Tess Wittler, a home builder content marketing consultant, joins Greg and Kevin this week on The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast to discuss how content fits in a home builder’s marketing plan and where to focus your efforts.
Tess clarifies that content is, “…about acquiring and engaging an audience and having them take a favorable action. So, content marketing, it's this big mammoth of a word, but really when it comes down to it, it's being helpful and useful to your audience and sharing those ideas and educating them, and then inspiring them as well.”
Tess explains that home builders have two pieces of digital real estate that they own, “…your website and your email list, so let's focus on there. Once we get those working, then we can start branching out. So, you think of your website as the hub of your content machine, if you will, and then you have all these spokes of the wheel, whether it's your social media posts or your podcast interviews or your infographics or all those pieces, and you have those, but you want them all connected back to your website. In fact, that's one of the big mistakes I see with home builders and remodelers is they post these beautiful pictures of their projects on Facebook or Instagram and that's it. They don't have a link back to their website. They don't have some type of story or article on their website and it actually, theoretically, should be the reverse. So, you should be posting those stories on your website and then linking those out to Instagram and Facebook and LinkedIn, and all those social media places.”
Listen to this week’s episode to learn how you can get your content running and groovy.
About the Guest:
Tess Wittler is a content marketing consultant for the home building industry. She offers “boutique-style” marketing for custom home builder and design/build remodeling firms.
She “fell into the construction industry” while working for a contractor in college, discovered her passion for the industry, and never left. Tess has written hundreds of pieces of content for construction professionals, trade-related associations and publications.
She serves on the NAHB Professional Women in Building Council’s Professional Development Subcommittee and is one of two PWB designees for the NAHB Ideas App Editorial Working Group.
She works with smaller custom home builders and remodeling firms and understands that the time they can dedicate to marketing is quite limited. Her goal is to help them generate and nurture leads with meaningful content, content that matters and will impact their business.
Greg Bray: [00:00:00] Hello, everybody, and welcome to today's episode of The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine,
Kevin Weitzel: and I'm Kevin Weitzel with OutHouse.
And we are excited today to welcome to the show Tess Wittler, who is a marketing consultant for the home building industry. Welcome, Tess. Thanks for joining us today.
Tess Wittler: Hey, good morning guys. Thank you.
Greg Bray: Well, Tess for those who haven't met you yet, let's start off with that quick introduction. Help us get to know you a little bit.
Sure. I am a content marketing consultant for the home building industry. I work primarily with custom home builders and [00:01:00] design build remodeling firms.
Kevin Weitzel: Well, that's awesome, but what turns your gears on the weekends when you're not working? What do you think in your personal life that we can learn about you on this podcast that maybe people might not know about you.
Tess Wittler: Yeah, absolutely. So, I am a huge hockey fan. We follow the Washington Capitals, Penn State hockey, and Hershey Bears hockey. I also love to be outside, love to do hiking and that sort of thing. Although, not crazy hiking like some people do. Like, more like nature trail hiking and, basically just anything outdoors. We do a lot of fishing, a lot of road tripping, that sort of thing.
Greg Bray: Now, I have to admit, I have not heard of Hershey Bear hockey. So, which, level is that? Exposing my ignorance of the sport, I guess.
Tess Wittler: That's a good question. So, it's the AHL. It is the step below the Washington Capitals. So, when they need a player, they will call up a Hershey Bears player.
Greg Bray: Gotcha. Alright. Alright. So, you're so into it, you're in the farm team level. Okay. Got it.
Tess Wittler: [00:02:00] I am.
Greg Bray: Got it. All right. Tell us a little bit more about why or how you got into the home building specific piece of marketing and some of that journey.
Tess Wittler: Sure. So, I like to say I fell into this industry. I was in college and I needed a job and I got a job with a contractor. He was a fire sprinkler guy, and I did everything from, answering the phones and doing data entry on our one IBM PC that the entire office shared to running blueprints and being out in the field, and I absolutely loved it. When I finished college, I could have certainly continued to stay with him, but I wanted to move away from my hometown cause I went to school in my hometown and go to the big city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and I started working for the Pennsylvania Builders Association in their government affairs department.
