Dealership Internet Marketing Strategies
Establishing a Well-Defined Auto Dealer Website
Internet Presence and Marketing Plans
Generating a Real Return on Investment
It’s been over a decade and counting, since the automotive dealer heard the statement that the internet revolution was going to eliminate the need for independent, brick and mortar, automobile franchise stores due to the fact that a huge percent of new car buyers will custom order and buy their new vehicles online.
What they failed to consider is that the automotive consumers will always want to physically kick the tires and personally choice where they buy their new car or truck. Price alone will never be the final deciding factor.
The automobile dealerships image, brand and quality of service will be the deciding factors, not price. The simplest example being a seasoned salesperson will generate the most unit sales and gross profit, not solely because of selling skills, but because that individual has a cliental listing that places a level of trust in that salesperson and finds personnel interacting mystically rewarding. Something an electronic piece of equipment is not able to achieve.
Yes, the internet revolution has changed the structure of the sales process and purchasing cycle by providing the auto consumer with a vast amount of information; selling prices, incentives and rebates, vehicle options and specifications, dealer vehicle cost, MSRP, financing rates and terms, used vehicle trade-in values, but this could and will be to the automobile industries advantage after years of negative automotive dealership reviews.
What you now have is an educated, confident, ready to negotiate consumer, prepared to buy. This levels the playing field for all parties involved, honest hardworking dealerships will excel and the educated consumer will now be able to protect themselves from the unethical practices of the few undesirable car dealerships within the retail automobile business. Eventually forcing these dealerships to correct their business practices or go out of business due to factory unacceptable customer satisfaction scores.
So what does all this mean to the new and used auto dealer? Forget all the sales hype, build relationships, by offering a much needed consumer product, the automobile, in a professional informative manner. Flashy ads and coupons don’t make for long-term relationships, professionalism does. Design a Web site that offers what it is that a consumer is searching for on the internet by considering key elements; Vehicle Inventory, Phone Numbers, Dealership Hours and Location, E-mail Addresses, Sales Personnel contact information and Brand your Dealership as a trustworthy, consumer concise, caring automotive dealership.
With literally hundreds, if not thousands of uncontrollable factors involved in optimizing a dealership website forget about all those conjured internet sales marketing terms being sold such as, Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, Page Optimization, Content Enrichment, Keyword Density, etc., etc...
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The bottom-line ... Major search engines are in the business of selling advertising space and at all times are trying to figure out a way to cash in on the automotive dealerships internet marketing strategies. They, the major search engine providers such as Google, Yahoo, MSN and Bing at any given moment can simply say, "Let's just change our algorithms to create some havoc within the automobile industry" and there you go; all those fancy internet marketing terms, all that expensive, time and hard work, now meaningless and all that money invested in the automotive dealership website down the drain, diminishing a fair return on investment.
What's an Automotive Dealership supposed to do?
Accept the fact there will always be a measurable cost when advertising a dealership on the internet and the only thing that here to stay for a long time is advertising on search engines such as Google Adwords, Microsoft AdCenter and a few other potentially profitable paid listings will cost you and you will need to figure out your rate of return.
Free Excel® spreadsheets that calculates profitability & cost. View CPC Return-on-Investment Sample Spreadsheets View Dealership Market Share Spreadsheets
Then accept the fact that if your dealership wants to reach out to the 80 percent or more automobile buying public that utilizes the internet prior to purchasing a new or used vehicle that your dealership must develop an in-house Contextual advertising or Display advertising marketing campaigns on the above major search engines, concentrating and developing localized automotive business marketing strategy that create a positive first impression by targeting potential regional retail customers so they find your automobile dealership Website online, then begin promoting your dealership in a professional manner online by;
Succeeding and Marketing Auto Dealerships online takes hard work and time...
As for the hard work and time involved a lot depends on your overall dealerships commitment to establishing an internet presence in this competitive digital age and your current personnel in-house capabilities. No matter what approach your dealership takes the more time invested into establishing an automobile internet presence the greater your return on investment.
Let’s review 3 possible scenarios dealers may take, concerning hard work & time investment;
1 - Worse Case: A dealership says; “Ya-Ya-Ya” and invests the bear minimum amount of time, research, and work.
