Dealership Marketing

Is your SEM vendor acting in your best interest?

We all know about search engine marketing and most of you have already given it a try for your dealerships. Some of you have seen great success with Pay-Per-Click advertising and some of you have really just wasted a lot of money. Everyone knows where they fall. There are tons and tons of vendors out there targeting the automotive industry and selling search engine marketing like a snake oil salesman sells oil.

I lead a team that conducts search engine marketing campaigns for our in house agency clients. I would like to share with you an experience I had this week.

Before starting any search engine marketing campaign either I or one of our team members researches the current climate surrounding the keywords our client will be using. As we all know, certain areas and franchises have much more competition then others. In my keyword and competitive research I typed in the keyword "newburgh cadillac" and in the top sponsored links I saw the result for a dealership named Tunstin Cadillac. Here is a screenshot:


I thought this was interesting since I am quite well versed in the local dealerships and had never heard of this one. I continued my search by searching on the general term "Cadillac." Tunstin Cadillac once again appeared:


My initial reaction was that whoever is doing their search marketing is at least covering all the bases.  I was interested in finding out more about the dealership so I typed in (I didn’t click the sponsored link because I didn’t want the dealer to get charged). Upon further research I found out that this dealership is located in Tustin, CA a whopping 2,799 miles away.

I have no knowledge of what vendor is running their search campaign. Maybe its even the internet manager at the dealership. Either way my point boils down to this. Make sure that your SEM vendor is acting in your best interest. Audit their results and check your site logs to make sure that you aren’t receiving traffic from regions outside of your general market area.  Google Analytics is also a great and free tool to help you audit your search marketing results. Many SEM vendors work on percentage of spend. If they get you to spend more by running your campaign almost 3,000 miles away from your dealership It won’t matter how much you spend, your search engine marketing campaign will always be a failure.

Guest posting by Brandon Hoffman
Director Of Internet Marketing at KEA Advertising, Inc

Founder of DealerRefresh - 20+ Years of dealership Sales, Management, Training, Marketing and Leadership.
  • J
  • September 14, 2007
If that dealer is in fact paying an outside company to manage their PPC campaign, it's yet another example of how some companies take advantage of dealers who don't know any better. Some companies are purely interested in getting their share of the dealers money. The better companies have a genuine concern for the dealers success. In my opinion, integrity is much more important than a quick buck, and usually the money follows after a quality reputation is established anyway.
I have spoken with several companies about SEO and SEM and most all of the reps that I have spoken with have been stumped by at least one, if not all, of the questions that I asked. I have to try like hell to get money for every vendor that I use. I have come to the conclusion that there are hundreds maybe thousands of dealers out there with open checkbooks out there waiting for someone to sell them the "Magic Bean" of Internet Sales. Most of them have absolutely no clue what they are buying, and then are suprised when the get no return on it.
With content relevancy and RSS Marketing there is little need to go the PPC route on keywords and phrases that are consistent with your brands. You should reserve PPC for keywords and phrases not appearing on your sites, i.e. your competing brands.

For instance. a Cadillac dealer should use PPC to target people searching for Lincoln and Mercury. He should use content for his own terms.
With content relevancy and RSS Marketing there is little need to go the PPC route on keywords and phrases that are consistent with your brands. You should reserve PPC for keywords and phrases not appearing on your sites, i.e. your competing brands.

For instance. a Cadillac dealer should use PPC to target people searching for Lincoln and Mercury. He should use content for his own terms.
  • I
    Internet Jeff
  • September 16, 2007
Great point Jake. Integrity goes much further than the promise of a quick buck in my book.

Overseeing a Ford dealership receiving 'Ford Direct' leads, I was amazed at the lead/contact/appt/show/sold ratio. Didn't know at the time how or where Ford found these online shoppers, but the BDC was delivering these customers to the door all day long.

As a grean pea Internet Director, I kept getting these calls from a Dallas Cowboy fan with a classic Texas accent; 'Hi Jeff, Ruanne at Clickmotive here.' We talked more football than SEM... But it was a must as her boss and mine met at a 20 group meeting the prior spring.

Inbetween more Cowboys and Bears talk a year later and her educating me on SEM, she mentioned they were the SEM providers for the Ford Direct leads.

Honestly, I dont have the exact ratio results maninly because the CRM's reporting tool at the time was still under development, but between the BDC and myself we agreed that they were the most qualified leads coming in, with quality customer responses via email and phone.

My guesstimation; close to 70% of the incoming leads showed customer response.

I'm a tough sell and don't promote many company products unless I find them to be 100% quality. Not into gimmicks and promises; but would recommend Clickmotive for SEM all day long. Ask for Ruanne, knowledgeable and pleasant to converse with.
  • M
  • September 18, 2007
Brandon, I have seen this happen several times over (even a dealer in South Carolina sharing my dealership name is a victim) and I think it's a bit one-sided to say that the campaign is being run incorrectly or maliciously. It's certainly possible, but there's another problem at hand which people here should be aware of.

