Marketing a business today means having a robust web and mobile strategy
By Ian P. Murphy
It used to be that a drycleaning and laundry business could advertise in the Yellow Pages, the local newspaper or coupon mailer to create awareness and generate new business. If you’re looking for new customers and revenue growth today, you can chuck most of that stuff in the recycling bin. Businesses today are marketing on the web, and if you’re not there, few customers are going to find you.
As a consumer, this is probably not news to you. Searching for and purchasing goods and services on the web has become so intuitive as to be second-nature even for people who didn’t grow up with the internet, and that became even more true during the pandemic. But for drycleaners looking to promote their services, how things work on the web is a lot more opaque.
The search engine — Google being the most dominant — is where potential customers look first. The majority of initial purchases result from a person typing whatever product or service they want or need and “near me” into the search engine on their computer, tablet or phone. These searches don’t always result in a sale but the web has become so sophisticated there are apps to address most interests across platforms.
One thing that hasn’t changed is a business needs to be seen by as many eyeballs as possible to get new customers. If your business has a good online presence, it can capture those eyeballs —eyeballs lead to click-throughs, click-throughs lead to sales. If your business is ready for new customers, more pieces and more profits, you need to engage with customers via search, starting now.
“When it comes to marketing, the industry is a little bit slow to move on things,” said Will Waterstraat, managing partner of Helena’s Queen Anne Cleaners, a three-location, seven-van operation based in Seattle. “They say, ‘I’ve been doing it this way for so long, I will be fine without it,’” he said.
Search (Near) Me
First, you’ll need a website — not just a Facebook page, 800 number or billboard. While early websites were little more than digital business cards, today’s business website is a digital storefront and the jumping-off point for most marketing efforts.
The site must be advanced enough to show up in search results based on a list of keywords that define your business and what it provides. If your website hasn’t been updated in the last decade or you don’t have one, building a new site can cost anywhere from $500 for the do-it-yourselfer to $5,000 for a professional design.
Search engine optimization (SEO) helps locate your site and present it to the person performing a search by matching it to the keywords associated with your business. Google My Business can help refine these terms and boost such “organic” search results by verifying listings, generating online directories and providing leads free of charge to service businesses.
Define the keywords in your Google My Business profile carefully. The majority of shoppers will use the same search terms: “drycleaner near me” or “drycleaner [city name].” They may also search “laundry service”, “wash and fold”, “wedding gown preservation”, “stain removal” and a host of other, more specific terms. Note: Consumers may use varying forms of “drycleaner” or “drycleaning”, such as “dry-cleaner”, “dry-cleaning”, or “dry cleaner”, “dry cleaning”. Including all of these terms won’t hurt your profile.
Your profile should also define negative keywords to eliminate leads unlikely to convert. “If somebody is looking for a DIY way to clean a wedding dress, you can remove DIY because that lead is not useful to you,” said Cody Jerry, director of digital strategy for the digital marketing firm Search Engines MD, which works with Helena’s. “You want people who are actually trying to find your service. Evaluating each keyword and pushing to improve performance is critical.”
Once the business profile is verified and the keywords are optimized, “you’re going to see ROI immediately,” Waterstraat said. “If someone is on Google, they’re more than likely looking for something to use within the next three days.”
The next step in an effective online marketing strategy is to “juice” your organic, low-cost SEO effort by putting a little money behind it. Search engine marketing (SEM) can help business listings rise to the top of search results and present targeted ads to the people looking for your services.
Simply upload a logo, an image and a few lines of copy to Google Ads, and it will generate an advertisement (or multiple advertisements) for your business automatically, boosting site visitors and matching the conversion rates of organic search. “The heavy lifting is upfront, then it’s set-it-and-forget-it,” Waterstraat said.
Most platforms allow for pay-per-click campaigns, meaning the business pays only when a potential customer takes the next step toward purchase by clicking through on an ad. What you spend depends on the size of your business and the potential marketplace, but Search Engine MD estimates that many operators can get started with Google Ads for as little as $2,500.
