Identifying the SEO techniques for auto body shop marketing that most effectively pull in local traffic is a moving target.
Everyone wants their business to rank No. 1 on Google search, but achieving and maintaining high visibility online is a lot harder and more complex than the simple acronym “SEO” (search engine optimization) makes it sound. Add multiple locations into the mix and your difficulties are compounded.
Identifying the SEO techniques for auto body shop marketing that most effectively pull in local traffic is a moving target. Last year Google alone made more than 500 changes to how they rank and index a business website on their search engine, and they are on a collision course to best that number in 2013. Therefore, it is likely that some website changes you may have made a couple of years ago are now obsolete (if not downright banned), while new standards and best practices for local SEO are absent from your website, as well as your off-page assets like social media and business listings.
So if you’ve been thinking that your online visibility seems to have crashed lately, you’re probably correct.
But where there is a difficulty, there also is an opportunity, and if you are not satisfied with your local search engine results, here are 7 SEO tips that are sure to drive more local discovery to your business — no matter if you have a few or hundreds of locations.
Use the Right Keywords
The single element driving traffic to most websites is not the visual part of the website – it’s the wording. Search engines do not see the visible parts of your website – they only see the words. That said, it makes sense to focus as much attention there as possible.
Keyword research will help discover the words and phrases best suited to help the search engines know what you do (auto body repair, collision repair), and where you do it (location) as well as identify what words people are typing into their search bar to find businesses like yours. You can use a free tool such as Google’s Keyword Planner to build your keyword strategy. As an extra tip, filtering results of the Keyword Planner tool by geographic regions (country, state, county, and city) will display the regional demand for your keyword entered, as well as project a sense of how competitive it will be for you to rank for those on local search. Download your list of keywords into Excel for further editing and filtering on a regular basis – quarterly review works great but definitely no less than twice a year. I’m a big supporter of quarterly audits for most business analysis, marketing, and performance KPIs.
Ranking for 100 keywords that nobody is searching for is a waste of energy. Identify the words most likely to drive the right kind of traffic to your business and build your site (and off-page activity) around those. It is better to rank highly for five words that drive traffic than for 100 that don’t. You’re just fueling your ego with the latter.
As a rule, I focus on about 35 targeted keywords and phrases for most small business clients and spend several hours fine-tuning keyword selections. Every keyword strategy is unique, even for clients in the same business vertical.
Properly Map META-Tags To Your Keywords
Now that you have your keywords strategy down, let’s put it to good use.
Looking at your keyword list, you will probably notice that you could group together similar keywords to form categories (I call these silos). Does your website have a page for each silo category listed? It should.
You don’t need hundreds of pages for your website – but your pages should target the primary aspects of your business. Your list of keywords is the starting point. As a best practice, your website should have no less than six pages, and be no longer than it needs to be (if people don’t read it – you don’t need it).
Looking again at your keyword list, make sure the primary keyword for a page is used as close to the front of the opening sentence of the website as possible, and consider highlighting your keyword in bold. The same goes for the administrative elements of the website called the META — short for metadata — which is the part of your site people cannot see, but search engines can (not all website platforms permit using bold here, don’t freak out if yours doesn’t).
There are three elements of META on a website to concern yourself with: META title; Meta description; and Meta keywords. Make sure each website page has unique META elements (each of the three) and position your major keyword as close to the front of your wordings as you complete these elements.
Visible META title and description have character limitations — 60 and 160, respectively — that you should be mindful of. META keywords are not a ranking element, so use them sparingly – no more than 10 words/phrases – and don’t sell the shop by listing your most important keywords for your competition to discover. Do, however, be certain to list your state, town, and zip code along with the terms “auto body,” “auto body shop” and “auto body repairs.”
Two of the most common SEO errors for small businesses I see are META that is un-optimized and/or is not unique for each page.
Marketing with SCHEMA
A relatively new tool for local marketing (circa June 2011) has to do with using a simple HTML code called SCHEMA — also referred to as structured data or microformat — to better identify and classify some of the most important information on your website to search engines, such as your location and contact info. This code is universally accepted by Google, Bing, and Yahoo, making it a must-have for every local business. To learn more, visit ABRN.com/SCHEMA.
Speaking of search engines, keep in mind that Google isn’t the only option worth courting. As I write this, Yahoo has just taken the No. 1 search engine spot from Google, and Bing has picked up a ton of search traffic since the Amazon Kindle Fire and many smartphones now come with Bing as the native search engine. Facebook has also integrated a search feature called Search Graph this year, and with one in seven people on the planet having a Facebook account, that makes them (technically) the largest search engine in the world.
