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Fast Lane: Boosting Your Business With A Web Presence - Part II
By Jim Walbolt
In part one of this series ("A Web Site Can Add To Your Business Bottom Line," August 2006 Engine Builder, page 38) we talked about the need for every business to have a Web site, regardless of what type of business you are in. Sadly, in the recent Machine Shop Market Profile in this very magazine, it was estimated that just 41% of automotive aftermarket businesses have a Web site. Worse news yet, just 18% of you - the readers of Engine Builder - who responded to the survey reported that you have a Web site. It was also reported that of those businesses that do have a Web site, 35% generate sales of product or shop services through the site.
The bottom line is, you need to have a Web site. Richard Brooks, the chief technology architect for AERA explains, "To legitimize yourself today, you have to be on the Web; you need an email address such as firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally, if people don't find you on the Web, it's just like not being able to find you in the Yellow Pages 20 years ago. In potential customers' eyes you're not a real business."
Of course, like any new technology, many are slow to embrace it, mainly because they don't know anything about it. Heck, there are probably many shops still not using a computer.
And I understand that you are busy running your business and just don't have time to devote to adding a Web site to your marketing mix. That it should be part of your marketing program however, is the reason you need to find a way to make it happen. I'm going to try to help you accomplish it.
Your Web site needs to be simple and easy to navigate. You don't really need all kinds of fancy animations, fancy buttons or other things that slow a site down. Anyone looking for your business is looking for information and if they have to wait for pages to load, or need to click through all the pages on your site to find the information they're looking for, they'll likely just go on to another site.
There are many options for creating a Web site. You can do it yourself, hire a Web site design company, or use a combination of these. There are companies on the Internet that are set up just to help you build a Web presence. Many of these online sites use step-by-step layouts with templates. All you need to do is choose your style and design, then insert the text and images. A very good one is Verio at www.verio.com. There are also solutions available from trade organizations such as AERA, the Engine Builders Association.
One word of caution; while there are many free Web development sites out there, I don't recommend using them. You must present a professional image on the Internet, just as with any other marketing tool. Your Web site, newspaper ads, radio ads and even your shop exterior, make up the first impression that potential customers will see, and like it or not you will be judged by it. You must present a professional, inviting impression to get that customer in your shop the first time.
Using the "free" sites as your exclusive Web presence will just not present that professional image. Sites built using these free tools are often full of advertising not necessarily focused on your shop. Why should you advertise for any other business? Your concern should be "YOUR" business. While these types of sites have their place, it shouldn't be for your business.
Perhaps the best solution, at least for AERA members, is a service offered by AERA, part of its "Business Generation Network." According to the AERA Web site, "AERA is positioning itself as one of the top sites on the Web when consumers are searching for engine related services. Because of this we are offering to our members the opportunity to participate in this venture. We firmly believe that by doing this we can drive more business to you."
AERA will provide the following services: They'll construct your Web site with four or five Web pages about your business and its services including photos. They'll provide a Web presence for one year or longer and register your domain name (URL address). Your domain name is how people find you on the Internet. It is just like a telephone number for your business, but it takes people to your Web site and unlike a telephone number, it can use your business name instead of numbers.
Some may also call it your IP address and while that isn't technically correct, the two have become nearly interchangeable. I won't get into the differences other than to give you a brief explanation. As human beings, it is much easier for us to remember names, but a computer works in numbers. Your domain name could be characterized as a "nickname" for your IP address, which would actually be something like 220.127.116.11. When you register your name, it will be assigned a similar number. As I said, you don't need to worry about it and if you work with AERA, they'll register a name for you.
AERA will also provide updates to your Web site and you'll get email addresses with YOUR business name in it, i.e. John@mymachineshop.com and AERA will email you client information for those looking for your specific services. Potential clients will be presented with your business name, address, Web site address, email and telephone number all as part of the AERA Business Generation Network.
The AERA program uses numerous customizable templates. You simply choose the design you like best, and then let them know what colors and other design elements you prefer. You will need to supply all of the information that you want on the site such as the services you provide, contact information, etc. You'll also want to supply them with images of your shop, shop equipment, finished jobs, etc.
If you are a member of AERA, this benefit would probably be the most cost effective, least time consuming option for getting on the World Wide Web. If you're not a member, it would be a great reason to join. To see what they offer just go to the following address on the internet: www.aera.org/promote.aspx, or call Karen Tendering at AERA, 888-326-2372.
The best way to learn what you want or like on your Web site is to look at others. Take a little time to "surf the Web" to find what you like and don't like about other sites. A good place to start would be looking at the member list on the AERA Web site. All members are listed and those that have a Web presence show the site address as well.
One site I would recommend is D&S Engine Specialists' Web site. They are from Clawson, MI, and their Web site address is www.dsenginespecialists.com. Their site has all the elements you would need. It is simple in design, but looks professional. It also tells you AND shows you everything you need to know about their business. They have even included a short promotional video about their business.
One note: the D&S Web site was not designed through the AERA program. To see a site that was created by AERA you might want to check out Dean Yatchhyshyn's Cresap Automotive Machine Web site at www.cresapmachine.com.
Another essential ingredient of a successful Web presence is having a site that will rank high in the search engines. The formula that the search engines use to rank sites is one of the most closely held secrets in the world, even more so than the formula for Coca-Cola. It takes a good designer to create a site that continuously ranks high because there are certain elements that help keep a site high in the rankings.
Brooks says, "A lot of things play into search engine optimization. Links into your site are important but also be sure that you aren't a dead end site and can take people other places as well. You need to have plenty of text on at least your home page - and it needs to be relevant text. For instance, if you sell pistons there needs to be a lot of discussion about pistons."
Brooks also explains that search engines don't typically like sites built using "flash" or "frames." Most search engines can only read text.
Having a Web site should be a part of your overall marketing plan, not your only one, just like many of us used the Yellow Pages in the past and are now using the Internet. If you're talking about the twenty something's out there, they probably don't even know what the Yellow Pages are. So if you're not on the Web, you'll never reach them.