The Google Search Console can tell in which searches a site appears, allowing you to further tweak keywords and optimize ad spend to target those people most likely to convert. Digital marketing platforms and point-of-sale systems can also offer data on what’s working and what isn’t, how much it costs to acquire a customer, and their potential lifetime value.
The benefit to getting into SEM as a drycleaner now is that you won’t have a lot of competition, Waterstraat said. “If have a $2,000 ad spend on Google and it’s me and two other drycleaners, it’s just us three in the search results. It’s not like you’re competing with big brands.”
“As targeting has gotten better, so has online marketing,” said Jason Loeb, president of Miami-based Sudsies and a marketing and branding strategist. “Being able to reach the ideal customer, whether it’s because they searched for our exact services in each of our locations’ immediate area, or because a user has shown an interest in our services and we show them an ad, is online marketing delivering on its potential.
“Online campaigns should be the best ROI an operator has across all of their media spend,” Loeb said. “While some SEO campaigns can take several months to turn a profit, paid campaigns can turn a profit immediately. Pairing these campaign types can ensure maximum ROI.”
Only up to 4% of prospects click and convert on the first ad they see even under the most robust SEM campaigns, however, and that’s where retargeting comes in. Powered by cookies — tiny bits of data that web browsers leave on consumer devices to track the sites visited — retargeting shows prospects ads repeatedly to remind them about the product or service under consideration.
“Search traffic is often the highest converting traffic you can get to a website, but only a portion [of likely customers] will sign up on the first visit,” Jerry said. “Incorporating retargeting allows you a second, third, and more opportunity to bring a customer into the fold.”
The widespread adoption of mobile apps has sped the integration of marketing capabilities across platforms. Businesses often add Facebook Ads to their toolboxes to generate awareness and retarget customers who haven’t converted yet. “It doesn’t matter if you are searching for a drycleaner on Google,” Waterstraat said. “Whether you go to Google or TikTok or Facebook, if you type in drycleaner, it starts populating [the screen] with drycleaners.”
“[We combine] SEO, Google Ads and remarketing to maximize each opportunity to gain a new customer when they search for our services, and remind them to choose Sudsies once they have been to our website,” Loeb said. “When we get a visitor to our website from our search engine ranking position (SERP), they are added to our retargeting list and shown ads everywhere they visit within the Google display network.”
“It gives you an opportunity to reach people who are actively trying to hire you right now,” Jerry said. “They have a need, they have an interest, and they’re just really high-quality customers. If you have everything set up correctly, you can get customers at low cost-per-acquisition that’s actually going to make you money.”
Word of mouth has a powerful influence on purchase decisions, and it, too, has migrated almost entirely to the web in the form of user reviews. They’re particularly important in generating sales among service businesses, and consumers have learned that more (and more recent) is better: If a cleaner has a 4.5 rating based on 350 reviews, it’s usually a more trustworthy estimation than a 4.5 raing from five reviews.
Businesses can let Google or another directory collect reviews, or use a review platform or plug-in to solicit fresh reviews and head off the ill effects of bad ones. Helena’s uses its point-of-sale system’s review function to ping customers via text within minutes of delivery or pickup to ask about their experience. Once posted, their reviews offer potential customers a yardstick to use in guiding a purchase decision.
Review offers customers an opportunity to air their grievances directly with the operation, so Helena’s has the chance to make things right before a bad review posts to a public forum. “That’s a problem with Google,” Waterstraat said. “You might have done a great job 40 times but the first time you do something wrong and [get] one star, that’s not helpful. I think everyone just loves having the ability to complain, even if it’s not for a great reason.”
“Online reviews are a priority for us at Sudsies,” Loeb said. “We reach out for positive reviews, and we have a several approaches to handle negative reviews.” This being the web, bots and trolls may need to be filtered out, he said. “You first have to see if they are real customers. If they are, we address the issue and make them happy.”
While Facebook ads are frequently used for retargeting, social media and email are usually seen as more valuable for keeping in touch with current customers and reminding them to use your services more often. Integrated with the database information in a point-of-sale system, a business can use such new-media outlets to target clickable promotions to those customers.
