In this episode, Michael and Chris talk about what painting businesses and contractors should expect from a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) vendor. Learn what matters when hiring an SEO company, and how it can help your business.

In this episode we cover:
What is SEO?
How does working with an SEO company helps your business? What insights can they give you?
Myths and truths about what’s important in an SEO company
Realistic expectations for your working relationship— and your ROI

For more information on the tools and resources mentioned in this episode, please visit:


Michael Epps Utley: Welcome to Grow Your Painting Business, a podcast for commercial, residential, and industrial painters to grow their businesses in their local or regional markets. We’re experts in digital marketing for painters and other trades, and this is a show to share our experience with you. Grow Your Painting Business is a free podcast from, the experts in digital marketing for the trades.

Chris Raines: Welcome back to Grow Your Painting Business. My name is Chris Raines. I’m joined by President of GoEpps, Michael Epps Utley.

Michael Epps Utley: Hey.

Chris Raines: And world-class downhill skier-

Michael Epps Utley: No.

Chris Raines: No? That’s not … I thought that was …

Michael Epps Utley: Wrong guy.

Chris Raines: I like giving you additional superlatives. It makes you seem more important. No. Michael, not a downhill skier, but a world-class digital marketing expert. Michael, how you doing today?

Michael Epps Utley: Good. I did run into Scott Hamilton the other day-

Chris Raines: Oh.

Michael Epps Utley: … Since we worked with him last year. But yeah, he’s a super nice guy. Actual gold medalist.

Chris Raines: Actual gold medalist.

Michael Epps Utley: So he’s able to introduce you to-

Chris Raines: Michael’s not a gold medalist-

Michael Epps Utley: … No, I was able to introduce him to-

Chris Raines: … But knows a gold medalist.

Michael Epps Utley: … Yeah. Able to introduce him to Harry, and that was awesome.

Chris Raines: Ah, nice. Nice. Was Harry impressed? It’s a little before his time.

Michael Epps Utley: No, no. No, I had shown him videos of the back flip on ice. I had shown him that stuff.

Chris Raines: Yeah. He was the guy. Yeah, he was A-list in the ’80s, ’90s. Still A-list today, at least-

Michael Epps Utley: Oh, super guy.

Chris Raines: … In the skating world. Anyway, yeah, cool guy.

Michael Epps Utley: Absolutely one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever met.

Chris Raines: Cool. All right. All right well, we’re not here to talk about Scott Hamilton, even though he’s super cool. We’re here to talk about what to expect from an SEO vendor, if you’re a painting contractor, painting business. So Michael, a lot of times you get to a certain point in your business, hopefully if you’re doing all the right things, you’re growing your painting business. At a certain point, you want to increase your SEO, you want to rank, because that means more business, more leads.

But you don’t have time to do it, you’re out there painting, you’re building your business. So you want to hire a vendor, an SEO vendor, to help you grow your rankings and grow your traffic, and grow your leads, and things like that. So we’re here to talk today about how you should even go about doing that. There’s so many people out there that call themselves SEO companies, freelancers. You got Upwork out there, you can hire people from India to do this … Vendor.

So Michael, first let’s talk about … There’s lots of people that do this, so what does it entail to hire a SEO vendor?

Michael Epps Utley: Yeah, we work with a lot of different-sized companies. Big, commercial painting companies that service up to, say, half the United States, all the way down to companies that are working in a local market, like one city. Like Nashville or middle Tennessee. And at the end of the day, it’s the same for everybody. It’s, how do we make sure that when people are looking for what we offer online, whether it’s B2B or B2C, that they’re able to find us, and that we get into the consideration set for them requesting pricing.

So SEO as a term, I would distinguish just real quick for everybody. It doesn’t include everything on the search results page, so paid search advertising is really a different category. Sometimes we call that PPC, or SEM. It’s sometimes used as a category for both SEO and PPC. Or often it’s used just to describe paid search ads. But yeah, for SEO, we’re talking about organic results, and typically we think of it in three categories.

There are three things we do to impact and improve someones rankings, and how many searches bring them up as a result. One is content, content on the website. A lot of relevant, helpful content that’s associated with the services being offered. The second one is website optimizations. Any kind of improvements to the website architecture, all the way down to hey, maybe we can make this message in the header to call us for a free quote. Maybe we can make that a little more friendly by adding someone’s name, or how we’re gonna use images, and are those things helping or hurting the conversion rate of the website? And that’s how much of the traffic has turned into leads.

And then the third thing is off-site factors. So this would include things like online reviews of your business, how many websites across the internet are pointing to your website as an authority for a subject. Like commercial painting, or industrial cleaning, or epoxy flooring. So off-site factors, those are the third piece for us, and really are equally as important as the website itself.

So yeah, that’s what all it entails, and it’s a pretty complicated industry now, and I’d say now that anyone who’s doing this seriously, they’re not chipping away at this on their own now. They’re working with professionals.