After studying many of these dealerships that took this approach what has been determined is that at bear minimum those individual dealerships have a manufacturer mandated website or have signed-on for the basic cookie-cutter manufacturer website and do very little site maintenance, thus degrading the dealership brand and image. Now, this approach may appear at first to be the least costly and time consuming approach but in fact could be an extremely costly approach, costing the dealership tens of thousands of dollars. How’s that possible? One there is still a monthly automotive web service provider fee that can add up to thousands by year end with zero return on investment. Secondly, even through it difficult to measure the potential online vehicle purchaser lost sales and gross profit throughout the year that your competitors have attracted online and sold (80% of vehicle purchaser’s research online) it can be easily assumed that if you lost 1 sale per month at an average gross of $ 1700 the lost revenue equals over $ 20,000 yearly.
Total Cost to dealership: Approx. $ 25,000. Total Time committed: Approx. 100 hours, reviewing, contact negotiations & signing, initial setup time.
Immediate correction required; Review your dealership website and at minimum improve it so if it is located online it doesn’t degrade your dealership, while providing the basic information needed. Address, Location, and Phone Number. Start a simple Search Engine Marketing (CPC) campaign on the major search engines with your dealership name and name spelling variations so that if an individual is attempting to locate your dealership they will find it. Not just your competitor or an internet lead provider.
2 - Slightly Better But Not The Best: This dealership has invested some time into their Web site but lacks a few of the key components due to it being a one person show. The problems I’ve seen is the person has demonstrated an over emphasis on one particular department within the dealership or has developed “Tunnel Vision” and forgot that an automotive dealer Web site brands a complete dealership online. Now, this Web site has some real potential, it simply needs to be reviewed by all dealership management to prevent an overkill approach and maintain a professional dealer image.
Correction required; Assemble an internet development team, review your dealership website and after each individual has explored and researched competitors nationally & locally for some additional creative ideas implement them into your dealership website. Then reset short-term and long-term goals and don’t forget that this team should assist in creating and building multiple Search Engine Marketing (CPC) campaigns on the major search engines. It is also suggested that a comprehensive review of total dealership internet costs is done, due to the fact that when one has a strong desire to succeed, one loses track of total cost. Remember to review such items as third party lead providers and all other outside services.
3 – Best Effort Visible to Date: This auto dealership has spent some time in developing a clean, crisp, informative site, allowing the automobile consumer to develop an interactive relationship with their online digital store front. No, immediate pop-up coupons in their face - this I never understood, the consumer hasn’t even seen your product and you’re asking personal information. They start their presentation with the non-intrusive fundamentals such as; a professional digital image, location, phone numbers, and product highlights. Their site offers simple site navigation features allowing the consumer to locate precisely what they may be searching with one or two clicks. They’ve incorporated the complete dealership, offering the services of all available automotive departments. Daily or Weekly product specials are offered, yet don’t overpower the individual, understanding that many individuals may not be interested or searching for a special, but one of the other hundred products that an automotive dealership may offer. They’ve taken the time to review their complete site and make sure each any every web page has some form of useful search engine content on it, no blank pages or generic, useless, boring content.
The dealership has taken the time to make sure that their site will appears online during a consumer search for their dealership and location at minimum, either contextual or by utilizing simple CPC -.Search Engine Marketing techniques. You wouldn’t believe how many dealerships I’ve researched by typing in their exact auto dealership name into a search engine bar and still can’t locate it because of all the third party lead providers fighting for top placement. At minimum a dealership should make sure they can be located by utilizing a simple CPC campaign.
With a little additional research I’ve also determined that these auto dealerships are not afraid to invest a mere ten or fifteen dollar to purchase domain name variations which redirect to their core Web site or are useful automotive Micro-sites, an example being their Name_Used_Vehicles.com. Click here to read more about keyword domain names, variations, and suggestions. These dealerships have also realized the importance of back links to their web site by insisting that locally purchased advertisement media’s link back to their web page, such as radio advertisements or local newspapers which have a respectable digital online presence.
