April 23, 2015
Case Study

Search Engine Marketing: 10-year program generates 90% of all leads

SUMMARY: Shortly after property disaster recovery company 911 Restoration was founded, its core team realized digital marketing was the future, and its then-current strategy of print Yellow Pages ads wasn't going to remain successful. That was 10 years ago.

Since that realization, the company has employed search engine marketing in the form of paid search and SEO tactics, which are tested daily on an ongoing basis. Learn how these tactics can now be directly attributed for 90% of leads generated by the company.
by David Kirkpatrick, Reporter

A decade ago, the marketing landscape was very different for consumer marketers. For example, 911 Restoration, a property disaster recovery company, was founded 12 years ago and conducted its marketing primarily via the printed Yellow Pages and word-of-mouth exposure.

Early in the company's existence, the three founders realized that the Internet was going to be the main way to reach new customers.

Miri Offir, Chief Marketing Officer, 911 Restoration, explained, "The three of us, and mainly me, were just sitting down day and night exploring the Internet — what it is, what are the expectations, what the future is going to be like and what adjustments we need to do in order to make the best of it. That was the first stage with the online marketing world."

Find out how 911 Restoration adapted to the digital marketing landscape and, in the process, created and continued to refine SEO and PPC programs that now generate 90% of the company's leads.


911 Restoration's main business is aiding property owners after water damage, but it also offers mold removal and testing, fire and smoke damage repair, sewage backup cleanup and disaster restoration services.

Given that set of services, the company's customers are homeowners and commercial property owners who have undergone some sort of disaster to their property and need 911 Restoration's recovery services. The company also markets to a totally different audience in seeking potential franchisees to put 911 Restoration outlets into new markets.

911 Restoration has franchises across the United States as well as branches in Canada. Offir said the company adds around three new branches per month and is expecting "dramatic growth" in 2015.


Because 911 Restoration was founded right around the advent of digital marketing as the dominant strategy over more traditional outlets such as print, radio and television, it faced a major marketing issue. For B2C companies seeking to easily reach end users, the company's main marketing goal — the print version of the Yellow Pages — wasn't an effective platform.

Fortunately for 911 Restoration, very early in its existence the founding team realized that the Internet was where its customers would search for its services and hopefully find the company. With that in mind, 911 Restoration began its search engine marketing (SEM) effort with pay-per-click (PPC) advertising and search engine optimization (SEO) effort 10 years ago.


The initial push in 911 Restoration's SEM effort was PPC ads, but Offir said keywords in the company's business area are very competitive. After taking a more measured approach to paid search, the team went after SEO to generate more organic leads to support the company's branches with more cost-effective lead generation.

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Offir said SEO particularly helped out smaller franchises that might have limited budgets or are just starting out in their location.

Step #1. Learn from the initial digital strategy

When 911 Restoration began its digital marketing efforts, the company didn't have an actual in-house marketing team. Because of that, it hired third party vendors for each piece:
  • SEO

  • PPC

  • Web design

  • Web development

Offir explained the problem with this approach for the company was that "We ended up spending a lot of money but not getting return on investment."

None of the separate elements were in sync with each other, resulting in an ineffective strategy.

She said, "They never really looked — all those people that we worked with — about how all those channels that we're using collaborate with each other. If someone saw you in SEO, did he eventually call you from PPC?"

Offir added, "We saw that we're spending so much money, and it's such a mess that we've decided to take control over the situation and do it ourselves."

The team took all the data collected by the various third party vendors and began learning the various pieces of digital marketing such as PPC ads and gaining Google certifications while taking over the entire digital strategy in-house.

Step #2. Develop the SEM strategy

The initial push was an aggressive dive into PPC ads, and the team also realized through its PPC strategy, it could spend $100 to get $1,000 in return through optimized campaigns.

An issue with PPC was 911 Restoration's industry keywords were in Offir's words, "very, very, very competitive."

Costs for PPC programs went up, and the team remained aggressive in paid search. However, over time, it became more careful with campaign keywords. Offir said they used technology to determine revenue-generating keywords.

Once it became clear that PPC, although effective, was going to require ongoing optimization and refinement, the team also became more focused on SEO practices in order to generate more cost-effective leads, especially for its newer franchises and franchises with more limited marketing budgets.

Offir said the main reason for the SEO focus was to make owning a 911 Restoration branch as smooth as possible for its operators.

Step #3. Put the right people into the right positions

Because 911 Restoration decided to focus internally for its digital marketing team, Offir said it was key to get the right people in the right positions.

"I know enough companies that have a writer, which is the SEO specialist, which is the social media specialist — like one person that does everything," she said. "I found that we need to have one person that has an expertise in a very certain profession in order to be the best out there."

For example, the team's writers only create content and a separate employee handles all the public relations.

Offir described personality being a key attribute 911 Restoration looked for when hiring team members for workplace chemistry. The next key factor was having employees who are passionate about their role within the team. She said knowledge was a third attribute, but this was not as important as character and passion because knowledge can be gained with experience.

