Opinions & Advice

Third Party Lead Sources Compliment Automotive SEO Strategies

As an outspoken advocate for digital marketing education for car dealers, I often find myself captivated by the continuously changing landscape the search marketing offers.  As fast as I can learn, test, and communicate a current idea, there always seems to be something new on the horizon.

I can’t imagine how car dealers feel when they attend bi-annual automotive conferences, like Digital Dealer and DrivingSales Executive Summit, where the emerging market trends and technology tend to spin their heads.

As much as I love new concepts, strategies and opportunities, there will always be some basics that help dealers succeed online.   So before the fall conference season fills our heads with new ideas to test, let’s get back to a few basics.

Third Party Lead Collectors Are Automotive SEO Pioneers

Readers often associate me with Automotive SEO and my passionate appeal for dealers to understand the power of content publishing, microsites, and link building.   I have been blessed to serve the industry and have been rewarded by encouragement from dealers across the country.

Along the way, some have concluded from my teaching style that I am not an advocate for third party lead collectors and third party automotive advertising websites.   In fact, that characterization could not be farther from the truth.

All digital marketing products should be evaluated by dealers on their own merits based on the estimated Return on Investment (ROI) to the dealership.  Dealers that I work with have done their best to track and measure the benefits of third party leads and advertising and have found them to work efficiently.

I am often asked to lend assistance in determining which lead source and platforms dealers should invest in and what I have found is that dealers results in each market can vary so one vendor may not be a universal solution nationwide.

The best third party lead collection models are the ultimate testimony to the power of Automotive Search Engine Optimization (SEO).   I tip my hat to the websites that appear on Google Page One for broad popular searches like “used cars,” “cars for sale,” “sell my car,” and “cheap used cars.”   I’m building sites to join the superstar ranks but those that had the foresight years ago to build sites are being rewarded today.

Many of the most powerful lead collection websites today are successful because they built their business on the basic foundations of SEO: good content, strong data structures, and strong inbound linking strategies.  Many of these websites have great designs that appeal to consumers and in the end provide value to dealers.

Other less powerful but visible sites cast a negative shadow on the industry as they are poorly designed, filled with Google Adsense ads, and step over the line of using a car dealers name to promote their competitors cars.

The good and bad websites exist because they all are making model based on the fact the most car dealers do not engage in digital marketing strategies that are based on SEO.

With that said, if car dealers find that purchasing third party leads have a strong ROI, why would they stop that channel when they add local Automotive SEO strategies to their budgets?  The answer is they don’t.  I don’t encourage them to do so because any strategy that is add to their bottom line is a good one.

The Role of Third Party Lead Collectors

I advocate that car dealers should establish a budget for content publishing to allow them to show on Page One for the local search phrases that are attainable with a minimal investment. I have encouraged larger dealer groups to hire and train internal fulltime content writers. The additional content on their websites will improve their local search visibility and can also be leveraged on their blogs, press releases, and social media sites.

Content as a service will be in demand in 2011. I’ll be there to offer it to dealers to help them achieve greater local search visibility.

In essence, my philosophy is to empower dealers to create locally owned digital marketing assets that can appear on Page One for localized search phrases.  In general, the industry has not trained, encouraged, or mentored content writing as a skill set needed at the dealership level.  That must change.

When I encourage dealers to push third party lead collectors off Google Page One for a search on their dealership name or for local searches that they can control, it should not be assumed that third parties are not important to a dealer’s larger success. In fact, third party sources will always be a pathway for dealers to attain leads for broad phrases that dealers will never get directly.

Third Party lead collection websites and advertising platforms function in similar ways as Google Adwords.  Dealers use Adwords to appear at the top of search results for broad phrases that they cannot expect to achieve organically.    A Chevrolet dealer in Chicago may choose to purchase the phrase “2010 Chevrolet Silverado” since he does not expect his local website to be on Page One for that national search phrase.

In a similar way, third party lead generation and advertising websites like www.usedcars.com, www.automotive.com, www.edmunds.com, and www.mototrend.com appear on Google Page One for broad searches without the need for Adwords because of their outstanding Automotive SEO scorecard and brand awareness.

The best third party automotive websites are candidates for the Automotive SEO Hall of Fame.  That gives me an idea for an award J.

Jumping To A Wrong Conclusion

With that perspective, you can see how local Automotive SEO strategies and third party lead collectors can work together to benefit a dealership overall success.  Localized SEO strategies will attract a cross-section of ready to buy consumers and lead collectors will capture an additional segment that tend to use broad search phrases.

Encouraging dealers to test and evaluate the best sources for third party leads may seem to some readers as a change in position for me.  Reflecting on the potential causes of that ill formed conclusion, it would seem that my passionate appeal for car dealers to wake up and be more active in their digital marketing success has been translated as an attack on third parties.   This is not true.

I have encouraged dealers to be content publishers to achieve a degree of independence from third parties.  I want dealers to cultivate content to achieve visibility for popular local search phrases.   Today most car dealers are doing little in terms on content publishing, yet they complain about diminishing direct consumer leads.

Dealers are getting pushed off of Google Page One for common searches on their brand name, city and the cars that they sell.  This is not because third-party lead collectors or advertising platforms are mean-spirited; they are just taking advantage of a business opportunity that was open because of dealer inaction to participate in the search-marketing world.

Without direct knowledge, dealers have left their OEM brand and local PMA wide open for third parties to redirect and collect leads. I have been educating dealers on the website platforms that will best support local search dominance and the tools and services they need to capture broadly searching consumers.  The empowering of dealers in their digital marketing efforts is not implying they can do it alone.

