Only Good (Dealer Digital Strategies) Die Young

The Crappy Ones Hang Around Forever...

In the wake of the many recent rockstar deaths I felt it would be relevant to start a conversation on what Automotive Digital Marketing tools and strategies really should die this year.


It’s time we take a hard look at these long time, waste of times, and begin a discussion on higher-level and higher-quality strategies and techniques to use in 2016.  Let’s stop allowing these trends to dodge bullets like Google Analytics and Common Sense. Let’s allow these 5 crappy strategies and tools to finally die.

R.I.P. Home Page Slideshow

2005 – 2016

Dealer website Slideshow - VW

I’m not sure who started it or how it became such a staple in the dealership digital strategy – but it needs to die and die quickly. A quality slideshow presentation only caters to a very small demographic frequenting your website. So let’s identify them. They are the 5% or so that spends more than 45 seconds acquainting themselves with the contents of your homepage. They are the small remaining percentage of internet shoppers who have gobs of time on their hands, who are fearful of social media, and probably discovered your dealership originally via the print newspaper.

In short they are the dodo bird of the online shopper and would have a better experience and demonstrate a higher conversion possibility if they were better guided through your site.

Boys and Girls, it is time to ditch the slideshows and focus more attention on convenience, user experience, through the utilization of a streamlined digital strategy. Look at modern examples from Dealer Inspire, DealerOn, and even some more recent layout options to get ideas.

R.I.P. Display Marketing

2011 – 2016


For whatever reason there are certain digital marketing techniques that simply do not work in an automotive retail context, and display marketing is one of the top offenders. From insane bounce rates, little time on site to embarrassing pages per session metrics – display advertising campaigns are fueled by hundreds of thousands to perhaps millions of automotive advertising dollars each month with no real measurable or promising results – at least not that I have ever seen.

Low cost is never a great single reason to commit to an advertising medium. It needs to be Low Cost plus something. Low Cost + Many Pages Per Session, Low Cost + Lots of Leads. Stop allowing display ads to Turn your website into a “Bouncy House”.

R.I.P. Low – Moderately Granular Inventory Automated Search Ads

2012 – 2016

Granular Inventory Automated Search Ads

I can understand why so many dealers bought into the idea of taking their entire used (and sometimes new) inventory and machining it into dynamic adwords search ads. It sounds so freaking cool and hyper effective – but it often isn’t.

Let’s picture that you have something super rare, highly desirable, and you’re pretty much the show in town. Let’s say you have a Used 2005 BMW 6 series Alpina B6 with 20,000 miles – sounds like the perfect candidate for a hyper-targeted, automated ad right? Wrong. Because of the tremendous gap in competitor SEM advertiser lack of competence, the effectiveness of your ads to deliver strong ROI and low cost per click will be disrupted by other advertisers who are not using proper keyword and negative keyword strategies. Because of this, your 2009 BMW Alpina B6 ad will likely be competing against other dealers bidding on “Used BMW”, “2009 BMW Radiator”, “2009 BMW recalls” etc.

Until PPC advertisers learn how to properly structure campaigns, use negative keywords, and improve location and keyword targeting, it will remain difficult for Inventory Fed Automated ads to demonstrate their true ROI potential. Also – most of these ads link directly to the VDP… I don’t have the stomach for this kind of gamble. I feel it’s a mistake. A better place to send search traffic would be a stable page that isn’t 100% dependent on vehicle availability.

Also, what if you send them to a white B6 Alpina – but their heart is set on owning a black one? Too many variables, not enough ROI. I like the concept of this kind of Ad delivery and strategy but I personally have yet to be impressed with the results.

R.I.P. Image Only Email Marketing

2004 – 2016


Lazy. Pure and simple. That is the underlining reason why these companies and strategists continue to prevail in the dealer marketplace. Not only are the companies making these image-only email products lazy – but their customers are also equally lazy (which is even worse).

Image-only emails may be breathtaking to look at in Photoshop but keep in mind, not all email clients are going to auto download your images, not all wifi connections can handle giant image downloads, and many people are not email savvy enough to click the “Download Images” link.

Effective email marketing strategies cater to the lowest common denominator and are heavily tested to ensure they are deliverable, effective, and provide ROI – there really isn’t a whole lot you can effectively track from image only emails.