Step #4. Continually test the SEM program

Offir said the team tests the entire SEM program, both PPC and SEO elements, on a daily basis and provided an example of how PPC campaigns are tested.

She explained that even if the program involves as many as 4,000 keywords, only 10 to 15% really perform all that well. To test this, the team divided its PPC program into different sections of small — what Offir referred to as minor — campaigns.

"We were really surprised to find that keywords that have been sitting there for a while and really didn't see any traffic suddenly started to get traffic and great conversion ratio at a much, much lower cost," Offir said.

911 Restoration's industry tended to bid on "water damage" coupled with a city name, such as, "water damage Salt Lake City," as the main keyword focus. Those keywords were very competitive. However, through testing, the team found other keywords that performed highly but were not nearly as competitive as the industry standard terms.

To run keyword tests, Offir said a certain keyword would be tagged and monitored through a reporting tool indicating the dates and type of experiment for tracking.

A document was created that was shared in weekly meetings across the company, which included:
  • Test start date

  • A thorough description of test

  • Purpose of the test

  • How long the test will run

  • And, once they are available, results of the test

"We celebrate everything. Literally celebrate everything," Offir said. "We always have experiments, and basically we have a file that everyone has access to, and they can always go there and see. We have weekly meetings where we announce, 'This is what we're going to experiment,' because we want everyone to participate, to bring their own ideas and maybe do the test better."

Step #5. React to search engine algorithm changes

As any marketer involved in SEO or SEM knows, search engines periodically change the ranking algorithm, and what once was a perfectly fine strategy can suddenly drop your website from page one of the SERP (search engine response page) to page 10.

911 Restoration faced this issue with Google's EDM (exact domain match) change in the fall of 2012. EDM is a domain with a keyword buried within the URL, such as WaterDamageAtlanta.com. Before the change, an EDM would score highly just by virtue of the keyword within the URL. After the change, EDM sites had to be given more attention with updated content and other SEO practices because the EDM alone wouldn't guarantee a high SEO ranking.

911 Restoration had what Offir described as thousands of EDM websites targeting specific regions with specific keywords.

After the change, the team essentially applied very aggressive SEO efforts — a detailed protocol for website content that included elements such as sentence structure, keyword density and characters per page — to its main websites, while still maintaining the EDM sites because those websites to continue to generate leads. Offir said they have noticed that as Google continues to refine its algorithm, those pages rise and fall in search rankings.

She added the current approach to the EDM websites is still being worked out.

"I'm still trying to figure out what would be the best way to make the best out them right now without going crazy with cost and time because it's thousands of websites."

Step #6. Structure content for SEO

The actual structure of website content impacts SEO. Part of this process for 911 Restoration is employing the protocol outlined in the previous step where its content writers kept to strict sentence structures, keyword densities and character count for each page.

The protocol differs depending on the keyword the content is based around. Offir said a competitive keyword would receive more content than a less valuable keyword.

Also knowing that many searches are based around questions, particularly on mobile devices where the user might be speaking to the phone rather than typing the search query, most of the pages on 911 Restoration's website are based around Q-and-A type content where a question is posed, such as "Does Water Damage Restoration Prevent Mold?" Then that question is immediately answered with targeted content.

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Step #7. Use responsive design for the mobile website

Offir said 911 Restoration's websites were mobile friendly, but at one time, the mobile site was separate, with a URL beginning with "m." A challenge with that approach was any website change, such as adding a new page, involved doubling that task — once for the main URL and again for the mobile URL.

The mobile website is now tied into the main URL via responsive design. Offir said the responsive website creates fewer complications for the team and leads to better search results as well.

She added that the team continues to test the responsive website for attributes, including load time, because the website utilizes a lot of images as well as content and citation.


Because the team at 911 Restoration tests its SEM program in some fashion every day, looking to improve both paid search performance and organic reach, one interesting result was a campaign that led to the cost of paid ads decreasing by 50%, while generating 40% more leads.

The key result of this search engine marketing program is that 90% of all leads generated by 911 Restoration can be attributed to either the PPC or SEO efforts, and the company said its franchisees can expect 30% yearly growth by participating in these marketing programs.

Offir said these results come down to 911 Restoration's personnel.

She explained, "If you have the right people, if you have the passionate people, if there's good chemistry, then there're no limits, and you can do everything. We literally treat everyone here as family."

Offir added that if employees are passionate, "they will do the extra steps, they will learn, and they'll make it and be super successful. That's the important thing because knowledge is something you can gain."

She also said other takeaways from these 10 years and running this SEM effort are to have experts handling each aspect of the programs, seek innovation (which 911 Restoration accomplishes through its testing program) and to continue to learn about subjects that affect the ongoing marketing plan.

Creative Samples

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  2. Q-and-A on webpage


911 Restoration

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