You’re on a road trip and your stomach starts to rumble. It’s time to eat. What are you in the mood for? Maybe Italian. No, Chinese. Definitely Chinese. Being unfamiliar with the area—you’re on a road trip, afterall—you whip out your phone (or have your co-pilot do it if you’re driving—safety first) pull up your search engine and type in “Best Chinese food nearby.”
Your customers are the exact same way. Only, they’re looking for a repair shop.
If you’re in Edgewater, Md., and you type in “repair shop,” AJ Nealey’s shop, Nealey Auto Service is at the top of that list.
“You need to stand out and convert a search into a lead,” Nealey says, who has a conversion rate (the number of visitors that take action, such as call or visit the shop) of roughly 56 percent.
The times have changed, as has the way potential customers search for business. Twenty years ago, it was all about physical location, explains Kirk Richardson, owner of South Street Auto Care in Rochester, Mich. Back then, he had the best location possible. And, he still does, but he’s now dominating a different corner, and that’s SEO. SEO is shorthand for search engine optimization, which is the process of increasing visibility of a website.
“Google values us high as an organization, which makes me show up on searches and produces a ton of leads for my company. I dominate all of the corners,” Richardson says.
Richardson estimates he gets roughly 30 new customers per month that can be attributed to SEO rank alone.
To reach customers, you need to reach them where they are, and that means ranking high on Google. To do that, attention to SEO is key. Nealey and Richardson share some common pitfalls when it comes to SEO and what to do instead.
The Pitfall: Trying to do it all on your own
Years ago, both Nealey and Richardson were trying to get to the top of Google on their own by reading articles and pulling out any trick they could think of. However, Google constantly changes its algorithms, which makes it difficult for an amateur (or, even a shop owner that’s well-researched) to stay at the top without spending an incredible amount of time on it. Both Nealey and Richardson both employ a marketing company and suggest finding a company that can help [See Sidebar: A Helping Hand].
“Find the right person to do it for you,” Nealey says.
It doesn’t have to be a company. Both Nealey and Richardson say that if you’re good at it, go for it, but if it’s not your forte, the best route is finding someone that can help.
“The amount of things that change—you’ll pull out your hair,” Nealey says.
Nealey says an in-house marketing manager can be a good person to put in charge of managing SEO. Either way, investing in help is a cost that will pay off in the long run.
The Pitfall: Putting a false face forward
Those stock photos with models aren’t doing you any favors, Nealey says.
“Don’t have models. Show what you actually have,” Nealey says.
Photos play a major role in SEO. The actual content of the pictures and whether or not it’s accurate may not matter to where you rank in the search, but it will definitely matter to the customer if they come into the shop and see something they weren’t expecting. What will impact your rank is actually having photos on all of your sites—Google My Business, for example—and paying attention to the captions. Captions are a prime place for keywords, so make sure to take advantage. The way you name your photos also factors in, so be sure to include keywords in the name of your photo.
The Pitfall: Overloading with keywords
Speaking of keywords, almost everyone knows that it’s key for SEO. But, what’s the secret to it? Do you want to jam pack your site with every single keyword you can think of? No. It’s all about relevancy.
Nealey says keywords should represent the type of work that you actually do. One tip that he has is when responding to reviews, put in words that will get out the type of vehicles and services that you specialize in. For example, if you have a customer that came in and was blown away on the service on their Honda Accord, in the response, type, “Thank you so much for bringing us your Honda Accord and allowing us to check the brakes.” It’s an organic way to get in keywords (Honda Accord, brakes) that will help improve your ranking.
The Pitfall: Lack of consistency
Bob’s Auto & Repair.
Bob’s Auto Repair Garage.
It happens more often than you would think, but businesses often list names differently on different sites. Take the above example. The first one could be the website, the second could be its Facebook page and then the third could be Google My Business, and they’re all for the same business.
“Continuity is key,” Nealey says.
Make sure your business is listed the same way throughout the web. Nealey suggests using a platform, like Yext, a business listing tool, that will crawl the web for you and let you know if there are any inconsistencies.
The Pitfall: Ignoring the need for additional content
Videos, blogs and backlinks (any time a webpage links to another page) are all ways to rise in the ranks. Richardson has someone that writes consistent, relevant content for his website. Nealey is a big proponent of backlinks. For example, since his shop is a NAPA Auto Care shop, they backlink to NAPA. They do the same with AAA. It’s also a great opportunity to backlink to a story that a local paper did (Or, shameless plug, Ratchet+Wrench) did on your business, Nealey also wants to add more videos to his website and get more involved in YouTube advertising, as these are helpful ways to boost SEO.
The Pitfall: Tricking Google
As mentioned, one common “trick” for SEO is to stuff your website with as many keywords as possible. Google has caught on to this, and to other common tricks and shortcuts people were using to get to the top of a search page, says Richardson.
“If you’re trying to outsmart Google—you’re not,” Richardson says. “Google is in the business of being relevant. If you’re gaming them, they’ll make you irrelevant.”
It may sound ominous, but it’s true. Ten years ago, it was easy for a less-than-reputable business to get to the top of the search page if they knew the right tricks. Now, it really is about reputable businesses that know what they’re doing (or have found someone to partner with that does) when it comes to marketing.