If you want to UP your email marketing game, you need good content to give context to your customer that justifies why they should open your email. This is accomplished by proper list generation, data mining, customized subject lines, opening lines, as well as superior analytic tracking.

Stop working with email marketing services that just churn out the same image only email ad design being sold to countless dealers over and over.

R.I.P. Automotive Tools and Tech that Only Run Correctly on Old Versions of IE

Dawn of Time – 2016


I believe we can actually cross this one of the list. Hallelujah!

Please share your thoughts on these 2016 victims and feel welcomed to submit your additions. This is but a very small list of what needs to end/change this year.

Negative SEO – It’s Real And You’re Likely A Target

One of the biggest headaches for digital marketing agencies is staying up to date with what is happening with Google’s search algorithms.

Google Dr. Evil

Lately I have seen a VERY disturbing trend, that it is easier to lower other people’s ranking than it is to increase your own. Due to recent updates by Google it has opened up a whole new world of black hat SEO that is called Negative SEO.

What is Negative SEO?

Negative SEO is the practice of intentionally trying to manipulate a site’s rankings in the search engines (in a negative way).

When you talk about negative SEO, most people will talk about very low quality link building, but there are many other techniques that unscrupulous people are using to harm your website’s rankings. I will go into a bit more detail on these other methods later in this article, although I don’t want to provide so much information as to make it easy for black hat (people that practice negative SEO techniques) to take advantage of them if they are not already aware of them.

Google has been very quiet on the topic. They opened the flood gates for this new negative SEO strategy with the Penguin and Panda updates. So, what have they said on the topic?

3 Easy Things to Do TODAY to Fill Your Service Bays Tomorrow

Pretend you’re the owner of a 2010 Ford Focus that recently went off warranty. Your check engine light just clicked on – most likely due to a battery issue – and you need to get it fixed ASAP. There’s seven inches of snow forecast for the weekend ahead and you can’t afford to risk an issue in the cold. Put your consumer hat on and think about where you’d turn for help and information given the circumstances.


Now take it one step further.

Pull out your smartphone or open a new tab in your mobile browser and search for “battery replacement,” “brake repair,” “oil change,” or any number of common services consumers look for online in your neighborhood every day.

See what comes up!?

Your Dealership’s Digital Marketing Strategy Sucks!

Well… Maybe “Sucks” isn’t exactly the right word but, I promise that you are going about your digital marketing in the wrong order of operations. And, yes, there is a correct, comprehensive and strategic Order of Operations when it comes to all dealership website marketing approaches.

Supercharge You Digital Marketing

Hey, do you know something else that “Sucks”? Car Superchargers!

Building high-performance muscle cars and building a high-performance dealership website is very similar especially when the goal is getting the absolute best output from every dollar spent from your budget. I assume that everyone who reads DealerRefresh is familiar with what SEM is and what it basically does. And, seeing how this is an automotive-audience I will make the same assumption that everyone here knows what a Supercharger is and what it does.

Search Engine Marketing is the Same to a Dealership’s Website as a Supercharger is to a Vehicle’s Engine.

1.) Both are tasked to force-induce more “volume” into their perspective power plant.
2.) As they REV up whether it’s RPMs or dollars spent they increase exponentially.
3.) They both work better when the power plant is built to handle them.

Where superchargers and SEM are completely different is the stage at which they are implemented to increase volume.

Nearly every dealer that wants more leads starts SEM as their first (and sometimes only) modification to their website marketing  and very, very few engine builders select a Supercharger as their first power plant modification and for really good reasons.

5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Own AdWords Account

You’re likely spending a decent chuck of change each month on PPC at your dealership. Wouldn’t it be great to know you’re doing it correctly? Of course, it would be. I’m extremely excited to welcome Michael Pistell as our newest contributor to DealerRefresh as he has awesome information to share with our community. – Kershner

How many features are you NOT taking advantage of with your dealers Paid Search / Adwords Account – that’s COSTING YOU every day?

Stop Sabotage

Over the last few years, I have worked with hundreds of dealers that are sabotaging their own Paid Search. Here are 5 Best Practices you NEED to employ right away to maximize your campaigns…

#5 Your Display ads annoy your potential customers

Limiting the amount of impressions a users sees per day will keep your CTR under control and your targeted audience happy.

