Using Google Places to Market An Auto Body Shop

We at Web-Est have spent a lot of time writing and talking about the strength of the Internet to bring in customers to auto body shops in this tough economy. Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Facebook have been recent topics of discussion. SEM is the way to go if your willing to spend big money. There's another tool out there that is much more cost efficient, yet still highly effective: Search Engine Local Listings. All search engines have a business-listing program that is specifically designed for services to the local community. We'll spend the next few blog entries talking about these programs. Lets first start with the Internet big dog: Google Places.

Google has had a local business listing for a long time, with its "Maps" application being the dominant tool. In April, Google did a re-launch by adding new features to the program and renaming it "Google Places." Of course, you've got to be asking yourself the question, "What does it do and how can it help my business?" Google Places gives businesses a chance to connect with consumers in a specified location by listing the business online in a Yellow Pages-like directory that appears to a consumer every time they search particular terms in Google's search engine. By setting up an account, you build a single page, called a Place Page, that allows you to add a business description, business hours, photos, coupons customers can print out, as well as a link to your website should you have one. You're also listed in their Maps application, which will give potential customers the opportunity to obtain driving directions from their location to yours. Another cool feature is its adaptability to mobile devices. Once you set up your Place Page, it immediately becomes available to Google's users on their mobile applications. For example, if a consumer in your area gets into a car accident and has no auto body shop in mind to go to, all that consumer would have to do is go to his or her mobile device, search "auto body shop," and your listing will come up. The listing that customer sees comes with directions, a phone number to call and access to your website. This reach into mobile Internet users is pretty important for small local businesses because estimates by some experts are that by 2015, mobile Internet users will exceed PC Internet users. So take note.

The biggest kicker of all for this program is that its free of charge. Google offers this product as a free service to its users. There is a feature that costs a flat fee of $25 per month, but its not essential to the service as a whole, nor is detrimental to its effectiveness if you don't use it. Its also a complete turnkey product. You spend a little bit of time setting up your Page Place, activate it, then let it ride. Very little management is required. Setting up an account will give you immediate access to potential customers in your are without you having to really do much or spend much. Just as an example of its effectiveness, the leadership at my church just put up a listing on Google Places. The church is located in a suburb of Atlanta and has been running the listing for over a month. Our listing has already been viewed over 300 times, clicked on 70 times and has produced 41 requests for driving directions. And we're not even a business! Of course, the demographic for a church is much different than that of a an auto body business, but the key point is that it produces visitors, it creates a bigger audience for you to target and its completely free. Imagine this program producing just one job for your business. If it produces even one job for you, its already worth the investment. And it has the potential to produce more than just one job per month for you. Give it a try! Let us know how it works for you.