The Online Resource for the Painting Industry

The More Things Change…

By on April 22, 2013 in Random Thoughts with 26 Comments

The more the internet kind of stays the same…

The good news is that it is only getting easier to publish a professional blog. If you have any kind of computer and a smartphone, you are half way there. It’s the other half that makes the difference between a blog with substance and one that is superficial. It is somehow ironic that while it is getting easier to blog, there seem to be fewer and fewer good ones in the paint industry, by comparison with other fields.

As an editorial writer for APC magazine, my opinion is frequently sought by both contractors and all types of industry folks with questions about online platforms in general, and blogs in particular, in the paint industry. Because I am as much a reader as I am a writer, I have a pretty good idea of what it is out on the internet for content.

Some common blogging types:

  • Social media “experts” trying to consult (sell services to) contractors
  • Contractors trying to consult (sell services to) consumers
  • Contractors trying to “position themselves as the expert” to anyone who may be listening

Twitter and Facebook are interesting in their capacity to display the ways in which all of these types of blogs are promoted. Disappointingly, in most cases, blog content rarely is substantive enough to back up the nice pictures and catchy titles. Whoever is running the blogs advising on how to use nice pictures and catchy titles is doing a great job by the way. However, I have always said, it makes little sense to have a whole bunch of sizzle and no steak to savor.

Here are a few general rules for effective blog sites:

  • Stay active with your blog and vary your styles of content delivery
  • Don’t get lazy and just use simple social media from your phone to feed a sidebar blog widget
  • Don’t do teasers announcing content or material that somehow never materializes
  • While visual appeal is important, content will always be king
  • Content should be written for real readers, not keyword loaded for google spiders

Now, a few specific observations for bloggers of the consultant and contractor flavors. These are my opinions as a reader, but also as a professional freelance writer.

Website Builders and Social Media Experts: Practice what you Preach

Practice good habits and practice what you preach. Don’t try to sell contractors a website or blog that is going to have great content, when your own is poorly written, even if well laid out with good navigation. Your potential clients want to look at your site or blog, and expect you to build them a better one. Further, its common knowledge that putting together a WordPress site is easy enough that most anyone can do it with little cost involved.

Selling WordPress platforms does not make you a website design and construction guru.

I suck at computer stuff, and even I can pull off a WordPress site. So, don’t glamorize something that is immensely accessible and put a stilted price tag on it. Don’t tell contractors what their clients are looking for. While the internet has shrunk the world, contractors are still likely to know their clients and target demographic better than a consultant in Omaha.

social media for small businessesAt times it is laughable how a “consultant” will tell you that they will drive people to your site, and build your audience, or following. How can a consultant get you thousands of followers when they only have dozens themselves? Too busy doing it for others? Sometimes they explain it away by saying they don’t care how many subscribers you have, they will get you “conversions” or sales. Why do I not see a robust portfolio of real client work on their own sites as evidence that they do this effectively for their own businesses? A little less talk, and a lot more action. If a consultant doesn’t do well at engaging people socially (that is what social media is about, right?), what reason is there to believe that they will manage your program better than their own?

And please, for the love of God, do not use fear tactics to try to get contractors to click your paypal button. I am also scratching my head a bit over the new spin on social media management, wherein it is now being sold as “reputation management”. Is there some special content feed that consultants have access to that contractors don’t? I can sit at my LinkedIn feed and grab every relevant article, and scan through them probably faster than most consultants, and I bet I can figure out how to implement what I read.

SEO for Your Website

Further, bashing on the fear of google and seo is tiresome. Contractors can check a consultant site ranking to assess their mastery in placing their own site. That’s how I would judge a consultant’s ability to promote my program effectively. Google is not the evil empire that many consultants would like contractors to believe. Playing by the rules and implementing a few simple plug ins can get a site ranking well enough to be found by the demographic you want to find you. Not everyone can be in the top 3 on page one. Its not life or death. Personally, I would rather have a killer site that ranked 10th than a crap site that ranked 4th.

Other observations in the consultant crowd:

  1. Don’t overuse video, not everyone loves your mug and voice as much as you do
  2. Don’t overuse auto feed to all of your social media outlets as the primary vehicle of your “reach”
  3. If people see one recycled piece simultaneously on LI, G+, FB, Twitter and Youtube, its annoying
  4. If you are too lazy (we know you are not “that” busy) to freshen and put variety into your own stuff…you know

Do contractors want to spend all of their time working on social media, blog site maintenance and seo?

