Area of Focus #2 - Search Engine Optimization
Ok, now that you have a great website, we’ve got to drive traffic to it. We’re going to cover a multitude of ways to drive traffic to your website in this article, but the primary way, and the most cost effective way, is through Search Engine Optimization, otherwise known as SEO.
Before getting too far into SEO, I want to be clear about something. I’m going to use the name Google a lot. When I say that, I’m really talking about all of the search engines. Google is the 800 pound gorilla when it comes to search. At the time of this writing, Google had over 86% of searches in the USA, and over 92% worldwide.
To see the latest statistics, visit http://gs.statcounter.com/search-engine-market-share.
When you optimize, you optimize for Google. The rest will follow.
There is “white hat SEO” and “black-hat SEO. If you think back to the old western’s, the good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black hats.
White-hat SEO is doing SEO without trying to manipulate the search engines. It’s all about creating the best, most informative website that you can around the topic you want to rank for.
Black-hat SEO is using manipulative techniques to make your website appear to be a more influential website than it is, or to try and make it rank for topics that it really shouldn’t, like the names of competing shops.
Then there’s “grey-hat SEO”. These are things that are a bit blurry. They’re pushing the limits of white-hat, but not as directly manipulative as black-hat techniques.
We’re going to talk mostly about white-hat techniques. We may touch on a few things that could be considered grey-hat. When it comes to black-hat, as much as you may be tempted, don’t do it.
SEO can be broken up into a few categories.
- On-Page SEO
- Off-Page SEO
- Local SEO
On-Page SEO is the stuff (yes, “stuff” is a technical term) that we do to and on your website to make it rank better.
Off-Page SEO is the stuff we do on other people’s websites to make your website rank better.
Local SEO is the stuff we do to make your business come up in places like Google’s map listings when people are doing searches like “auto repair shops near me” or “auto repair houston tx”. There is a very thin line now between on-page/off-page SEO and local SEO, and that line is getting pretty blurred.
SEO for auto repair shops is fairly easy because auto repair shops are local businesses. For the most part, an auto repair shop is going to do business with people who live and work inside of a 5-7 mile radius of their business.
This can be different for specialty shops. If you specialize in something like diesel pickup trucks, European cars, exotic cars, or you do high-performance work - in your case people may travel much further to have you work on their vehicles.
On-Page elements that we’re going to look at are:
- Title Tags
- Meta Descriptions
- Header Tags
- Canonical URL
- Page Speed
Title Tags - Your title tags are one of the primary ways of telling a search engine what a particular page of your website is about. Title tags will normally be put into your page settings. The only places you will see them are in search results, the tabs on your browser, and in the source code of your webpage.
[Insert image showing title tags here]
According to MOZ, the optimal title tag is:
Primary Keyword - Secondary Keyword | Brand Name
So if your shop was names Jim’s Automotive and is located in Katy, Texas, your title tag for your homepage would probably look like this.
Auto Repair Shop Katy, TX | Jim’s Automotive
Title tags should be 55-60 characters in length, so you can only fit so much information into them. Be smart here.
Your homepage title tag should have your main keyword. The one that best encompasses everything you do and people are searching for.
The interior pages and your blog are where you’ll get to optimize for the other terms you want to rank for. We’ll get into that in much more detail in the section about content.
Meta Descriptions - Your meta description supposedly has nothing to do with search rankings. So if the meta description doesn’t affect search rankings, why am I talking about it? Well, I’m not completely convinced that they are truly not a ranking factor, but I know for a fact they are a conversion factor.
The meta description is displayed in search results, and the term that the searcher typed into Google is bolded when displayed. This helps to convince the searcher that your website is the one they were searching for.
[Insert image showing meta descriptions here]
Ideally your meta description should be less than 155 characters. Use it to tell the searcher why your auto repair shop is the one they should choose.
Your homepage meta description may look like this.
“Jim’s Automotive was chosen as the Houston Chronicle’s Reader’s Choice Favorite Mechanic in 2017, and 2018. We’d love to be your favorite mechanic too!”
Header Tags - Your header tags set the hierarchy of your content. The H1 header tag is the most important for SEO, but the others do matter.
