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  Special Feature

The Internet Evolution

Posted 1/13/2011
By Angie Kilbourne, AAM

Once an industry revolution, repair shop websites are maturing into savvy marketing platforms. Find out why this year's winners stand out from the crowd.

AutoInc. Top 10 Automotive Repair WebsitesAs we delve into the 13th annual AutoInc. Top 10 Automotive Repair Websites honors, we were struck by the evolution happening within the world of small-business websites. Each year, we see more and more websites that demonstrate thorough research and planning, fully integrated marketing efforts and active participation by staff and owners.

But the best of the nominees still haven't lost their personal message to customers, and it was what separated these top sites from their peers. A number of them successfully incorporate social media too.

Again, we employed a panel of judges, each from different disciplines and walks of life, to evaluate the 2011 entries. Judges evaluated the sites using predetermined guidelines, scoring specific features based on:

  • First impression
  • Objective/purpose
  • Visual design
  • Innovation
  • Appearance
  • Credibility
  • Navigation
  • Interactivity
  • Consumer friendliness
  • Encouraging action
  • Technical

    To be honest, this job gets more difficult as the years pass. Shop owners and staff have become much more web-savvy these past few years. So, let's take a look, in no specific order, at the newest recipients of the Top 10 Websites award.

    Precision Automotive Services, Spring, Texas

    Precision Automotive Services, Spring, TexasPrecision Automotive Services brings friendly, personalized service to its website with great content, and shows off favorable press coverage from a past AutoInc. shop profile right on its home page. Coupled with a great design and a pleasing color palette, this shop's online efforts portray a highly professional business with high standards.

    "[A] very, very good site with excellent balance of text and graphics," said one of our judges.

    To be sure, Precision definitely made the investment in some good stock and shop photography for their site, money well spent for your marketing efforts. But its work doesn't stop there; Precision ensures customers can find the information they need, without needing to wade through mountains of content. Clear, precise navigation that's easy to maneuver helps boost this site to the top.

    Menke's Automotive Repair, Newburgh, Ind.

    Menke's Automotive Repair, Newburgh, Ind.Vernie and Barb Menke have had quite a year. It started 12 months ago with being named Motor Age's Top Shop for 2009. Since then, they've been interviewed and profiled, endured personal tragedy in their lives (the death Sept. 23, 2010, of Vernie's brother, Lloyd Menke, who was extremely active in the shop) and now we're pleased to include them in this year's Top 10 Websites.

    Video is one of the best ways to communicate with customers today, and Menke's takes full use of the medium. Not only does the site include instructional and educational videos, but the shop was able to capture video testimonials from satisfied customers, in their places of business, to reinforce their message of "Leading the Way in Automotive Repair."

    "I really liked this site. Super easy to navigate. Very clean. Very thorough," commented one judge.

    "The video testimonials are a fabulous touch!" said another judge.

    The site also includes a video shop tour, hosted by co-owner Barb Menke, who talks about the shop's commitment to quality repairs and customer service. Through their excellent and varied use of video, Menke's rose to the top with our judges.

    Evergreen AutoWorks, Mill Creek, Wash.

    Evergreen AutoWorks, Mill Creek, Wash.It's not easy to become a repeat winner. The number of nominees we receive, along with a panel that changes each year, doesn't necessarily guarantee a top spot again. But Evergreen AutoWorks, a 2010 award recipient, beat the odds this year by continuing their commitment to quality.

    "Great looking site that conveys an extremely professional attitude. It looks like they can do it all, and do it well," one judge told us.

    Serving both auto repair and collision repair customers, Evergreen has organized its site to ensure customers are just a click away from the information they need. But that's just the beginning. Employing professional graphics and staff portraits, Evergreen conveys a message of professional, quality work to customers. It's easy to see why Evergreen was a judges' favorite again this year.

    West Escondido Automotive, Escondido, Calif.

    West Escondido Automotive, Escondido, Calif. When you come right down to the basics, a website is just another tool for your marketing efforts. When we find a site that really understands that concept, we can't help but move it to the top. West Escondido Automotive takes that idea to heart.

    "A great feature of our website is that it ties in all the online marketing we are involved in - blogging, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more," said Brian Bowersock, West Escondido Automotive's owner. "We see a high volume of traffic, and our customers really love our website."

    "Good use of video...fits the business, presents the business, yet offers visitors good information," one judge told us.

    Bowersock has established himself as the automotive go-to guy for a local television news program, and he features all of these three- to five-minute spots on his site. Not only does he gain notoriety through the television, but he reinforces his "expert" status with website visitors by promoting his connection to the news program.

    "Great site with an excellent customer focus. The video library with maintenance tips is very nicely packaged," said another judge.

    Auburn Foreign & Domestic Complete Auto Service, Auburn, Wash.

    Auburn Foreign & Domestic Complete Auto Service, Auburn, Wash. One of the biggest hurdles to overcome with new website visitors is catching and holding their attention. You only have approximately 10 seconds before a new visitor decides whether to stay or go. But Auburn's brand-new website (launched August 2010) effectively holds a visitor's attention by prominently displaying its incentives - online specials and its "Royalty Rewards" program.

    "Our new website is freshly launched!" said Greg Hochhalter, Auburn's owner.

    "It's bright, cheery and easy to navigate. We worked really hard at bringing our corporate identity across."

