On Wednesday, Oct. 31, several SEMA attendees gathered in the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center for a seminar on how to develop an effective digital marketing strategy in collision repair.
The two-hour seminar was presented by Brent Betts, senior digital marketing consultant for AP Digital, as part of the Society for Collision Repair Specialists’ Repairer Driven Education series offered at this year’s SEMA Show.
Betts’ seminar delved deeply into topics such as challenges body shop owners face, why a shop’s website is its online foundation, the impact of online search in the collision repair industry and the most effective digital platforms that generate business.
Betts began the presentation by providing some background on AP Digital and how the certified digital marketing firm is relevant to the collision repair industry.
“We are certified in Google Ads and Google Analytics,” he said. “We are members of several auto body associations across the country and [we have] some partnerships with companies like AkzoNobel and TopShop Marketing. We are the website developer for SCRS [and] for the show website for the NORTHEAST show in New Jersey.”
The first item Betts discussed was common body shop challenges. These challenges included the frustration shop owners often experience when their shop doesn’t operate at full capacity, the difficulty of finding customers outside of their current referral sources and increased competition from consolidators.
“What I want you to realize is that these people (consolidators) are also competing against you online. In most cases, the consolidators have a regional team that does the marketing for several shops under that nameplate, and typically when we are doing Google campaigns for our clients, we will find that those are some of the people who are driving the market in terms of their activity. They’re very involved in the Google space,” he said.
Betts addressed the reality that many of the seminar’s attendees were likely skeptical about marketing and/or had had bad experiences with marketing in the past. He also acknowledged that others may recognize the value of an increased online presence but are just unsure of whom to trust.
Next, Betts discussed the challenges faced by the collision repair customer. Such challenges included not understanding where to start in the post-collision process during a time when urgent action is required; not understanding the insurance process, direct repair shops and their influence’s impact on their repair; trust in repair shops; and the major gap in consumer awareness regarding shop certification programs. He emphasized that these challenges will guide a body shop’s online marketing strategy.
He then presented a slide displaying online search statistics for body shops. Notably, more than 1.54 million searches take place on Google for collision repair monthly. There are about 201,000 searches for “body shop,” 110,000 searches for “body shop near me” and 33,100 searches for “collision repair.”
“What’s great about these online folks?” Betts asked. “They are actively searching for the services you provide … When they’re looking for collision repair, looking for a body shop, it’s because they actually need your service."
He then moved on to where consumers start their online search for a body shop. He said Google is always tracking consumers’ needs, as its number-one objective is to display the best results for the search term on its first page.
“Google is watching you,” he said. “It’s watching everything you do---on your site, with paid ads, on social media, with videos that you post … it’s all looked at by them. So when you put your strategy together, you have to make sure you meet your customers’ needs [and] you have to make sure you’re playing along with the rules of what Google wants you to do so you can win and show up higher in search results.”
He emphasized that a shop’s website is the foundation of its online existence and that shop owners should view it as its digital shop---or the new side-door entrance to its front lobby.
“What if your best estimator, appraiser or CSR worked 24/7?” he asked the audience. “How much more business would you get out of that? Well, that’s impossible, but your website does this. And what if there were folks who could handle an unlimited number of customers at a time? That’s what your website does.
“We want to put on a salesperson’s mentality with our website and figure out how this is going to become an opportunity vehicle for your shop to get in front of more customers, create more opportunities to engage them and get more customers in the shop.”
He then compared three business website categories that he typically sees when he starts working with a collision repair shop: no website; OK, but out-of-date website; better website; and best website. The “best” website has several call-to-action buttons, e.g. contact form buttons; the flow of information is built to accommodate today’s consumer (provides a user-friendly experience); displays photos representing the part of the country in which the shop is located; and is mobile-optimized.
“How important is mobile?” he asked. “Three in four smartphone owners today said that they will turn to mobile search first to address immediate needs. Well immediate needs---that’s what you’re dealing with with a collision repair customer, right? These 3 in 4 smartphone owners represent 172 million consumers---that’s 77 percent of the U.S. population. So if your site is not mobile-optimized, consider this a top priority.”
He said successful websites have value-based messaging, are engineered for SEO (search engine optimization; sites best engineered for SEO will display on the first page of Google search results), have a simple design and are secure websites. Secure websites begin with https:// and display a padlock icon next to the web address.
Next, he discussed the value of tracking website performance through Google Analytics, a free website metrics tool that 90 percent of body shops do not utilize. The core metrics Google Analytics provides are website page views, visits, visitors, average time spent on the site and average number of pages per session viewed when on the site. Other valuable metrics include demographics (location is especially important), the devices being used to visit the website and referral sources. Without site metrics, he said, you don’t know how your site is performing.
He said the way to measure a shop website’s success is through its conversions.
“[A conversion] is when somebody lands on your site, fills out a form that comes to you via email or they go to a phone and place a phone call. We use call tracking to identify those calls coming in,” he said.
Betts also discussed the importance of ensuring a shop’s Google business listing is accurate and up to date.
“When you maximize all of your information here, it will improve your rank and you’ll appear higher on the search results page,” he said. “So what happens if, say, your hours aren’t updated? Here’s what’s going to happen with most consumers because they’re in such a hurry, especially in your industry: If I’m debating on who I can get to by the time they’re going to close, and you don’t have your hours posted or your hours are not listed correctly, they’re going to go to the next listing. They’re not going to take the time to pick up the phone and verify with you the information that you didn’t provide for them in the search experience.
“This section was made for local businesses. It’s free to all of you to use, so take advantage of it whether you do it yourself or if you paying someone like a marketer to do it for you."
He then moved on to how Google sees shops’ websites; it routinely visits websites to index their information (known as “crawling”). A shop website’s page titles, content, images and video tell the shop’s story, so the more details the site provides, the higher it will rank in Google search results. He also suggested that shop owners use keyword research to incorporate the terms Google deems most relevant, e.g. “body shop” over “collision repair.”
“When Google identifies that your site can best answer collision repair customers’ needs, you win,” he said.
While the above describes ways to improve a shop website’s chances of displaying higher in Google’s search results organically (for free), he also discussed paid search options, such as Google Ads. Paid Google Ads always display at the very top of the search results, which is a major advantage on mobile because mobile view only displays the top two results without having to scroll down to see the rest.
Betts moved on to online business reviews and reputation management. He shared that 91percent of consumers read online reviews for local businesses, 84 percent of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, and 74 percent of consumers say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more.
“That’s the big factor---trust,” he said. “That’s why we all do reviews for the next person coming along, and that’s what we’re all looking for as consumers when it’s time to make our next purchase [or] buying decision.”
He encouraged attendees to ask their customers to review them online and emphasized the importance of responding professionally and helpfully to negative online reviews.
“When you get a negative review, the worst thing you can do is not respond,” he said. “It’s about the audience that’s observing the negative review and what you as a business owner or business manager did about the situation. So you’ve got to put on your diplomat hat, and you’ve got to determine how to engage and respond so that ultimately you’re showing that audience of bystanders that ‘here’s what I’m doing to try to make your situation better for you.’”
He then moved on to utilizing social media to promote one’s body shop and encouraged posting videos and reposting positive customer reviews of the shop.
He later stressed the value of videos even further by sharing that online videos are consumers’ preferred method of engagement; four times as many customers would rather watch a product video than read about it, and 78 percent of people watch online videos every week. He shared two examples of impactful body shop testimonial videos that featured both the customer and owner/manager explaining that the shops were OE-certified, demonstrating how much they prioritize customer safety when completing repairs.
“Video can increase conversion rates by 80 percent on landing pages,” he said. “So when we say landing pages, whatever page the consumer starts searching for on Google and they link to your site---that’s the landing page. If you have a video on it, you’ve just drastically improved your chances of them picking up the phone or filling out the form that connects to your email.”
Betts ended the seminar by summarizing the major points of his presentation, saying that he wanted attendees to leave the session feeling empowered with ideas to take back to their shops and embrace digital marketing with confidence.