Credit: Illustration: Barry Blitt

Not long ago, a homeowner looking for a roofing, siding, or window contractor would comb through marriage mail coupons or pick up the Yellow Pages. Today, that homeowner is more likely to begin with a Google search online.

Google Adwords (pay-per-click–sponsored search advertising) allows you to capture that lead, usually at lower cost than Yellow Pages or marriage mail. In addition, Adwords offers control, flexibility, and instant market feedback that traditional media can't match.

CASH FLOW These days, a lot can change in a few weeks, and rather than commit to an annual Yellow Pages campaign or an expensive mailing, too many contractors choose to hold onto their cash and watch lead flow dwindle.

Adwords allows you to adjust your marketing investment on a daily basis. If a home show produces lots of leads, you can suspend your Adwords program for a few days. If your other lead sources fall short, you can increase your Adwords exposure and see results in hours.

MARKET FEEDBACK As an Adwords advertiser, you can monitor the number of searches being done for any product in your market. If the market shows increasing interest in one product category, adjust your advertising mix to meet that demand. You can test promotional offers by running two different Google ads and comparing the click-through rate. If you're considering a line extension, you can monitor searches in that category to measure demand.

MONETIZE DILIGENCE By studying and refining your Adwords program, you can increase your lead flow and hang on to your money.

First, prepare your Web site to convert Adwords traffic into leads. You'll need a special landing page and response mechanism that relate to your Adwords promotional hook.

Then set up an Adwords program and monitor it. Online marketing not your strength? Find a marketing firm that knows both home improvement and Adwords strategy to get started.

—John Stevens is with Peterson-Stevens, a marketing agency specializing in building brands and generating leads in the home improvement industry. 800.270.0911.