Have you ever been browsing the internet and noticed the same graphic ad being shown to you many times per day across multiple sites? That’s a Re-marketing campaign created by a PPC manager who forgot to set frequency capping. While being shown an ad multiple times per day does have an effect, there’s a diminishing return with each impression you serve to the same user. Those diminishing returns will inflate your impression count and cost you money at the end of the day.

Frequency capping should be done on all campaigns running in the Display network, here’s how we fix this:

How Negativity in Adwords Can Yield Positive Results

The challenge of Paid Search/Adwords can be quickly dismissed once one realizes the incredible possibility of impressive results.


There are many educational resources for “would-be Adwords experts” along with plenty of tutorials, agencies, and expert-trainers who can be hired. However, in my experience, the only real way to master Adwords is to dive right in and start building campaigns yourself.

Mazda Adwords Changes


This tutorial isn’t going to teach you the basics of Adwords, SEM, or any other entry-level approach to Paid Search Marketing. Instead I’m going to focus on the area of Adwords that in my opinion is the most overlooked and can really be the deciding factor between relevancy and completely unrelated traffic.

It can be the difference between generating a lead or generating a bounce. It affects your quality score, ad relevancy, the frequency your ads are shown and perhaps most importantly YOUR WALLET.

2 Strategies to Reduce Your AdWords Cost per VDP View

Dealers are spending more and more money each year on Google AdWords campaigns.

Google Adwords Campaign Report

AdWords can be a very effective way to connect dealers with in-market shoppers.  With budgets increasing, I want to encourage dealers to demand more transparent reporting from their AdWords management agencies.

In particular, I would like dealers to request that each AdWords campaign to have additional metrics documented so that some specific campaigns can be better optimized.  In the example below, adding three columns to standard AdWords reports can be very helpful in campaign optimization for online advertising strategies that are designed to connect consumers with in-stock cars.

Not all campaigns are designed to drive consumers to look at in-stock vehicles. However, campaigns like a dynamic inventory campaign based on in-stock VINs, should be driving a high percentage of clicks your dealership website’s most important page(s) – the Vehicle Detail Page (VDP).

The data shown above is from actual dealer campaigns that I recently audited.

