Fairly or unfairly, the UK’s construction industry has a reputation for being slow to embrace digital transformation. However it is clear that this is starting to change. According to recent research, over half of construction product manufacturers anticipate increased investment in e-commerce as we emerge from the pandemic¹.
From builders’ merchants and suppliers, to developers, consultants, contractors and sub-contractors, businesses from all areas of the UK’s construction industry are finding that their customers are turning online more than ever before.
Koozai’s Construction Industry Search Report: 2022 includes:
Real world relationships in construction will always be important. However, customers from all areas of construction are increasingly more likely to be a millennial and to turn to Google to find what they are looking for. 85% of B2B buyers now prefer using self-service tools for reordering over talking to a sales rep², making it increasingly difficult for construction companies to underinvest in ecommerce. Recent research shows that over 98% of people now prefer to conduct their research for products and services online too.
Our report reveals that approximately 2.5 million Google searches were made for building suppliers in the UK over the last year alone. This number expands into many more millions of searches for different types of construction products, services and brands.
Our research also indicates that ecommerce is playing a larger role in British construction. The estimated value of sales from UK construction businesses has grown by 228.57% (from £0.7 to £2.3 billion) over the last decade and by 64.28% (from £1.4 to £2.3 billion) in the last five years.
However, the digital world can be tricky to navigate, with the pandemic having further impacted search demand as well as how, when and why people search for construction topics online.
As specialists in digital marketing for the construction industry, we have put together this report with the aim of demystify the digital world and to give you a clearer picture of what people are searching for in UK construction.
Our digital strategists have used Google search data to group commonly searched for key words and phrases in construction over the last three months to produce this report, comparing trends against previous years and months to unveil what’s trending.
With the pandemic having had a sustained impact on search demand throughout the year, our research first looked at how demand for different types of construction companies has stood up over the last few months. The below table shows that monthly search demand for grouped keywords related to building supplies, merchants / suppliers, consultants, contractors and sub contractors has been strong. As to be expected, searches for building suppliers were highest, however searches for other types of business were also strong with intent for these keywords likely to be strong.
Online demand for general construction goods and services has increased by 0.09% in the last 3 months compared to the previous quarter. However, this represents strong online demand given that this figure is compared to the previous three months, which also saw very healthy search demand.
Online search demand for keywords related to construction consultants (-11.26%) and contractors (-6.33%) has dipped slightly, while demand for contractors has risen (5.68%). With fluctuations in search demand similar to this seen across different quarters, these small charges are likely to be down to seasonal factors rather than an indication of a substantial change in demand.
Search volume for keywords related to building supplies and merchants has risen by 33.49% in the last quarter compared to the previous one. This could be a reflection of the construction materials shortage³, which is currently causing issues with product availability across the construction supply chain.
Fuelled in some part by the pandemic, Brexit, a shortage of lorry drivers in the UK and other global factors, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s latest Monthly Statistics of Building Materials and Components report shows that the year-on-year cost of materials increased by 23.6% in September this year⁴.
The below table shows how online search demand for some of the most commonly bought building materials has also grown substantially, including for cement, sand, gravel, bricks, building blocks and slate.
Search interest for keywords related to the supply chain in construction are also up by 6.92% quarter-on-quarter, illustrating either a modest increase in awareness of the issue or a wish among professionals to educate themselves about how the supply chain issues are impacting the industry.
There are some brilliant examples of digital marketing campaigns in the construction industry. However, our research suggests that a lack of inhouse skills is the most common challenge facing construction businesses when it comes to promoting their businesses online.
We recently ran a survey, which found that 44% of construction industry professionals believe that their businesses lack the skills needed to properly implement an effective digital marketing strategy. Carried out during our digital marketing webinar for construction websites with 101 registrants, the poll quizzed construction marketing and business professionals about the biggest challenges they face in digital marketing.
It also found that a third (33%) of construction industry professionals believe that their businesses lack time to oversee digital marketing activity. 17% said that a lack of budget was the biggest obstacle to digital marketing success. Just 6% said that there was a lack of buy-in in digital marketing from senior decision makers.
These findings come as online sales of construction products and services continue to rise. According to the latest Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures, online sales in construction have grown by £1.6 billion in the last ten years.