No. So, contractors need reliable, honest people to rely on who practice good habits and practice what they preach. Bloggingpainters.com is a great place to check out consultants who go out of their way to interact with contractors.

Which brings us to…

Contractors: Show Don’t Tell

Honestly, most contractor blogs are painful, for one reason or another. When I read them, I am sometimes embarrassed for them. Even, and often especially, when they are run by third parties that basically serve as recycled content farms. Bottom line, if you set a blog up, keep it real and keep it active, or don’t bother. I’ll save the sales blog genre junk list for another day. For now, just work on the general observations shared here.

If you are into product reviewing, which hopefully you aren’t, because it has become a bit of a joke on the internet, but if you are:

  • Don’t just use video
  • Video is to be used as a supplement to good written and image based content
  • Video has to be compelling. I swear, I have seen ones that just show a can of paint being opened. Wow.
  • If you can’t show the product in real jobsite action, being used for its intended purpose, don’t bother
  • Resist the temptation to compare every product to your favorite similar product
  • If you are writing about product ABC, make the review about product ABC
  • If you are comparing ABC to DEF, thats cool, but be thorough on both and back it up

Paint contractor blogs often become mud puddles. Since writing is usually not a paint contractors strength, they often appear confused as to who their audience is and what they should be writing about. The default mode seems to be to write about what they think they know best, which is painting and paint products.

Even if you decide to give yourself some special title on your blog, like “product evaluator”,”paint critic” or “field genius”, remember that you are expressing your opinions, based on your own experience. And without some real credential, you are ultimately a painter who may or may not be an expert. When a painter states it to be “fact” that paint xyz dries slow, and the only evidence is a few pieces of wood on cardboard in the garage, its not credible. It would be safe to assume that paint manufacturers, while not everyday painters, are at least competent enough to test their paints more thoroughly on benches in a better controlled real laboratory environment than you can.

Don’t be a lab reviewer. Do it in the field, and show it. That would be interesting.

Be careful of your choices of pronouns.

Some bloggers say “we found this” and “we found that”, but there is oddly just one person, one voice, one opinion expressed on the blog. This is misleading, at best. No one likes to be deceived when researching, especially for purchase decisions. If you are actually a “we”, let the other people involved in your blog contribute, or at least be visible in the content as well. More opinions make for a more interesting and diverse reading experience. Readers appreciate that. Its kind of the premise behind bloggingpainters.com: many contributors. Would you read a magazine that only had one contributor?

If you are reviewing paints or paint related gear, don’t try to pretend to be a laboratory of paint chemical analysis. If you are not showing jobsite based test footage, you are probably “testing” in your garage, basement, or even on the dining room table. No matter how closely cropped or high resolution the photos, usually there are “tells”. In other words, don’t overstate who you are. Earn credibility by understating and over delivering with real content. This is organic and real. It also happens to be what real readers want to see, and what google wants to refer searchers to.

If you can’t show product in numerous real world settings, probably avoid calling it a review.

frost-festoolIf it is a quick blurb about your first impression of something, your opinion may be appreciated by your readers, but its probably not conclusive enough to make a real statement. I see this alot on the tool side in “open box reviews”. These are absurd two minute videos of the latest and greatest tools, wherein the “reviewer” has just received his order and unpackages it for you on video, and shows you what came in the box. Not particularly useful content, and usually just a stunt to gain the seo juice of the hot new highly searched term. If you show paint on a few sticks in your garage, that’s minimally interesting, but the more thorough paint contractor/blogger who applies bunches of gallons on a paid job and shows it in action at a true professional level will probably be more interesting to read. Tommy Johnson of Johnson Home Construction comes to mind as a great example of the right balance in all these areas.

Be honest and real in the promotion of your blog.

bloggingIf you tell people through social media that your blog is the best in its genre, people will expect to see reader activity on it. Reader comments are a great sign that you are producing relevant content, and it is important to respond to readers who take the time to comment. Comments are a sign of good traffic on your blog. Lack of activity does not mean that your articles are so thorough that no one has any questions or comments. If your work was that good, you would have bunches of people commenting about how much they appreciate your wisdom. Often, people go to blogs not only to read what the blog writer has to say, but to check out other readers’ experiences with the products featured on the blog. If there is no activity, people lose interest, you lose traffic, google probably sends fewer searchers. Also, keep the spam out of the comment section. It boosts numbers, but is a major turn off to readers and implies a not so well maintained blog.

Blogging is a lot of work, especially when supported by an integrated social media campaign, which is a great way to get the word around. Whether you work with a legitimate consultant or administer it yourself: Keep it real, keep it fun and keep it honest. The paint industry needs more of that.

