With over 30 car brands manufacturing more than 250 models, the US automotive market is large and diverse. Even choosing a car to buy can be a tedious, time-consuming process. So finding reliable vehicle repair advice for a specific car model can be quite difficult.  Rick’s Free Auto Repair Advice is an invaluable resource that was created to solve this problem. Owned by Rick Muscoplat, RicksFreeAutoRepairAdvice.com caters to a DIY and semi-pro audience and includes actual step-by-step repair advice along with buying tips. 

Rick is a former ASE Certified Master Auto Technician. He was the Automtotive Editor for the DIY publication The Family Handyman for over 13 years. Rick started his blog RicksFreeAutoRepairAdvice.com in 2009, almost on a lark. He occasionally posted articles but didn’t put a lot of effort into it until he opened the blog up to reader questions. That’s when he realized, that in addition to wanting to know how to perform DIY repairs, readers also wanted a source for basic automotive knowledge. Non-DIYers, who had no intention of performing their brake job wanted to know things like, “What goes into a basic brake job and how much should it cost?” Or, “My shop is telling me I have to spend $1,000 to get my AC fixed. Is that how much it really costs to fix AC?”

As traffic picked up, Rick decided to monetize the site with affiliate marketing, Amazon Associates and Google Adsense. He found that the affiliate marketing links dragged readers off the site, reduced on-page time, and didn’t produce any significant revenue. Amazon Associates at first produced some income, but as Amazon reduced commission structures, he couldn’t justify losing on-site time to such low earning. Google Adsense was the only one producing income.

That’s when Publir called and said they could help.

In this interview with Rick, we try to understand his journey in the digital space, the various challenges he has faced, and how he has benefited from his association with Publir. Let’s begin!

Q & A

Q. Could you share a little bit about your background, what you were doing before you started the website and what led you to found the website?

A. Well, I have a background in automotive repair. I apprenticed as a mechanic in high school. And then years later, when I was looking for a career change, I went back to a trade school and got my certifications. But my main source of income has always been marketing, consulting, and writing. Putting the website together was just a lark.

My nephew is into web design and has designed some big websites that have been very successful. So he put the bug in my ear about putting together a blog with free auto repair advice and he built the website for me. Those were the days when you could make money by adding an  eBay affiliate link. You got a $25 finder’s fee for everyone who opened an account. I added posts to the site and just kept writing. Then I signed up with Amazon Associates, Google AdSense and other affiliate marketing companies. I was making some commission money, but it wasn’t very much. 

Q. Were you a big car guy? Is that why you chose this topic?

A. I’m not into my muscle cars and I’m not into modifying cars. I really like computer end of car repair. I understand how computerized cars work and how to diagnose them. And I have a knack for explaining things in a way that people can understand. I do a lot of research on car repair and I read all the trade magazines to keep up with the latest service bulletins and recalls. l read about 20 to 30 automotive trade magazines a month.

Q. When you first started the website Rick, how did your audience find you? How did people find out about you, come to your website?

A. I would go on to auto forums to see what kinds of questions forum members were asking. Then I’d write posts that answered the members’ question and post links to my site. That got me kicked off of a lot of forums. Then I’d just find another forum and keep doing the same thing until I got kicked off of all of them. But the links did generate traffic.

Q. But by then, I assume that you were getting picked up on Google search engine.

A. Right.

Q. Is Google now the primary source of traffic for you?

A. Yes. A vast majority of our traffic is from organic search and the rest is referral and social. Every once in a while, I’ll post popular articles on Facebook. I’m not a huge believer in Facebook. I’ve just never found it to be all that worthwhile.

Q. Do you have a profile of who comes to the site, what they are looking for?

A. Most are looking for advice on a specific repair. Right now, in the summertime, it’s all about air conditioning fixes. All of my summer traffic is about “How do I fix my air conditioning?” They’ll do a Google search and find an air conditioning article on my site. They’ll read it and then they’re gone. The time on site is not very high and they don’t browse other articles.

The demographics are: 27% of our traffic is in the 18 to 24 age group, 33% in the 25 to 34 age group. Also, the vast majority of visitors are under 40. But this is interesting. 54% are male, 45% are female.

