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Avoid These Website Don’ts

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Evergreen Autoworks in Mill Creek, Wash., got its website going in 1995. Through the years, the site evolved from what was basically a one-page, poorly designed electronic flyer to a still-uninspiring multiple-page template design that was hard to navigate and, to be frank, rather ugly.

Customers were constantly frustrated—attempts to schedule appointments online didn’t work and links to print coupons went nowhere. “We’ve had some pretty awful things,” says Jeff Odom, the shop’s owner.

After years of online trial and error, Odom called on Autoshop Solutions Inc., a specialist in automotive website design. Since the redesign, Odom says his website has become a viable avenue for promoting his business, a resource for consumers and a draw for new customers. One client, who spent $2,000 on repairs during his first visit, came through the door solely because the website portrayed a trustworthy business.

Odom’s website is clearly a winning business proposition—and it’s been honored as one of the Top 10 Automotive Repair Websites in the 12th annual ASA industry-wide competition.

A Click Up on the Competition

Having an online presence isn’t enough these days, says Danny Sanchez, CEO of Autoshop Solutions. That presence must be a good one. Research indicates a poorly designed website can’t hold a viewer’s attention for even a mere 20 seconds, says Sanchez, who charges between $500 and $5,000 for Web design, depending on the complexity.

Consumers, already stereotypically wary of repair shops, don’t trust shops that don’t have a decent website, says Angie Kilbourne, ASA manager of Web operations and a judge in the association’s website competition. She believes that making the choice to have a poor Web presence is making the choice to drive customers away.

Kilbourne sees automotive consumers as an uninformed public, but one that craves knowledge. Attractive collision repair center websites that present sound information make potential clients feel comfortable and generate consumer trust. All of which can lead to more business, one click at a time.

What Makes It Click

So what sets a good website apart from a bad one? The ASA website competition criteria, drawing on standards endorsed by communications organizations such as American Business Media, offer insight into what makes an effective website:

First Impression. A website should have a clean look that isn’t overloaded with text—or flashing emoticons. We’ve moved beyond website trends of the ‘90s—“no more dancing chickens and flashing neon lights,” Kilbourne says.

Visual Design. The colors chosen should be complementary to one another. Kilbourne suggests choosing one light and one dark color to play off each other. Colors that reflect the locality of the surrounding community also appeal to shop audiences. Evergreen Autoworks hit the nail on the head with this tactic. Located in western Washington, ASA judges were impressed by the shop’s use of green shades and blue-hued images as a representation of the forests and water that surround the community.

Appearance. David Moore, president of CollisionBuilder.com, which specializes in website design for the collision repair industry, says it’s important to maintain a clean, concise writing style. “People don’t read websites, they scan them,” Moore says. Evergreen Autoworks and Encinitas Foreign & Domestic Auto Repair, also honored in the Top 10 competition, use short, concise paragraphs and bulleted lists. Moore says such lists draw viewers’ eyes directly to the information, so it can be read quickly and easily.

It’s helpful to include an image of the shop on a website—but only if it’s a good photo. Kilbourne suggests hiring a professional photographer because low quality images are more distracting than beneficial. ASA judges commended Encinitas Foreign & Domestic Auto Repair for its professional images. Julie Macaluso, co-owner of the shop, enlisted photo help from Durrani Web Design as part of the $4,000 she invested in Web design.

“Consumers assume if you have a low-quality website, you probably have a low-quality shop.”
—David Moore, president of CollisionBuilder.com

Ease of Navigation. Solid Web navigation should walk a viewer through a series of obvious clicks. “People aren’t patient,” Kilbourne says. “Viewers need to be able to find what they want in one click.”

• Make sure every link works by checking them regularly. A broken link can prevent search engines from finding your site, and it gives viewers the impression that your site isn’t current or cared for.

• Avoid links that take viewers away from your Website.

• Name your links clearly and concisely, so viewers understand what they’ll see when they click.

• Navigation icons should be consistent throughout the Website.

• The homepage should never be more than one click away.

ASA judges were impressed with Evergreen Autoworks’ user-friendly tactics. “You can find everything you need in one click,” Kilbourne said. The shop has a direct link for car care tips and a nighttime drop-off form right on the home page.

Technicality. In a highly technical industry, shops speculate on how much technical information should be on a website: Not much, experts say. Consumers tend not to understand overly technical subjects, says Kilbourne, who suggests breaking down technical subjects into a series of pictures or a video link.

Objective and Purpose. Consumers want to know who a shop is, what they do and how your shop can help them. All of this can be conveyed through a strong “About Us” page where customers learn:

• How and why the shop started.

• How long the shop has been around.

• Mission statement.

• Code of ethics.

Innovation. Increase your traffic by offering information that relates to yet reaches beyond the topic of collision repair. ASA judges awarded points to Evergreen Autoworks for offering customers a series of basic car care tips and answers to frequently asked maintenance questions.

Credibility. People want to feel safe, and to know someone they can trust is working on their car, Kilbourne says. This can be one of the most difficult hurdles for a shop to clear. Odom and Macaluso agree, and rely on customer testimonials to help. “We highly suggest our clients actively pursue testimonials from their customers, and [display] them around the website,” Sanchez says. “These comments can be very powerful.”

Interactivity. The more time people spend on a website, the higher it will rank on search engines, and the more likely you are to reach greater numbers of potential customers. In the effort to get viewers to stick around a website, some shops have found it helpful to include a mix of quizzes, surveys, a blog, polls and live online chats.

Call to action. Evergreen Autoworks and Encinitas have drawn people to their shops through their websites by offering online coupons and discounts for scheduling appointments online. Experts say this prompts customers to come in the shop.

First Impressions Last

Creating a solid, successful website requires focus and effort. And the importance of evaluating your website to stay competitive continues to grow as more collision shops present themselves—and well—online.

“Consumers assume if you have a low-quality website, you probably have a low-quality shop,” says Moore, of CollisionBuilder.com.
The decision to hire a Web professional paid off for Macaluso. You have to find a Web designer who understands your business, she says. “Put your mind at ease by letting a professional help.” And then let your website work its wonder: One of Macaluso’s clients who discovered the shop online now brings five cars to the shop.

And after you fix up your website, enter it in next year’s ASA competition. Entry forms for the contest will be available starting June 1, 2010. Visit asashop.org for more information. 

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