However, the ONS figures also suggest that most construction businesses are yet to fully embrace online marketplaces. Just 5.5% of construction businesses are making ecommerce sales compared to 22.8% of manufacturing businesses, 24.3% of information and communication services businesses, 28.6% of UK businesses overall, 44.1% of wholesale businesses, and 48.3% of retail businesses.
Our digital strategists also looked at search demand around keywords related to common trends and issues that have been impacting the construction industry at large. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the below bar chart reveals that people are searching for construction jobs more than any other construction related topic in this report.
With over 220,000 average monthly searches in the last quarter for keywords related to jobs in the construction industry, it is the most talked about construction topic in this study. However, average monthly searches for keywords associated with the skills gap problem in construction came in at less than 1,500, having decreased by 29.73% quarter-on-quarter.
According to a recent survey of 6,000 workers⁵, 24% of workers are planning a career change in the coming months, with construction workers among the most confident that they would be able to find a new role. This, combined with the construction industry’s aging population and image problem among young graduates, could pose the sector significant challenges in the coming months and years.
There were nearly 68,000 searches for grouped keywords related to marketing in UK construction over the past three months, representing a quarter-on-quarter rise of 15.25%. Although we have recently seen construction output rise⁶, output had slowed earlier in the year. Increased hunger for information about marketing for construction businesses may have been spurred by several factors.
What has caused this is likely to be highly context dependent. For some it may be down to the fact that B2B buyers are increasingly turning to search engines to look for the best prices on products, especially during the pandemic. Whether its to drum up business or to capitalise on a wave of increased demand, both surges in revenue and decreases in output can be impetus for businesses to seek marketing support – just for different reasons.
Over 64,000 searches were made for grouped keywords associated with the VAT domestic reverse charge in construction in the last few months, representing a significant quarter-on-quarter rise in searches of 39.94%. This finding follows recent changes to VAT for some construction businesses which came into effect earlier this Spring.
The VAT domestic reverse charge for building and construction services was a change made by the government in how VAT for certain kinds of construction services (and related building materials) is handled. It means that businesses providing construction services to a VAT-registered client do not have to account for the VAT, with the client accounting for the VAT instead. In laymen’s terms, this means that for services they provide, sub-contractors now require the contractor employing them to make the VAT payments directly to HMRC.
There were also 32,000 searches related to keywords associated with sustainability in construction. However, this represents a quarter-on-quarter drop in search volume of 8.25%, which is perhaps a little surprising given the recent focus on the environment and COP26. Technology in construction was also one of the most searched about topics of the last quarter, with over 24,500 searches made for keywords related to this topic.
Although searches for keywords related to topics such as inflation and supply chain issues in construction were low, it is anticipated that interest in these topics may rise as they start to become more prevalent issues for the construction industry.
With the end of the year fast approaching, we identified the largest UK construction and building improvements companies⁷ and analysed the number of online searches for these businesses to unveil the most famous construction industry brands on the internet.
The below table illustrates that Homeserve, Balfour Beauty and Morgan Sindall are among the top three most famous brands online.
