Best PracticesOpinions & Advice

Direct links from the Manufacturer?

Is a direct link from the Manufacturers Website a must-have?

As a large dealer family with multiple franchises (including GM brands), we have a non-Cobalt website, which means that when prospects hit our GM brand websites, our dealership location is listed, but without a live link to our website.

I certainly understand the value of having a live link to our website at the OEM level, however, we have to balance this value against having another website vendor that can better meet our needs.

My question is this; Is having a direct link at the OEM level for GM brands a must-have?

Is it worth the price of paying for a basic template website with Cobalt just to get that live link and have that additional site complement our primary site?  For those of you that have a Cobalt website and get this live link with GM, have you measured the traffic clicking through from GM to your website?  I would appreciate any input, many thanks!

Kevin Frye
eCommerce Director – Jeff Wyler Automotive Family

  • A
  • July 2, 2007
From SEO (Search Engine Optimization) perspective it is never a good idea to have two site with similar content. You just don't know how Google and other Search Engines will respond. You might see all you SEO points disappear from you primary site, only to see your "basic template" Cobalt site start showing in the search results.
I looked at GM site and it has a Google Page Rank of 8 out of 10. This means that a link from GM site is very valuable from SEO perspective and as a result Google just might give your "Cobalt" site a higher rank than your existing site. (Not sure if this is the desired effect you are looking for.)
I guess one thing you can do is put a link from the "Cobalt" site to your primary site to help and balance things out.
One thing to keep in mind is that SEO advice and opinions are like you (know what). Everyone has one and no one knows exactly how things will play out. If you stand to get a good amount to traffic from GM it could prove to be a worth while thing.
While there is validity in the idea of negating SEO efforts with sites mirroring the same content, this could obviously be overcome by not making the mistake of having the same content on both or all your sites. There is a benefit to having multiple sites but, as Alex suggests, make sure their content is unique. Actually, more importantly than the content being unique across each site is making sure it is not exactly the same. You can convey similar content and the same message (relevancy) without displaying redundant or recycled information.

Since the OEM site drives so much traffic, I would advise that you use that web presence for targeting new vehicle buyers that go there, but then set up sister sites elsewhere for other shoppers, including other new vehicle shoppers. Check out the <a href="" rel="nofollow">AutoBurst</a> program designed to give dealers the ultimate SEO experience of owning their local markets with guaranteed top organic search listings.
Like many things in life, it all depends.

As far as SEO, it's really not an issue unless you make a concerted effort to cause problems, i.e. posting the same exact 500-word PR article on both sites.

To me, a bigger issue is the capability of that OEM-approved site. I worked for an OEM who promoted what was probably the most worthless site in all of the industry, and everything we wanted to do on that site warranted charges by tech support. I measured the cost of the site plus the support fees, and divided by the clicks it brought me from the OEM (clicks, not leads), and cost-per-click came out to roughly $11. You couldn't spend that much on an AdWords PPC campaign if you tried.

I've worked with many OEMs but never GM, and even then, the way the Internet works for GM on the coasts is very different from the way it works in the rest of America.

I've seen OEMs that drive next to nothing to my site, and I've seen OEMs that are responsible for 60% of my total site's traffic. My advice is trial and error. And measurement.
  • L
    Lao Shi
  • July 3, 2007

It has been stated a number of times in studies on automotive ecommerce; the origin of most leads are from the OEM Sites. People have a tendency to go there first and drill down through the other sites in their research.

However how much different is most of the information on new vehicles from the OEM site and the third party sites? Not much

The more efficient OEM Sites are done very well and have a wealth of information.

I laugh at the debate that some dealers have on placing their new inventory on line while you can go to some OEM sites and place your zip code in and see what is in the delivery pipeline to the dealership before the dealer knows.

GM has mandated the Cobalt scheme as well as working with One Source, LMT beginning 3rd quarter 2006. You can have your leads forwarded however you still pay for the system and if you forward the leads you will pay twice. If you do not use the Cobalt Web Solution you will not have the link from the dealer site which will cost you business if your competitor has the Cobalt Solution.

We may see the same thing with Ford Group when LSI and Salespoint complete their union 4th quarter this year.

One solution, maybe this maybe modified to adapt as a tool with a little finesse and tweaking. They also have formed an alliance with Google and created Google Groups. There is a special on Sales Force now ($600.00 per year) which normally runs about a $1000.00 a year and if they see an opportunity with an Industry in need such as the Auto Industry they might be very aggressive in assisting.

This could be a boon to the smaller Boutique Dealers that have more flexibility to be creative.

