BY MARK PETREEEditor’s note: We talk a lot about online marketing and the latest ways to attract customers in CD. The truth is, however, that many operators aren’t taking advantage of these tools, whether it’s because they are too busy, never got around it, think it has to cost a lot, or simply don’t understand how to get started. If your marketing plan is on your to-do list for 2022 (and it should be!), this article will be your companion. Plus, retail is pretty hot right now in our industry as corporate travel recovers, and these services are where you can connect with those prospects.
In the beginning of a new business, you typically have more time than money. Often, marketing becomes secondary when things get moving, but the initial plan stays in place—or falls completely by the wayside. You know continuous marketing is important, but the question is: Where do you spend that valuable time to yield the best return?
A different strategy will work for every operator. The key is testing lots of different channels to find out which ones are right for your business. If you’re unsure about where to get started, read on.
To start, every operator should set up:
• Facebook Business Page
• Google My Business Page
• Yelp Profile
• TripAdvisor Profile
These are all free—how’s that for marketing on a budget—to set up and make ready to go in a matter of hours, except for the Google My Business page (this is the section of the search page that features three or four listings with local results). For this one, you need to wait for a verification postcard in the mail. It’s possible to sign up for Google My Business without this postcard, but I do not recommend it, as those profiles have a higher chance of getting flagged and removed.
“After you get the lead, it’s important to get in touch with the potential client right away, as follow-up speed is everything when it comes to converting leads into paying customers.”Next, be sure to post to your personal Facebook profile several times a week. Facebook is still heavily used in this industry to connect with other operators (especially the dedicated and popular limo groups), but also customers, so it should be on the list. You want everyone in your network to know that you own a ground transportation business and are looking for new customers and affiliates.
Be sure you are not using your Facebook personal page exclusively for business, as it goes against Facebook’s terms of service. You wouldn’t want to do this anyways, as it is always better that your network sees you as a real person, not just a business.
Yelp and TripAdvisor both have free options where you can set up a profile and start getting reviews. Not only does it help with your SEO efforts, but these profiles can potentially bring in leads.
If you have a few more bucks to spend, there are several options for low-cost advertising, with the most popular being Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Yelp, and pay-per-lead services like Bark, Thumbtack, etc.
Before we go over each in detail, I want to mention tracking, which is incredibly important to any marketing campaign.
While you likely know you should be asking every prospective customer where they heard about you, in reality, you or your CSR will sometimes forget or the person you are asking will say something like “online” or “Google,” in which case, you can’t be sure.
If you’re looking for an affordable way to track calls, I highly recommend purchasing additional phone numbers for the different platforms you advertise on. Sites like Twilio offers numbers for as low as $1 per phone number per month, which is a no-brainer. This way, you will know where your customers are coming from, which can aid you in deciding where your advertising dollars should go.
Google Ads: Google Ads is paid search marketing that is pretty popular in the industry. This is the most effective type of advertising, as you can put your ads in front of the right people when they are searching for the service you offer. Unlike SEO, it does not take months or even weeks to work; it works from the moment you turn your campaign on (that’s when your ads start to show up at the top of Google!).
If it’s so good, why do so many operators dislike and distrust it? Unfortunately, while it is the easiest way to land new business, it can also be very expensive if set up incorrectly.
The most important part of a Google Ads campaign is the keywords you choose, and using the correct match types, which are phrase match and exact match ONLY. So, for instance, a good keyword for your business might be: “airport car service” or [airport car service].
You’ll notice the keyword phrase is either in quotes or brackets; this is crucial! If they are not, you will get calls from people looking for taxis, car repair, or some other irrelevant service. You can have a Google representative help you set up your account and, while some are good, many are not. Just be sure to let them know you only want to use those match types, and have a keyword list ready. If you need some help creating that keyword list, I created a video 2 years ago that is still relevant today (it can be found V here).
At press time, Google was offering $500 in ad credits if you spend $500 (new accounts only), so be sure to take them up on that.
Facebook Ads: Facebook Ads can be a great advertising tool for the right sort of limo business. Unlike Google Ads, you do not have intent—meaning someone isn’t actively searching for the service you offer.
Because of this, you must make an attractive offer, which is what will stop the person from scrolling through Facebook and get them to take action, whatever that action might be. This might be $150 off a Napa Valley Wine Tour or a special on transportation to dinner and the hot new show, for instance. The person downloads the coupon, and in return, you get their contact information.
Now what? This is where most operators drop the ball, and why many think Facebook Ads don’t work. There must be follow-up, and not just once. The prospect who downloaded said offer might not have been wanting to book a trip right then, which is why you must have some sort of automated follow-up sequence that will ping them once every few weeks to redeem the coupon.
Don’t just create an ad that says, “Book Your Limo Now.” It won’t work.
And finally, be sure you set up your pixel. When someone takes the action you desire, your pixel is there to let Facebook know that this is the type of customer you want to target in the future. It does that by matching the thousands of data points, signaling from that person’s profile, and matching it to others that are similar. The more “conversions” you have on that pixel, the better the Facebook algorithm gets at finding similar people who might have interest in your offer.
Yelp: This seems like another platform that operators either love or hate. It’s been around a while—and you might even have an ancient profile out there—but people are still using it. According to Rank Ranger, Google is the top website in terms of organic traffic, but Yelp is hanging on at #10, topping TripAdvisor (#11) and LinkedIn (#13)—for reference, popular movie review site RottenTomatoes is #29. Yelp claims that it had 43 million unique visitors to its desktop webpages and 52 million unique visitors to its mobile sites as of December 2020, according to its 2020 10-K report.
Yelp allows people—actual customers—to post reviews and the business can engage with the reviewer on the site. If you have raving fans, their review can be like a digital word of mouth on Yelp. Many people like to research before they use a company for the first time, so having a solid profile and highly rated reviews can help persuade someone to give your service a try, or at least to call for more information. Yelp also allows companies to post photos. For a few bucks, your company can be promoted (and competitor ads “hidden”) and specials can be advertised.
On the downside, you will find the service sometimes hides positive reviews, which can be frustrating. They claim that it has nothing to do with whether you pay them or not, which I cannot confirm. At press time, they were offering $300 in ad credits (these terms apply), so give them a shot and see if they are right for your business.
Pay-Per-Lead: These are websites where you pay for each lead you receive. Bark and Thumbtack are two popular PPL sites. For instance, Bark will send over the job details for you, but leave out the customer’s information. If you think the job is right for you, you can pay for the lead in credits. Operators have shared that leads cost anywhere from $2-10 each, depending on many different variables.
As with Yelp, I recommend trying out both services and seeing what sort of return you can get. The great thing is the upfront cost isn’t very high, and it won’t take a lot of ad spending to figure out if this platform is right for you. After you get the lead, it’s important to get in touch with the potential client right away, as follow-up speed is everything when it comes to converting leads into paying customers. They are looking now.
Out of all of the above platforms, I typically see Google Ads and sometimes Yelp performing the best, based on the feedback I receive.
You might notice I did not mention SEO. This article is about marketing your limo business on a budget, and SEO is not cheap. You can expect to pay a minimum of $500 per month (but likely much more for quality SEO) and will need to do so for at least six months before you begin seeing results, unless you have an older website or one that has previously done SEO.
The last thing you want to do is avoid different platforms because you’ve heard they don’t work. Effective forms of advertising will be different for every company, even those within the same industry. The biggest risk you take as an operator is not taking any risks. Be sure to test out all of the above, and when you find one that works, go all in! [CD1221]
Mark Petree is the owner of limo marketer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.