The easiest way to think about header tags is to think about an outline.
- The H1 is the overall title of the outline.
- The H2 is the title of the main sections of content.
- The H3 is the title of sections within each primary section of content.
Header tags can keep going through H6, but H1, H2, and H3 are the most commonly used header tags.
Each page of your website should only have one H1 header tag. This is what tells both the reader and the search engines what the page is about. If you have more than one H1, it confuses the search engines.
Warning - make sure you use your header tags for hierarchy of content first, then styling. Just because you like the way a particular header tag looks, don’t use it where it doesn’t make sense.
If you want to get a good look at the header tags on your website, use the Foxy SEO Toolbar. This is an add-on for the firefox browser, and I don’t typically use Firefox, but I do love this tool.
Once you’ve installed the toolbar, go to the webpage you want to check out and use the “search spider simulator” to view your page. You’ll then see the header tags highlighted for you.
Keywords - The keyword meta data is no longer used. If you are putting in your title tags and meta descriptions and you see a place to put in keywords, just don’t. It is not a ranking factor. It’s a waste of your time.
That being said, the keywords that are in your content are absolutely a ranking factor. Don’t get this confused. More on that in the next section.
Content - Your content is arguably the most important factor for ranking your website. I’ve had people come to me before to build them a website and they tell me how they want a really simple website without much text on it and they also want it to be at the top of page one in Google. That’s just not how SEO works in this day and time.
For search engines to consider your website enough of an authority to display it in the top few positions of search results, you’re going to have to have some pretty good content.
If your auto repair shop is located in a small town or rural area where you don’t have much competition, you can probably get away with very little content. But if you’re reading this, that’s probably not the case.
So how much content do you need to have? That’s going to vary by your market and your competition. The way to determine this is to analyze your competition that is winning in search.
If the shop that’s currently in the number 1 position for your keyword has 1500 words on their homepage, you’re going to want to shoot for 2000 to 2500. But it’s not just about the quantity of words. It’s about the quality.
Everything starts with keyword research. You need to know what words people are searching for. The search engines have become pretty good at determining the searcher’s intent, so you don’t always have to have the exact words the searcher is typing into Google, but the closer you can get the better.
So if the search term “mechanics near me” has a search volume of 200,000 and the search term “auto repair shops near me” has a search volume of 70,000, you’re going to want your primary keyword to be “mechanic”, regardless if your techs want to be called technicians.
As I said though, the search engines do understand that when someone is searching for a mechanic, they’re searching for an auto repair shop, or a car repair shop, or an auto service center, or an automotive technician.
Search engines understand associated terms. They understand topics. So don’t get caught up in things like keyword density. Get caught up in creating content that the search engines will read and be able to make the assumption your business is a place for people to take their cars for service and repairs.
That’s for the homepage, the about page, and the contact page. Your other pages will be optimized for terms associated with the various auto repair services you provide.
So how do you organize your content? At Shop Marketing Pros, we’re big advocates of using pillar pages and cluster content.
A pillar page is a long page with a lot of content about a main topic. This page is a pillar page on the topic of auto repair shop marketing. Your pillar pages will be on the topic of auto repair, and you’ll want to cover as many facets of auto repair as you can within your pillar page.
Your pillar page about auto repair may talk about maintenance, tires, alignments, diagnostics, electrical repairs, transmission service & repair & replacement, front end repairs, what to look for in a good shop, ASE certifications, the different types of vehicles you work on, and more.
Then you have your cluster pages. Cluster pages go deep into the topics you cover in your pillar page. Your pillar page will link out to your cluster pages, and your cluster pages will link back to you pillar page.
One of the best things about this way of writing is that it makes it very easy to come up with ideas for content. (link to video about this)
Check out our deep dive on pillar pages here. By the way, the page you go to is a cluster page about pillar pages. Yeah, it’s kind of meta. We know :).
Pillar pages are all about optimizing your website around a topic instead of around keywords. That’s the way people think, and it’s the way search engines are beginning to “think”.
Internal Links - your website’s content should link from one place in your website to another. This will be especially true when you use pillar pages, but true regardless how you organize your content.