Scott Burt
Scott Burt owns and operates Topcoat Finishes, Inc. in Vermont, writes the monthly "From the Field" column in American Painting Contractor, and blogs prolifically at www.topcoatreview.com. Google
Scott Burt
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There Are 26 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Excellent! And,…Thanks! (From someone who has not updated her blog recently, but Should.)

  2. Paul says:

    Great article Scott! Keeping it real and honest are good words to write by.

  3. Geoff Turnet says:

    I believe that if you take someone seriously, that they likewise are more likely to take you seriously : Genuine Blogging is all about getting the mix right and demonstrating this in a real life manner. Thankyou for yor your constructive advice, it has great practical insights.

    • Scott says:

      Thanks Geoff. Honest writing makes people think about what they are doing and how they are doing it. I spend most of my time writing about paint industry matters, and its interesting how things come full circle: blog writing is on the paint industry radar.

  4. Scott says:

    Thank you all. This type of writing helps me to organize my thoughts as a blogger and active social media user myself. I do talk to alot of contractors, as that is the field I am in professionally, and the feedback I got which influenced this piece, was that it is difficult to be on facebook, twitter and linked in (and even youtube now) because they are all past the saturation point of promotional overload. I am all about the sharing of good content and all of our right and desire to not have to endure spam when looking to share content and enjoy that of others. One thing I should have added in the article are more examples of good users of media in both the consulting and contracting fields. There are many, and theres is the content I want to be influenced by when researching and learning on the internet. My opinions on specific ones are available, and I encourage yours. We all want to get to the best, and google cant possibly get all of them in front of us at once. Help each other.

  5. Tess Wittler says:

    Scott –
    What an appropriate post for what’s happening in online marketing. As more contractors are “getting” the benefits of being online, they are also looking for the easy or fastest solution to get results (while they may not admit it). And unfortunately, less-than-ethical people deeming themselves as SEO experts, social media consultants or yes, even copywriters – are praying on those who are looking for “fast solutions.”

    Online marketing takes strategy, energy and lots of time to nurture relationships.

    People do business with people that they know, like and trust. Bots, promotional junk, shortcuts, and crap content will not get you there. As long as you keep that in the forefront of your online marketing decisions, you should be on the right path.

    Additionally, I have to say that I love your last paragraph:

    “Blogging is a lot of work, especially when supported by an integrated social media campaign, which is a great way to get the word around. Whether you work with a legitimate consultant or administer it yourself: Keep it real, keep it fun and keep it honest. The paint industry needs more of that.”

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Scott says:

      Thanks Tess. The beauty of social networking is exactly this, this type of discourse between likeminded folks, even across genre and disciplines. The reality is the time factor. Contractors don’t have time to do it all, and I am sure its the same for copywriters and site constructors. Hopefully we can all influence people to be more like businesses with personal values rather than “consultants”. Values and habits are so important in business, because they build relationships. It is the best way to get things done…to work together.

  6. Steve says:

    Hi Scott, just wanted to say, great writing, I don’t think it could be said any better than that. Thank you

  7. Chris Haught says:

    Great post Scott. Your commentaries on topics like this are always so thought provoking. You words make me “hold the mirror up” and check myself. And you definitely practice what you preach! Keep up the great work!

    • Scott says:

      Thanks Chris, there are many layers to the onion. Thanks for having a site where we can all peel on it a bit.

    • Heidi Nyline says:

      Exactly what I thought Chris. Reading this had me looking in the mirror and remembering what I hate about the internet and the hundreds of bad blogs out there.

      Writing is hard work and time consuming and when you are layering it on top of building and running a business its tempting to look for short cuts and fillers.

      • Scott says:

        I hear you on that, Heidi. There are so many bad examples, that I didn’t even to want to show any, we all know how they look. I do think we should make an effort to share and promote the good examples. There are people right here in my own local market (not painters) who blow me away with their online creativity and savvy.

  8. Many great points Scott! So many in fact, not enough time for me to comment on all of them right now…

  9. David Chism says:

    Scott, thanks for sharing the post with me. You are 100% dead on! I’m so tired of seeing crappy sites, content, “experts” etc. I get companies contacting me all the time who are so called experts.

    I do hope contractors will embrace good social media practices. I still think it is like pulling teeth to get them to embrace quality blogging, videos and the like. So keep up the good work and thanks for staying connected!

    • Scott says:

      Thanks for stopping by, David. This topic had been incubating for a couple of months. You and I had had a brief chat on G+ about this very thing, and then it became a recurring theme for me. And you’re right, you would not believe the daily offers I get from keyboard cowboys who want to make my topcoatreview.com site a hot shot!

