In Search of the Perfect 10Posted 1/8/2008
By Angie Kilbourne
Is your Web presence in need of inspiration? Take a look at these top sites.
Oh, how things have changed. Customers expect you to have an Internet presence. They want to know everything about you and your business before they walk in the door. They want to know when you are open, where they can drop their car after-hours, and they want interactive diagrams explaining how their vehicles work and how you will fix their problems. They also want the ability to make their appointments at 11 o'clock at night - and they want to find all this in just one click.
How do you keep your Web site working for you long after you've turned in for the night? It doesn't necessarily mean you have to employ the services of a high-priced Web design firm, but it does mean that you should have a plan - in writing - and you should hire help when and where you clearly need it.
This humble Web designer believes firmly in the principle of KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Everything on your Web site should serve the purpose of serving your customers. If it's so important to have that gorgeous Flash-based intro on your site (that cost you a lot of money), why exactly do you include a "Skip Intro" button? If you want customers to make appointments through your online form, why do you bury the link at the bottom of the page? If you want your customers to sign up for your e-mail newsletter, shouldn't that subscription link be on every page? KISS.
In our 11th annual review of ASA member Web sites, KISS was the guiding standard when we reviewed the submissions. It was a tough call on many sites, and we had to get downright picky before we could prune the list to just 10 Web sites. Qualities we considered included clarity of message, readability, functionality of the site and its technologies, consistent feel and appearance, and most of all, quality of content.
We invite you to take a look at your peers' efforts. It just might jump-start your own award-winning Web design - and we can look forward to seeing your name here next year.
Hillmuth Certified Automotive - Gaithersburg, Md. (and additional cities)
Incorporating modern graphics to replace plain text gives Hillmuth's home page a clean, modern and professional look. Even more impressive is the use of Flash technology where appropriate: A Vehicle Systems Guide educates the consumer about vehicles in a way that is easily digestible in this medium - and they even remembered to include a link to download the Flash player for visitors who need it.
Consumers will find a wealth of information at this functional Web site that confirms Hillmuth's ability to professionally service any vehicle problem. Repeat customers can track their vehicles' service records with the "My Car" feature and the "Preferred Customer Login" function.
Of particular note are Hillmuth's "Driveability Worksheet" and "Noise Worksheet" that customers can complete before dropping off their vehicle. These forms can be printed and filled out to provide technicians with a thorough description of the customer's problem. What a timesaver!
Doug Hillmuth, co-owner: "The home page is the calling card because I want people to say, 'Look at all they do!' I drive people through my business to the [online] survey.
"I place mirror hangers in their cars to drive people to the survey. We do a drawing each month for an Outback Steakhouse [restaurant] certificate. My response rate came up on the survey - it jumped almost 9 percent by doing a hanger. I average probably 35 surveys a month; before it was five or six."
Pennsylvania Body & Frame - St. Marys, Pa.
I am no fan of Flash intros, but I have to admit I was impressed with Pennsylvania Body & Frame's version. Not only did I have to sit through the full five-second flash intro without a skip button in sight, but it actually made sense. Kudos!
Beyond the intro, this repeat winner (it received an award in 2002) doesn't incorporate any other crazy bells and whistles. But it does have what's most important: easy navigation; clear, concise text; and lots of good information for the viewer.
What I found most appealing is the site's "Small Damage Repair" section that describes the process of fixing minor scratches, chips and dents affordably - a great marketing tool for those appearance-conscious consumers.
Matthew Herzing, owner: "We just recently put coupons online. That's been a big thing. People are printing off the coupons and bringing the coupons in.
"What we wanted to do is to increase the awareness out there that we do full-service mechanical work. Ninety-five percent of our work is collision related; 5 percent is mechanical. It was done to bring in new sales and customers. With the coupons, it's brought in additional sales for our mechanical."
S&S Service Center - Kansas City, Mo.
Another great home page that brings automotive service into the 21st century. The recently redesigned site includes main page graphic treatments that direct viewers to the areas S&S wants to highlight, as well as keeps the entire content of the home page totally visible within the browser window.
Interior pages keep a consistent look, and the shop's motto says it all: "Modern Automotive Repair - Old Fashioned Service." What we liked most was the navigation that includes a link about the shop's hybrid service - a constant reminder to consumers who are looking for a rare commodity in this day and age.
Jerry Holcom, owner: "I've got to say that the biggest impact [to the business] I see is appointments made through the Web site. I didn't think it was that big. But people don't have to worry about making a phone call; they don't have to worry if we're open or not. Now, I get three to five [online appointments] a week. Before, it was possibly once a month."
Millevoi's - Bensalem, Pa.
Classic color use and a clean design create a functional Web site that keeps Millevoi's customers coming back for more. Of important note is the online appointment scheduler that appears on every page, making it more than convenient for viewers to have their vehicles serviced.
Millevoi's also includes an "Important Links" resource feature designed to educate consumers on the technical aspects of alignment, tire rotation and balancing, and suspension maintenance. Harnessing the expertise of a major equipment manufacturer, Millevoi's communicates the importance of vehicle suspension service to the novice - and again, the information is available on every page.
Service specials take a twist with a campaign to "Catch Kevin." Playing on the theme of a hardworking shop owner, the promotion gives a 5 percent discount to customers if they see Kevin off-premises, not hard at work.
Kevin Millevoi, owner, offers Web site advice to other shops: "Make it easily available to schedule appointments on your Web site. So many of our customers sit in front of a computer all day. They tell us it's [making an online appointment] so easy. It's easier for people than making a phone call."