That's where I really just started absolutely loving this industry. So, I got to see the grassroots, the legislative process, the regulatory process. Did a lot of [00:03:00] sitting in on committee meetings on Capitol Hill to learn about the industry and the issues that our members faced, and absolutely loved it.
Then I went to work for a local HBA and wore 15 hats and got into Preda Homes and remodelers awards of excellence and education and all those things that the local associations do. Then I decided to become a freelance writer/marketing consultant for this industry in the wonderful year of 2007, so right before the big crash, and just started continuing with my marketing, all the stuff that I learned over the years about the industry and about marketing.
Started working with mostly small builders and remodelers that were local at first, but then I eventually expanded to across the country and into Canada with just different clients and got to learn about the industry and write everything from testimonials that were used for code [00:04:00] hearings. Whether it was regional code hearings or the national code hearings, or, you know, writing about those pesky stormwater runoff regulations to beautiful kitchens and home builds. So, just have done it all over the years.
Greg Bray: That sounds like a wide variety of experience, and yes, 2007 was not the best time to enter into the building industry, especially from a marketing standpoint. It was a tough couple of years.
Kevin Weitzel: Entering it was a good time. It's the continuing that became the problem.
Greg Bray: Okay. Fair enough. Fair enough. It depends on whether you needed to eat or not.
Tess Wittler: Well, and you had to get really creative in 2007, so it was a great time, from a marketing perspective, to understand, okay, so what are my marketing assets, and then how can I utilize them as best as I can. So, we can probably get into this a little bit, that whole repurposing piece where you take piece of content and you try to find other ways to use it. That was really big with a lot of my clients because they had very limited budgets at the time.
Greg Bray: Well, before we dive into that deeper, [00:05:00] just tell us a little bit about your company and the kinds of services you do provide, so we have that as a baseline for the conversation.
Tess Wittler: Sure. So, I offer I'm going to call it boutique style marketing. So, it's very customizable. I really focus in on two things when I start with a client. I focus in on the two pieces of digital real estate that they actually own, which is their website and their email list. So, we get those running and groovy, then you can start expanding from there. The other piece of content that I really like to focus on, especially in this industry is projects. I call them project stories, but they're basically mini case studies where we use those projects in a variety of ways, but number one, you put it back on their website. Those are the things that I do.
I mean, anything that goes along with that. So, I do a lot of website analysis, a lot of behind the scenes SEO organic work for websites to make sure that they're running as smooth as possible and pulling in the traffic. Work with email newsletters and email [00:06:00] marketing because I believe without a shadow of a doubt, that is one of the best ways to nurture past clients and get referrals, and then of course the project stories, I do other things as well. I've done, you know, sometimes you want to be published in an industry publication, so I work as a ghostwriter in those instances. I've written white papers and case studies for bigger manufacturers, but for the audience and the purpose for today, I really do focus on those three areas.
Greg Bray: Awesome. Awesome. So, as we dive in then to understand content and how it fits into the marketing plan, I mean, this phrase content marketing has been around now for a few years as an industry buzzword, but how do you define that? What does it mean to you when you say content marketing?
Tess Wittler: So, really, it's about acquiring and engaging an audience, and having them take a favorable action So, content marketing, it's this big mammoth of a word, but really when it comes down to it, it's being helpful and useful to your audience [00:07:00] and sharing those ideas and educating them and then, inspiring them as well.
Greg Bray: So, it's not writing blog articles?
Tess Wittler: Not just writing blog articles.
Greg Bray: I don't know. I think that's what a lot of people go to.
Tess Wittler: Yeah, they do.
Greg Bray: Would be comfortable with that? A lot of people, I think they hear that word, they think, oh, I have to write blog articles or I have to run a newsletter or something like that and thats content marketing, and I think to your point there's a lot more that can go into it. What are things beyond blocks? Just a quick list of things beyond blogs that you would include there, so people can start to think a little larger.
Tess Wittler: Yeah, so really everything is content. So, you know, certainly, like you were saying, you have the blog articles and the newsletters but you also have your beautiful project photos. You have the videos that you shoot. You have infographics and charts and graphs. Podcasts, like this one, social media posts. You have all of those pieces that make content marketing.
