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RIP, Yellow Pages

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Jason Stahl has 28 years of experience as an editor, and has been editor of BodyShop Business for the past 16 years. He currently is a gold pin member of the Collision Industry Conference. Jason, who hails from Cleveland, Ohio, earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from John Carroll University and started his career in journalism at a weekly newspaper, doing everything from delivering newspapers to selling advertising space to writing articles.

It’s official: the Yellow Pages is dead. Hopefully you didn’t hear it here first. Hopefully you heard the death knell a long time ago and decided the Internet was the way to promote your brand.

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The Yellow Pages I’m referring to is the big yellow paper directory dropped off on your doorstep that some people have gained instant celebrity from by ripping it in half with their bare hands. Who knew that they were foretelling the uselessness of this dinosaur?

Yellowpages.com has a little more value. Why? Because people are now searching for information on hotels, salons, restaurants and yes, body shops, via the Internet. But given that Yellowpages.com is nothing more than an online version of the Yellow Pages, it’s still not as effective as search engines because your business still gets lumped in with hundreds of your competitors. Think about it: you’re basically giving your prospects a detailed list of your competitors that includes their addresses and phone numbers.

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Using search engines, you can differentiate yourself from everyone else. Take Google, for instance. It has an advertising program called AdWords where you can advertise to people searching on Google and its advertising network. And you pay only when people click on your ad. It’s cheaper than the Yellow Pages and you can get measurable results at once.

How it works is this: you create your ad and choose keywords, or words or phrases related to your business like “collision,” “auto body,” “auto collision,” “auto repair,” etc. Then, when people search on Google using one of your keywords, your ad may appear next to the search results, so you’re advertising to an audience that’s already interested in you. Google will even help you create a Web site for free. (Note: It’s 2008. You should already have one, and not one of those lame ones that’s perpetually under construction or looks like your second-grade nephew built it. Everything associated with your business reflects your business, so it should be neat and professional-looking.)

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So let’s say you don’t advertise on Google but are still curious about what people find when they “Google” your shop’s name. Well, how Google finds and ranks information is impartial, mathematical and logical. Also, politics and advertising don’t determine where a page ranks. It’s about content, credibility and links.

Google’s computers scan the Internet 24 hours a day and analyze Web pages for information. They look for key words like collision, repair and other important phrases. Where the words and phrases are located along with the density also play a critical role.

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Google determines the credibility of a Web site by looking at who has linked to it. Also, it has other “filters” to determine if the Web site is one that’s trying to sneak its way up the rankings by tricking Google. It’s done with algorithms and rarely is a human involved.

Google can work in mysterious ways. You have to be patient. It can take up to two months to alter rankings. Also, you have to be proactive in generating content that points to your shop.

Negative results or rankings on Google cannot be altered directly. You have to contact the Web site listed and ask them to remove the offending or inaccurate content. Most Web sites have no problem doing this.

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The toughest content to correct are Web sites with “user-generated content.” These types of Web sites include blogs, forums or consumer review sites. This is where a user can register and tell others about their experiences.

Most of these sites allow anyone to post anything with little burden of proof. The majority of webmasters or forum moderators will remove offending or inaccurate content if you contact them. Either that or you can register and create your own profile in order to tell your side of the story. But don’t resort to personal attacks. In the eyes of the Googling consumer, the shop that responds will look better than one that did nothing at all.

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One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not choosing the right Web address for your shop’s Web site. Forget about snappy words or slick phrases. The key to getting a top ranking is to include the name of your shop and what you do in the address. For example, www.eastsidecollisionrepair.com would be ranked higher than www.eastsideshop.com.

Have you ripped your Yellow Pages in half yet? If so, maybe a second career is calling.

*Many thanks to Andrew Markel, editor of Brake & Front End, for his research on Google.

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