SCHEMA for Your Business
Replace the SCHEMA code in red (below) with YOUR INFORMATION and insert it on your website page. Go to ABRN.com/latitude to find your shop latitude and longitude.
If you have the option to use an HTML editing program, use it. Otherwise, copy the code into Microsoft Notepad and make your edits there. When you’re done, copy from Notepad directly to your website. Do not copy to Microsoft Word, as it will add additional and unwanted lines of code. Once you have finished putting your information into the code, you can check it by visiting ABRN.com/CodeCheck.
<div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/AutoBodyShop"> <div itemprop="name">INSERT BUSINESS NAME</div> <div>Email: <span itemprop="email"><a href='mailto:INSERT BUSINESS EMAIL>Email</a></span></div> <div>Phone: <span itemprop="telephone">INSERT PHONE #</span></div> <div>Fax: <span itemprop="faxNumber">INSERT FAX #</span></div> <div>Url: <span itemprop="url"><a href='http://WEBSITE URL>Website</a></span></div>
<div itemprop="paymentAccepted" style='display: none' >cash, check, credit card</div> <meta itemprop="openingHours" style='display: none' datetime="Mo,Tu,We,Th,Fr,Sa,Su 09:00-18:00" /> <div itemtype="http://schema.org/GeoCoordinates" itemscope="" itemprop="geo"> <meta itemprop="latitude" content="41.840748" /> <meta itemprop="longitude" content="-71.349611" />
</div> <div itemtype="http://schema.org/PostalAddress" itemscope="" itemprop="address"> <div itemprop="streetAddress">INSERT YOUR ADDRESS</div><div><span itemprop="addressLocality">INSERT TOWN</span>, <span itemprop="addressRegion">INSERT STATE ABBREVIATION</span> <span itemprop="postalCode">INSERT ZIP CODE</span></div> </div>
Don’t Forget Your Footer
Completely underused, the area at the bottom of your website (footer) holds tremendous usability and SEO value.
First off, if you have a lot of HTML code in the header of your website — validation codes are most common – you can move it here. Doing so will reduce the amount of HTML coding that search engines have to read as they load your page, making your page load faster. And, the speed that a website page opens is an SEO element that affects ranking. Fast is good.
Want to test your page speed? Visit ABRN.com/PageSpeed.
Additionally, adding things like your contact information here will make it easy for people to connect with you, no matter what page of your website they are on. This is especially true on mobile devices. As an MSO, consider using a split footer where one side lists the local business and the other is for the corporate location.
As an added benefit, having your contact info on every page could also increase local indexation of your website by search engines, making it easier for local searchers to find you.
Utilizing Blogs and Social Media
I’m not going too deep into blogging and social media; there’s already been so much published already on the topic, but suffice to say, you need to be actively creating content (telling stories).
Remember your initial thoughts on unibody cars, two-stage paints, three-stage paints, computers, water-based paints, exotic metals? Well, technology happens. SEO and Internet marketing are no different.
First, find a blog platform to use. I suggest either WordPress (ABRN.com/WordPress), or SquareSpace (ABRN.com/SquareSpace). My preference is to have a blog separate from a website to double a business’s marketing channels. You can also have a blog right on your MSO shop website that re-runs the posts from your off-site blog. Just be certain to give new blog posts on the off-site blog a few days to populate on search engines before re-publishing them on the MSO shop site.
Sendible(ABRN.com/Sendable) has a content marketing tool that automatically picks the best time to schedule your blog and social media posts based on when your readership is most likely to read them. It could take a few months for it to get a good read on your followers and friends, so hang in there — it works great.
Most small businesses start to sweat at the thought of writing, but here’s a simple strategy that will put your content marketing on the fast track.
Gather 12 images (digital) that best illustrate your primary keywords and location
On your blog platform, describe who, what, when, where, why, or how about the image
Make sure your keyword is at the front of your title, description and message
Add a link back to the page of your website that this keyword belongs to
Schedule the 12 posts to publish a month apart
You now have one post a month (see, wasn’t that easy?) Now create 12 more over the next six months and keep adding them to your blog queue. It’s literally that easy.
Properly List Your Contact Info
One of the largest local SEO changes from 2012 to 2013 is the importance of properly formatted and correct business contact information.