  10. john shearer says:

    “Keep it real and keep it active, or don’t bother”

    Scott, that is your best quote of this well written, candid overview of the social media and blogging landscape. I agree with most of the previous comments that many good intended content/blogs leave the reader wanting… by painting contractors, and vendors who supply services or products to that niche.

    In my opinion you (Scott Burt the internet presence) have done all the right things to let people know who you are what value you add (to your clients locally, and the body of “best practices” for the painting trade collective on the internets). You don’t attempt to be somebody you are not and you clearly communicate that through your articles, images, and video.

    From a practical stand point most painters do not have the body of experience and writing background/education you have. But I would give this advice to all contractors:

    Let everybody know who you are and how you are different. This can be done in one video or one well written “about us”. Don’t tell every body you are “The cities best painting contractor” …unless its true. For example I frequently say “Shearer Painting is a top ten painting contractor in Seattle”..I say it because its true… in the opinion of customers and competitors. People are smart.. How is it that every painting company claims that their paint is the “highest rated in the industry” There are at least 15 golf course that claim to be selected as the best golf course west of the Mississippi.

    Everybody had to start somewhere. In 1990 i was knocking on doors and I looked like I was 15 years old. If I had stared a website then I would let everybody know who I was and how we were different. Potential clients are not overly impressed that you have been in business for 20 years.

    A second point; is that your content has a “hot zone”. When you are looking for a red pick up truck
    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151297340476809&set=pb.116399721808.-2207520000.1366825108.&type=3&theater
    you notice them everywhere (before hand you did not notice) and you might visit the Ford website or used vehicle review sites but once you are done with your search/purchase the content is probably not visited again. The same thing for your paint website..when a client is trying to decide if you fit their needs and budget (sales process) that is when they are looking at your content web, blog, facebook, Houzz their “hot zone”

    At Shearer we are trying to let people know who we are so we put up content for the ordinary things…here is today’s meeting at our shop:
    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151348969261809&set=a.423146021808.189537.116399721808&type=1&theater&notif_t=like
    Just ordinary PPE fitting…however we often get comments such as :we decided on you guys because its clear that you are (fill in the blank)..
    Here is a color project I am working on
    http://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/9964354/thumbs/Lisa-s-Queen-Anne-Colors
    I recognize that many potential clients may look at this content and say”that company is not for me” This does everybody a favor. FYI I have 10 painting bid requests from Houzz in April. Half are looky – loos; but two converted to jobs that fit our niche.

    I use our web, facebook, Houzz and pinterest in my email signature line. i do not email blast; I prescribe to the permission marketing school of thought.

    • Scott says:

      Hi John, thanks for your well thought out and well written commentary. I think the advice you just gave to contractors is spot on. Part of the challenge for all of us is to develop good online habits, and put the time in. I am sure you work just as hard as I do to collect video and image footage of your business. One thing I especially like about your approach is that it is not all about “John Shearer”, its much more about “Shearer Painting”. I think that is where alot of people get hung up. I think its important for people to know who you are (as the owner/visionary of any service), but I also think its really important for customers to get a better sense of what their experience will be with your company by seeing just that: the company. Which can be done in so many forms. That is why part of my message in this piece is to remind people to use a variety of content “types”. This makes it much more interesting for the reader and shows your company from different angles. Thanks again for joining this discussion.

  11. Excellent article Chris. I think Social Media is a great way to meet to people amd build relationships..like ours !

  12. So much great info here! I love your list of general rules for effective blog sites. It’s easy for bloggers to get lazy with their content (I know how that goes), and to buy into the idea that shallow topics and buzzword-heavy writing is the only way to get readers (and search engines) to pay attention. But those types of posts are so transparent and contrived, and often it ends up being a turn-off for the legitimate readers and would-be clients.

    And that ties in with your point about having a great site that ranks “okay” in the search engines, rather than a crappy site that ranks up high. I think having fewer “real” readers and followers is much more beneficial over the long run than having countless superficial ones.

    Excellent post, thanks for all your insight!

  13. Great article Scott. I completely agree that blogs are a great way to build an audience to listen to you about the services you offer. I am currently working on our painting company blog, and it is time consuming to keep it active but worth it all the way.

    • Scott says:

      Thanks Painting Artist. It definitely takes some time, especially at first. Blogging is similar to painting in the sense that its best to develop an efficient set of habits and do them consistently. Post up a link to your blog, would love to check it out.

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