The ins & outs of Houzz


This online platform may give residential landscape designers and design/build firms a boost.

Matthew Cunningham of Boston-based Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design knows why he’s smitten with Houzz.com, a free, online visual portfolio that links professionals like him to homeowners seeking to improve their homes, inside or outside.

Having promoted his business on the website for 18 months now, Houzz has brought Cunningham five new clients and projects diverse in scope and style. Cunningham marvels that for one project he acquired through the website, he developed a complete master plan for a home in Maine, even though the client was based in Texas. That arrangement may sound like a logistical nightmare, but Cunningham says Houzz made it easy for him to see what his Texas clients wanted based on the examples saved in their Houzz accounts.

What’s Houzz?

Essentially, it’s an online platform that connects homeowners to designers and home improvement professionals. Founded in 2009, Houzz was founded by a husband and wife who were renovating their home and grew frustrated at the lack of tools for finding good ideas and professionals to get the job done. So they developed their own. A year later, they quit their day jobs. Houzz grew more than 450 percent in 2012 to 12 million monthly unique users. In late January, the site launched Houzz Pro+, a paid marketing program for professional users, which has sold out in several major markets.

The site itself is free and anyone can create a profile, upload images or gather ideas or inspiration. Once visitors create an account, they also can create “Ideabooks,” where

they may stash photographs for later reference and keep them private or public. For homeowners, it puts an end to tearing out magazine pictures to share with designers and contractors. For professionals, it provides inspiration, a glimpse into clients’ desires and a way to share design ideas.

When professionals upload images of their work to Houzz, those photos are linked directly back to their profiles, making it easy for viewers to find out more about the service providers—a

nd access their contact information once they’re ready to make their move. The site also includes discussion boards and places for professional-homeowner interaction.

Who visits Houzz? According to the site, 89 percent of its viewers are homeowners with an average home value of $450,000. Research shows these viewers plan to spend $5,900 on a deck or porch addition or alteration within two years and $7,600 on a patio or landscape addition or replacement.

Should you use Houzz?

As of press time, there were nearly 13,700 landscape contractors and 4,600 landscape architects/designers with professional profiles on Houzz. The site may be usef

ul for any Green Industry professional who has excellent photos of its work—but it shines when it comes to spotlighting designers and design/builders.

Luckily, professionals don’t need to be tech savvy to use Houzz. Jamyn Simonik is the point person for Houzz at Smalls Landscaping in Valparaiso, Ind. She calls it “easy peasy” and not time consuming, unless you fall into the black hole of searching the site’s more than 1 million images. She estimates she spends 30 minutes a week on updates and says if you kn

ow enough to put .com at the end of an email, you can use Houzz.

Even Cunningham, who prefers to do his individual master plan drawings by hand on paper for each of the 20 to 30 residential projects he does each season, finds the site user friendly. But make no mistake: The site is about images, and that’s where Cunningham has a leg up; he’s a photographer as well as a landscape designer.

Those with excellent photographs have an advantage because it’s more likely viewers will “save” them or comment on them. The site’s algorithm also takes into account keywords, descriptions, comments, questions and the presence of price tags, says Liza Hausman, vice president of community at Houzz. All of these factors drive a firm’s images to the front page of the site, thus exposing the professional’s name to the forefront of homeowners’ views.

Many uses

Karen Chapman, owner of Seattle-based firm Le Jardinet, which specializes in residential container and small garden design, was too busy to look into Houzz until she was asked to write for the site in September as its Pacific Northwest regional garden writer. The coauthor of Fine Foliage, a soon-to-be-published book on ways to combine foliage in gardens and containers, Chapman writes for Houzz, turning out Ideabooks on topics related to landscaping in the Northwest, container gardening and color-focused design. Once she took a look at the site, Chapman says she was thrilled with its resources. She taps Houzz to create “look at this” Ideabooks for clients. Chapman says it’s better than showing a client an on-site slide show, partly because they may view it anytime they want to, even “11 p.m. at night.”

Like Chapman, Nancy Marshall, co-owner of Smalls Landscaping, a winner of a Best of Houzz 2013 Customer Satisfaction award—uses the site for inspiration, discovery and to display the company’s mainly residential work.

She first took a look at the

site after a client told her about it. “I was blown away,” she says. “Four hours later, I was addicted.” The firm, with $3 million in annual revenue, prides itself on unusual designs, and Houzz gives Marshall and her partner and sister, Becky Whitacre, easy access to the unique plants and ideas they like.