Greg Bray: All right. So, we've got all this [00:08:00] content. How do we even begin to prioritize or where do you start with someone who's never done content marketing? What's the first piece that maybe they should look at?
Tess Wittler: Well, I go back to what are the two pieces of digital real estate that you own? Your website and your email list, so let's focus on there. Once we get those working, then we can start branching out. So, you think of your website as the hub of your content machine, if you will, and then you have all these spokes of the wheel, whether it's your social media posts or your podcast interviews or your infographics or all those pieces, and you have those, but you want them all connected back to your website. In fact, that's one of the big mistakes I see with home builders and remodelers is they post these beautiful pictures of their projects on Facebook or Instagram and that's it. They don't have a link back to their website. They don't have some type of story or article on their website [00:09:00] and it actually, theoretically, should be the reverse. So, you should be posting those stories on your website and then linking those out to Instagram and Facebook and LinkedIn, and all those social media places.
Kevin Weitzel: So, speaking of stories, you are basically helping a builder tell their story in a much more succinct fashion versus just plopping content, plopping images onto a website.
Tess Wittler: Absolutely. Absolutely. I talk to clients and they're like, we don't have anything interesting to say what the heck do we talk about? We start with their process. What is their process? There's some great information there to help consumers understand the home building process and then of course their projects. Think of their projects as a smaller magazine. Better Homes and Gardens and all of those other ones that we grew up reading, it's the same concept.
You want to be able to tell how a house was built or the components that went into the home, or in a remodeling project, how the remodel or the addition happened.[00:10:00] yeah, so absolutely I'm trying to help this industry understand that they have some amazing stories to share and that they can use that to their advantage from a marketing perspective, and that is technically called content marketing.
Kevin Weitzel: So, remodelers aren't just tearing out and putting more stuff back in.
Tess Wittler: Right. Right.
Kevin Weitzel: You gotta tell more of the story.
Tess Wittler: Well, and here's the thing, I love remodeling stories because they start at the demolition process and you never know exactly what's behind those walls. There's been some really interesting stories that remodelers have shared with me where they found Indian relics or some scribble from the 1800s on the wall, or, of course, horse hair plaster is always fun too. So, they talk about those challenges and unearthing those pieces, and I think it also helps from a consumer standpoint to understand the estimating process a little bit better because in this instance, remodelers don't always know what's behind the walls, so there's always some type of clause of what are we going to find?
Home builders the same way, depending upon what part of the country [00:11:00] you're in. They might have a clause with, we know that there's a ton of big boulders and rocks typically found in this area, so we need to maybe add more to the excavation, depending upon what we find once we start building the house and building the foundation, and those are great stories and it's educational, right? We're all in the industry, we understand this, but as consumers, we find this absolutely fascinating and we want to read about it, and what better way to do that than to have your local home builder start that process of educating you.
Greg Bray: I think something you said there, Tess, resonated with me. This idea that because we deal with this every day, it doesn't seem quite as unique or special or different to the builder. Most people aren't doing a new home every year, right? They're doing that just once or twice or three times in their lives, and so for them, it's a very unique journey as they start researching and learning and educating themselves and making those decisions. We have to get over that humility of what I do is just [00:12:00] the same thing every day or whatever, and be able to tell that story out there. You know, I don't want to say toot your own horn, but in a way, yeah, you gotta be able to put it out there. Maybe that's hard for some people who aren't used to laying themselves out there with their stories. Do you help people overcome some of those fears and hesitancies as part of this?
Tess Wittler: Of course. So, yeah. Absolutely. You know, whether it's myself or another marketing agency or maybe it's just someone on staff who isn't nearly as familiar with the home building process, asking some of those basic questions really helps the stories flow, whatever that is that we're trying to communicate.
I'll give you an example, my husband and I, we've built houses before. We've had builders build our house before, but it's always been in suburbia. Now we have a home that is more rural and we're on a septic system. We don't know anything about the septic system. Going out and researching those types of articles or having your builder inform you about what a septic system is [00:13:00] supposed to do and the maintenance of it afterwards. That's content. It's probably a horrible example considering we're talking about poop.
Greg Bray: Kevin. She's so good. She can make septic systems exciting.
Kevin Weitzel: I was into it. I was like, tell me more about the septic system. How do you do these?
