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Like many landscape architects, Scott Lankford once relied primarily on word-of-mouth referrals to drive business to his firm, Lankford Associates. Then, several years ago, Lankford tapped into a new source of potential clients through Houzz – a “community of more than 40 million homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals,” according to the website.

At the recommendation of another architect, who was attracting quite a bit of business through the online platform, Lankford set up a Houzz profile about seven years ago. Impressed by the site’s user-friendliness, he used it as an interactive project portfolio that could connect him with prospects who were searching for landscape architecture and design services.

“We get an awful lot of exposure from people who search online because Houzz is at the top of the search results. Whether people are looking for a landscape architect in Seattle or looking for us in particular, the Houzz site pops up above our website,” Lankford says.

Since then, Houzz has become Lankford’s “most successful marketing tool,” bringing in about 30 to 40 percent of his residential clients. With a solid five-star rating on the site, Lankford has received “Best of Houzz” awards every year since 2013, garnering recognition for both client satisfaction and design.

Get visual.

Houzz users can search the photo-centric site for products and services related to home improvement, décor, landscaping, lawn care and more – and then save photos and details to “Ideabooks” to inspire their next home project.

“Like they say, a picture is worth a thousand words,” Lankford says, “so our overall strategy (on Houzz) is to be very visual.”

Early on, Lankford took his own project photos, but now, he insists on hiring professionals. “The images are the most important thing you can put (on Houzz),” he says. “It’s very important to use professional photography.”

Since 90 percent of Houzz users are homeowners, Lankford focuses primarily on residential projects (which make up about 80 percent of his business) and saves commercial, municipal, mixed-use and multifamily work for his website.

Variety is important: While your biggest, most expensive projects might look impressive, they could drive away clients with smaller yards who presume you’re too big for them if that’s all they see.

Be descriptive.

As critical as images are on Houzz, Lankford says it’s equally important to post well-written explanations with each photo. Incorporating the appropriate keywords into these captions can help get your photos in front of homeowners searching for specific features or services.

“The hardest part is to do the write-ups on the individual images,” says Lankford, who writes these descriptions himself. Although he’s passing down some Houzz duties to another associate on his team, these descriptions are difficult to outsource to someone who’s not directly involved with projects.

Lankford leverages keyword research to spotlight certain design elements (like stone walkways, pools, patios and retaining walls) and garden concepts (like low-maintenance, drought-resistant, or salt-tolerant) that homeowners might search for.

“Don’t be too wordy,” he says. “Just use simple descriptions.”

Collaborate with clients.

Although Houzz’s greatest value is as a marketing channel to generate leads, Lankford also uses it as a design tool to collaborate with his clients. He encourages them to create Ideabooks on Houzz by saving images of garden styles that appeal to their preferences. Then, he uses their examples to guide his recommendations.

“If they’re mentioning a stone patio, well, there’s an awful lot of ways to build a stone patio,” he says. “The more images we have that (show what) the client likes, we can pick up the feel and style that they’re after.”

Increase exposure.

Lankford’s Houzz profile boosts his firm’s presence, both locally and internationally.

“We’re exposed to folks all over the world,” says Lankford, who has seen articles featuring his firm’s work as far as Russia, Scandinavia and Asia.

Lankford knows that word-of-mouth and websites alone are not enough to grow a business in today’s tech-connected world. To generate and close more leads today, landscape professionals need a strong online presence on platforms like Houzz that can accelerate their exposure to more prospects.

“We flat-out tell our contractors to get on Houzz,” Lankford says. “It’s been the most successful marketing tool we use. It’s much less expensive than creating a custom website, and it’s very easy (and free) to set up. We tell everybody to set up an account on Houzz, and they’ll get the exposure they need.”

The author is a freelance writer based in Ohio.