Maximizing Profits Through Your Web SitePosted 3/12/2006
By Colby Horton
To say that John Rush, AAM, owner of John's 4x4 in Boulder, Colo., and Fort Collins 4x4 in Fort Collins, Colo., has implemented the Internet into his business is an understatement. Everything he hands his customers has his Web address on it. His Web sites - johns4x4.com and ftcollins4x4.com - include an online store, appointment scheduler and several other innovative features that make them among the best in the business.
Head northwest about 1,200 miles to Jerry's Auto Repair in Pullman, Wash. Jerry Griebling, owner, subscribes to the concept of "redirective marketing." Simply stated, the concept means all of the shop's marketing efforts, whether it's his street sign, coupons, radio or print advertising, are redirected to the facility's Web site, jerrysautorepair.com.
Although the shops are in two uniquely different parts of the country, both owners leverage the Internet to bring customers to their facilities. It's important to remember that simply having a Web site will not bring additional profits into your shop. A Web site is not a "fix all" for seasonal lulls, down sales or current economic conditions. But like Rush and Griebling, if you implement certain features and standards, and market your Web site properly and efficiently, you will maximize the potential of bringing in new customers and additional revenue.
"In today's modern age, more and more people are using the Web to find their service providers," said Rush, whose Web site receives two to four inquiries a day. He said a large portion of the people submitting inquiries become customers. "Your Web site is a great way for customers to ask questions in a non-threatening environment. In most cases, it's the first step in building a relationship. If I factor the money spent on our Web site over the past five years, it's a small investment to pay to gain two to four touches per day."
Need for a Web Site
A shop Web site is a must in today's competitive environment. It's equivalent to saying that having a Yellow Pages ad a decade ago was essential in running a successful business. According to a recent survey conducted by Media-Screen, more than one-third of respondents indicated they used a search engine to purchase an automotive product or service online. So you say, "Sure, motorists are looking for those 'big name' automotive companies that sell those 'big name' parts and accessories. But no one is looking for my small shop in those major search engines." The same survey cited above found that of those consumers looking for automotive parts and accessories, 34 percent were specifically looking for automotive service and repair.
"That means there is a large audience of consumers looking for automotive products and services on Google," said Denise Chudy, head of automotive for Google. Google is now the largest search engine in operation on the Internet, indexing more than 500 million automotive Web pages at any given time. "For service shops that have a Web site, consumers can find them through Google's natural search results as well as targeted local advertising that reaches consumers searching for local repair facilities."
Using Search Engines to Get Noticed
One of the major questions shop owners ask when they are creating a Web site is how consumers are going to find them in the major search engines. Unfortunately, the technology of search engines, and the widespread use of this technology, has caused search engines to become extremely commercialized. No longer can webmasters embed search keywords and descriptions into the coding process. Search engines base the listed results on various factors, including the relevance of keywords used and the number of other sites linked to the resulting Web site. If you want your shop's site to be seen at the top of the major search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN, you're going to have to pay.
However, the search engines are making it more affordable for small businesses to compete. You no longer have to compete with the major parts companies, dealerships and manufacturers for positions in search engines. Depending on your geographic area, it may be necessary to participate in search engine programs to get your shop among the top in search results.
"Google offers advertisers a range of options, including regional and local coverage," said Chudy. "Costs depend on what the advertiser is willing to pay." This cost can be as little as $.01 per click. The lower you pay per click, however, the lower you will appear in the paid listings.
Google's program allows a shop to localize their advertising dollars, effectively maximizing the results of potential customers to their facility. Shops can choose to customize their listing results to only appear in certain cities or regions where a search is being conducted. Shops can even customize their targeted audience by specifying a certain distance from their facility where the ad would appear in the major search engines.
Keep in mind, you don't have to pay your way into search engine results. If you have a Web site, you should appear in results. It may be on page five, 10 or 20 on the results page, but if you have an Internet presence, you should have a presence in the major search engines without paying extra.
"Consumers are expecting businesses to have a Web presence. If the shop wants a Web site presence, the biggest advice I can give is to use sound online marketing principles," said Bryan Colyer, president and CEO of FirstChoiceNetwork.com, an automotive network that helps motorists find a repair facility. "Provide useful information and make sure everything is relevant to what service they are offering. Trying to manipulate the search engines with lots of keywords or inflated link popularity might get you blacklisted out of all the search engines."