|Rank||Company||Average number of monthly searches in the last year|
|2||Balfour Beatty plc||22200|
|3||Morgan Sindall Group plc||12100|
|5||Laing O’Rourke plc||9900|
|8||Willmott Dixon Holdings Ltd||9900|
|9||Galliford Try plc||8100|
|12||Mick George Ltd||8100|
|13||Bouygues (UK) Ltd||6600|
|15||Lendlease Construction (Europe) Ltd||6600|
|16||Mears Group plc||6600|
|17||Costain Group plc||6600|
|18||FP McCann Group Ltd||5400|
|19||Kier Group plc||5400|
|20||Newarthill Ltd (Sir Robert McAlpine)||5400|
|21||NG Bailey Group Ltd||5400|
|22||BAM Nuttall Ltd||4400|
|23||SDC (Holdings) Ltd||4400|
|24||FM Conway Ltd||3600|
|25||Keltbray Group (Holdings) Ltd||3600|
|28||J Reddington Ltd||2400|
|32||McLaren Construction Group plc||2400|
|33||Rydon Group Ltd||2400|
|34||Winvic Group Ltd||2400|
|35||MV Kelly Ltd||1900|
|36||Novus Property Solutions Ltd||1900|
|37||Watkin Jones plc||1900|
|38||Buckingham Group Contracting Ltd||1900|
|39||Emcor Group (UK) plc||1900|
|40||United Living Group Ltd||1900|
|41||HG Construction Ltd||1600|
|43||M Group Services Ltd||1600|
|44||Wates Group Ltd||1600|
|45||Axis Europe plc||1300|
|47||Henry Boot plc||1300|
|48||JN Bentley Ltd||1300|
|49||Northstone (NI) Ltd||1300|
|50||Skanska UK plc||1300|
|51||Ardmore Construction Ltd||1000|
|53||Hill Partnerships Ltd||1000|
|54||Integral UK Ltd||1000|
|55||Speller Metcalfe Ltd||1000|
|56||SSE Contracting Ltd||1000|
|57||CCG (Scotland) Ltd||880|
|58||Eric Wright Group Ltd||880|
|59||Renew Holdings plc||880|
|60||RG Carter Holdings Ltd||880|
|62||Robertson Group (Holdings) Ltd||880|
|63||Gratte Brothers Group Ltd||880|
|64||Esh Holdings Ltd||880|
|65||Bowmer & Kirkland Ltd||720|
|66||McLaughlin & Harvey Ltd||720|
|67||Engie Regeneration Ltd||590|
|68||HW Martin Holdings Ltd||590|
|69||Keller Group plc||590|
|71||BAM Construct UK Ltd||480|
|72||BW Interiors Ltd||480|
|73||Carey Group Ltd||480|
|74||Ferrovial Construction (UK) Ltd||480|
|75||John Graham Holdings Ltd||480|
|76||McAleer & Rushe Contracts UK Ltd||480|
|77||Midas Group Ltd||480|
|78||Tide Construction Ltd||480|
|79||The Clancy Group Ltd||480|
|80||Eurovia UK Ltd1||390|
|81||Geoffrey Osborne Ltd||390|
|82||OHOB Holdings Ltd||390|
|84||VolkerWessels UK Ltd||390|
|85||Briggs & Forrester (UK) Ltd||320|
|86||William Hare Group Ltd||320|
|87||Amey UK plc||260|
|88||Byrne Group Ltd||210|
|89||Caddick Group plc||210|
|90||Erith Holdings Ltd||210|
|91||J Murphy & Sons Ltd||210|
|92||Higgins Group plc||170|
|93||John Sisk & Son Ltd||170|
|94||Ogilvie Group Ltd||140|
|95||Tarmac Trading Ltd||110|
|96||Readie Construction Ltd||100|
|97||Seddon Group Ltd||90|
|98||Sureserve Group plc||90|
|99||Henry Construction Projects Ltd||50|
|100||Multiplex Construction Europe Ltd||50|
Methodology: To produce this report our digital strategists analysed publicly available search data from Google’s Keyword Planner. We used the most up to date available date data (at the time of publication) for the last three months (August to October 2021) to provide search volumes. This data was also analysed and compared against data for the previous three months (May to July 2021) to calculate quarter-on-quarter percentage changes. Unless otherwise indicated, the search data in this reports illustrates combined approximate search volumes for groups of related keywords. To create keyword groups we started by using a few product or theme specific keywords for each area of analysis and then created groups of keywords on that area based on Google Keyword Planner’s suggestions.
Data from Statista was also used to look at the estimated value of website sales for UK construction companies. The area of this report marked ‘Which Construction Brands Are The UK’s Most Famous?’ uses search data for the last year (November 2o20 to October 2021) for the most common searches for brand terms related to each company on this list. This was done for the top 100 construction companies in 2021, as identified by the Construction Index⁷.
¹Construction Product Manufacturers to Increase Investment in E-commerce following Covid-19 (constructionproducts.org.uk)
²11 Reasons Why the Construction Industry Needs Ecommerce | For Construction Pros
³Construction Materials Shortage: ‘Demand Outstrips Supply’ | Homebuilding
⁴Building materials and components statistics: September 2021 – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
⁵‘The Great Resignation’: almost one in four UK workers planning job change | Work & careers | The Guardian
⁶Construction output shows fastest rise in four months | Construction Enquirer News
⁷Top 100 Construction Companies 2021 | Construction Company Directory (theconstructionindex.co.uk)
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