Hmm... I don't think the page rank of GM will even pass to your OEM site. Google, Yahoo, MSN have no index of the dealer locater pages... if doing for SEO benefit then there is none. quick way to check if OEM passes any link love... in any SE...

Most OEM dealer sites are exactly the same across dealerships... do a quick google search for fairway ford... all same... and only the home page indexed... so they have already been penalized.

Lao, I think the lead numbers that you are referring to are bit outdated... as numbers form AIADA june 2006 show number of leads from website to be higher then OEM site. 144 OEM 162 Website... (may be I'm reading that chart wrong). <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>

Kevin, we have few GM dealers and none have bothered purchasing this link... it is so tiny on that page... why do it... plus you get the link to your site from the regional OEM sites...

  • L
    Lao Shi
  • July 4, 2007

Statistics and data can be skewed depending on who is conducting the study, new or pre owned vehicles, companys with an agenda, magazines that have a huge ad budget from a source that needs to have their image/product/service buffered and promoted.

Media giants that own large groups of diverse businesses like an ADP and others, businesses that need to be marketed. There are many scenarios; Madison Ave. has played this game for how many years?

One thing that rings true is when Mr. Toyota comes in on a date and time stamp and then comes in on our site and then comes in on a KBB and then surfaces again on another 3rd party site so on and so on we will not pay for the duplicates, we will only pay for the first lead.

In most cases the lead to the dealer site will be directed to the dealer from the OEM site. If the dealers are not diligent in watching the tracking and business source they can be paying for leads 2-3-4 times which adds up in annual costs.

The beauty of ecommerce and Internet Marketing is the source can be tracked, tracked as never before. We have not even scratched the surface of what is possible in this area. Just look at what the candidates in the American Political process are doing and you can see the potential for innovation. Every election year we are seeing innovation develop and new ways to use the technology.

The growth of the "Blog Phenomena" is another example. This is an area of tremendous opportunity that the political campaigns are spending more of their ad budgets on because they are able to track right to the moment a contributor comes on board and how much that person contributes thereafter. If this is not possible they would not be increasing their spending in this area.

We will also see the more intelligent OEMs take this to the next level as Toyota is doing for example. The Internet gives the OEM an opportunity to research & study the clients and market their products with greater efficiency. I believe some of the OEMs will continue drifting towards a more centralized model in sales and distribution over the next few years.

As successful as Toyota is the company is not resting on their "Laurels". They are consistently striving to be better and more efficient and the Internet is one of the tools they will use to achieve this goal.


While the considerations over SEO, page rankings, etc. are all important, to me the most important question remains unanswered:

Does anyone have experience of how much more they made by having the GM/Cobalt site link vs. not having it?

If don't have that info, how about the following say for 3 months:

1) # leads dealership received from GM/OEM site
2) # delivered vehicles from those leads
3) Total front & back end gross on those sales
4) Cost of Cobalt site

In the above, duplicate leads + subsequent sales are attribued to the first source from which they are received.

Is the answer positive or negative?

It needs to be positive since other overhead factors need to be covered (sales compensation, CRM, BDC, etc.).

And not to be unfair to the GM/Cobalt structure, this should be done to all Internet efforts as any unprofitable efforts could be from things that could be fixed + have nothing to do with the Cobalt website.

I speak to Internet Managers all day long on such things. Here are some benchmarks:

1) Prospect : Sales ratio = 15-20%.... that's right for your own website leads & those from your OEM, the benchmark should be on par with what you are doing in the showroom. 3rd party leads will be 1/2 of that.

2) Front and back end grosses... Equal to your showroom grosses. Period. It's your process + talk tracks if you are not getting this. No difference for 3rd party leads.

Personally I like the plain vanilla dealership websites. I am on dealer websites every day so get to see the spectrum. Here's why I like them:

A dealer's website exists to make it convenient for a consumer to find, buy + communicate with you. And as a dealer, I only want you to find + communicate with me so you will buy from me.

So as a dealer, the goal of my website + what I do on the Internet is to get consumers to BUY service, parts & vehciles. The main problem I tend to see with sites that do more than what I call plain vanilla (research, inventory, about us, contact us) is the following:

1) Inquiring is NOT buying.
2) The sales psychology of websites designed to get the consumer to inquire is wrong / ineffective. For example, here's VIN decoder info on this new vehicle + its MSRP + maybe its price. Call or email. That would be ineffective in the showroom, why is that the implemented strategy on the Internet?
3) The above actually encourages those consumers willing to cough up their info this early to treat you like a commodity. Where is the bonding + rapport? Where is the sizzle to the new vehicle purchase?
4) And I don't mean add a bunch of gimmicks to the site, although those can be useful if they get the consumer communicating - what's my trade worth, live chat, etc.