Tess Wittler: Yeah. So, it's those types of things. What's really interesting is once you get to talking to builders, remodelers about this stuff, they start thinking a little bit outside of the box. They're like, oh yeah, well, I have been doing this for 20 years or I grew up in the industry, and so this is second nature to me, but you know what, you're absolutely right. My customers always ask this question when I'm sitting down at their kitchen table or on a Zoom call, as it's been.
One of the things that I always recommend with home builders or remodelers is what are the frequently asked questions you get from customers when they're doing this process of building a home with you and those make great content pieces. You can weave them in. It doesn't have to be a standalone blog article. It can be woven into [00:14:00] other areas of your website or in the project stories or on social media. There's lots of fun ways to weave some of those questions into content.
Kevin Weitzel: How often do you see builders, and this could be just a common mistake that the builders make, but how often you see builders, basically, just trying to go, Hey, well, they used this story, let's tell a story very similar. Basically, copying content, repurposing somebody else's content. Do you see that a very often or no?
Tess Wittler: Thankfully, that doesn't happen as often anymore. I mean, we still have the why reinvent the wheel. If someone is doing something really well, let's look at what they're doing and see how we can take it and apply it to our business, but thankfully, most builders, at least the ones that we're all dealing with, they understand plagiarism and those types of things, and they understand that what might work for one, doesn't always work for the other. It's always nice, especially, you know, like NAHB, they used to have these builder 20 groups, where you get ideas from all across the country. You listen to [00:15:00] podcasts or go to the show and you get all these different ideas, right? So, then you start doing some research and understanding what other people are using as content, and it really does spark some new ideas, but mimicking verbatim, thankfully, doesn't happen too often anymore.
Greg Bray: So, Tess, as you mentioned before, you talked about this idea of repurposing content. Let's dive into that a little bit more and give us some examples of what you mean. How we can use a piece of content more than once and how many times can you use a piece of content? How does that work?
Tess Wittler: Sure. So, one of the things that is going to be pretty useful in the coming year or so, is this concept of micro content, and this is actually something that I've been doing with my clients for probably the last 10 years now. So, you take a piece of content and you figure out different ways to chunk it out and use it across the board. The great thing with this industry is that [00:16:00] most of the content that we create for them is not trendy content. So, it is going to be content that has a longer shelf life and with that, you can repurpose it in multiple ways.
So, take my septic system example since we all loved that one. You could certainly write a blog article about that, and you could answer some frequently asked questions and help with the Google juice and the organic SEO that way on this article. Say you have the top five questions for septic tanks, you could then take each of those five bullet points and throw them into an infographic and create it that way, and that can be something that is sent out to your leads. You can also use each of those five pieces in social media, whether it be Facebook, Instagram, and create graphics around that.
That could be part of a bigger packet that is then put together. Say it's a part of a series of articles that can be [00:17:00] thrown into an e-book that can be downloaded for people who are interested in building a home. So, there's a lot of different ways to repurpose one piece of content and use it over and over again, and just because you posted it on Facebook once, doesn't mean that you don't ever post it again. It's something that you can repost again in three months, six months, nine months and you keep reposting it, changing it a little bit, of course, but keep using that content to drive traffic back to your website. Does that answer your question?
Greg Bray: I think it does, and I think what I'm hearing, underlying all of that, is planning and strategy that I think is probably an area where people maybe trip up more than any others. They've got the content, but they don't do the planning and the strategy to really take advantage of it. How do you kind of step back and decide that piece of the strategy part?
Tess Wittler: Yeah. So, it really depends upon what's going on in the industry a little bit too and the type of work that you want to be driving. That's certainly one piece of the strategy, [00:18:00] but it starts with just having an inventory. It's like they have an inventory for all of their tools and their vehicles and all the materials that they need. They need to have a content inventory as well, and that can be a simple Excel spreadsheet or Google sheets, however they want to do that, and categorizing them. These five articles go here. It's not just articles either, website pages. A lot of times their services pages make great content that they can share out on social or through other means. So, it's creating that inventory and then it's plotting out a calendar and figuring out what you're going to share and just going through that whole process.