Colyer understands that the greatest challenge of a shop establishing and maintaining an Internet presence is the lack of time. "The search engines are continually changing their search algorithms to help their users have a more relevant experience. If a shop isn't keeping up with the latest search trends, then a competitor who is will capture the customer," he said. "If a shop owner is going to use an outside company to help them, choosing the right company is important. Finding a company that offers Web site development and Internet marketing services will be helpful because the company will understand how to optimize the site as well as guide the shop through the search engine marketing maze."
Like Colyer's company, there are many online networks that can help bring customers to your shop via the Internet. As a member of the Automotive Service Association (ASA), you belong to one of the largest online networks. The "Find Nearest ASA Shop" section of ASA's Web site (www.asashop.org) provides a searchable listing of ASA member shops based on a motorist's geographic location. The ASA Web site receives more than 2 million hits per month and your visibility on the site should help you maximize new customer potential, with or without an existing Web site.
Getting traffic to your site goes well beyond search engine submission and network participation. If you're not marketing your site properly, your existing customer base has no need to visit your shop online.
"By using redirective marketing, we have been able to save money on our marketing," said Griebling. "We don't need to run large newspaper ads because we don't need to use up a lot of expensive space explaining how a promotion works. We can just state the offer and then point the customer to our Web site with a bold and simple - but effective - ad."
Using Innovative Features to Attract More Customers
How do you turn a Web site visitor into a customer? The answer lies in several innovative features that can be implemented into your site.
"We feel that the key to a successful Web site, no matter the size of the shop, is to have something that consumers want," said Gordon Henderson, vice president of information technology for See Progress Inc. "The key to a happy collision repair customer is to communicate well during the repair process. To simply have an online 'business card' won't cut it in the very competitive collision repair market."
Henderson's company is the creator of the AutoWatch program, where customers can log on to a participating shop's Web site and view their vehicle's repair status.
"We've found in survey after survey that the most talked about feature from consumers is the ability to check repair status, especially with photos. This feature significantly increased traffic to a shop's Web site. When images are used, consumers will invite their friends, family and co-workers to see their car. Now the traffic increases dramatically, and the shop's brand awareness extends beyond their existing customers," said Henderson.
For mechanical facilities, the key to maximizing profits from a shop's Web site is to offer convenience to the customer. Something as simple as adding an online appointment scheduler can increase the flow of customers, while cutting down on staff time to answer redundant phone calls. Potential customers are going to the Internet to find a reliable repair facility anyway. You're missing the opportunity to turn that visitor into a customer if you don't give them the opportunity to schedule service online. In today's Web-enabled society, an online appointment scheduler is a must for any mechanical facility.
If your shop hasn't already done so, consider adopting an e-marketing platform to contact your customers.
"As consumers become more tech-savvy, they increasingly prefer to be contacted digitally rather than through more traditional means," said Chris Arden, product manager for Mitchell 1 CRM. "A good CRM program will provide an increase in traffic which, if directed correctly, will result in more up-sell opportunities and additional revenue."
There are several companies that cater to the eCRM needs of the automotive repair industry, including Mitchell1(mitchell1crm.com) and MechanicNet (mechanic net.com). Such companies allow you to contact your existing customer base via e-mail to remind them of anticipated services. Each company, however, treats customer database management and integration a little differently and should be researched to see which platform is right for the shop.
"Consumers who prefer this form of contact will often keep their e-mail addresses active even when their physical address has changed, allowing for more accurate solicitations. The low cost associated with e-mail marketing also allows your shop to target customers in a more economical manner," said Arden.
There are also other e-mail marketing firms that allow shops to create bold campaigns without being Web savvy. Constant Contact (constantcontact.com) is a leading Web-based e-mail marketing service used by more than 50,000 small businesses and associations. With its service, shops can create e-mail newsletters, announcements and promotions that will drive customers back to the shop.
"E-mail marketing enables you to proactively communicate with your existing customers and prospects instead of waiting for them to return to your Web site or call you on the phone to make an appointment," said Gail Goodman, CEO of Constant Contact. "Proactively reminding a customer of an upcoming oil change, inspection or tuneup is a service to the customer and a positive impact on your bottom line. In addition, e-mail marketing can help solidify your existing customer relationships and convert your one-time visitors into profitable repeat business."
According to AutoInc.'s latest "How's Your Business?" survey, 53 percent of mechanical shops and 56 percent of collision shops have established a Web site. Yet, if they're not using Internet technology to its fullest, the established sites are not bringing in its potential revenue. Adopt the technology and market the site efficiently, and you will find that maximizing your profits through your shop's Web site is a mouse click away.
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