But I digress... If your website is designed to get people to inquire so you can sell them an appointment + get them in to the showroom, then plain vanilla is just fine. Get the cheapest good one you can find (I actually like Cobalt's base package if that is the objective).

Shameless plug: If you want to add a member's only section with an eCommerce capability (verify email address to get in, but then get complete consumer facing desking + F+I experience, accurate prices, interest, rebates, etc.), again plain vanilla will do so the calls to action (BUY) don't get lost in the noise + navigation. Or at least that is what I recommend.

Best of Luck Kevin, and congratulations on asking the right questions.
For me, the value of having the link on the OEM listing comes from driving more potential customers to our site earlier in their research.
As I get leads in from GM, most have never been on our site. We spend allot of time and effort taking pictures of our new inventory as well as pre-owned. Enhancing the customers experience on our site. The information is we provide is robust and the lead generated from our site as opposed to GM's is more solid.
Many thanks to all for our responses! Alex and Ryan - thanks for your advice regarding SEO issues, and making sure to take this into considideration. Mitch - I agree on your advice regarding measuring results, my reason in making this post was hoping that someone has already done this and could share their experience. Lao-Shi - I agree that the info on 3rd party sites is often very similar to the OEM sites. However, because of branding and ownership of the product line, the OEM is going to get more traffic, and will inherently have more credibility with their information as the direct manufacturer of the product. Umer - great insight regarding what you do with your GM locations, thanks. Brian - BINGO! You espoused exactly what I need, and what I am looking for. Has anyone been in this same position and measured the results of having this live link to see if it was worthwhile??? And finally, Tom - do you have a Cobalt website with GM to get the live link? Many thanks to all, Kevin Frye/eCommerce Director/Jeff Wyler Automotive Family
Independent Webmaster Guru Gets the Ax.

My pet project: got the ax last week, to be replaced by Cobalt. New General Manger finds the value of the Cobalt/GM connection to be more important than current results:

Google PageRank = 5 (The highest Dealer PR site in the nation?!)
Top 3 Google SERP (Search Engine Results Page) for long tail requests like:

used chevy avalanche upstate ny
used chevy silverado 2500hd in buffalo ny
Top 1,2,3 Google result for 98% of the COMPETITORS within 100 miles!

More Tangible Examples:
==> 30% of all site traffic was from Search Engine Connections.
==In last 24 months, 18% of all sales were to buyers greater than 45 minutes away (little eBay participation).
==F&I Post Sale Survey Says: 40-45% of all sales were visitors to
==Constant deluge of "your site is very nice..."
from customers and Industry players.

It's a single point store in a rather small market, but we're #1 in Sales with NO NEWPAPER SPENDING.

Maybe it's time to move into MicroSites....
Shaking head in Syracuse,
p.s. Webmaster Brains for sale or lease!!
p.p.s. Google is the NEW yellow pages. To improve the message, we have phone numbers on ALL of our Internet Properties. Phone traffic from out numbers AutoTrader AND by > 100:1. Calls for Svc. dept. are > 10% of site phone calls (very nice).
  • J
    Jeff Kershner
  • July 5, 2007
Kevin, sorry to chiming in so late.

<i>Is having a direct link at the OEM level for GM brands a must-have?</i>

I would say absolutely yes.

For SEO purposes, I think we’ve already established that it would have no real benefit. Most of the manufacturer websites are not set up properly for allowing any search engine ranking benefits to your OEM branded website.

When I did a search for a Cadillac on and used your zip code, I was given 4 other dealers to choose from, 3 of them with a link to their Cobalt GM branded website. I took notice that if you do NOT have a link to your website, the consumer can still search your inventory and contact you from with-in the GM website.

What I would want to know from GM is; how many people on average are clicking on “Search Inventory” vs “Dealer Website”. And, could having a link to your website build validity for your dealer. Could a customer say “geesh, Wyler Cadillac doesn’t even have a website, so what type of service can I expect?” Could this decrease the chance of the consumer searching your inventory on the GM site?

I also took notice that none of your Certified Pre-Owned vehicles on GMBuyPower have any photos. I’m not sure about GM, but usually unless you are signed up with the Manufacturer website programs, you are limited on what features you receive. This might be an example. By not having a manufacturer branded website with Cobalt, do you not have a way of getting your inventory photos over to GMBuyPower?

<i>Is it worth the price of paying for a basic template website with Cobalt just to get that live link and have that additional site complement our primary site?</i>

I think you need to look at the over value of having another website. Could you sell more cars if you had 2 showrooms? No if they were beside each other right!! This is why you use your Cobalt site to target a different audience or different demographic. I use our Mercedes branded website to target different regions throughout the tri-state area and our 3rd party site to cover all of Maryland and even some national exposure.

