Pick your cliché. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. You get what you pay for.
There are lots of advertising and marketing efforts out there that are pushing free services, or services that are so inexpensive that they aren’t representative of the true marketplace. These are often efforts to lure you into other services that cost much more, or monthly fees that add up over time. Or things that will take so much of your time you’ll wish you had just paid someone to help do it for you.
Think about it. What can you really get for $100? Or $500? Honestly, can you build an effective website for free on your own? Those who can are true professionals. Those who can’t either hire these professionals or, unfortunately for them, use free or ultra-cheap services. And that’s going to be a problem. Here’s why.
Free or ultra-cheap sites will almost certainly not perform the way shop owners will want.
Let’s revisit the purpose of a website. It should have only one main purpose: driving traffic to your door and getting you cars to fix. Isn’t that what you want from it? Some of the other things might be nice, but they should be icing on a well-developed website cake. Here’s what it takes to bring you cars to fix:
A site that’s optimized for search engine indexing. This means that a search engine should be able to land on your site and easily tell exactly who you are, what you do and where you do it. This, as I’ll explain in more detail in a bit, is a science that takes hundreds of hours of study to understand and a commitment to keep up with the hundreds of changes search engines make to their algorithms each year. A truly optimized site will show up on searches the public uses to find the services you provide not for you by name, but by the actual services you provide.
A well-designed website must be professional looking and make a great first impression. Colors must match, and there must be effective “calls to action” that direct a visitor to do something you want them to do. You want them to pick up the phone, call you, get directions and request an appointment or estimate. These are the things that must be easy to find, right on the top of the homepage, and be eye catching enough to get the visitor’s attention.
What You Don’t Know
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: This is not like the movie “Field of Dreams.” Just because you build a website doesn’t mean people will come to it. It’s much more complicated than that. Free or cheap will likely set up your new site for failure.
Do you know anything about search engine optimization? Do you know what title tags are and how many characters should be in an effective one? Do you know what a meta description is, how many characters are recommended by Google and how these can improve your click-through rates? Can you build a site map? Do you know how to verify your site in Google’s Webmaster Tools? How about your h1 header? Is it written correctly so that it fulfills its all-important SEO role? How about keyword usage? What are the most used terms the public uses to search for the services your shop offers? (You know about keywords if you read my columns!) Do you know how to build backlinks and what anchor text you should have in them? Do you even know what all these terms mean? This is SEO 101, and if you don’t know them and build your own site for free or cheap, you’ve missed the boat.
Do you get my point? You can spend little or no money and end up with something that doesn’t bring you business. A truly well-designed and optimized site will cost you more, but not all that much when you consider that it will bring you cars to fix. Get two or three cars to repair from your website and the rest is gravy, while a poorly optimized site will sit there visible primarily only to those who know you by name. When building a new website, you should hire a professional who really understands SEO (and few do).
The Weakest Link
So let me cut to the chase. Your website is only as strong as its weakest link. If your site isn’t optimized, be it a new or old site, it likely isn’t ranking well and is costing you opportunities every week. But even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while. In this dog eat dog world, that means your competitors are potentially eating your lunch. Enough clichés for you? If the job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.
BSB Contributing Editor Mark Claypool has more than 30 years of experience in the fields of workforce development, business/education partnerships, apprenticeships and Web presence management. He is the CEO of Optima Automotive (www.optimaautomotive.com), which provides website design, development, SEO services and social media management services. Claypool’s work history includes stints at Metro Paint Supplies, VeriFacts Automotive, the National Auto Body Council (NABC), the I-CAR Education Foundation and SkillsUSA. He is the founder of Mentors At Work and co-founder of the Collision Industry Foundation. He served, on a volunteer basis, as the SkillsUSA World Team Leader for the WorldSkills Championships from 2003 to 2011.