Anyone who owns a body shop, or is a part of a shop’s marketing team, has heard the mantra “If you’re not marketing online, you’re losing out.” Every seminar and workshop in the last ten years has had a hot, new social media channel that you have to be a part of, because “it’s the next big thing.”

By 2015, there are so many online marketing options and social media platforms, the idea of getting involved in any of it can be overwhelming. Many of the shop owners I work with come to me periodically with questions like this – “I just heard someone give a speech on Instagram – do we need to be on Instagram?” Does your shop need to be on every single internet marketing channel to have an effective online strategy?

The answer is “No. You don’t have to be on Instagram.” Would there be a way to use Instagram to benefit your shop? Absolutely. Is it possible there are other online marketing options that would provide a better Return On Investment? Yes.

To be clear, I’m not singling out Instagram as a bad investment, on the contrary it can have great benefits for certain types of shops, in certain situations. My point is simply that you don’t have to invest valuable time and resources into every available online marketing option in order to have a strong strategy. What’s important is that you understand the marketing channels available to you, decide which will fit in your budget, and which will work together to create the highest ROI.

At first glance, Google AdWords may seem like the most expensive online marketing channel available, with keywords demanding upwards of $7 – $10 per click in the collision industry. But then consider the number of hours necessary for creating new content for social media channels, or for targeting “organic” or unpaid search engine results. How many hours of an internal employee’s time, or of your time as the owner of the shop, are required for taking pictures to share on social media, or writing new pages and posting them to your website?

Before you choose your internet marketing strategy, consider what your investment will be into each channel, in terms of both time and money. And then consider the question, “How well does each channel compliment the other?” Remember, you’re using these channels as a coordinated strategy designed to increase brand recognition for your company, and generate more leads.

Search Engine Optimization or SEO

There was once a time when a business could stuff a paragraph of keywords on to a web page and, as a result, show up at the top of internet search results when potential customers searched for their services. Those days of easily manipulating search results are long gone, as Google has significantly changed and (for the most part) improved their algorithm.

Does this mean that Search Engine Optimization is “dead” or no longer a viable marketing channel? No, SEO is still at the core of internet marketing, and goes hand-in-hand with making sure your website is user-friendly, well-structured, and technically sound.

One of the most important things to remember with search engine optimization is that Google’s primary purpose in changing its algorithm is to improve the quality of the results it provides for its end users. Therefore, you’ll get far if your website provides a good user experience.

  • Make sure it’s easy to navigate through your website and find information about your company and your services.
  • Make sure it’s very easy to contact your shop through the website – that your phone number, contact/estimate form, and address are all very easy to get to.
  • Make your website a place that potential customers can find out everything they need to know about your shop, without cluttering any one particular page. Structure your website so that all of the most important information can be found very quickly, but then link from your main pages to more in depth pages about topics such as manufacturer certifications, information about your technicians, or useful articles about car maintenance. Posting new content improves your search engine rankings, gives you more material to share with your followers on social media, and can be an opportunity to create landing pages for paid search campaigns through Google AdWords (which we’ll get to next).
  • Make sure that you have Google Analytics set up to track traffic to your website. And, very importantly, make sure you have it set up to track goals, such as when someone submits a contact form or calls in after finding your website. This will help you track the number of leads that your online marketing efforts are generating, and as a result help you track ROI.
    Here is an excellent >beginner’s seo reference guide from Moz.

Google AdWords

Pay-Per-Click search engine marketing through AdWords can seem intimidating to companies who aren’t familiar with it, or who haven’t tried it. The idea of paying between $6-$10 per click (which can be the range for keywords like “collision repair” and “auto body shop”) can sound very expensive in comparison to social media marketing and organic SEO.

However, when done correctly Google AdWords campaigns can be one of the best, most direct ways to get access to a customer who is ready to make a purchase. AdWords is also one of the most measurable and targeted forms of internet marketing, allowing you to market to a specific neighborhood, or to people with an interest in a specific vehicle manufacturer.

Some important things to think about when you get started with Google AdWords:

  • Make sure you have conversion tracking set up. Conversion tracking is especially important to set up in AdWords, and will allow you to know when someone has called or submitted a contact form after clicking on one of your ads. You can then use this conversion data to make adjustments based on which campaigns are providing you with ROI, increasing your budget to ads that result in leads, and pausing or replacing ads that are costing you money without resulting in sales.
  • Create user-friendly landing pages for your campaigns. When people click on your AdWords ad, it takes them to a specific page on your website. You’ll want that page to be as relevant to the ad they’ve just seen as possible (for example, if someone click an ad for paint repairs, they should go to a page with relevant information). This not only increases their chance of contacting you, it also improves the rankings of your ads in Google results.

Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing is an affordable way to build brand awareness, and to engage with an audience of past and potential new customers. It can also be one the most confusing and overwhelming marketing channels. With so many different platforms, people can get easily overwhelmed with posting, tweeting, sharing and commenting.

The best thing to do is to start small and build your brand well on just a few of the social media platforms that make sense for your business. There is no use in having an account on 15 social media platforms if you don’t have the time or content to post on all of them regularly. It’s better to master a few social media profiles, and build your following on each of those first, than to create a dozen profiles that never get any attention.

For example, you could start with a Facebook page and commit to regularly posting relevant updates, articles, photos and videos. Set a budget for advertising through Facebook, which allows you to boost and sponsor particularly relevant or exciting posts or special offers. Facebook gives you the ability to target by demographic and interest, allowing to building a following in your service area, relevant to the specific capabilities of your shop.

If you have the aluminum certification for the 2015 F150, create new content and promoted ads tailored to social media users with an interest in the F150. With all forms of social media, think of yourself as building a community united by common interests relevant to the services your provide.

Any social media platform, when done right, can have a powerful impact on your business. However, to do it right, requires that you engage with, and give back to, your followers, so be realistic about the time you have to commit to each channel.

Email Marketing

One of the most cost-effective online marketing and (customer relationship management) channels is email marketing. Sometimes given a bad rap thanks to spammers, email marketing is, in truth, highly effective and inexpensive.

You can set up simple email campaigns in an email service provider (free and/or inexpensive options include Mail Chimp, Constant Contact and Exact Target). Most of these ESPs have easy-to-use interfaces that don’t require any HTML knowledge.

  • Use discount offers and website content in your emails. Customers and prospects alike will appreciate emails with special discounted service offers, and the new pages you’re creating on your website can be repurposed as useful email content. And if your email audience feels that they receive useful content in the emails you send them, they won’t feel that you’re sending them spam.
  • Email marketing provides a tremendous return for the cost – which is often pennies for a thousand sends.
  • A great way to cross-promote your social media and email channels is to add in social media share buttons in your emails and add an email sign-up on your Facebook page and website.
    Provide multiple opportunities for your customers and prospects to stay in touch, and you will see engagement soar.

Video Marketing

Last but definitely not least on our list of online marketing channels is video marketing. Relevant and interesting video content can be posted on your website, posted on social media platforms, imbedded into email campaigns and, of course, added to the company Youtube page.

Did you know that Youtube has become the second most popular search engine after Google? It’s true: more people search on Youtube than on Bing, Yahoo, Ask & AOL combined (Social Media Today). All the more reason to utilize video as a marketing and advertising tool.

Custom video content can tell your company’s story, showcase compelling firsthand testimonials and provide relevant content for social media. Video can make your approach, in every area of your marketing strategy, more successful.

  • SEO – Video embedded on your website can help your search engine rankings, as well as improving the user experience. Visitors to your website would much rather watch a video than read the text on the page, so embedded video will make your web pages much more engaging.
  • AdWords – Videos can be used in highly targeted video ads through Google AdWords, displaying targeted advertising to internet users on YouTube and in the Google Display Network, in your service area, with relevant interests.
  • Social Media Marketing – Videos can provide perfect content to share to social media. Not only can you share links from YouTube, but with platforms like Facebook, you can upload the video file directly and create ads tailored to video advertising.
  • Email Marketing – Videos also provide great content to include in emails. Content like videos and interesting website content will make it feel more like you’re providing a useful newsletter, as opposed to “spamming” your audience.

Use a Coordinated Online Marketing Strategy

Use a combination of these online marketing channels to increase your brand awareness, drive sales and benefit your bottom line. Some of the platforms mentioned above (like Social Media) are more effective for branding, while some (like Google AdWords) are especially effective at converting website traffic into leads. All of these platforms should be working together to generate sales.

For example, use branding to stay at the forefront of potential customers’ minds so that when the time comes that they need a repair, they already know and trust you enough to give you a call, or submit a request for an estimate.

Your goal shouldn’t be to use every online marketing channel you’ve ever heard of. Your goal should be to use the right combination, as a coordinated strategy, to get the best ROI for your business.

Interested in learning more about online marketing strategies for the Collision Repair Industry? Keep up with our monthly article in Hammer & Dolly!