Any reference of a business’s name, its physical address, local phone number, and website are referred to as a business citation, while the elements strictly tied to a business location are referred to as NAP (name, address, phone). The pinpoint accuracy of this dataset is critical for local marketing, as it provides search engines validation of your location and contact information. It may sound simple enough, but nearly half of small businesses have formatting or data errors in their citation NAP – their local visibility on search is sure to take a hit for it.
Consider this business:
Bob’s Auto Body 10 Main Street Your Town, ST 09876
If there are online citations for 10 Main St, 10 Main Street #345, or 10 Main Street, Suite 345, search engines will treat these as individual businesses, not crediting them as being associated with Bob’s Auto Body. So Bob’s Auto Body received a diluted market share as a result.
Add to that — Bob’s Auto Body, Bob’s Auto Body Shop, and Bob's autobody are also seen as different businesses. In all, there are 720 combinations of business NAP errors that can be made with the incorrect information cited above. Variations in your town name (i.e. N Attleboro versus N Attleboro) or inconsistencies in using your state name (MA, Mass, Massachusetts) would make matters even worse.
Discovering and correcting citation errors isn’t a glamorous task, and it could take months to make any appreciable progress, but in the big picture, correcting your NAP data will pay huge dividends for your local visibility.
The same consideration applies to MSO and franchise auto body operations that are updating and/or re-branding locations. The major search engines receive much of their citation data from hundreds of smaller well-trusted directory listings and other search engines. Understanding this synergy will make fast work of getting new locations into market.
Automation doesn’t work well for citation or link building. Not only are you likely to create duplicate listings, but you cannot construct as detailed a listing using automation as you could by hand (typing). And ignore the “Your profile is 100 percent complete” directives – that usually just means you have completed 100 percent of the required minimum fields. There’s usually a lot more work to do. SEO is in the details, and in a hyper-competitive market such as the auto body industry, the small details could make the difference between a No. 1 ranking on the first page or a No. 11 ranking on the second page of a search. If you are considering hiring a local link building service, for example, Yext, keep in mind that your listings will revert to the state they were in before you hired them should you cancel your working agreement. Also, you are responsible for finding and correcting any duplicate listings their service creates.
Get A Boost Through Business Review Sites
You have most likely heard of the business review site Yelp.com and have probably heard that both Google and Bing offer directory listings for businesses, but did you know these review and business listing sites can actually give your business a significant boost in local visibility?
The local bump happens in a couple of ways. These directory and search engine listings add a credibility element to your business by verifying the consistency of your NAP and your keyword focus as taken from the narrative of the listing. Many of these listings also add a “category” element, further identifying your business. Additional information like your hours of operation and the types of payment you accept can also be noted and verified through these business listings (also referred to as backlinks because they all have a link pointing back to your business). NAP verification of your business increases trust by the search engines and in time will increase your online local visibility.
If citation building and link building is hard to get your head around, think of them like filling a hot air balloon — it takes a lot of air to get the balloon off the ground and requires frequent action to keep it afloat. When you run out of fuel or stop hitting the burners, the balloon comes back to the ground. Now consider your marketing actions as if a single link from a directory listing, search engine, blog, or social media post were the equivalent of one cubic foot of air. It would take a while before you started to see your ranking and visibility rise. However, like the balloon, once it took off, it will remain flying high as long as it is tended to.
Keep in mind that search engines cross-check your phone number with online phone directory listings as part of their business NAP verification process. For instance, Google Maps verifies data with YP.com and other citation data providers, so be certain to only use the local phone number registered for your physical location and do not list a call-tracking number on your website or for any online citations. Also, don’t use scripts that show the local number but hide the call-tracking one, in SEO terms that are referred to as “cloaking,” and it’s a violation of search engine rules that if caught could get a website significantly de-ranked (or removed from indexation in the case of franchisees or large MSOs).
A properly formatted and optimized directory listing can also show up on search engines when someone is looking for the things you have to sell. Think of the times you have seen a LinkedIn, Yelp, YP, or Manta listing when you were searching for something. If you had just one of those elements show up along with your website, you could double your online market share! It is easy to assume that a business with the most (and most complete) listings on a local search result page is the local expert.
The trend of search engines to apply significant weight — or page rank — to link building stresses its importance for local business discovery, trailing just behind the bumpers of keyword research and website SEO. Sites with higher page rank show up higher in searches.
To learn more, visit ABRN.com/PageRank.
All combined, focusing on these seven elements of local SEO will raise your visibility on search engines and drive more traffic to your website. Progress takes several months, especially for link building – so hang in there, stay focused and stick to your strategy, all the while keeping a vigilant eye out to see how tomorrow’s changes in SEO can drive additional opportunities to your business.