Q. That’s a very good gender split, I think.

A. What’s going on here is these are wives or girlfriends trying to find information for their husbands or boyfriends. It’s really funny. I’ll see a post on Reddit from a woman saying “my husband thinks he knows how to fix the car, but here’s what’s going on, can anybody help me?” I’ll post a link and it’s the wives trying to help their husbands!

Q. That’s interesting. So is Reddit a decent source of information and links to your site too?

A. I’m on Reddit a lot. They don’t kick me off because I provide eight to 10 posts with no links and then two posts with links. So the moderators can see that I’m not trying to spam the site; that I really do provide solid advice without always promoting my site. .

Q. Okay. So in terms of how you split your time Rick, is the site website now the primary thing that you do on a day-to-day basis?

A. I spend about two hours a day on the website. I’m trying to get three to five new posts a week on my site.

Q. I think that makes sense. So as you think ahead about what content you want to produce or how you want to attract a newer audience, are you looking at podcasts or video content?

A. I have thought about podcasts and I’ve thought about a video hosted on the site instead of on YouTube. What’s holding me back is the editing time. I just don’t want to put that kind of time into video editing. And I don’t know, I have real mixed feelings about the video. 

I was an editor for 13 years at the Family Handyman Magazine. That’s a complete do-it-yourself audience. And we went through the same quandry there about do the repair in text or on video? If you’re going to doing the repair while watching a video, you really should be watching it on a tablet rather than your phone. Plus, you’ll be doing a lot of scrubbing back and forth through the video to make sure you catch all the details, especially if the steps move too fast.

If the video isn’t planned out well in advance, it can really mess up the viewer because a step might be missing. You can’t always assume the viewer knows how to do a basic step or has the right tool. When it comes to video, it’s either do it right or don’t do it at all.

We found that even if we did it right at the magazine, we’d still see a lot of abandonment after about 45 seconds. That’s a lot of work to put into a video just to lose your audience at 45 seconds.

Q. What are some of the things that keep you up or that you’re worried about as you’re running the website?

A. Finding new content is hard. I’ve got close to 4,000 articles now, so I’ve covered all the basics. Also, it’s getting to the point where cars are so complicated now that it’s going to be hard for do-it-yourself to keep fixing their own cars without really specialized tools or parts. For instance, I answered a guy today who had an air conditioning problem. And he said, “Can I fix this myself?” It’s a 2018 car so it’s using the newest refrigerant which he can’t buy. You have to be a licensed technician to buy the new refrigerant. So the bottom line is no, you can’t fix your air conditioning. Even though I could talk you through it, you can’t get the refrigerant. So that’s an issue.

Q. There’s always going to be a demand for your content as long as there is an underlying demand for the products that you’re supporting. And that’s going to be getting challenging, maybe not in the next five, six years, but definitely the next 10, 15 years. Are people still going to be looking for auto repair advice or are they going to say, if my car can’t be repaired, if something goes wrong with it, I just take it back to the dealership?

A. Right. Several years ago I started a website called Car Smarts for Women. It wasn’t about how to fix your car yourself, but instead, what you need to know to get your car fixed by a shop without getting fleeced.

Younger people are not fixing their cars. They’re part of the Do It For Me (DIFM) generation. But they’re still concerned about “How do I get my car fixed without getting screwed by the shop?”

So if I did do videos, I would concentrate on, look, here’s what’s involved in a brake job and here’s where the scams are. Here’s how to avoid getting screwed on a brake job. And that topic has an audience for both men and women.

Q. So other than Publir, do you have any other revenue sources that produce a significant chunk of your revenue?

A. No. I do have two affiliate ads promoting shop manuals. And I still have some old Amazon links that still produce. But it’s not a lot of money. Publir is our main source of revenue.

Q. Could you talk a little bit about how Publir was able to help you improve your revenues?

A. When [Publir] called me, I knew nothing about you guys or what you did. Most of my income at the time was from Google Adsense. You said you could increase my income from the site. What worried me was when you said, “When you switch over to us, it may go down for a while but it will pick up.” That really scared the hell out of me. But I decided to give you guys a shot. Earnings did go down for a short time, and then it started to ramp up. And it ramped up and it ramped up and it just kept going. I mean, you’ve seen the numbers, our revenues grew ten-fold! So it’s been phenomenal. You guys have done an incredible job. Way more than I ever thought could happen.