Car wash companies have a multitude of marketing options: billboards, direct mail, print advertising, and, more recently, the Internet. But does Internet marketing make sense for a car wash? Is it worth investing in a high-quality website, social media, search engine marketing, e-mail, and paid search advertising?

The short answer is yes, but some Internet marketing options make a lot more sense than others for a car wash. Here is an overview of the Internet marketing basics to help you decide where to focus and how much to budget.

1. Local SEO is a Natural for Car Washes

Local SEO (search engine optimization) is a long-term marketing campaign to make your business appear prominently in Google’s organic (non-paid) search results when people are searching for a car wash.

Google processes billions of searches every hour, and many of those searches are people looking for local businesses. In addition, mobile phone users are very likely to be looking for a car wash while they are on the road. Big opportunity!

A local SEO campaign, depending on the size and competitiveness of your market, could cost several hundred dollars or more per month, and will take several months to ramp up. You’ll want to hire an agency or freelancer with a proven track record in local SEO for consumer businesses.

2. E-mail Marketing is Good for Repeat Business

If you can get customers to give you their e-mail addresses and permission to e-mail them, an e-mail campaign is a great way to stay in touch and give customers a reason to come back.

E-mail marketing does not require a large investment, and is often done in-house using a dependable e-mail marketing platform. The keys are to provide customers with useful information about auto care and appealing offers (such as discounts or free service) — these are the things that customers want to see.

Mailing once a month is a good frequency to start with. In addition to creating content for the e-mail, maintaining the list and getting new people to sign up requires a fair bit of ongoing work.

3. Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising is Ultra-Flexible

PPC advertising usually uses Google AdWords to have ads display your car wash on Google when people are searching for one in your area. PPC has several advantages that make it very attractive to small businesses:
• You can start and stop PPC campaigns very quickly.
• You can control the budget down to the penny.
• Ads display in the best positions on Google’s search results pages, so lots of people see them.

There are some potential negatives to PPC. If you are in a very competitive, urban market, ads may be very expensive. If this is the case, you may need a substantial budget — $1,000-plus per month — to get a good return on your investment. And because managing a PPC campaign is quite complicated, you’ll need a pro to manage it, requiring you to pay a management fee in addition to the cost of the ads. Nevertheless, PPC may be worth a three-to-six month test.

4. Social Media Is a (Sometimes) Useful Frill

We have not seen social media be particularly effective for most small/local businesses. While it’s nice for your brand to have an active presence on popular social media sites, it’s hard to know how much business it creates. Results for other Internet marketing options, such as local SEO, paid search, and e-mail are easier to measure and provide a more direct route to a sale.

That said, if your budget is big enough and you have someone on staff who is social-media savvy, it may be worth focusing on one or two social sites to see if you can build a community of followers. It will take time, and don’t expect earth-shattering results.

5. Here’s What You Need on Your Website

Naturally, you want your site to deliver a great experience to anyone who visits it. But it’s possible (probable?) a lot of your customers, even your best ones, have never looked at your website.

It’s probably not necessarily to invest $20,000-plus in a custom website. On the other hand, if you neglect your site, you may be driving business away. Here are elements your website must have, at a minimum.

• Mobile-Friendly Design — More people use mobile devices than desktops to access the Internet. And as mentioned earlier, it’s likely a lot of your website traffic may be coming from these mobile users. It is essential to give them a great experience.

• Directions to Your LocationEmbed a Google Map marked with your location on your contact page. This is the best way to guide people to your car wash, and it also helps your SEO.

• NAP — Every page of your website should display your company name, physical address, and phone number (NAP). This is basic for local SEO, but also makes it easy for website visitors to find and contact you from any page of your site. Make the phone number unmissable!

• Offers — Displaying special offers and/or providing downloadable coupons are great ways to turn passive website visitors into customers. Keep them fresh, and take advantage of seasonal opportunities such as discounts on car-mat cleaning during the winter.

• Simple navigation — Make it easy for site visitors to find what they need in a hurry. Top navigation should be as simple as possible — for instance: Home, About, Services, Contact.

6. Cultivate Online Customer Reviews

Customer reviews have become a big part of Internet marketing on sites such as Yelp, BBB, and many others. People are interested in what customers have to say about your car wash, and these reviews appear very high in the rankings on Google and other search engines. It’s to your advantage to encourage positive reviews, while staying within review site guidelines.

The best way to build positive reviews is to provide exceptional service, and take care of complaints and problems quickly and thoroughly. Remember, many online reviews include photos, which can really help or hurt a car wash business.

It’s also imperative to monitor customer reviews. If you see a negative review and the review site allows you to respond, you should do your best to tell your side of the story and/or make the problem right. Doing this can turn a negative review into a positive impression.

7. Online Marketing Budgeting

Naturally, you don’t want to invest in any type of marketing unless you can expect some type of return. For Internet marketing, you should consider the lifetime value of a customer.

Suppose you are considering a PPC ad campaign and the ad costs $10. If 10 people click on the ad, you’ve spent $100. If one of those 10 actually comes in for a car wash, you will certainly lose money on that transaction. However, if a typical customer comes in 12 times a year for five years, your ad expenditure struck a gold mine.

The more you know about your customers’ behavior, the easier it is to assess your return on Internet marketing.


Also, it’s important to give any Internet marketing campaign enough time to succeed. Local SEO and e-mail marketing can take several months to ramp up. While PPC has a quick ramp-up, continual testing makes most campaigns improve over time. Testing and continuous improvement is actually a big part of any Internet marketing campaign. If at first you don’t succeed, don’t throw in the towel. Many campaigns fail simply because the company gave up too soon.

Brad Shorr is director of content strategy at Straight North, an Internet marketing agency headquartered in the Chicago area. You can visit the company on the web at