I know that there's been lots of talk about Houzz in the last week or so and many designers would really just like to take their profile off the site altogether.
I felt trapped myself a few years ago there and really wanted to leave the site.
I really looked into the situation and talked to the Houzz reps and realized that wouldn't be a good choice for me. I didn't like how they would basically put up a notice on your profile that said you were no longer active which basically made you look like you were out of business.
And it's one thing to have that message posted there, but all your images that had been uploaded to all the ideabooks all over their site would remain and anyone linking to your profile from any of those images would be taken to that profile with that message.
I felt that was such a sneaky tactic and that they had many, many other ways they were using to get all of us to give away the rights to our images and to feel trapped in their site. They were becoming a behemoth that would soon rule the home decor market and were using all kinds of strategies that were designed to have us, the designers or pros, promote them and build their site.
As a result, I adopted an attitude that I was basically finished with Houzz as a source of possible clients. I didn't want to be found on Houzz anymore, but if anyone did happen to find me there, I didn't want to look bad.
So, here's how I worked my profile.
If you have read my blog or followed me a bit on social media, you might know that I'm sort of in the camp that it's a good idea to answer questions from readers about projects.
Some designers don't, for several really good reasons, but I tend to share a lot on my blog and do answer questions there about projects.
However, sometimes the questions through the Houzz site, could become annoying and well, since they weren't on MY site, they were pretty much dead ends as far as real possible project leads. AND if I answered the question THERE, then why would anyone come to MY site?
The Questions through the houzz site were like these:
What is that paint color?
Can you tell me where you got the tile?
Better to write it out only once, IMO.
Yes. I'm a big fan of doing something once, publishing it, then linking to it whenever I need to. And even better if it is a juicy piece of info, something repetitively asked for, then it might need to go under lock and key for perhaps, an email address submission. :-)
At one time I had so many questions coming from houzz.
If Houzz actually shows your images to their audience (you know that now you have to pay for that privilege) then it is likely you are getting a lot of those questions.
Some of them can even be kind of demanding. Houzz users can sometimes tend to think all the pros on there are ready and waiting to answer any questions and help them with their own projects right there on the Houzz site, for free.
Well, Houzz actually encourages that, as we all know, so it is no wonder they've groomed their audience to expect that.
At one point, for me, it was just getting out of hand. I was getting so many, and if I didn't answer, sometimes people became rude. I didn't really want that to show up on my page there. I wanted to look helpful and open but......
I wanted the repetitive, dead-end questions via the Houzz website to stop.
We all know that most of those questions come from people who aren't going to hire a designer anyway. They want to get the info and DIY their project themselves.
However, what Houzz knows, what I know.....is that chatting and conversations on websites shows Google that your site is giving people what they want as a source of information. All that traffic coming in that stays on that site for a few minutes, getting an answer to a question, answering a question, etc., is great SEO.......
And we all know, Houzz is great at getting everything THEY want.
We all know Houzz is the absolute KING of figuring out how to get people to come to their site and stay on it.
Designer and Pro websites, Q & A sessions, blog type articles, those awards that get Designers to embed the link into their websites (yep, I have a bunch too).......those are all ways they use to get links and traffic to their site, so that their site becomes the end-all of home design.
Well, they have definitely achieved that goal.
So, because I know Google likes seeing activity on websites, because I want traffic to come to MY SITE, and I want good, qualified traffic and inquiries, I found a solution that turned the tables a bit and cut down on the number of those questions.
I wrote this phrase, below, on some of my most popular photos on the site, the photos that kept getting questions.
"To obtain sources, copy and paste this link into your browser. http://carlaaston.com/designed/before-after-the-extraordinary-remodel-of-an-ordinary-custom-builder-home / Photographer, Tori Aston"
(Here's the link to that image on Houzz) - Gee, I hate sending them traffic.
Here's a link to that blogpost where I share the sources at the bottom. They have to leave their name and email address and then the link to the sources pops up right away.
Now, back to the Houzz site.
I found that some people who really wanted the info, did go to my blogpost of that project and got what they wanted on MY site.
Yes, I'm sure it is just a small portion of the people that likely had questions and wanted them answered.
But, guess what?
I believe it filtered the random, useless (to me) questions out, and left the more serious ones, the people that might possibly be interested in hiring a designer, OR just the people that were really curious about that project.
And you gotta love someone who works that hard to come to your website! Right?
Here's the thing, it doesn't make me look stingy with information, but it requires an end user to come to my site to get the answer.
I'm not going to give Houzz any help here.
Here's another way I have done the redirecting to my site for questions.
This project is about 10 years old and has been on Houzz a long time. (You can tell by how many saves it has.)
It is also posted on my old blog (a different url) and was redirected to my new site about 5 years ago. Because it is a redirect, I can't go in and edit the post to add a form for a source list.
Instead, on this project, when people email me, and they still do occasionally, I manually add their email to my shared Google doc with all the info on it. I put it on "view only" so they can't edit the doc. This way I don't have to personally email them back, unless I want to, but they get the info they wanted.
And finally, here is yet another way I have served up source lists for readers for popular projects where I kept getting questions.