Greg Bray: One of the reasons I know that people struggle with this planning piece is because of the number of blogs I see that haven't been updated for years, where you're almost doing yourself more harm than help by even keeping it up, in my opinion. I think that's a symptom of not doing the planning. Would you agree with that, Tess?
Tess Wittler: Yeah. Yeah. [00:19:00] Absolutely. People always think content needs to be new. What new blog articles are we going to write this year or this month, but what about all the content that they have on their website already that needs to be updated? You have this inventory. You should be using some type of analytics, your Google Analytics, or your Google Search Console, that's showing you which pages and which posts are getting the most traffic, and then those become your priority posts for updating and sharing.
One of the things that I like to stress with my clients is it doesn't always have to be brand new content that we're churning out. Let's take a step back and see what we already have that we can update, make it better with better keywords. If it hasn't been updated in the last five, six years, do some research and rewrite it and then be able to reuse it in a more effective way.
Kevin Weitzel: So, relevant, interesting versus new.
Tess Wittler: Yeah, absolutely. It doesn't always have to be new.
Greg Bray: I think that's terrific because we work so [00:20:00] hard on it and then we just set it aside and never go back to it. It's just lost. So, you mentioned analytics. How does somebody start to measure the success? Because, again, it takes some work to put all this together. Work equals investment equals time and money. So, I want to know, gosh, I put that blog out yesterday. How come my sales haven't doubled today? So, where does that, you know, measurement come in? What's kind of a reasonable expectation on timeframe for return and some of those things that you've seen?
Tess Wittler: Sure. We talked about the plan, right? So, we have this plan of how we're going to produce the content and then disseminate it out. We also have to have a plan of measuring it on a regular basis, monthly at minimum. So, Google Analytics is a great place to start with a lot of that because you're going to see the traffic and where the traffic is coming from. You're also able to drill down into the content to see which content is driving that traffic. Which referral sources are bringing in that traffic, whether it's Facebook or LinkedIn, or maybe some other backlink. [00:21:00] Maybe it's Houzz or some other place where you're advertising. So you need to have that as one of your measurements.
You also want to look at keywords. There's a lot of ways to do that that are very cost-effective or even free, but I won't get into that piece, but you want to look into your keywords and see what keywords people are searching on, and then how that matches the content that you have on your website to make those improvements. Those are two big areas. There's more that we could get into, but those are the places where I really think clients benefit the most in finding what content is driving their traffic.
Then, as far as measurement, I would love to say that it's a instant, but with content marketing, it's usually a long game. The good thing is is that if you know which pieces of your website, whether it's pages or posts, are driving traffic, you can really focus in on those as priority pages, sharing those more often and you're making sure those are updated and you make sure you have good call to [00:22:00] actions on those pages and posts. So, you have that as your priority, and then you're working on your other keywords that you would like to rank for and seeing how either you create new content for that, or you're matching existing content and just improving that content for those other keywords.
Greg Bray: It almost seems a little overwhelming. How do you help somebody catch the vision of a simple baby step first, without just feeling like, oh, I gotta write this, I gotta do that. I gotta post here, there, and everywhere. It just seems hard.
Tess Wittler: In a way, it can be complex. What it really boils down to, and I'm going to say this for probably the 5th time this podcast, but what is the digital real estate you own? You don't own Facebook. You don't own YouTube. You don't own Instagram. You own your website and you own your email list. So, focus on those two pieces first and get those running and groovy, and then you can worry about the other stuff.
Websites, for example, a lot of mistakes that are made is because you set a website up and then you don't touch it for years and years and [00:23:00] years. Other than, you know, you have your website developer doing the regular maintenance to make sure that it's not hacked and your plugins are working and all that stuff, and your email is working, but really you should be assessing that.
Kevin Weitzel: I got to warn you, you keep saying those sweet words, you're going to just get Greg all googly over there because you're saying the secret sauce to his magic life.
Tess Wittler: Yeah, but it's the truth, you know, especially now. I mean, it might've worked in 2010, but right now it doesn't work that way anymore, and you need to have your website analyzed at least on an annual basis to make sure that all the content is working the way you want it to work. Your business changes.
