Dealership Marketing

Shoving Search Engine Marketing down your Dealers Throat

Lately, reading the dealer magazines has been nothing short of annoying. I swear every article is about Search Engine Marketing (SEM).

I took this quote from an article in the recent issue of Dealer Marketing Magazine, “There’s a reason why so many vendors are actively promoting Search Engine Marketing to dealers – J.D Power and Associates reports that in 2005, 90 percent of all Internet new vehicle shoppers used a search engine.”

I believe there’s another reason it’s so highly promoted; it’s an easy and quick way of playing the dealer out of money. The magazines are shoving search engine marketing down your throat every opportunity they get. I’m NOT saying SEM isn’t important; however, you need to have some understanding of SEM before you get into the game and sign your dealer up with a vendor.

It’s too easy to be sold on search engine marketing if you don’t understand it. I’ll sometimes play dumb when an SEM vendor calls just to hear their pitch. I can’t tell you how many times they use tricks to try and show me how my competition is found when the consumer does a search with our dealer name and town in it.

Many of these vendors will assure you they are going to get you top placement in the Search Engine results (in the paid listings of course). You should be aware, though, that showing up at the top of the paid listing does not result in higher conversion on your website. It might help your CTR (click-through rate) but that doesn’t mean you are getting a targeted audience. An SEM vendor can quickly blow through your ad budget by spending $2.00-$3.00 or even more per click to get you top placement. But again, are you targeting the right customer; and even more, are you targeting the customer that is in the right phase of their purchasing process? Many people click on the first thing they see regardless of whether or not it’s relevant. Or they think that if it’s at the top it must be what they are looking for. A large majority of consumers using Search Engines don’t know how they work nor do they know the difference between natural and paid placement. The next time your parents are on Google or Yahoo, ask them which ads are paid and which ones are free. I bet you get the deer in the headlights look!

SO, before you sign up with a vendor, here are some very important elements I think you should consider before choosing a search engine marketing vendor for your dealership.

1.  Which other local or competitive dealers are using the same vendor?
You might want to be careful here. If you’re using the same vendor that your competition is using, this could give that vendor the ability to drive up the Cost Per Click for some generic keywords. I have also seen some vendors use the same descriptive text for two different dealers.

2.   What is the message/copy they are using in the description area of your ad?
This copy is just as important as the page on which you are landing your consumer and the message needs to be consistent with the landing page. If your ad reads “Price Quote on a 2006 Mercedes C230 Sport Sedan,” I recommend landing that customer on a Quick Quote form for a Mercedes C230, not the Home page. If you decide to use a company that another dealer in your area is using, be sure they don’t use the same copy in your ads that they are using in the other dealers’ ads.

3.  Where are they sending your consumer traffic? Are they sending all of your customers to the Home Page, specific pages within your site or do they provide you with exclusive landing pages?
If you’re a customer looking for a Honda Accord V6, and you click on an ad for Honda Accord, would you rather be taken to a dealer’s Home Page or a page that has relevant information regarding the Honda Accord, such as Honda Accord inventory and/or a Get More Information or Pricing? Statistics show that landing your customer on a page for the specific content they are searching for will result in higher conversion.

4.  Are the pages to which your vendors are sending your consumers converting (are the consumers filling out a contact form or calling the phone number on that page)?
If your pages are not converting, this could mean several things. To list a few;
1. You’re not targeting the right audience with your ads.
2. Your page is not relevant to the ad or to what the customer is searching for.
3. The page on which you are landing your customers is not built for effective conversion.

5.   If the vendor builds specific landing pages, do they “Brand” your dealer in the page or are they making your dealer anonymous?
I believe in branding your dealer on your landing pages. If you’re going to land your customers on anonymous pages (not knowing they are dealing directly with your dealer), I have found that you’re almost forced to use some type of price persuasive call to action to convince your customer to give up their information, making your page and dealer all about price and not having the opportunity to make some money (this is what the lead providers do for us). This leads to number 6.

6.  What is the overall message or call to action they are using to persuade the consumer to give up their information?
Is price your primary focus? Maybe you’re a volume dealer and it doesn’t matter. But maybe you’re a dealer that still likes to make some profit on the front end and you want to convey a different message other than price to persuade the consumer to deal and buy from you. Price Quote is the easy way; why do you think all the 3rd party lead companies use this form of call to action? We all know, though, “Price Quote” does not always provide the highest sales conversion!

