Click on the website of Kirschner Siding & Windows, and you read the Owatonna, Minn., company's story, hear its radio jingle, see projects, meet its people. When owner Dean Kirschner runs a sales appointment, he asks prospects how they got the company's number. Most say, “from the phone book.” So why spend $6,000 on a website? “It adds credibility,” Kirschner says, “and it puts us a cut above the competition.” It also makes his contact information available to homeowners outside the immediate vicinity. And Kirschner is thinking about the future. His daughters, who are in their 20s, have “probably never used the phone book,” he points out.

RURAL VS. URBAN Many home improvement companies in metropolitan areas invest heavily in online marketing. But contractors in rural markets often see little need for an online presence or online marketing. The combination of their reputation and the Yellow Pages are enough to make the phone ring.

Tom Audette of Three Deep Marketing, in St. Paul, Minn., an Internet marketer, says therein lies an opportunity for those willing to step it up — even if that only involves getting their companies listed on local search. “It's a lot easier for a small-town contractor to dominate his market online than a guy in Minneapolis,” Audette says. The relative lack of online competitors in rural or third-tier markets means that just being listed in Google's local search can vault a company onto page one of search rankings. Kirschner Siding & Windows turns up there, without having spent money on optimization or pay-per-click advertising. “You're not going to drive the huge volumes of traffic [that online marketers in metro areas do],” says Todd Bairstow, of Boston Internet marketer Keyword Connects, “but on a percentage basis, you can grab a bigger percentage of the people. It's a market-share builder.”

COST-EFFECTIVE Experts expect wider use of smartphones to increase Internet use in rural areas, making that medium the primary source for homeowners looking for contact information. “No matter how good your reputation is, you have to be where the eyeballs are, and the eyeballs are on the Internet,” says Ken Greene, vice president of Bring Me My Leads, an Internet marketing company that specializes in home improvement.

But just being there is not enough, Green and others say. Internet marketers need to prompt site visitors to action with offers on every Web page and to track the leads that their online marketing generates, which will show them they're getting more than they thought they were.