“We like to think way outside the box,” says Whitacre. One of her first searches was for visual ideas for building a “Hobbit house” landscape. A train garden was another focus for a Houzz search.

Smalls has been using Houzz for less than a year, but Simonik, the CAD specialist who keeps the company’s Houzz profile and Ideabooks updated, says it’s worth the time spent even if a user hasn’t garnered business directly from it yet.

“It’s exactly what we do,” she says. “We’re a design firm and it lets clients see what we do and it helps clients decide what they want.”

It also saves the firm time on the telephone, says Simonik. Instead of answering those random questions, such as “when should trees be trimmed,” many of those answers are eit

her available on Houzz or Smalls can answer a client’s questions easily through the site.

Cunningham also appreciates the ability to connect with clients and answer questions from anywhere, anytime.

“It has made my connections with clients stronger,” he says. He values the site as an advertising medium more so than regional print magazines. He predicts the site will give the landscape design/build industry a boost by helping clients realize the importance of design and landscaping—and getting the job done right the first time.

“Houzz makes the importance of design relevant and shows people what a good designed space looks like,” says Cunningham.

How to use Houzz

Getting started on Houzz.com and making the most of this free, online visual portfolio is easy—if you know how. Start with these tips.

  1. Don’t be afraid. Dive in to creating a profile, and if problems crop up, Houzz offers free resources, videos and tutorials, including how to take the photographs you’ll need to get noticed. If online help isn’t for you, real people answer the telephone at Houzz and they’re willing to help.
  2. Start with great images. Remember Houzz is a visual portfolio. Liza Hausman, vice president of community for Houzz, recommends uploading at least 10 images. A primary way your company’s images rise to the top of the site is based on how often they’re added to Ideabooks. The more beautiful your images, the more likely they are to be added to others’ Ideabooks. If you don’t havesharp images, get them, advises Ken Lewis of ClientExpander, an internet marketing firm. If the cost is holding you up, he suggests turning to Craigslist.org or a local college to find an aspiring photographer. He also suggests bartering with a professional photographer to get good images of your work. “If the image is not crisp and clear, no one is going to put it in their Ideabook,” he says.
  3. Use images you already have. But make sure they are yours to use. Many firms have photographs of past projects already sitting on their shelves, but Brianne Dawson, marketing manager of Marketri, says ensure you own the rights to them. If the images were taken by a photographer outside of your firm, in addition to gaining permission to use them, you may want to offer him or her a photo credit for the images via a small watermark.
  4. Write great captions.
    They should tell a story and add context, Lewis says. A good caption hooks viewers and makes it more
    likely they’ll share the image and addit to their Ideabooks. Include keywords in the captions, as they also can raise your ranking.
  5. Ask clients to write reviews. And make it easy for them. Lewis suggests handing out business cards at the end of successful jobs, thanking them and asking specifically for a review on Houzz (don’t forgetto include a direct URL). You even can offer to write something yourself and ask them to approve it. Such testimonials give you online credentials and as Dawson notes, “People love to read testimonials and people trust them. When they trust you, they’ll reach out to you when they’re ready to do business.”
  6. Ask friends, family and clients to add your images to their Ideabooks. Don’t be shy. Remember, the formula for top ranks includes how many Ideabooks your images are added to.
  7. Be proactive, engage andparticipate. Your profile on Houzz gets a boost through your interaction. Give yourself a leg up by getting involved in communities and discussions and by sharing your expertise. Dawson suggests looking for questions you can answer. This interaction gives homeowners insight into how you work and your personality.And if they like your attitude,they’ll be more likely to contact you. Designate a person or set time aside to steer your Houzz activity. At Smalls Landscaping, Houzz point person Jamyn Simonik uploads new photographs and keeps tabs on user questions. Matthew Cunningham of Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design sets time aside at the end of each day to answer questions and such, which he can do from anywhere via the site’s mobile apps.
  8. Consider a professional. Rather work outdoors than on a computer? Those who are unsure about navigating the site may want to enlist an expert, says Lewis. If you decide to go pro for your Houzz efforts, make sure the consultant has expertise with Internet marketing and search engine optimization for your type of business—and that he or she’s not learning on your job.

How to say Houzz

The “Hou” in Houzz is pronounced “how”—Houzz is a combination of the words “house” and “buzz.”



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Dianna Borsi O'Brien

Dianna Borsi O’Brien is a freelance writer based in Columbia, Mo.

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