7.  Will your website vendor work with the SEM vendor you’re choosing? – Very Important!!
Some websites do not have the ability to place the necessary code in your web pages for tracking and analytics purposes. Ask your potential vendor about the difficulty of adding their tracking code to your website.

8.    Does your vendor provide statistical reports?
If your vendor cannot produce reports for you…look elsewhere. Here are a few things you want to look for;

  • CTR (Click through rate) for every Ad Listing and the text that is being used in that ad (the title and description).
  • Position of your ad when it was clicked on and if a conversion took place
  • What you are spending per click for each keyword and keyword phrase
  • Conversion rates for each keyword or phrase
  • Day of the week click. Are you customers clicking more during the weekend or the weekdays? Optimize your budget accordingly.
  • A list of other dealers who are showing up for the same keywords.

I have had vendors in the past who didn’t want share this information with me because they were afraid that I would use the keywords that they had “optimized” for my dealer and learn how to do it myself. Whatever. I dropped them like a brick. (I’ll keep that vendor’s name to myself.)

So be careful before signing up with an SEO vendor. Do your homework so you can hold them accountable and be sure to get your reports on a monthly basis.

Sign up with a vendor that is going to work WITH you and not just for you. And get involved! You wouldn’t send that $5K newspaper ad to the printers without approving it would you?

Excellent post! Conversion is the key thing that matters. Personally I'm of opinion it should be part your job as Internet Manager to manage the Pay Per Click SEM campaigns. It really does not take that long as you will still need to analyze the PPC reports and that is the most time consuming part.
Is there a SEO reporting service for our industry?

I am about to build one (because I can't find one). It's rather simple, enter your zip code, ck off the brands you carry and submit.

report returns a table with page and position in the top 3 engines. Assign a numberical value to page and position (ultra high reward for page 1 postion one, dramatically falling after position 5, then really bad off page one).

You'll track your before SEO and after SEO efforts, or, before Blog and after Blog results.

My site (I built) has nearly top rank for 100 miles around for searches like (year, make, Model, location).

example: chevrolet equinox dealer niagara falls, ny,GGLJ:2006-21,GGLJ:en&sa=X&oi=spell&resnum=0&ct=result&cd=1&q=chevrolet+equinox+dealer+niagara+falls,+ny&spell=1

Hmm... Blog is really a "long tail" device. Blog measurement is best left for another tool, but, what 'cha think?


Jeff this is a fantastic post - and you are spot on about the advertising. You should send this post into Crain's, or even other non-automotive magazines.

This post is sort of hilarious to me because it's basically our sales pitch! I'd only add a couple more points:

9) Discuss the agency fee. Flat rate, % of spend, sliding scale, performance oriented? We've been running with a 15% fee, and have been thinking about rolling that down to 10% after certain thresholds. I'm honestly not sure this is the ideal structure, but it is simple and easily auditable.

This is really important, not just so you get a good deal, but that the company you're working with is going to be making enough money on your account that they can actually spend some time with it. When you ask for your reports, it's a good time to discuss your current monthly specials, or problems, ideas, and get them rolling on updating your campaign for the next month.

Which leads to...

#10) Watch out for long term contracts. Unless it's part of some this-for-that negotiating, we don't want them from our clients. Pay us up front for the month, and if you hate us after 5 days and kick us out we'll only keep what we spent and our 15% on that.

This work is really front-loaded, and yeah, we'd lose out on a client that canceled after just a month or two, but we gotta keep ourselves honest - if it's just not working for you, that money needs to fix whatever's broken. Now hopefully we can help with that, but if not, fine. Fix it, and come back to us in 3 months so we can relaunch your campaign bigger and better, and ultimately we both make more money.

Maybe just one more thing... be a little willing to experiment once in a while. One of our clients gives us some impressive freedom to try new approaches out, and it's been a good thing. Several months back, we cut, across the board all the max CPC's by 30%. It resulted in a drop in position, but a 50% increase in clicks, and conversion ratio actually went UP. It was a gamble, and only because we had already seen a pretty solid trend of falling CPC and rising CTR, which we assume was due to good ad copy. Granted, it could have easily gone the other way, and we've had experiments flop on us before, but if you totally buy into the herd mentality you lose out on one of the biggest SEM advantages, which is super-flexibility.

Your first point:

1. Which other local or competitive dealers are using the same vendor?

Is the most important starting point. Big box dealer platforms that are offering SEO services to multiple dealers with the same brand in the same state just does not make sense.

Make sure your SEO consultant will not take on another like brand in your State.