Last year I had received more leads (counting email leads and tracked phone calls) from our Mercedes branded website then our 3rd Party site and any other source of internet marketing. From what I could measure, Mercedes corporate website made up over 60% of the traffic sent to our Mercedes branded website. The closing ratio yielded one of the highest and my cost per sale finished up at 61.76 a sale.

I don’t know what GM charges for a Cobalt website but having another site can be very beneficial. If possible, do a little research to be sure your ROI will make sense. Take into consideration the time and effort to maintain the site as well. I know for me, my OEM branded site sometimes falls behind with updates.

Hope this helps AND kudos to everyone jumping on this question to help you out. It's amazing when I see so many people offering feedback on this little website!

  • J
    Jeff Kershner
  • July 5, 2007
Joe, Dude..that's a punch to the face. I know how much work you have invested into that site. Why on earth would your GM not see the numbers in black and white and why not add the Cobalt site and keep your current site live?

Are you going to keep the same URL with the new Cobalt website? If so...your PR should not be effected to much and bring your tags over to the new site as well. I'm sure you know all of this already!

Don't let it get you down Joe. Look at it as a whole new opportunity to prove yourself over again.

Question... can the URL from OEM site be tagged... i.e can you define a custom URL and tag for Google Analytics...
WOW, what a great article and batch of informative responses. The title didn't intrigue me at all, but the content certainly did.

<b>Is it a must to have a link from the OEM?</b>

Absolutely. Is the Cobalt site crappy? Absolutely. Will it generate leads that you wouldn't have received without the link?


At least it's not a Ford site.

<b>Alex</b><blockquote>You might see all your SEO points disappear from your primary site, only to see your "basic template" Cobalt site start showing in the search results.</blockquote>

This is mostly true, but I don't think it's a bad thing. Say your OEM site is #4 and your primary site is #6. A customer who clicks on the OEM site will either turn into a lead or they'll move on. There's a chance that they'll stop at #5 and leave a lead, but they probably would have done that anyway before they made it to your primary. If they do leave, you get a second chance with your more attractive site at #6.

There is a slight chance that the taste they got at your OEM site will discourage them from clicking on the better site, but again, that is a slight chance.

<b>Ryan</b><blockquote>Since the OEM site drives so much traffic, I would advise that you use that web presence for targeting new vehicle buyers that go there, but then set up sister sites elsewhere for other shoppers, including other new vehicle shoppers.</blockquote>

I've always been a big fan of having all of the inventory everywhere that a customer's eyes can see.

<b>umer</b><blockquote>Kevin, we have few GM dealers and none have bothered purchasing this link... it is so tiny on that page... why do it... plus you get the link to your site from the regional OEM sites...</blockquote>

Why do it? It's not terribly expensive and it provides leads. Take down a billboard, cut back on radio, take a smaller size newspaper ad, or better yet, just invest more into the internet marketing. The ROI on that link will be better than most conventional marketing spends.

<b>Shi</b><blockquote>The growth of the "Blog Phenomena" is another example.</blockquote>

Agreed, but carefully. There will be more and more companies out there selling blogs to dealers. Some will be ultra cheap, filled with RSS and stale content. Others will be higher, and may be good, but still overpriced.

Before dealers jump on and pay companies for a blog, they should look into the ease in creating a blog, the maintenance, and the potential costs.

They may find that the receptionist or a salesperson can put it together and maintain it for cheap.

<b>Brian</b><blockquote>Personally I like the plain vanilla dealership websites. I am on dealer websites every day so get to see the spectrum.</blockquote>

You're on dealer websites every day. Two years ago, I would say that most consumers would have agreed. Today, I believe they want it to be functional and easy to navigate first, but they also want it to be attractive. The tremendous increase in high-speed connections has made the more simple sites, while appealing to some, still convert less. That's an opinion. I have no data to back it up other than watching a single dealer website go through the simple-to-attractive transition in March of this year. The numbers were dramatically different.

<b>Tom</b><blockquote>For me, the value of having the link on the OEM listing comes from driving more potential customers to our site earlier in their research.</blockquote>

That's a great, great point. People at the top of the funnel might get sucked down unexpectedly. Even if they don't, the branding and subtle subliminal name infusion is still a benefit.

That's terrible. I hate hearing when GMs don't understand that money wisely spent on internet marketing never fails. Yes, wisely is the keyword here, but still, I think having two sites, especially if you keep the main site at the high PR url, is a good way to spend.

PR 5 is rare, but not unique. I actually have a PR4 dealer that Future PageRank Predictor says will be PR6. It's never right, but one can only hope.

Have your GM call Jeff. :)