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Branded Search, How Much You Should Spend and How Dealers are Getting Screwed

This article serves two purposes:

  1. Explain the need for branded search and what it should actually cost and why.
  2. Show dealers how to inspect what their SEM vendors are doing to determine if they working in your best interest or their own. Enjoy!

Why Do I Need to Buy My Dealership Name? I Have Great SEO

This is one of the most debated topics coming from car dealers using Adwords or Bing SEM. For those of you unfamiliar with what (Dealership) Branded Search is, Branded Search are SEM campaigns that contain keywords and ad copy directly related to your dealership’s brand name Example: “Mondello Jeep Ram”.

Often I’m asked, “Why do I need to Bid on My Own Name?

I already have SEO!” unfortunately there isn’t a one size fits all answer to this question. For some dealers, it may be possible, if you have a heavily restricted ad budget to do without Branded Search campaigns. This is not a fantastic idea as it leaves you extremely vulnerable to attacks from competitor’s looking to conquest you. Branded search (if done correctly) should be a small but key component to any well-thought SEM approach.

How Much Should I Spend on Branded Search for My Dealership and Why?

“How Much Branded Search Should I do?” “What is the amount I should spend?” Those can also be tricky questions. It really depends on how much competition you have in your backyard and whether you are being conquested with SEM by rival dealers, 3rd parties, as well as tier 1 & 2. Other factors include how much budget you as well as your business goals are. Here is an article from Jeff Kershner explaining this looks like.

What is a Reasonable Budget to Use for Branded Search at my Dealership?

If 12% or more of your budget is dedicated to Branded search terms it may be time to investigate. I’m not suggesting that it’s wrong to spend over 12% just ensure the costs are justified and the strategy is sound. You need to understand what you are paying for.

Special situations where more Budget may be required include dealerships where the town name is incorporated into the store name and other similar complications. Additionally, if your dealership appears to suffer from a Brand recognition deficiency adding more budget to this effort could be beneficial.

How much should I be paying per click on my Dealership Name?

When it comes to branded search aim for CPC bids starting at a dollar or less. Why? Because if done correctly buying your own company should be easy and affordable. In some metros this bid may be light however I maintain that starting at a sub-dollar bid is the way to go. But keep in there are those rare situations such as the ones mentioned above where a higher bid may be appropriate. A great way to monitor and inspect your branded search ad quality and investment without adding cost is possible.

We use a great tool from Google called Ad Preview and Diagnosis ( to prevent skewing our dealer’s metrics while still showing them their keywords and how ads appear in context to other dealer’s ads. This is VERY important.

What Branded Search Does Well

Branded Search can be a great way to generate low cost, high-quality traffic and leads for your dealership. Of course you should expect low costs and high conversion, as the people coming to your site through branded ads were actually looking for you! Branded ads offer a great way to share your message and align off-line or other digital branded efforts with your SEM. Unifying your overall marketing message is extremely important and branded search can be highly effective. Branded search should not represent the focal point or entire foundation of your SEM strategy. If it is, you’re doing it wrong and need to make course corrections.

Dealers: This is How You’re Getting Screwed.

I’ve been seeing a growing trend of agencies and SEM software companies (serving dealers) including branded search terms grouped into single campaigns instead of following Google Best Practices which suggest creating a separate campaigns for each theme of keywords.

Why would they do this?

Simple. Branded Keywords can inherently be purchased at lower cost because of their relevance to your dealership website. But some of the purchase strategies employed by vendors make branded keywords insanely overpriced but still lower than model and used car keywords. They use these expensive branded keyword costs to off-site outrageously high bids on model and dealer term keywords. The result is that your campaign(s) look like they’re kicking butt and have a decent cost per click when in fact the majority of the traffic generated is coming from branded terms that you are overpaying for.

This helps to conceal outlandish bids from being apparent it is a largely deceptive practice. This enables agencies to hand car dealers pretty reports or show you 3rd party analytics dashboards that look fantastic but hide tremendously poor advertising practices and high costs. Google says “Your Ad Groups [Should] contain a set of similar ads and keywords”.

CPC Costs are Way too High on Dealers Branded Search
This dealer has spent 25% of their budget on these 3 branded keywords this over 40% of their total clicks for the month. Are you outraged yet? This is from a well-known Dealer Search provider.

In addition to over-budgeting towards branded term search many PPC advertisers are over-bidding on Branded keyword terms. Dealer’s need to know and understand that if your ad agency is spending over $2/click on your name – there’s likely a problem. With the right keyword mix, match types, and organization we have created branded Search campaigns (not display select, another one of their tricks) with click costs well under a $1.

Branded, Dealer Term, and GEO keywords in the same ad group
To help hide costs this Large company has included Branded (in Blue) Geographic (in Green), Dealer Terms (in Red) and Even a Competitors Name (in Cyan) all in the same Ad group??? This is against Adwords Best Practices!!! Look at the enormous variance in cost $1.61 – $5.78 a nearly 260% cost increase with no relation between keywords.

Another sneaky trick I see comes from Dealers using their website provider for their SEM. It often appears that Dealer’s homepage meta description and meta titles are sandbagged on the home page so that the provider to generate more Branded SEM cost. This is by far the sneakiest move and harder to spot. Here’s how to identify it.

  1. Google your dealership name.
  2. Observe your branded search ad.
  3. Scroll down to your homepage’s organic listing.

If your dealership name is the first thing read reading from left to right, you’re in great shape. If it isn’t, you might want to have a chat with your Website/SEM company.

I encourage you to talk to your provider and ask them questions about branded search.

Dan Mondello is a true “Car Guy” – his first word (as a baby) was “Vehicle” and while in college Dan worked part time as a Corvette Restorat...