Chris Raines: Right. Yeah, so if you get to that level … So if you open it up, you’ve never searched for a vendor before, and you get to the point, “We’re doing good, I’ve got the cash to hire someone. My time is more valuable than my money at this point, I need to be running my business, so I need to bring on a trusted advisor to do this.” There’s so many!

You’ve got national companies with a national footprint, huge companies. You’ve got local companies with a regional focus. You’ve got freelancers and all the way down to college kids that want to get experience.

Michael Epps Utley: Yeah.

Chris Raines: So how should, particularly a painting contractor or someone in the trades, select a vendor for this? What should be top of mind for them, and criteria that they’re checking off, in selecting a vendor for this?

Michael Epps Utley: There’s something that a lot of people, when they hire us and they’re from the middle Tennessee area, say, and that is that they wanted to work with someone local. And that’s typical. GoEpps, the parent company of SearchPrimer, works a lot in healthcare. Sometimes healthcare companies will say that, and that always surprises me because I don’t think that’s the number one thing. I think working local is really limiting you to a very small set of options, and in my experience, it’s turned out not to be the most important thing.

Industry knowledge, that’s another one. That turns out to be very important. So the reason we built SearchPrimer and we’ve dug into this area, is because we’ve developed industry knowledge in painting, and landscaping, roofing. The trades. And so, yeah, I think working with someone who has knowledge of your industry is really important.

Another thing you could look at is size. I think you want to work with somebody who’s not on their first rodeo. So somebody who’s got a large footprint of clients, because what’s gonna happen there is they’re actually learning lessons on other campaigns, that they can apply to your situation, and things … For right now, we have about 30 clients. When there’s a change at Google, something changes like we covered in a previous episode, the new move to mobile-first indexing, we feel that across the board and are able to tell very quickly what’s happening, and put our finger on it.

So working with somebody who’s got a big enough client base, that they’re not having to do all their learning on your campaign, but they’re actually seeing things change and they’re working in an environment where they’re picking up on what’s happening, because it’s affecting a lot of people.

Chris Raines: Yeah. And I love that question of, have you worked with painting contractors, or similar contractors? And that’s not to say that a generalized SEO company couldn’t do a fine job.

Michael Epps Utley: That’s right.

Chris Raines: But if it’s between a generalized company and another company that has experience in your given field, whether it’s painting or really any other industry-

Michael Epps Utley: Yeah, yeah, this should apply not just for, hey painters come to us. This is more of a general idea.

Chris Raines: Yeah, it’s a general principle. If you have somebody that’s got a long track record of businesses similar to yours, they’re going to have a deep knowledge that you can only get from working long-term in an industry. So other companies could do a good job, fine. But the risk is way less with going with someone with experience in your industry.

Michael Epps Utley: Yep.

Chris Raines: I think. Let’s talk about … This is a big one. I feel like this is a big one for people. You hire somebody, maybe it’s the first time you’ve hired an external partner to do something, and maybe for you, it’s a lot of money going out the door, and you really want to see a return on your investment. But SEO is something that sometimes can take a little bit longer. You’re not gonna see results in the first week. Maybe not even in the first month. Maybe not in the first two months.

So Michael, talk about realistic expectations. This is not miracle-working. This is putting seeds in the ground, right? This is plowing the fields, this is planting seeds. This is not going out with an arrow and killing a buffalo. This is planting seeds and you’re not gonna … When you plant a seed, you don’t see it two weeks later. You see it months later. All that said, that was a long intro, but talk about how when someone hires an SEO vendor, what’s an appropriate amount of time that they can expect to see results?

Michael Epps Utley: Yeah. So I think that’s an apt metaphor. I think farming versus hunting, and we do a lot of paid search advertising, and a lot of social pay per click advertising. So we do the hunting too, but in terms of SEO, we really do see it more like farming. SEO generally is slower, but has a better return on investment. And it has a cumulative-

Chris Raines: Long-term.

Michael Epps Utley: … Yeah, it has more of a cumulative value, year after year, as you’re gaining traction on more keywords. Those keywords don’t go away or expire, just because the calendar changed. But with paid search advertising, you’ve got to pay for every click. So the hunting would be advertising, and the farming would be SEO. So generally, we start to see the landscape for a campaign change, within 60 days. And I’ll tell you what that 60 days looks like. It’s 30 days of us doing things, and having ramp-up time, and then it’s 30 days of stuff being indexed, and having different behavior in search engines.

However, lately what we’ve been telling people is, “Don’t hire us unless you want to commit to a minimum of six months.” Because there’s a lot of what we do, depending on how rough the situation is we’re walking in to … I mean, sometimes companies have new services where they haven’t really built out new services on their website. Or, their services are articulated with one page per service, and they think that’s pretty good, and we’re coming in saying, “No, you see this bulleted list of everything that’s included? We’re gonna do individual pages for those.”