I put them in my outlet shop as a digital download that had to be purchased, for $5, linked at the bottom of their posts.
What this did was earn me a little bit of money, capture an email for my email list, and give the end user exactly what they were looking for in a neat little package that I didn't have to tend to at all.
And you know what? I only had one single complaint on my site in the few years I've been doing this. It was in a comment, someone was upset they had to pay for the answer to their sourcing questions.
For me, this was so worth it. It put a stop to all that time spent building up Houzz's site (no, thank you), freed my time up, sent potential contacts to my own site who were more interested in my work, and didn't make me look too bad in the eyes of their end user.
Not only that, it withheld that project's source information in a more private response, rather than blurting it all out all over my blog and most especially, the Houzz website.
Responding to possible project inquiries
So sometimes I get people who contact me through Houzz for a project. You know, I get the email and Houzz tells me someone is waiting for a response, etc.
Of course, there's the link to get on over to their site and answer right away! And they are counting the minutes of your response time too! Snap to it, Designer, or we will downgrade you in our algorithm!
Houzz' automated response for a homeowner seeking a pro is something like, "I have a project I'd like to talk to you about. You can contact me at this number."
How about a form with a few details required, Houzz?
If I have a possible potential client asking me to contact them about their project, I also send them to my website for further information.
Here's my typical response that I copy and paste into the Houzz form.
"Thank you for contacting me. I have lots of info about how I work and the type of projects we are seeking at this link. (Houzz will let you put a link here.)
You can see more images of my work and read some of the stories behind the design in my more expansive portfolio on my website.
Feel free to contact me through my website upon review. I look forward to hearing from you!"
Here is the result of my response method.
If someone contacts me after seeing my work on Houzz, through my own website, then they have jumped through a few hoops to reach out and therefore really want to chat.
That is a potential client that I am much more interested to spend time with talking or emailing back because they've likely read about my minimum design fee, the budget for the type of projects I am seeking, the different levels of service I offer. They can see themselves fitting into one of those levels.
I've spent a lot of time and effort, describing and honing my services and offerings for public viewing on my site. It is the way I begin to filter clients.
I've also spent way too many hours emailing and talking with people who weren't ideal for my business or the way I work, simply because they didn't take the time to even visit my website. I've learned, that is not a good use of my time and can get me involved in homeowner questions, favors, and projects that aren't well suited for me.
I'm at a point in my career where I have to do some filtering before they call.
Houzz doesn't really give me any traffic these days.
Am I getting lots of Houzz traffic these days? No, because I don't pay and have never paid. All the questions came at a time back when they were just converting over to paid accounts for designers.
Speaker at DBC to share how to rock houzz
There's a speaker at the Design Bloggers Conference coming up, Kate O'Hara of Martha O'Hara Interiors. She is going to talk all about how her firm gets so much business through Houzz and what they do to keep that business coming in.
I heard her on LuAnn Nigara's podcast discussing the same topic. Basically, their firm answers every question that they get from Houzz, completely and openly, on the Houzz website.
But, guess what? They have a full time person who is dedicated to those responses on staff. Now honestly, what small business person can afford to do that? I think for most small business owners, this is an unrealistic and likely unprofitable use of time.
I understand that for them, the number of their projects pays beyond what an additional employee would be. I get it. Their ROI must be huge.
However, Houzz hasn't worked that way for most other people. Designers complain about a lack of serious leads from Houzz all the time. Designers who pay.
I also think that might have worked better, starting that process years ago, like they did. I believe now that Houzz is flooded with designers, starting that practice these days would be more difficult to make that method work. And really, as many have found it, there is no guarantee you will get serious inquiries.
While I totally respect the large design firm, beautiful work, and quantity of traffic the O'Hara design firm gets from Houzz, it doesn't mean a smaller business or solopreneur will get the same results from Houzz these days.
Just like any marketing ploy, what worked to help someone scale and become famous five years ago, one year ago, even two months ago (ahem....Facebook), isn't working now. Algorithms change (often without us knowing), and the sheer quantity of general noise generated also makes for a different experience for others.
Possible solution instead of dropping houzz completely
I'm offering this up as an option, after all the crazy stuff happening with Houzz in these recent days.
I would suggest that you not delete your account. That maybe you just try a way to redirect people to yours.
Who knows? Maybe Houzz will do a bit of an about face and come back to providing a win/win for designers and homeowners. If you're still on their site, then all you have to do is go in and edit your image descriptions.
I just wanted to share an option with you all, in lieu of getting off of Houzz entirely.
If you are relatively new to the business or you are anxious to talk to all of those possible leads, then certainly....this solution might not be for you.
Sign a Petition
If you want to add your voice to the movement of designers out there who are tired of the way Houzz uses their images and feel like they misrepresented themselves and their goals to Designers, click this link to sign a petition designed to get Houzz to pay attention to our issues.
My friend, Laurie Laizure, admin of the Interior Design Community on Facebook and a strong advocate for our profession, organized this petition which hits all the hot topics. It is steadily growing with lots of active, working designers, just like me, who have signed. :-)
I know this post and my previous ones have been really long! I promise...they won't all be like this!