    Auburn also does a nice job of providing great content for visitors, including text and video blogs explaining vehicle maintenance and repair procedures through its AutoNetTV subscription. In addition, the site includes a good helping of staff photos throughout, hard at work, helping to personalize the visitor's experience.

    "A solid site that had me from the main page," said one of our judges. "A well-organized site that highlights the shop's unique strengths, such as its rewards program."

    Auto Pro To Call, Chapel Hill, N.C.

    Auto Pro To Call, Chapel Hill, N.C.Another repeat winner from 2010, Auto Pro To Call didn't rest on its laurels for the last year. In fact, the staff and design team have worked to bring more great features to online visitors.

    "Spanish-language home page is a real plus!" said one judge.

    "We have new innovations on our website this year, including targeted landing pages for specific car lines we are marketing to," said James Allen, Auto Pro To Call's owner. "We also have had great success in mobile marketing and reaching people with mobile search. Our penetration with both search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) has been fantastic."

    "Clean, sharp design. Bonus points for the link on how to handle the Toyota recall," another judge told us. "Great way to think of the consumer."

    Sparks Computerized Car Care, Omaha, Neb.

    Sparks Computerized Car Care, Omaha, Neb.John Stern, Sparks' owner, has done a great job of telling the story of the business, and we found the tribute to his dad, the founder of the company, a touching addition. Sparks also does a great job of showcasing testimonials by adding pictures of the customers - a great way to add trust and professionalism to the site.

    "The site looks really professional and goes along with the shop's 'computerized' name," said one judge.

    "Neat, clean, easily navigated site," another judge commented.

    The large Flash banner is a striking graphic - a great way to capture the short attention span of the potential customer who is coming in to check out your business.

    Integrity Automotive Maintenance and Repair, Issaquah, Wash.

    Integrity Automotive Maintenance and Repair, Issaquah, Wash. Free Smart car loaners, birthday clubs and a quick lube service are all great marketing programs. But Integrity Automotive brings them all together in an attractive and informative way designed to keep website visitors clicking around the site to learn more about all these programs.

    "Fabulous top greeting banner!" said one of our judges. "Site is informative, clean, easy on the eyes, yet as a visitor, I could find all I needed easily."

    We especially liked the informative submenus on the navigation, providing visitors with more than just a label to ensure they can find exactly the information they need.

    "Full of features, including monthly specials and monthly drawings. Our 'Ask the Technician' feature allows viewers to look up common questions or ask technical questions," said Nate Bean, owner. "This feature also puts more keywords on our site that are searchable by Web bots that connect search engines to our site, which provides us with high search engine optimization results."

    Milstead Automotive, Spring, Texas

    Milstead Automotive, Spring, TexasMilstead Automotive covers a wide range of the automotive industry: mechanical, collision and transmission repair; fleet service; towing service; and even used car sales. With a full menu of offerings, it's important to have a highly organized, yet attractive and functional website for customers. Milstead leads the way in organization, starting right at the top with big, bold icons that, when you hover the pointer over it, change out the navigation below to personalize the features.

    "With all the services we offer, our website really had to be effective at delivering a lot of information in a very organized fashion," said Kristin Venema, Milstead's marketing and business development executive. "Our unique sub-websites make it easy for our customers to find the services they are interested in, without feeling like they are leaving our website. Our newest feature for customers to take advantage of is our 'Make Milstead your last call when you've had too much alcohol,' campaign."

    "The use of big, bold colors throughout the site isn't distracting at all," one judge told us. "The design and color scheme work really well. Considering the complexity of the site, they make it appear easy to find exactly what you need."

    Pfefferle Tire and Automotive Service, Fairfield & Hamilton, Ohio

    Pfefferle Tire and Automotive Service, Fairfield & Hamilton, OhioEnsuring customers can find important sections of your website is crucial, and Pfefferle uses both top placement and color to ensure visitors see them right away. In fact, there's plenty of color use, but our judges didn't find it too busy; they found it very attractive.

    Staff pages allow visitors to get familiar with employees and their experience, bringing the team closer to the customers. Even Woody, the owner's dog and the shop's official greeter, gets his own staff page, bringing a touch of whimsy and personal information to the site.

    "Love the page for Woody! Pleasing and functional design," said one judge.

    "Love, love, love the page dedicated to Woody. Also, easy to navigate. Clean site," another judge told us.

    Pfefferle works hard to keep the conversation going with customers too. The newsletter page is a great touch to the site.

    Meet our judges

    Each of our judges could be considered a potential new customer for the nominated repair shops. Only one has experience working in a repair shop, and some have experience with Web design and production. Let's take a minute to introduce them:

    Our first judge is the director of online services at an East Coast university, based in the Washington, D.C., area.

    Our second judge is a married Gen-Xer with a photojournalism degree and Web design background. He hails from North Texas, and has a great eye for making graphics come alive on a page, regardless if it's printed or online.

    Judge No. 3 is a single Gen-Yer with a B.S. in marketing. Currently working toward her Master's degree, she is a heavy user of Internet and mobile services, including the social media sites Twitter and Facebook.

    Our next judge is an online marketing specialist from the West Coast, with experience in design, SEO, social media marketing and blogging.

    Our fifth judge is a freelance automotive journalist who has written for both the mechanical and collision sectors for both print and online publications.

    Our last judge is a print and online editor working within the automotive industry. She also has experience in Web design and digital publishing.


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