We’re creating a robust, rich, layered presence of content in search engines. We’re highly focused on how content on a website is linked within the website. So there are a lot of things that are happening within the first six months, that are getting the ship in order for the first time. So yeah, these days we’ve gone from saying, “You can expect to see results in 60 to 90 days.” To saying, “Work with us for six months before you even think about asking yourself, ‘Is this working?'”

And that’s been really good, because it hasn’t really cost us any business and people can take the pressure off of themselves to not watch the clock, and to understand that it’s gonna take some time.

Chris Raines: Right. And just from a business perspective, for you, I don’t know how you structure your contracts at all, but that’s not to say you’re locking people in for, “You must pay for six months or we’re gonna hold the”-

Michael Epps Utley: No, yeah.

Chris Raines: … It’s still, people have a way out. But in terms of results and setting up the expectations, that’s an appropriate amount of time.

Michael Epps Utley: Yeah. Yeah, you’re talking about a strategy where you’re gonna say, “Hey, we wanna be known in this market for this subject matter.” And there’s this very rich, sophisticated, complicated mechanism out there for Google to introduce people in that market to different service offers. So you have to focus on quality content, takes a lot of time to produce that. And so yeah, the more runway you give an SEO agency, the more likely you are to see results. But, I would say that at the six month point, you’re definitely gonna have a feeling of, “We like these people, this is working well.” Or, “Maybe we should pull the plug.”

But I would say that if you have any hesitation on the way in, don’t do it. Yeah. If you get to six months and you don’t have results, that would be a problem. Yeah.

Chris Raines: Yeah, yeah. All right, let’s talk about site evaluations. So, most people that are gonna hire an external vendor, they’re not so start-up that they don’t have some web presence. They usually will have a website that they’re operating on, on some level. So talk about what you should expect any potential vendors to do, to evaluate what you already have. Maybe some of the stuff you’re already doing is working, and they don’t need to address that. And some of it’s not. So what should a painting contracting or trade organization business do? What should they expect, in terms of a site evaluation from an SEO vendor?

Michael Epps Utley: Yeah. The way we do it, there are a lot of tools that people use to try to gain a client for SEO work, where they’re using an automated process to pull a report. We do something very different than that, and I think at the very least, you should expect for someone to tell you what is working well, what isn’t. To tell you if your website content management system, or website architecture is adequate for your objectives for the future. They should be asking you, “Who are your competitors? Who do you get bid against every day?”

That should be one of the things of the most interest of learning, and evaluating, during the first 30 days. One thing that we do, is we produce a 20 to 30 page report that compares how every competitor is investing in online marketing. And so that way, we have a landscape, and we know who’s doing video, who’s active on social media. Who’s advertising, who isn’t. For the people who are doing SEO, how much content are they producing?

So we’re able to create a baseline, based on the competitor set, not just what we think someone should do, or how much money someone has to spend. But really an independent evaluation of what’s going on in their market, with their industry.

So I think any good SEO company is gonna come in with some actual manually-produced strategy recommendations, not just some automated report. It’s gotta be more than that. It’s gotta be somebody with a brain and a lot of experience, turning their eyes onto the situation and describing what they see.

Chris Raines: Yeah. That brings me to my next question here. Because it’s really two categories here, right? There’s the … We can call it strategy and execution, I guess. But it’s, here are all the things, we’ve taken in all the data that’s relevant to your business on the internet, and here’s what you should do. And then there’s the actually doing it, that takes writers to write content. It takes technical expertise to do onsite optimizations, building links, doing reviews. All this stuff.

So what should people expect? What are some things that people should do, going in, to get a clear understanding of, do I wanna hire someone that is gonna take everything I have and give me a report on what I should do, and then walk away? Or is it more appropriate for me to hire a partner that can do all of those things and then actually get the work done? When do we know what is the right thing to do for our business?

Michael Epps Utley: Our experience in working with people who have commercial and residential-level companies in the trades, and some of these are big regional players. Multi-million dollar companies working in, for example, the Eastern half of the United States. And in doing this for all these years, I mean, GoEpps is going into its eight year … GoEpps is the creator of SearchPrimer. It’s going into its eight of year of business right now. We’re in January as we record this.

We rarely have someone hire us for strategy. We’ve done a couple of strategy reports over the years. So I think that any SEO program that anyone is considering, they really need to just get on with the work. There’s no need to spend a lot of money on strategy, or to have someone who comes in and is gonna be just the consultant. At a minimum, what they need to be is a business coach and essentially a fractional CMO. And maybe even bring a team in with them who can do things.

We have a good friend in the industry, and that’s what he does, and I think that adds a ton of value. But any strategy report or evaluation of your SEO that’s static and happens one time, and does not include execution, I don’t see a lot of value in that.

