Today we are thrilled to talk about the first client website that we have built. This project has an interesting story and we hope to turn parts of it into a template for how we find future clients. You can take a look at the new site at https://www.imperialtx.com.
We met Toby Thomas, the owner of Imperial Plumbing, because our kitchen floors were squishy. We live in an older, pier and beam home and the plywood under our kitchen floor had gotten soaked with water. A slow drip from the water heater drain valve caused a puddle of water in its closet and squishy floors.
Fortunately our neighbor had recommended a plumber. He’d said that he went through something like 7 plumbers before this company did the job right. I called immediately and left a voicemail. Toby called back within 5 minutes and apologized for missing the call. I described the situation and he wanted to come by to look at it but we weren’t available that afternoon so he promised to come by at 9 the next morning.
Toby arrived 5 minutes early. He assessed the situation, came up with a plan and got to work. And almost nothing went to plan. Usually water heaters don’t take more than 15 to 20 minutes to drain. Our water heater – which we found out was 34 years old – took at least 8 hours. Layers of sediment had caked the bottom of the water heater due to lack of maintenance and it was blocking the flow of water. Toby rolled with it, changed plans, and kept us informed about what was going on.
Toby’s plan covered everything else, including making sure that our house was up to code to pass the building inspection. The original water heater didn’t have a drain pan or drain lines so Toby crawled under our house and made that happen. We learned a ton about plumbing just being around him for a couple of days. He is happy to share his knowledge.
Being around Toby for a couple of days we knew that he was good at what he did. We knew that he cared about doing the job the right way, keeping in mind both the safety of his customers and the cost. We had just founded our company the same week and through that lens I wondered how his company did so poorly in the Google search results. I knew that his website was awful, having looked at it when our neighbor first recommended the company. But from what we’ve seen in this area, most websites for plumbing, electric, and HVAC companies are awful. Why was his site in particular doing so poorly in search results?
When Toby found out we had just started a company based around technology, he asked if we knew anything about something called “virtual mailboxes or something.” A friend of his in a different but similar line of work had said that they were key to getting your business to show up in different cities instead of in just the one city where your main office is. We didn’t know what they were but I said I’d figure it out and tell him in a few days. He told us he was not happy with how few calls he was getting from his website. He said that he was dealing with a company that promised a high search ranking in Google and that for a little while it worked.
That company was lying. Neither they nor any other company can promise a specific position on search engines, although an entire sleazy industry has been built around the idea and given the term Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, a bad name. Before this point I was wholly against the idea of any sort of SEO. In my idealistic mind, the good stuff will be found and will rise to the top. But that didn’t explain why Imperial Plumbing ranked so poorly. We were angry that a good person wasn’t being treated fairly. I had to change part of my worldview because the facts just didn’t line up with what I believed – you must both do great work and put work towards being found through the search engines. The great work alone is not enough.
On the plus side, this entire experience validated our beliefs that small businesses need someone by their side to help with technology. We also saw an amazing opportunity to both help a fellow small business owner and learn how to help a great company show up in search results. We are very fortunate to have been given these circumstances and I proposed something crazy to Brandy – should we ask Toby if we could build a new site for him and work on improving his search results? For free? We’d treat it like a science experiment, measuring and tweaking and seeing what happens. We’d learn tons. Doing it for free would mean we would have more freedom to decide what we needed to do. Brandy thought it was a great idea.
But even great ideas are nerve wracking. Something made me nervous – maybe fear of rejection and being treated like I was crazy – and even up until right before we talked with Toby about it I considered backing down. Something in me thought what I was doing was too risky. But I consulted Brandy, we agreed to go ahead with it, and I pushed through.
I explained the idea to Toby. He said he’d really appreciate it and would much rather work with local people that he could see face to face. He said yes.
Just in case you think Toby is taking advantage of us, we’ll set it straight. Toby has offered plumbing work in trade and we made it very clear to him that we wouldn’t charge him anything for the site because we hadn’t told him our hourly rate or given him any kind of estimate. Us taking money in that situation just wouldn’t be right.
We built the site by hand to the latest web standards and optimized it so it loads super quickly. We started from scratch rather than trying to stuff the identity of Imperial Plumbing into someone else’s site.
But that all comes standard. The real difference is that we dove into the topic of plumbing and learned a lot. Toby was there to help – like with tips like this one about not using a plunger that I’d never heard before – but we also had to learn it ourselves. I had to read the plumbing codes in the cities that Imperial Plumbing serves. We had to learn about the unique challenges that a plumbing company faces that other companies don’t. We had to learn what people are looking for when they go to a plumbing company website.
If you only notice one thing about the site, we hope you notice its depth. It is not a thin layer of content pasted over pretty pictures. It has all the higher level information you’d want instantly – a big phone number at the top and a map of the company’s service area on the side. But it also has information about the steps to go through to make sure your plumber is legit and tells you what it will be like to work with Imperial Plumbing. It even has information about the plumbing codes for each of the 39 cities that Toby serves. Did you know that the city you live in can impact how much it costs to have a plumber replace your water heater? I didn’t before this project. For example, in Denton a residence must have a carbon monoxide detector outside of each bedroom if it has an attached garage or gas appliances.
That’s depth of information. And while we definitely consulted Toby’s expertise, we did a lot of the work ourselves to figure out what the site needed to say. Toby was able to carry on his business while we took care of his technology.
You want to know my favorite part of building this? Seeing Toby’s excitement. As we moved through the project Toby came up with great ideas and we could feel his excitement building. We were showing him what could be done with technology. We were showing how doing a little more work with it could deliver more than a marketing tool towards customers, more than a way of educating people about plumbing, his team could use the same information to be able to do their job easier and better. At one point I was so happy to be able to do this work that I was brought to tears. I love technology and it is so awesome to be able to share that love.
Over the last month, we have spent 64 hours building this site for Toby. We collected data about what pages his old site was on in Google search results for the cities in his service area and we will continue to collect that data at regular intervals. We cannot guarantee that we will get Imperial Plumbing on the first page of the search results but we sure as hell are going to try. We’ll keep you updated on what we learn.