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SEO: The Right Tool for Tire and Automotive Service Centers

Brian Canning is a 30-year veteran of the automotive repair industry who now serves as a business analyst, leadership and management coach, and team leader. He works with tire and repair shop owners from across the country.

In his excellent article “SEO as a Cure for the Common Cold” (SearchAutoParts.com), Canning writes about the automotive repair world’s need for search engine optimization and includes explicit warnings against “doing it yourself.”

 

His thoughts mesh perfectly with our approach at WebArt: We take care of every aspect of the ongoing marketing and search engine optimization of your website so you can concentrate on what you do best. And, yes, to maximize the success of your website, the effort needs to be ongoing. As Canning alludes to, that near-constant attention to their website is a commitment most companies can’t make internally. But when it’s done well by professionals, SEO is an investment for which “your bottom line will thank you again and again and again.”

If you’re responsible for the marketing of a chain of tire stores or automotive service centers, take a few minutes to read this slightly abridged version.

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Writing from the perspective of what I see out there in the tire and automotive repair worlds as it relates to return on investment in the broad industry and to the state of leadership in the individual stores, I am concerned by the deceptive and reckless claims being made by many in the marketing and consulting industries that search engine optimization (SEO) will do everything but fertilize your lawn and cure the common cold.

This, while creating a tidal wave of customers clamoring to our doors. Most of the owners and managers I have talked to over the past many years are dying for that plug and play solution to their perceived car count and marketing challenges. Many of them are discovering that this great tool can certainly have a positive impact, but just like every other tactic or strategy, search engine optimization only works as part of a broader marketing plan.

It only works if we are willing to put in the time, money and consistent effort to launch it in the right way and then only if we are prepared to dedicate time to its execution every month. Most of the owners and managers I talk to are reluctant or unable to put in the time and discover much too late that the panacea of search engine optimization does not exist, or more precisely, does not exist unless they are able to commit themselves to the effort. This sounds an awful lot like work to me.

Don’t get me wrong: there is not a more important marketing tool out there than SEO. It is all about being visible to our customers or potential customers and that is obviously an important undertaking. Doing it half way will leave you no better off than when you started down this path and don’t forget the thousands of dollars you could potentially spend in the effort. What? Nobody mentioned to you that making yourself visible on the Internet through search engine optimization costs money? Well, yeah, potentially a lot of money!

Before I launch into the role of search engine optimization in our automotive lives, I want to set the table and discuss the challenge facing most tire and repair shops and why efforts toward more cars and more visibility may fall short of the lofty expectations we have set in launching this effort. The vast majority of the shop owners and managers I talk to insist that they need more cars. In the overwhelming majority of cases they simply need to do a better job with the cars they are currently seeing. By this I mean that they have to develop and live by a profit structure that allows them to generate reasonable profit margins and reasonable profit dollars on the parts that they sell, on the labor that they sell and on the tires that they sell.

And we have to find ways to make our shops more productive. Productivity in the automotive world is depressingly low. Not because we have bad technicians, but because as an industry we set very low expectations for production and reinforce this planned mediocrity by setting up pay plans that reward and encourage attendance over production (“A warm body is better than no body.”) and quality work over a balance between quality work and reasonable production times (“Joe never ever has a comeback because he takes his time to make sure it’s done right”). To these we add procedures that control shop flow but hinder production. It is not illegal to be productive and profitable, at least not in most states. If you are having trouble getting cars out now, SEO is not your most immediate need.

I am not aware of any other industry so loath to make a reasonable profit as the automotive repair industry. While our doctors and plumbers and coffee shops routinely put 20% and 30% net operating profit on the bottom line, most independent tire and automotive repair shops in the U.S. lag far behind, with net profit numbers averaging somewhere around 5.5%. Pricing structure and productivity are both culprits here and adding more cars, without addressing these, will take a significant business challenge and make it much worse.

Search engine optimization is nothing more or less than assuring that we are very visible to anyone out in the broad world looking online for the types of repairs and services that we provide. “Online” being the operative word here, it being important to note that this is how most among us shop, hunt for a house, try to find a mate and communicate with the rest of the world. SEO makes us very visible to the buying public by putting us where consumers are looking.

Having said that and knowing how taxed most shop owners and managers are for time, my suggestion is that you explore all that search engine optimization could do for you, all the ways that it could highlight and make your operation more visible and find somebody accomplished to do it for you. It is so important and crucial to your long-term viability and so demanding of a thorough and consistent effort, my strong suggestion would be to spend some time searching out who is successful at it in your market and in your sector of the industry and negotiate a comprehensive plan that matches their ability with your immediate and your long-term needs. Search engine optimization is one of those things that is best left to the professionals.

Now, so I don’t feel guilty about not presenting you with a 52-step process toward search engine optimization, I would direct you toward your favorite search engine and have you type in ‘SEO’. Within seconds you will have access to every tip and strategy known to man. I am still going to tell you to find somebody qualified to do it for you. Not all of this is rocket science and looking at the various steps and strategies, you are going to be sorely tempted to do it yourself.

Please take my advice: please remember how important this is and how busy you are and find a successful professional to do it for you. Your car count and your bottom line will thank you again and again and again. Your time will be much better spent improving shop flow and your counter operation to handle the anticipated increased volume.

The days of that big yellow book are long gone and, in truth, the process and rationale behind search engine optimization is nothing more than acknowledging that most of us search online for purchases we would make and the services we would buy. SEO is making ourselves visible to those looking for the automotive repair and maintenance services that we provide and doing this in such a way as to stand out on the various search engines in use by the consumers in our home market.

SEO is not magic. By itself it is not likely to make an appreciable difference. However, combined with CRM (customer relationship management), a great retention marketing plan and your willingness to finally take on a leadership role within your organization, you can take several large steps forward and assure the viability of your shop.

Organizational optimization as a precursor to search engine optimization is not nearly as exciting as a plug and play solution. Somewhere beyond the exaggerated claims you will likely discover a very important and very useful tool. And like any tool, if used correctly it can simplify your life and improve your results.

Warning: Do not take to SEO if you have low blood pressure. Do not over consume alcohol while attempting SEO. If you have an inclination toward taking on search engine optimization that lasts for more than four hours, contact an SEO professional immediately as this may cause permanent organizational injury.

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