Chris Raines: Yeah. Talk a bit about that, talk about why-

Michael Epps Utley: Yeah, so I think these days, SEO it’s well-known enough and the tactics are familiar enough to everybody, that it’s okay to just go ahead and purchase recommendations and execution.

Chris Raines: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And my next question, this will be the last thing we cover, is related to that. When you go into any engagement, there’s going to be things that you have to do and things that the vendor has to do. Sometimes you’re waiting on the vendor to give you things, sometimes the vendor is waiting on you. In a good engagement that’s a win for both parties, in your experience in working with painting contractors and people in the trades, what’s the balance of work, in terms of what the vendor does and what the client does?

Michael Epps Utley: Yeah, I’ll put that in two categories. The first category is functionally what needs to happen. And the second category is, what do you need to be good at? Functionally, you need to be prepared, and think about how to do this, to get some photographs. Any trades work, whether it’s a roof, a landscape, or … We just started working with a home … SearchPrimer just picked up a home renovations company here in middle Tennessee. We have painters in Boston, Chicago, we’re talking to a company out in Oregon this week. Those companies are all over the place, what they know better is what job sites are going to, and what they’re fixing, what they’re changing for consumers or for commercial companies.

They need to get pictures, before and after pictures. Those are really valuable. The second thing, and this is still in the category of functionally, what do you need to be prepared to deliver. Providing phone interviews to writers, so they can produce content, that’s really valuable. And it’s good because it gets the onus off of you to have to sit down and write something. You’re not gonna take time to do that. But you just need to be available to talk on the phone, answer some questions, say, “Oh yeah, that’s a picture of this. Yeah, here’s what we did there.” If they’re good writers, and they’re good at what they’re doing and working in a good SEO workflow, they can take a handful of bullet points and run with it, and create a really good piece of material for your website.

So those are the two functional things, pictures and phone interviews, you need to be ready to do. Now then, on a different side, what do you need to do well, for the relationship to go well? I think you need to be able to be really good at saying what you like and what you don’t like. I think you need to make decisions quickly, rather than delaying them or trying to go back and have a committee meeting. We move fast, and sometimes the world will change around us if we take too long to think of something. So I think being pretty quick to make a decision, remembering that a lot of the stuff is digital, it can be changed pretty easily.

If you try something on a website and you see lead volume suffer, change it back. If you don’t try anything though, you’re not gonna make improvements. You gotta break a few eggs to make some omelets, and that means changing things, seeing what works, listening to creative ideas. We don’t really have this happen very often, but in my previous life working for companies, people would say things as a reason for not doing something, like, “We don’t do it that way here.” Or, “That’s just not how we do it.”

And if I heard that from a client, I would say, “Here’s the deal. I’m gonna grow your traffic, I’m gonna grow your leads. You’re gonna have to try some new things.” And so I think being open to creativity, being quick to make decisions, understanding that everything we’re doing is testing. Those are some of the things I think are success factors.

And overall, best thing you can do is just have fun. If you’re working with a vendor, treat them respectfully. They owe you something, you owe them something. You’re working together, it’s a partnership, it doesn’t have to be miserable.

Chris Raines: Life is short. You should enjoy the people that you work with.

Michael Epps Utley: Yeah. There’s a lot of dark humor around punishing vendors or making them sweat. I don’t know, what we do is valuable, I don’t really feel a need to get cornered by somebody. But yeah, so I think having fun, being respectful, being curious about what is possible, asking good questions. Those are good things. But if you’ve got a good vendor in place, you’re gonna feel the confidence and the productivity on their side, as you’re working through things. So I think it’s a balance. But yeah. Phone interviews, pictures, those are good functional things, and then besides that, just being a good person to work with and a good partner.

Chris Raines: Yeah. That’s great Michael. And if anybody wants to reach out to you, I know you’re up to just hopping on the phone with someone and just advising them on anything. Even if SearchPrimer isn’t the vendor, or no vendor is hired. Why don’t you give people … What’s a good email address to reach out to you, personally, just to ask you questions about this kind of stuff, because I know you like answering those questions.

Michael Epps Utley: Oh yeah. We love talking about it, and you can always send an email to, and we’ll get a link to you, to get on my calendar. Love talking about digital marketing, and love hearing about people’s businesses.

Chris Raines: Awesome. So if any of this stuff prompts more questions for you, more ideas or whatever, just reach out to that contact. Michael will be happy to walk you through that. But that’s all the time we have for right now. We’re about 22 minutes right now, so that’s great. We’ll catch you on the next one at Grow Your Painting Business. And that’s it. Thanks Michael.

Michael Epps Utley: Thank you.

Michael Epps Utley: The Grow Your Painting Business Podcast is a free service of Visit us today for more information on how you can grow your business using the latest tools in digital marketing.