Coastal Body Works - Pensacola, Fla.
An appealing design features the local beaches, but it's the content that really shines. Customers can check the status of a repair, but they are treated to a full explanation with graphics on the entire repair process, step-by-step.
The staff is featured in professional-looking, full-color photos, along with links to contact them directly. The "Services" page provides a long list of offerings, but it is well organized into categories to provide viewers with an easier, more comprehendible read. Coastal also puts the site to work for the business with an online employment application.
Justin Boyd, estimator: "The biggest asset to our business has been the "buzz" generated by our customers and insurance partners alike. We have seen many new customers who have seen our site from a co-worker, friend or family member who has used us for their vehicle repairs.
"We have also seen better productivity in our main office. The time we save by not having as many phone calls from customers, insurance companies, and rental companies concerning the status and estimated completion dates allows our staff to perform their core duties with better efficiency. Communication has also greatly improved between management and staff, and our cycle times reflect these improvements."
A+ Autocare - Poway, Calif.
A+ knows that customers want everything just one click away, and they serve that need with this winning design. Using graphics and additional text to convey the specific message of each Web page, this site helps eliminate the "hunting" visitors might do to find the right answers to their questions.
Moving into the site, A+ highlights its strengths to customers: free car wash, free shuttle service and testimonials. The "Help Us Help You" section provides customers with downloadable forms they can fill out to fully describe problems before they drop off their vehicles.
A+ also provides an incentive of a $5 coupon off services for joining its e-mail list. In addition, the sign-up form provides customers with peace of mind that their e-mail addresses won't be sold and will be kept private.
Andy Chandler, owner: "This design was launched in mid-2007; this is the original design [first Web site]. It took many months and several different versions for us to achieve the right 'feel' and appearance. We worked hard to get it right and we're very proud of the results."
For those just launching their first Web site, Chandler advises: "Take your time, really look around at other professionally built sites, and do it right the first time."
Mancinelli's Auto Repair Center - Denver
Featuring a clean, easily navigable home page, Mancinelli's ensures site viewers know how to reach the shop on every page. This second-time winner (Mancinelli's also won a Top 10 award in 2001) drives home the message to visit this shop with "Choosing a Repair Facility" and "Why Choose Mancinelli's?" pages, designed to educate potential customers that they do have a choice in auto repair, and explain why this shop should be on the list.
Mancinelli's also makes its point about employing top people in the field. Not only does the site feature bios and pictures of the staff, highlighting their certifications and accomplishments, the shop spells out the criteria it's looking for in an employee and lists open positions currently available.
Jessica Groundsell, manager: "Our first Web site was launched in 1998. I designed the new site in 2002, and it was launched in 2003. We changed the design because I thought it was important to update the look to keep up with the Web-savvy consumer. When a Web site looks outdated, chances are the consumer is going to think your shop is out-of-date as well.
"Keep the design as simple as possible, make sure it's updated regularly, and promote yourself on every page," she advises.
LaMettry's Collision € Eden Prairie, Minn. (and additional cities)
LaMettry's Collision delivers top-quality customer service through its Web site. In addition to offering an online appointment scheduler, customers also can request an estimator to come to them or send photos of damage and request an initial online estimate. The shop also provides an online form for customers to quickly fill out to ask a question. And these forms are all linked to large graphics that are located on every page - top and center.
The site provides customers with an overview of the repair process and services offered, as well as giving them the ability to check the status of their repairs online. Other important services to collision shop customers, such as towing and car rentals, get their own tabs in the navigation, making it simple for a customer to find what he or she is searching for.
Joanne LaMettry, president: "Trademark your corporate name so it can't be used by anyone else. Definitely get going on your Web site, use content that answers customers' questions instead of just advertising your business - who you are, what services you provide, free estimates, no appointment needed, etc."
Auto Select - Hatley, Wis. (and additional cities)
Auto Select delivers its message loud and clear on the home page, explaining to viewers its commitment to its work and to its customers, all in an easy to understand and view format. The site's "The Right Repair Shop" page provides an excellent explanation to potential customers on selecting a shop and dispels the major misconceptions consumers have about automotive repair.
An added bonus to the site is the "Tire Select" feature that allows customers to search for the proper tires for their vehicles, select them and order them online or by printing out the form and bringing it in for an appointment.
Mike Molitor, owner and president: "Our home page talks about our commitment to customer service. It talks about us ... our expectations. I say that because it is the most often-mentioned item by customers.
"[The best advice is to] keep it simple and easy to navigate. Those are the two things that have benefited us the most. Our goal was to present as much information as we could. I looked at a lot of different sites and some had so much information you couldn't get through them. I wanted to make sure that everything [on our site] was only three steps away."
Keller Bros. - Littleton, Colo.
A well-organized and clean site just beckons a potential customer to stick around and see what the organization is about. Keller Bros. offers a lot of material on its Web site, but it is organized attractively and logically throughout the site.
In addition to providing plenty of cross-linking throughout the site to make sure people can find everything they need (and stay long enough to read all that they should), Keller Bros. also promotes its "Monday Morning Mechanic" spot on a local television news show and an additional Web site chock full of automotive tips and advice for consumers.
David Rogers, COO: "The best asset of our Web site is that it brings us new customers and the right customers every day of the week. It works in driving traffic from the Internet. When people are searching for auto repair, they are finding us and coming to us.
"Don't let your daughter or son or your wife do a site because they want to play on the computer. Hire a professional and do this right. [Professionals] don't just design. They teach you the 'how' and the 'what' [of Internet marketing]."
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