That’s all an internal link is; a link from one page of your website to another page within your website. Internal links should take the reader on a journey through your website.
Don’t force internal links. If your content is well thought out, these links should come naturally
URL - Your url should have your primary keyword for the page in it. So if you have a page about 4 wheel alignments, your url should look something like this.
www.yourdomain.com/4-wheel-alignments or www.yourdomain.com/services/4-wheel-alignments
A good rule of thumb is that someone should be able to guess the url of a page on your website just by knowing the topic of that page.
Your content management system should allow you to designate the url of each page. If it won’t, it’s time for a new website.
Canonical URL - The canonical url is something that’s only seen in the code of your website. It’s purpose is to tell the search engines what url you want it to use for that page.
In many cases, a page will have multiple urls that can be used to access it. For example:
Those could all be links to a homepage on the same website. We would want the search engine to use www.yourdomain.com as the URL regardless which path it followed to access the page.
The canonical url will tell the search engine which one is the correct one.
Without the canonical URL, Google would look at this as 5 different pages with the exact same content, and duplicate content is not good.
A modern CMS should add the canonical url automatically. To see if your website is using the canonical url tag, view the source code and search for the word “canonical”.
Images - Your images are another way to tell the search engines what your website, and specific pages within that website, are about.
Images need to be optimized for both keywords, page speed, and geolocation.
Optimizing for keywords:
Filename: The main page image should have the keyword in the filename. So one of the homepage images should be named something like “auto-repair-katy-tx.jpg”.
Alt-Text: The alt-text is data that you append to images on a website that describe the image. The original purpose of alt-text is for screen readers for the hearing impaired to be able to describe the image to the reader. Search engines use this data to determine what images are, and what a website is about.
Just like the image filename, your alt-text should include your keyword. An example of this would be “Auto repair shop, Jim’s Automotive in Katy, TX”
In the case of the filename and alt-text, don’t over-do it. Place your keyword in the filename and alt-text on one image per page, then for the rest of the images name them and describe them in a way that would actually describe the image.
If you have an image of a technician working on a car, you could name it something like “mechanic-mark-performing-oil-change.jpg” and then the alt-text may be something like
“Jim’s Automotive, mechanic Mark Thompson, changes the oil on a 2015 Toyota Camry”.
When writing alt-text, think of how you would want a screen reader to describe an image to you if you were unable to see it.
Speaking of screen readers, ADA compliance has become a hot-topic in the last few years. It’s a good idea to make your website ADA compliant. Read our guide to ADA compliance here. [insert link to our ADA compliance cluster page]
Optimizing Images for Page Speed
Large, dense images slow down websites, and the search engines don’t like slow websites. You want “lightweight” images on your auto repair shop’s website.
Images are measured in dpi, or dots per inch. The higher the dpi, the more dense the image is, the larger the filesize will be, and the longer it will take for a website to load the image.
Rookie webmasters will often make the mistake of uploading images just as they came from the camera without editing them. The problem is, most modern cameras shoot at at least 300dpi. A website only needs an image to be about 72dpi to display clearly.
There are lots of free tools out there to resize your images. Of course, we prefer tools like Photoshop, but use what you have. https://www.lifewire.com/free-photo-resizers-1357016 If you want a free tool with professional features (and a professional learning curve), check out Gimp. https://www.gimp.org/
When optimizing images, it’s important to first adjust the physical size of the image. You need to know what the absolute largest dimensions an image will display at. So if an image is never going to display at more than 1200px wide, resize the image to 1200px wide.
Once you have your image sized properly, you’ll want to adjust the resolution to 72dpi. If you want to make them really lightweight, follow the process up by running the image through Tiny PNG. https://tinypng.com/
Optimizing Images for GeoLocation
This is a more advanced technique, but I feel it’s worth it. I cover this in detail in our free class on Google Maps for Auto Repair Shops. [link to class]
Images contain metadata that gives all sorts of information. It will contain things like what type of camera was used, what the settings were on the camera, the date and time the picture was taken, and more.
The photographer can choose to input information like copyright, type on lens being used, and much more.