There has been a ton of precedence set for the slight inaccuracy of Google's "geo-targeted" AdWords results... I've seen big-time SEM players like ReachLocal running campaigns that bumped into the issue you're stating, and ReachLocal's campaigns actually have algorithms to maximize top performing keywords. The likelihood of a cross-country dealer result in a local search being a top performing PPC keyword is slim to none, so in cases like these, we have to say that one of three things is occuring:

1. SEM Vendors are sneaking trash keywords into our campaigns to up the click-thrus, and they're lying about having automated programs that maximize top performing keywords (not happening... a couple extra clicks isn't worth the repercussions of fraud and false advertising)

2. The campaign simply isn't geo-targeted (any SEM vendor with half a brain knows how to geo-target so if the ad isn't running as such, it must be an amateur's work)

3. The all-powerful Google might be a bit off in its attempt to localize its paid search results (i.p. addresses ain't miracle workers... Google does a good job but you can't be perfect when you use i.p.'s as your gauge of location)

Having checked out your example though, it's really hard to tell what the issue is. There's obviously a lot of attention to search engine optimization on the site, yet the title of the page- the most important SEO element of them all- simply reads ""... seems like an amateur effort, until you notice that the PPC campaigns have their own tracking codes which is not usually a tactic of an amateur.

Either way, I'd give Tunstin a ring if I were you...

There is definetly an issue here beyond Google's inaccurate geo-targeting. I have had the geo-targeting inaccuracies in campaigns I have run as well. I did check my IP to ensure it was registered to NY which it was. I also tried the same search in 3 different states. New York, New Jersey & Pennsylvania as they are all close by to here and in my travels. In all of the states the ad showed on 3 different computers/networks with different IP's. For this reason I do not think this campaign is being regionally targeted on broad keywords such as cadillac. Of course something much more complicated could be happening here (this is Google after all) but it just seems like they are not using regional targeting.

I just realized you are very local to us. We are located in Rockland County, NY. If you search "cadillac" or "newburgh cadillac" from your NJ location is it coming up? It still is for me.
  • M
  • September 21, 2007
Brandon- sorry for the late response... didn't see your question.

I don't get them when I query "cadillac" but I do get them for "newburgh cadillac". Maybe a geography issue between the two Orange Counties? Tunstin's in Orange County CA and I think Newburgh is an Orange County NY town. BTW they do also come up for "orange county cadillac".
Geo targeted adwords also get triggered if you type in a locality in search... I think they call it query parsing... it likely has some wrong data... putting Newburgh, NY in CA.
  • G
  • October 15, 2007
PPC is and will be an important part of my advertising budget for the forseeable future, and it is integral to the success of a website if properly used and administered. One not I have seen made yet is the management fee. One company I was using over a year ago would charge upwards of $500-600 on a $1200-1500 campaign. We would get results, but for that kind of money, I would do it!

I came across a new company in the arena, and have been using them since. Not because of just a low management fee ($150-200 on the same budget), but also because of the reporting tools they provide. The last company simply gave me a spreadsheet with keywords and rates, and showed me how quickly the budget ran out. Now, I can see when PPCs are used, which ones are most common, a mirror website with who's calling, etc.

Just like anything else, these dealers should get more than one perspective or quote when they are looking into SEM/SEO.
There is no doubt that you need to watch out for the SEO/SEM companies that are more motivated by immediate income than immediate results. I think everyone will agree that if you receive positive, quantifiable results from any of your vendors, that the money you pay for their services becomes less of an issue.

I understand vendor issues as well as the next guy. I also have a unique take that many don't. I have been in the automotive industry for 22 years as a sales consultant, F&I Manager, Used Car Manager, New Car Manager, and General Sales Manager. I haven't seen it all, but I've seen quite a bit. The uniqueness comes into play in regards to SEO/SEM due to the fact that I am President of one such company, Elite Search Engine Marketing.

I am currently functioning in both roles. One as a General Sales Manager of the 12th ranked Mazda dealership in the nation, Kings Mazda, and also President of my SEO/SEM firm.

Being in the car business, I understand that it is all about results. I fight the negative perception everyday as a vendor. Much like the car business, where there are many dealers looking just to make the sale and not caring about a long term relationship, the same holds true in the SEO/SEM industry. We know that many of these companies will go by the wayside on an almost daily basis, but the damage they cause along the way is sometime irreversible.

My suggestion is to dig deeply into the SEO/SEM companies strategies. Have them spell everything out in writing. Get complete specifics in regards to their methods and philosophies. If you begin to get any type of push back to your questions, you then have your answer, they would not be the vendor to partner with.

If anyone would like additional advice, whether your looking for a new vendor or just want suggestions for your current one, I welcome your questions and feedback.

Remember, do your best possible investigative work up front. Firing a vendor isn't an enjoyable experience and it's also a negative reflection on you, if you were instrumental in making the hiring decision.