6 Predictions That Will Impact Automotive Retailing in 2014

Every year I like to have some fun imaging what’s in store with the future of large scale marketing and technology trends and how it may affect dealerships, consumers and possibly the industry. This is the most exciting list I’ve put together yet – and with that, I give you my Carstrodamus 2014 picks that may have the furthest reaching impact on the industry! 
1. The Semantic web will transform the search engines from keyword index engines to answer engines. Context and relevance are now more important ever. Google wants to create a connection (linked data) between the words on a web page to understand their meaning and your intent. Approximately 20% of organic results are delivered due to this initial wave of structured data added to website content. And the good stuff hasn’t even hit us yet. 
The quickest solution to help accomplish this is the structured data vocabulary called I believe website vendors will scramble for ways to shift their search marketing teams and respond to the need for structured data solutions – unfortunately they will try to scale what I believe is the wrong solution. Their efforts will be slow, inefficient and terribly difficult to scale. Faster, more complex and more efficient solutions will present themselves for all industries – including automotive. This solution will improve the level of context and overall understanding of the content within the vehicle detail pages and improve their overall lead performance – for those who participate in this massive shift with the proper data structure.
You see, the problem that exists is that content isn’t being created for the Semantic web, it’s simply being translated into formats such as A standardized solution, which bypasses this process and populates content dynamically for the Semantic Web, using different data interchanges and libraries, will set off an explosive disruption across the Internet. This will forever change the way search marketing is approached.
Conversational search will be a key element of consumer behavior and will drive newer, more valuable content marketing strategies that play nice with the new semantic/structured data search landscape. This will have a profound impact on search marketing and conventional website solutions the industry has yet to experience. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it throughout 2014 – the Semantic Web will be a massive game changer. Bonus item #1: Google+ will continue to grow. G+ will become an important, active element of dealership social media marketing activities because of it’s ability to contribute linked data to the Knowledge Graph and support valuable links such as the Author and Publisher attributes. Plus, more automotive marketers will realize this is the second most active social network platform with over 340 million users. They’re there for a reason.
2. Social media marketing strategies will shift to include more emotional content in short story format. This approach will be a direct result of savvier content creation teams understanding both the user’s desire for higher quality content and Facebook’s changing ecosystem. Quality, contextual content will reign supreme while memes will be relegated to a barren wasteland of minimal impressions within Facebook. If that’s your social strategy, your newspaper ads may be just as effective – and you know what a waste they can be. Social platforms such as Pinterest, Instagram and Vine will continue to help businesses tell their stories in short-form video format. 
Organic exposure for Facebook brand pages has dropped upwards of 40% due to the updates to their content algorithm update. Expect to see a small portion (1-5%) of ad budgets move towards paid campaigns with Facebook, and even Twitter, as the platforms are clearly entering a new phase of driving revenue, improved contextual targeting and better overall performance for those who understand the shift. Facebook is clearly a pay to play platform now – and it’s quickly turning into a mobile platform as 60% of it’s users are mobile. Bonus item #2: Facebook buys Foursquare for their location based marketing database. Location activity is a weak spot for Facebook and Foursquare could fill a much need void providing better mobile contextual advertising solutions to it’s user base.
JFK Google Glass
3. Wearable technology including watches, glasses and apparel will become part of millions of people’s lives. This will also include connected devices providing more control of our vehicles, including better communication with them as well. This will create a new, early-adopter layer of consumer behavior and connectivity. Brand relationships and unique experiences will drive a new type of notification economy where brands and their products will have the ability to communicate with you about the things that matter the most on the devices you choose. Think Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watches paired to your phones. One of the biggest news items will be the consumer version of Google Glass – look for this around April, 2014 with a cost of $299. I believe the real opportunity for the industry is for content creation and data collection. Dealers will be able to build valuable libraries of images and virtual test drive videos with platforms such as Google Glass. 
Activities such as notification alerts from companies, messages from your vehicle and the ability to control connected devices such as the lights and thermostat in your home. Hello Internet of Things. It’s here. Other items contributing to changing our mobile behaviors will be shape-shifting mobile devices with bendable glass. Eventually we won’t all be clinging to devices in our hands like cigarettes. How is this going to impact the industry? Massive consumer behavior changes as users will continue to explore new ways of staying connected with the things that are important to them. 
4. Ride sharing will explode into new markets further changing driving habits and ownership expectations of younger drivers. Leaders such as Uber and Lyft will continue to influence large city driving habits as they continue their massive growth, enter mid-size markets and become a mainstream solution for locals and travelers. Both companies are seeing an incredible revenue surge; Uber does $20 million per week in revenue while Lyft is growing 6% per week! Other companies such as Sidecarr, Hailo and Gett will help push this change as well. This could mark the beginning of a cultural shift as their user base grows and the concept of ride sharing becomes an acceptable ownership alternative. 
5. Tesla showrooms will grow more than 60% as their product line continues to expand with the introduction of the SUV, possibly a pickup truck and eventually a lower cost, entry level sedan. Showrooms could swell from 52 to 80+ and provide even more convenience to a specific segment of buyers. State dealership laws will continue to be challenged and test widely accepted standards. The industry infighting will continue for years; a recent ABI Research study indicated the electric car market shouldn’t begin to make a significant impact to the traditional retail market until 2020. 
This equates to the 150,000 estimated EV’s expected to be sold this year globally year increasing to 2.36 million units in 2020 – growing approximately 48% per year. Should traditional dealers be concerned about these numbers in the short term? The biggest sellers are currently the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Model S. Nissan sold 16K+ units in the 1st nine months of the year and Tesla sold 9900 units. 
old office

6. Internal marketing departments will continue to add specialists who focus on their individual areas of expertise. Highly focused automotive search performance officers will become integral members of the marketing teams. Dedicated social media individuals and/or small content teams will continue to expand and work closely with the marketing department, the search team and even the dealership staff to drive the socially aware ecosystem every store should have in place. 

A State of Word of Mouth Marketing Survey stated that total social media advertising spending will reach $4.6 billion this year, up 35% from $3.4 billion in 2012; looking ahead, they see social media ad spending climbing to $8.22 billion by 2015. This would indicate a total annual growth rate of around 35% over the next two years. This growth will require highly skilled, dedicated professionals who are prepared to manage these efforts effectively.

What do you think? Have any big predictions for 2014?