Editor's note: This is the first in a series of exclusive Service Zone articles based on consultant Danny Sanchez's advice to auto service business owners on search engine marketing and search engine optimization.
APEX, N.C. — Website developer and Internet marketing guru Danny Sanchez believes tire dealers and auto repair shop owners are missing the boat if they're not investing in search engine marketing (SEM).
A former shop owner who holds a computer science degree, Mr. Sanchez is founder and CEO of Apex-based Autoshop Solutions Inc., a firm that specializes in developing websites, Internet marketing and social media strategies for automotive businesses. His clients include car dealers, transmission shops, auto repair shops, collision shops, remanufacturers and tire dealers.
Mr. Sanchez told Service Zone that the days where shop owners could have their sons or daughters or other relatives create their business websites are over. People are searching online for tire dealerships and auto service centers, and shops need to employ website experts to help their sites rank high and frequently on search engines.
“An Internet customer is typically the highest average repair order that comes in off all marketing sources, and that's across all of our customers,” Mr. Sanchez said. “The Internet customer usually spends more than anybody else.”
SEM, loosely defined, is one method of marketing a website so that it's noticed by search engines, particularly Google. SEM involves paying Google or another search engine for the top ranked spots on the first page of a keyword search, because “if you're not on the first page, you've got nothing,” he said.
“I think the number of people who click the second page to continue looking, I think that number is around 8 percent right now,” Mr. Sanchez said.
With SEM, a shop owner whose business turns up in the top shaded box on Google is in the “honey spot,” because it's the most clicked-on part of the page, he said. Gaining the honey spot involves a combination of factors.
“The only way to get there is to run some kind of paid search or sponsored search,” Mr. Sanchez explained. “You can't buy your way into that spot. You can't bid up higher (on keywords), offer more. That's another logarithm where, yes, you need to be bidding the right amount and competitive with your bid. However, it's also based on the quality score of your website.”
A website's quality score, he said, is based on factors such as if a shop owner's website has relevant information for someone searching with keywords “auto repair” and inserting the name of their hometown.
“The idea with paid search, yeah it's great if you're on the page,” Mr. Sanchez said. “Let's say you can get into slot two or three or four, but the ones on the right hand side where the sponsored search is, those are also locally driven. So it's great to be there once. It's even better to be there twice.
“The more you're on the page, the higher likelihood that you're going to draw a click,” he added. “Doesn't matter where it comes from. You want clicks.”
Autoshop Solutions devises different SEM game plans for shops located in cities vs. those serving rural areas. “A cookie cutter format doesn't work,” Mr. Sanchez said. “Not everyone needs to spend the same amount to get in place.”
For example, he noted that the keywords “auto repair” are very competitive in cities, so a shop owner may want to go after “timing belt replacements” and own those keywords in his or her city.
When he ran an auto service business, Mr. Sanchez said he used to spend $2,000 to $5,000 per month to advertise in the Yellow Pages, and “maybe 30 customers” came in as a result. In comparison, one of his clients spends about $1,500 to $2,000 per month on SEM, and the investment brings in 75 to 85 new customers a month.
“This is the highest return on investment that we've ever dealt with as an industry, but it has to be done right,” he said.
However, Mr. Sanchez admitted that it's not easy to track the clicks on the Web ads to the phone calls to the shop.
“You can track the phone call, but how do I measure what comes in from the website to who arrives in the shop because if (service advisers) don't do a good job on the phone, that's not a true measure of how the market is working,” he noted.
A call forwarding number tied to the shop's websites helps track call volume to the shop, but the only way to collect any reasonable data, he said, is if shop owners and service advisers make it a point to ask all customers if they found the shop online. Mr. Sanchez compared paid search ads with coupons.
“We've always known coupons have a limited return rate, but they're actually more effective than just who walks in the door. There are a lot of people who get a coupon in the mail, but will still come in and not bring a coupon with them….The Internet is kind of the same thing. Even though we had coupons on the site, they get used very little, but they're very effective in bringing people in.”