The Best Third Party Leads Are Organic PPC

Because of the size, reputation and traffic generated by popular automotive content-rich websites, like Edmunds.com, third party websites appear for broad searches using year, make and model keywords.  Without the use of a targeted microsite, appearing on Page One for a search on “2010 Acura TL” would not be feasible for a dealer because it lacks a localized keyword to narrow down the search query.

However, third party websites do appear on Page One for broad searches and provide consumers with valuable resources which often result in a lead capture.   These leads might be captured by a dealer’s Pay Per Click (PPC) campaign or they may not.  My point is why not utilize and test both sources, and if both have a strong ROI, invest in both.

The Petri Dish of Leads

What has frustrated car dealers in the past is how these leads are packaged and sold.  What dealers perceive as higher quality lead sources  (i.e. Edmunds.com) are comingled with what dealers consider lower quality sources (i.e. Yakez.com).  There are a handful of large lead consolidation companies that purchase leads from the Automotive SEO giants and resell them to dealers.

I can’t speak about all lead consolidators, but at this past NADA Convention I sat on a panel sponsored by Dealix.  I was asked to represent leads sources generated by direct lead forms on a dealers website.

As part of the panel, which included David Kain, I learned about the Dealix Quality Pledge.  This program gives dealers the power to get credit for any leads that are confirmed to be of poor quality (bad phone number, wrong contact name, or unreachable contact).

This type of program represents a positive change in the third party lead provider industry.  Companies like Dealix want to align their interests with dealers and properly channel consumer leads to the dealer who can make the most out of them.

In this type of model, I find it hard to come up with a reason not to test and invest in third party leads. I have come to this conclusion because the leads are not likely captured by local SEO and can be accretive to sales with a money back guarantee.   Let me state it clearly: I like that model!

Finding The Balance For Automotive Digital Marketing

Successful dealers across the country are fine-tuning their digital advertising investments and attempting to measure ROI.  Dealers who are forward thinking are already planning their digital marketing budgets for 2011.

In the future with an ADF 2.0 specification and better CRM integration, dealers will get closer to measuring that ROI.  This will clear the air on what digital marketing strategies and partners deliver the best return on investment.

Until then, I am convinced that dealers need to test and invest in:

  • Google Adwords
  • Automotive SEO Strategies
  • Third Party Lead Providers
  • Third Party Inventory Advertising Platforms

I will continue to be an advocate for dealers, encouraging them to pick the low hanging fruit that can be garnered with a reasonable effort using powerful local SEO strategies.

However, dealers can not feasibility create their on national and regional automotive advertising network.  This is where dealers need assistance and the choices they have are triple what they had just two years ago.

Automotive SEO investments being made today establish a bright future for cars dealers.  In conjunction with this strategy, dealers must rely on third party sources that have the monopoly on Paid Search and Organic search real estate.  That’s the reality we live in, and I’m Paschionate about that.

If you are interested in learning more about controlling your local search results, sign-up for the DealerRefresh.com webinar that will focus on this very topic.

Every aspect of a dealer’s business plan should be a balanced attack. Third party lead providers are not the enemy; many of them are the best vendor partners I have. I have had a very long relationship with Cars.com (New Leads Plus), and Dealix, mostly due to the above and beyond customer service that I have consistently enjoyed as well as the R.O.I. for their leads. I have worked with every third party lead provider over the years and have chosen the ones that work best for my stores.

Many have heard me use the term “Third Party Para-Sites”. To clarify I am referring to the third party sites that I have NOT chosen to represent my dealership and host my inventory, but they are doing so anyway. These sites make their way into search results where my dealers site would be a much a better choice for the consumer. Who else better to tell your story and welcome the car shopper in than the dealers own site. It only makes sense to keep page one as pure as possible.

When Brian warns that your page one results are under attack, he is correct, but don’t be too quick to identify the enemy. Have you checked your Google analytics referring sites lately? Floridacarsales.com is a site that is hosted by a marketing company called MM4. The site has every used car listed in the state and offers free car listings to anyone. These sites are most likely in your state. I have seen californiacarsales.com and several others. This site is mainly a Google ad site and does link ever car listed back to the dealer’s web site. We have been averaging 50 – 60 click throughs a month for the past few months from this site. Don’t bother trying to contact them, it is pointless.

Sites like these as well as other lead collector sites that are used by some of the big third party providers may not be who you want to represent you. Think for a moment about a time when you tried to find a product online and ended up on some bargain basement site. Well your customers end up on sites like that every day. They can see your inventory, and if you use an overlay your dealer name and logo is displayed. The problem is that the phone number as well as other information may be incorrect. Is that where you want your customers getting their first impression?
I encourage every person that is charged with the oversight of their dealers lead providers to call them and ask them to tell you what sites your cars are being exported to. You may be very surprised at what you find. Then decide for yourself if you want your cars to be shown there. I have recently had very productive conversations with the CEO of CarGURU and a director from Vast.

Understanding how they work really is more important than what has become the status quo for dealers for the past ten years. The “just get my inventory out there” mentality can hurt you in the end. You cannot imagine the twisted web that is your inventory. Yes, most of us that are on the ground at the dealer level have way more important things to do than chase our inventory down the rabbit hole, but know this; there are companies out there that are counting on that.

Excellent commentary and it reinforces the point of the article. Dealers need to be more aware of the marketing processes that are available to them and to test and measure each one.

I am glad that you are starting dialogue with new vendor sources because some of the names you mention are coming on strong in organic search. The SEO designer behind CarGurus.com, who I do not know, should be commended.

Since you are practitioner of Automotive SEO, it is good to hear from another peer about the need for balance.
  • J
  • September 28, 2010
I couldn't agree more with your points on dealers needing "Third party assistance" in order to increase ROI as well as long term sustainability. What are your thoughts on Social Media's effectiveness in the automotive realm?