When using a phone or other type of camera that has GPS, the geo coordinates can be inserted into the image’s meta data. Google will read that data and it is believed to help with SEO, especially local SEO.
We want to insert that geographic location data into our images. To learn how to do this, watch this video.
Page Speed - The faster your website is, the better it can perform in the search engines.
You can test the speed of your website with Google’s Page Speed Test. https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/
Now it’s easy to become compulsive about this. Just know that you’re never going to get your website’s speed to 100. Google.com isn’t even a 100. Shoot for about an 80 on desktop and mobile, and don’t start stressing about it unless you’re in the mid 70s or under.
The quickest gains you’ll get when trying to increase your page speed will be from reducing the file size of your images. We talked about that in the previous section, so that’s all we’ll say about images in this section.
Your website’s code is another factor in the speed of your website. This is something that you’re not going to dig into yourself, so I’m not going to explain it any further. If you think your website’s code is causing it to be slow, hire a developer to help you fix it.
Low quality hosting can cause your website to run slow. Most websites are on shared hosting. That means that multiple websites live on one server. There is nothing wrong with this, but when you put too many websites on a server, things start slowing down
The cheaper your hosting is, the more likely it is that the server is overloaded with websites. On top of that, cheap hosting is normally done on old servers that are slower to begin with.
So the takeaways here are - optimize your images and pay for quality hosting.
SSL - SSL stands for Secure Socket Layer. The only thing you really need to know here is that Google likes SSL, so put an SSL certificate on your website. Just do it. It is absolutely a ranking factor and one of the easiest things you can do to rank better.
Blog - I talked about having a blog in the website section of this article. It’s worth repeating though. For SEO purposes you really should have a blog.
Your blog is the place where you’re going to cover a lot of topics that people are searching for. You’ll get all sorts of keywords into your website without even thinking about it.
Your blog will also establish the topic of your website, so make sure that when you’re blogging, you’re blogging about topics that are relevant to auto repair.
Have a blog, blog often, and blog deep. Cover your topics in detail. Yes, it’s ok to have the occasional 300 word article, but make 1000 words a habit, and do the 2500 word blog post every so often.
Share articles, videos, images, events, podcasts, and any other types of content you can justify in your blog. When you use video, transcribe it.
Putting it all Together
Now that you know the most important factors of on-page optimization, let’s look at what this looks like in the perfectly optimized page.
Note: the image below is inspired by MOZ’s graphic on The Perfectly Optimized Page.
[ https://moz.com/blog/visual-guide-to-keyword-targeting-onpage-optimization ]
Create graphic like https://d1avok0lzls2w.cloudfront.net/uploads/blog/perfectly-optimized-page3-117675.jpg
Create checklist for on-page elements
Off-Page elements basically come down to:
- Social Signals
Backlinks - Backlinks are one of the most powerful tools to make your website rank better. If you think about it, it makes sense. If a bunch of other websites are linking to your website, your website must be saying something important.
To some people, “backlinks” has a negative connotation. That’s because the black-hat guys used to build thousands of worthless backlinks in blog comments to make a website rank….. and it worked. This tactic no longer works.
There are nofollow links and dofollow links. The difference is that a nofollow link does not pass along any “link juice”, whereas a dofollow link does.
Because of this, most people focus solely on getting dofollow links. The problem is, if a website has too many dofollow links, it does not look natural to the search engines. You do want those nofollow links. There is no defined ration, but if you’re around 60:40 or 70:30, you’ll be fine.
You want backlinks from powerful websites. Websites with high domain authority. Website where it makes sense for them to link to you. They are either websites that are related to the auto repair industry, or they’re related to your geographic location.
So it makes sense for Motor Age Magazine or WorldPac to link to you. It makes sense for your local chamber of commerce to link to you. It even makes sense for a local mommy blogger to link to you. But it doesn’t make sense for a sewing website out of Pakistan to link to you, no matter how much domain authority it has.