So, I'll give another example. We always talk about lead generation, right? Content marketing is lead generation and all that stuff. How many builders are saying, we are lead saturated right now? We don't know what to do with the leads. Well, you're content, if you write [00:24:00] it right, can actually help qualify some of those leads, so you're actually detracting from the tire kickers and you're able to be more efficient with those who are actually serious about building or remodeling with you, and there's ways to do that with your content.
Right now, you should be flipping those messages a little bit, right? If you're at lead saturation, you don't know what to do because you have labor shortages and material delays and all this other stuff, you can switch your messaging, so it's less about lead gen and more about lead education, and that way you're getting better qualified leads. So, yeah, I might be whispering those sweet messages, but this is my geek zone, Kevin.
Greg Bray: We found the right questions to ask. That's awesome.
Kevin Weitzel: We did. Yeah.
Greg Bray: That's awesome. So, Tess, how do you see content marketing, as a concept, evolving over the next few years? I see it growing and becoming more important, but I guess I shouldn't have said that before I let you answer, but let's get [00:25:00] your thoughts on that.
Tess Wittler: There's two areas I really see it's going to be changing. One is I've mentioned micro content. So, people have an attention span of eight seconds, and so it's going to become even more important to have more micro content available where you're just doing little snippets. Just think of it as little snippets. You know, you can take those long blog articles that explain the building process or you know, what to expect with a septic system, but you can micro it out. There's ways to do that strategically when you're writing, through code, that will allow, then, Google to have those as being your snippets when people search, and I'm going to lead right into the other piece.
How people are searching has definitely changed. So, it's all about the Amazon Alexa and the Google Home and all of those pieces. It's all voice control now, so people are asking questions. When you go onto your [00:26:00] mobile phone and you want to search for something, usually you're searching by a question. You're usually asking Google a question. So, those pieces are going to be incredibly influential in the next couple of years. Actually, they're already here and it's up to the industry to really respond and repurpose their content that's already there and switch it up so that you're answering those questions.
Accessibility is another piece of that. So, making sure your website is accessible for the blind, or the people who have disabilities, and a lot of that is, of course, voice control and having your content written and in that fashion.
People are also using more, they're searching more by images and by video. Obviously, our industry is using images, you better be, so making sure that your images are tagged properly on the backside for search, and then of course the videos, as well, is huge. So, if you're using video, of course, make sure it's on your website first. I'm [00:27:00] always going to say that, but also make sure if you're using YouTube or something like that, it's another search engine, make sure you're using proper SEO with that.
Greg Bray: One of the things that I love about what you're saying, Tess, is you're making the very clear connection that content marketing and SEO are not two different silos of your marketing efforts. They are very interrelated and integrated and sometimes we see those kinds of get put into two different buckets and two different teams. Or you only do one and not the other, or something like that. You're gonna get the biggest benefit if you overlap those and combine them together, I think.
Tess Wittler: Yeah. Yeah, and, you know, I often work very closely with the web developers, my clients web developers, to make sure that, you know, what I'm doing is matching what they're doing and we're coming together as a team to find the best SEO for our clients.
Greg Bray: So, is there any last pieces of advice you didn't get a chance to touch on today that you'd like to share with us?
Tess Wittler: Really my big message is content marketing isn't going anywhere. Greg, you said something [00:28:00] about, it can be very overwhelming. Get some help. Work with someone who can teach you, if you want to go that route, or hire someone who can help on a semi-annual or annual basis, just to make sure that your website's working as great as it can be, but it's not going anywhere. I don't think it's something that should be overwhelming at all, either. I think if you start with your website and start with your email list, from there, everything else branches out and it becomes much easier to manage.
The other piece that I wanted to make sure that I shared was if you haven't started, you just need to start now. You just need to start and take it one chunk at a time. Whether it's one page that you're reviewing a month. It can be as simple as that, that'll start that process. It's incredibly important to our industry.
Greg Bray: Tess, we really appreciate the thoughts and the time that you've shared with us today, and if people want to learn more about you and get in touch, what's the best way for them to connect?
Tess Wittler: Yeah, absolutely. I'd love for a [00:29:00] connection via LinkedIn. You can find me Tess Wittler or through my website, tesswittler.com
And we'll drop some links to those in the show notes as well. So, thank you everybody for listening today to The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine,
Kevin Weitzel: and I'm Kevin Weitzel with OutHouse. Thank you.