Online advertising is the next step for building service contractors in growing their business, but experts say many owners remain wary of marketing their companies on the World Wide Web.

“Getting online should be a higher priority than ever for BSCs,” says Court Cunningham, CEO of online advertising provider Yodle Inc., in New York City.

It is even more critical now, since most BSCs already have Web sites and use cell phones and e-mail in managing their companies.

“Online advertising is inexpensive, can be targeted to a predetermined audience, shows businesses are technically astute and can be developed and changed quickly,” says Steven M. Burleson, marketing instructor at Milwaukee Area Technical College in Milwaukee. “It should be a part of a small business’ overall marketing campaign.”

Strategic Marketing

Internet advertising includes standard e-mail marketing, listings on Google or Yahoo, banner ads on Web pages, blogs and video clips on networking sites such as YouTube and Facebook.

“Where do you find your customers?” asks Helen Kennedy, president of Kennedy Consulting Services, Union City, Calif. “If your customers are using the Web, then your company should spend some of its marketing budget trying to reach them.”

BSCs should start by defining objectives: Where are customers? What are the goals of an advertising campaign? How large is the budget? These will help BSC owners shape their online efforts.

Web ads need to make a split-second impact, so Kennedy recomends a strong visual and compelling call to action.

“Web advertising is like any other marketing strategy,” Kennedy says. “You need to make numerous impressions of your company brand on the customer before it becomes instantaneously recognizable and trusted. So, you may not see an immediate increase in sales because of Web advertising.”

Search Advertising

Works Experts say search advertising is most effective for BSCs.

“Search marketing allows businesses to be discovered at a time of explicit need,” says Andrew Bagley, media director of Sitewire Marketspace Solutions, Tempe, Ariz.

When individuals seek out business services but do not know where to start, instead of going to the local Yellow Pages, now they are most likely to go to Google and type in a phrase. Once the results from this query search come up, potential customers click on those listings they find most interesting.

For BSCs advertising this way, they participate in a process that is similar to an auction.

To be listed among the “search results,” a BSC selects “keywords” relevant to its business and determines a “bid amount” to be paid for each word. When a potential customer uses those keywords in a search, the BSC’s listing appears.

The company is charged only when someone clicks on its ad (known as “pay per click”). Its position among the results is determined based on the amount the BSC is willing to pay per click and the relevance of its ad to the search terms.

The more specific a BSC’s keywords, the better. For instance, the phrase “commercial cleaning services in Chicago” is less generic than “cleaning services.”

Another benefit of online advertising is being able to track results, Kennedy says.

“This is one of the main advantages of Web over print ads,” she says. “You should be able to measure how many users view your ad, and how many take action as a result of seeing it.”

Ads should include maps and other geographic indicators that let customers know what areas a BSC services, Bagley says.

Todd Beamon is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee.