Every once in a while someone will say to me, "Todd, you're nuts to be giving away some of these ideas for free." Well, this month is another great example of that. Consider it my early Festivus present to you. I guarantee that if you follow my advice in this column your dealership will make significantly more money next year, even if you don't have anything to do with e-commerce.
The hottest areas of search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) right now are local results. At the recent Search Engine Strategies convention in San Jose, Calif., I heard several experts mention that as much as 40 percent of all Web searches that have to do with commerce (i.e. a person does a search for widget with the intent of buying widget) have an intent to transact locally if at all possible. Obviously for things like services, that number is more like 100 percent. Oil changes and brake jobs are not going to get killed off by e-commerce any time soon.
The secret is based on the fact that the only people that use things like phone books to find a business are typically sitting in a cave and/or not all that interested in internal combustion engines anyhow (much to the chagrin of your pushy Yellow Pages sales rep, of course).
What do people use instead? Why, the Interwebs, of course. They open up their browsers and type in things like "motorcycle oil change Las Vegas," or "ATV tires," or just about any combination of powersports-related keywords and locations. Even if they don't type in an explicit location, most major search engines use a technology called IP address geolocation to figure out where they are to add it to what they're looking for to offer relevant search results.
So when someone in your locale types "motorcycle oil change ZIPCODE" into Google (or Yahoo!, or Microsoft's Live), does your shop show up in the local business results for motorcycle oil changes near your town? Does your competition? How much more business would you be getting if you did?
HOW DO YOU GET INTO THOSE RESULTS?
It's a combination of having a Web site that is properly optimized for the kind of content you're hoping to attract people to (for organic search engine results) as well as making sure that you have a business profile created on all of the major search engines out there and any and all local resource sites that cover your neck of the woods.
If that sounds like a lot of work, you're right, it can be. But there are tons of sites, firms and consultants that can help you out; just Google terms like "local search engine marketing." Sure, you can hire an Internet advertising firm, but I'll do you one better. Instead of paying some marketing firm to manage and place your ads and to do the required SEO activity, hire someone internally to not only manage all of these locally focused activities, but to also become your local community relationship manager.
I go into this idea of a community relationship manager from an events standpoint in some detail on my site (http://tinyurl.com/perpetual-events ).but it really becomes valuable when you have a local expert manage all of your local-centric SEO/SEM activity as well. Local SEO/SEM is much easier to get your arms around than general SEO/SEM activity.
The price you pay for the right person to manage your local presence will provide an ROI at least three times what you would get if you spent the same amount of money you are going to spend on salary on traditional advertising (Yellow Pages, radio, TV, print, etc.). You also have the additional benefit of being able to closely track how well the work/money spent on this person is converting to new sales.
You need to hire the "right" someone to make this situation work to its full potential. If you need help figuring out who the right someone should be, drop me an e-mail and I'll help you with the job description, as well as where to look.
There's almost no limit to what your community relationship manager/local Internet marketing person can do. Promote your business events using tools like Zvents (www.zvents.com) or MeetUp (www.meetup.com). Zvents is way cool because when you enter in a new event on the site, Zvents sends that event out to all the partners that are buying their event feeds. So just by posting your event on Zvents, local print and online publications as well as local search engines will have your company and event information, dramatically magnifying the reach you have to get more customers into your shop.
Finally, while there are real benefits to getting your dealership's local-centric online presence spruced up, in the future it's going to become even more important. All current and planned cell phones have some kind of GPS capability as well as Internet access. Standalone GPS units are going to begin adding real-time data that goes beyond just traffic reports and maps.
When a couple is out on their cross-country trip and need service immediately, they are going to whip out their Google Android-based phone and type in "motorcycle service" or something similar. If your shop doesn't show up and your competition does — well my friend, you just lost money.