Greg Kneebone and Steve Thompson established Tree Fellas in 1976 and in the last 45 years they’ve trimmed, chopped, mulched and cleared thousands of trees, hedges and stumps all over Auckland.
The business employs about 30 staff whose shared goal is to deliver first class tree work, with safety always top of mind.
Tree Fellas belongs to the International Society of Arboriculture and the New Zealand Arboricultural Association, and its happy customers include homeowners, commercial property owners, schools, golf courses, body corporates, local body councils, rest homes and more.
Arborist Ryan Kneebone has worked in the family business for more than 20 years and was pushing for improvements to Tree Fellas’ online presence long before he became General Manager in 2017. He’d started an Instagram page but never thought of it as advertising – rather as a story for the crew and, for clients, a visual representation of who’d be turning up at their house.
As GM, he quickly realised the business was paying a ‘phenomenal’ amount for online marketing and website management, but it wasn’t clear what they were getting in return. Tree Fellas was getting lost in web searches and although the marketing company reported on results, the reports were overly complicated and questions were answered with vague assurances that left Ryan none the wiser.
Ryan had been speaking to the marketing company for months, trying to understand why Tree Fellas wasn’t at the top of searches and wondering what was wrong with their image and story. Part of the problem was that the business was paying for 100 different search terms on Google Ads and none were generating any work.
In addition, the incumbent marketing company was practising ‘Like farming’, with social media posts designed to elicit Likes so that Facebook would give Tree Fella’s profile a higher ranking and expose it to more users. It looked good on the page, but none of the Likes translated to sales – and when Ryan sacked the marketing company, Tree Fellas’ social media following plummeted.
Meeting Ark Advance
“When I met Chris my first impression was a real honesty in comparison with the people I’d been speaking to for the last few months,” Ryan says.
“His honesty was quite brutal – he knew I was out of my depth and suggested I do a training course so we could then work together to create our online presence in a natural way.”
Ryan says Chris gave him clear, jargon-free explanations and he left the meeting refreshed and understanding what he was paying for.
Aiming to get genuine business rather than just looking good, Chris identified that Tree Fellas’ point of difference was its size, with half a dozen crews covering the Auckland region. He chose a more refined list of search terms on Google Ads and explained how that would work.
Ark Advance helped polish the copy for the website and online advertising, adding further optimisation to improve online visibility, and suggested what to focus on in the imagery. With a good photographer and crisp writing, Tree Fellas created a coherent and compelling story that immediately brought more conversions, and more work.
A few months after engaging Ark Advance, Ryan brought his account manager, office administrator and website designer to a half-day SEO training session with Chris, and brainstormed campaign ideas, the best way to run the accounts and exactly what the digital advertising budget should be spent on.
Ryan says the business now spends $2,500 a month on digital marketing and gets $30,000 a month in return – and he understands exactly what they’re paying for.
“The owners were reluctant at first, worried it would cost more, but pretty soon it started costing less and still does.”
Mid last year, Tree Fellas’ owners Greg and Steve asked Ryan for an accurate return on the digital marketing spend. He asked Chris, who suggested using their advanced analytics tracking tools that connect to the business’s online quoting system to match accepted quotes to advertising spend.
“We now know we’re getting $10-$15 return for every dollar we spend on Google,” Ryan says. “We could spend more and make more, but we can barely keep up with the work at the moment.”
Tree Fellas would always land on the first page of an online search before, but now they’re always right at the top of the search page. And they look more professional online.
Ryan says Chris was encouraging about Instagram and advised him to keep it as it was, fresh and organic rather than bombarding people with ads. IG has now become a good recruitment tool, with several arborists sending their CVs from overseas after seeing it and liking the look of the crew.
“I have a great rapport with Chris, he’s a super lovely guy and it’s never too serious, which I enjoy, but when we really need to sort something out, it gets done.”
Ryan and his team are now considering a website update with some new imagery to keep it fresh for returning customers. Testing different marketing options is an ongoing focus; Ark Advance will try something new for a few weeks and report back on whether or not the change has been effective.
“Everyone gauges trust differently but that’s what sold it for us, trusting them to do a better job for us,” Ryan says. It always comes back to that trust, as I’m still somewhat out of my depth.”