’ because it’s never going to happen.”
- Bribe. Whenever Kelly receives an order of branded specialty items, instead of passing them out, she requires staff to come to her office and tell her about the projects they’re working on to receive one.
“It’s sort of a barter system,” she laughs
This is a given, and it was easy for Kelly because when she was interviewing for her position, the company’s website crashed.
“I said, ‘You have got to update your website now because it doesn’t work. Furthermore, it’s so out of date it doesn’t match your internal culture or the fantastic projects you are doing.
“I was amazed that the firm was working on some of the biggest projects in D.C. and was very innovative, yet had a website that spoke to none of that,” she explains.
Lesson for job-hunting marketers: If a company’s website needs help, diplomatically share your ideas for enhancing it, and make sure leadership is aligned before you join a company. If they disagree, it may be a red flag that you could be setting yourself up for failure by working there.
GHT’s Web partner conducted keyword research to identify the best opportunities to raise GHT’s profile in search results.
Tip: Interview customers and prospects about which words they first type into Google, as recommended in this article: “8 Questions to Steer Your Marketing Priorities.”
GHT’s Web partner collaborated with GHT leadership to determine the site’s architecture and content. This included interviewing GHT’s principals to list their top 10 projects, how they were developed and the specific results. The goal: Make it easy for prospects to identify real-world success in the services for which they’re looking.
The process for developing the new site, from concept to completion, took about six months. Since its launch almost a year ago:
- GHT consistently places number one in search engine rankings for critical local search terms, such as “MEP Consultants Washington DC.”
- A leading industry magazine, PMEngineer, found GHT online, featured them in its magazine, and placed GHT on its cover. Kelly uses the feature as a sales tool.
- They have received several leads through the site, including notice from a nearby city that they will soon distribute an RFP; they wanted to make sure GHT was involved. It’s an opportunity that is in process right now.
“I feel good – really good – about what we’ve accomplished this year,” Kelly says. “I am always kind of tough on myself, thinking I should do things faster or better. But I’m really trying to enjoy this because I know that there are not a lot of MEP firms that would invest the time and money in a project like this. I feel very fortunate my firm was one of them.”
Marketing Sherpa 2012 Inbound Marketing Handbook (free excerpt)