“Facebook ads [help] people who are in your database see your ads consistently,” Jerry said. “Depending on how well you can integrate your POS, you can target people based on their not coming in recently. You can also use retargeting in Google to deliver ads to past customers based on your database information.”
“You’re going to be at a regular customer’s house twice a week,” Waterstraat said. “The rest of your clientele operate at whatever motivates use: Is laundry a chore? Do I having guests coming over? What happens is that drycleaning is sitting in the back of their head and you send out a promotion. ‘Oh, I can save $5.’ It provokes them to come in, which gives you a lever to control cash flow.”
Social media and email are also great ways to provide educational information appropriate for your target audience. For drycleaners, that might mean sending an email newsletter, publishing a blog post on spot-and-stain triage or sharing a behind-the-scenes video from the plant. Performed regularly, such content marketing can contribute to SEO and make current customers feel more of a connection to your business.
“It’s nice to have,” said Denise Goldstein, marketing director with the SMRT point of sale system. “If the content is being promoted through email and social media, businesses can find value in it for target marketing and enrich current customers’ experience with your business. At its core, it’s a friendly ‘We want to share this information with you.’ Sometimes, we make it entertaining or offer interesting facts about laundry. We try to keep it relevant — no pictures of cats in sweaters unless they have something to do with dry cleaning or laundry.”
Tackling the Tech
Web and mobile apps are constantly being tweaked to optimize their performance and efficiency. The tech behind them offers so many possibilities that wrangling a business’ online presence can quickly become a full-time job. Like bookkeeping or maintenance, it’s something a business owner can do, but not necessarily something they should take on themselves.
“I’m not on the tech side but I’m curious and I like big-picture ideas,” Waterstraat said. “I understand it so that I understand what’s possible. Then I leave the tightening of screws to people who are really good at that.”
“It’s easy for an operator to understand the strategies if they take the time to review the material available online on an ongoing basis,” Loeb said. If you instead turn to a web service provider, he notes, “it is important to understand the basics to manage those outside consultants. Knowing those things is going to put you in a better position to make sure you have a good partner.”
“Consultants already have the expertise to be able to implement strategies that work, and they can get campaigns and tracking set up much quicker,” said Jerry. “A consultant isn’t necessary for success, though, if operators can learn these things on their own.”
“You need to get out there and start implementing this — even if it’s making sure you have a website, your Google Business Profile is set up and you have tracking on your website,” Jerry said. “From there, start exploring Google Ads. You can limit it so you only spend $3 or $4 per day if you want. Experiment to see what it looks like for you — you can learn a lot really quickly.”
“You have to invest a little bit of time to understand how you are paying for bulk ads,” Goldstein said. “It’s worth it to hire a service — someone who understands how it works, because it is sort of complicated. You have to be willing to invest, because you have to show ads so many times before people will actually click. You’re competing with so much information.”
“The biggest issue I see is that no one wants to take that first step forward,” Waterstraat said. “People want to see the benefit before they spend the money: They say, ‘That’s expensive, I don’t want to do it,’ or ‘I’m going to find someone cheaper.’ You have to look at what is the easiest, most convenient way to get information to and from your customer.”
Cohen Wills of Cleaner Marketing presented a recent webinar on this topic. See “How to Get Started with Your Digital Marketing Strategy” on pg. 12 for a recap and a link to his presentation.
Cookies – Small blocks of data created by a web browser as an internet user visits a page. Placed on the user’s device, they track website access and can be used to retarget ads.
Google Ads – An online platform where advertisers bid to display small ads, listings and videos to web browsers based on their search results or more widely across the web.
SEO – Search engine optimization improves the quality and quantity of site traffic resulting from search engines. SEO amplifies unpaid — “organic” — traffic and search results.
SEM – Search engine marketing promotes websites by increasing their visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs), typically through paid advertising.
Social media marketing – The use of social media platforms and sites to promote a product or service to current and potential customers.
Pay-per-click – Pay-per-click is a payment model in which the advertiser pays Google or another platform when their ad garners a click-through from the consumer.