Some ways an auto repair shop can naturally get quality backlinks are:
- Get listed in association directories like
- ASA, MWACA, IGO
- Chamber of Commerce
- Better Business Bureau
- Send out press releases
- Write guest blog posts
- Become an industry celebrity (write for trade publications)
- Become a local celebrity (be an expert for the local news station)
- Be a guest on podcasts like Remarkable Results Radio
Link building should be part of the marketing plan of any auto repair shop located in a highly competitive market. Building lots of high-quality, relevant backlinks is completely possible if you’re smart and patient. Don’t be tempted to fall into the trap of buying low quality links. It will burn you in the long run.
Social Signals - Social signals are often thought of as links from social media to your website. Whereas that is absolutely one type of social signal, there are others to be considered.
Social signals are posts, likes, reactions, comments, shares, etc. Whenever someone does anything on social media in relation to your auto repair shop, for you that is a social signal.
When the search engines see a lot of activity happening on social media in relation to a brand, they know something is up and you will see a boost in rankings. This is often a temporary boost, but it is thought that consistent social signals will cause more permanent effects of rankings.
Some of the things that can cause in bump in social signals are:
- A news story relating to your business
- Scandals and drama (you don’t want this)
- Something you do going “viral”
What can you do to increase social signals for your shop? It can be much harder than you think, but when you succeed, it can be worth the effort.
Citations - Citations are simply any reference to your business that includes at least the name, phone number, and address. They can also include information such as web address, hours, ratings, and more. For an auto repair shop, that’s the typical information you would find in a citation.
Most people think about citations when they are thinking about “Local SEO”, but as I mentioned earlier, the lines between SEO and local SEO have blurred so much that it’s hard to talk about one without talking about the other. When we sell SEO to our clients, we no longer differentiate between the two. It’s all included.
The vast majority of citations will include your web address, effectively giving you a link to your website. Many of those will be nofollow links, but remember, you want those too. #AllLinksMatter
Ok, this analogy is going to be a stretch but I’m going to go for it anyway.
Have you ever driven from North Carolina to South Carolina on I-95? If you have, you saw a lot of billboards for a place called South of the Border. Over the years there have been as many as 250 billboards with all kinds of fun, crazy sayings on them.
If you’re driving through there, as you continue to see more and more of these billboards, you can’t help but want to stop.
Citations are kind of like that. The more citations a search engine sees, the more interest the search engines will have in your business. It’s the same as with links, just different.
Citations will especially affect your results in the Google Maps 3-Pack.
There are 2 categories of citations:
- Generic Citations
- Niche Citations
Generic citations are from directories such as Yelp, Yellowpages.com, Merchant Circle, etc. It makes sense for any business to have a listing in those directories.
Niche citations in the automotive world would come from directories such as AutoMD, BimmerShops, Automotive Service Association, MWACA, Ask Patty, etc. These are directories that are specific to auto repair.
There are multiple ways to get these citations:
- By manually finding these directories and creating your own listings.
- By paying a service like Yext, WhiteSpark, or BrightLocal.
- By using an aggregator submission service like MOZ Local.
When building citations for our clients, we use a mixture of all of the above.
As I’ve mentioned at least a couple of times already, local SEO and regular old SEO are so interrelated now that I hesitate to list them separately. But because people are so used to talking about them as individual services/processes, I will put local in its own section.
Just know, you don’t do one without the other and see good results. Your local SEO actions will increase your organic rankings, and your organic rankings will affect your local rankings.
I’m going to oversimplify this a bit by saying that when we talk about local SEO, we’re really talking about the actions we do to make your shop rank better in the Google Maps 3-pack.
I have an online class about Google Maps for Auto Repair Shops, so I’m going to leave the meat of this conversation in that class. I’m going to bullet point what you need to do here, and if you want the details, go take the class.
The actions you need to take for local SEO are:
- Fully optimize your Google My Business (GMB) listing
- Fill out all sections of GMB. Take your time and be accurate.
- Geotag your images before loading them to your GMB.
- Post to your GMB listing often.
- Build citations. Build more than your competitors. Get better citations than your competitors. Get as many niche citations as you can.
- When you build citations, be 100% consistent with the name, address, and phone number, or “NAP”. Street and St. are not the same thing!
- Go take my maps class. Seriously.
[Insert Google Maps for Business promotion]