Overall Recommendation to improve your online presence, simply follow the “Eight Key Requirements to Succeed” and promote your dealership website in a professional manner. Assemble and mandate an internet development team within your dealership that requires the participation all departments, Sales, Service, Parts and Accounting to attend a scheduled dealership meeting. Do not accept the common statement; “I don’t have the time”, make time, the internet is here forever, just like local print ads. You may even want to occasionally include some of the “Common People” such as a Mechanical Technician, Receptionist, or an Outside Vendor and simply ask that to tell you what they like and dislike about the dealership website without recourse. Creative ideas and digital marketing go hand-in-hand and no idea should be dismissed unless tested.
Why hasn’t the “Best-of-the-Best” Automotive Web sites & Providers been identified?
Because it would only be guess. For one to determine who is the best, one would have to be in the know as to what their true overhead cost are, closing percentage, marketing avenues, internal management structure and most importantly overall return on investment. The key here is to monitor your internet sales – marketing cost in-house and determine when and how you are getting your dealerships maximum return on your marketing efforts. To assist you in determining these numbers you will find that one more free spreadsheet is available for your use. View and/or Download Internet Sales Marketing Log
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Helpful Hints, Tips, & Excel Spreadsheets for Researching Dealership Web sites…
Create a favorite folding named what else but, “Favorite Dealer Sites” and save shortcuts to automotive dealers Web sites that you like, dislike, or when you find something of interest.
Then create an Excel Worksheet for scoring dealership Web sites and for the future analysis of; Site designs, likes and dislikes, common specials, service providers, and a competitive analysis report.
Key Elements to reflect on when reviewing dealer sites and what you’re hoping to find;
The Web addresses of your favorite dealership web sites
Why and what made those web sites your favorite; content, format, images, navigation, inventory display, specials announcements, and anything else that produced a positive first impression.
The Web addresses of your least favorite dealership web sites
What you disliked and why – These are the mistakes you must remember NOT to make.
The Dealer Web site service providing company name
Company names are usually is displayed at the bottom of each dealership Web site, a free promotional ad of theirs. Also, keep track of which providers appear to make available the best and worst of automobile dealer sites. Be aware many offer simple cookie cutter techniques that may not differentiate you from your local market competition.
What type of automotive dealer specials, if any, were most common
Did they fully utilize all the available dealership website features such as; list at least a few new and used vehicle specials with a price. What was their “hook”, a coupon, a special price, a discount, or did they simply say request more information and did they promote all departments within their dealership?
How do you believe the dealership is capturing lead information?
What forms of call to action is this dealership incorporating within their site to identify and capture lead information. Is it simply a coupon – discount request or do they utilize some other unique technique such as social networking or a dealership newsletter?
Did the dealership incorporate all the other advertising media they pay for within their Web site?
This is a common oversight by automotive dealers; auto dealers pay dearly for local print – newspaper advertising, yet seldom integrate into their Web site as a specials review option. This also holds true for radio (audio content) and TV (video content). If your dealership doesn’t ask for this information, you won’t get it, unless you have an agent that is truly looking for your dealerships best interest.
Now you’re ready, begin your research by investing a little time into learning how other automotive dealers are creating an internet presence and visually see the online marketing campaigns being utilized. You’ll find that you don’t need to be an automobile internet guru or internet marketing expert; simple common sense marketing and automotive business practices are prevalent.
It won't hurt, doesn't cost you a penny, and could potentially be profitable, by helping you improve your current online marketing campaign with some creative marketing ideas that could improve your overall conversion rates.
Give it a try - Research Retail Automotive Dealership Web Sites Designs locally and nationally
Ok - I’m going to make the big assumption that you’ve done a little research and ask the following question.
Oh Ya! I could get a better paying job - Hold on there cowboy, that's not what your here for. You have learned which Automotive vendors offer interesting Web site templates and customized solutions, what kind of online specials other auto dealers are promoting, visually what you have found pleasing on a dealership website, some of the shortcomings of other auto dealer websites, and most of all what you think may improve your dealership presence online.
Another suggestion before moving on ... Pickup the phone and Call Other Dealerships .... Behind every dealership Web site there's an individual, dealing with vendors, organizing departments, trying to make a living, and most of all suffering the trials and tribulations of creating a successful automotive dealer internet presence. Consider locating and contacting them, unless you're a direct competitor I'd bet that they would be willing to share some insight, successes and possibly some design items.
Evaluating your dealerships ability to succeed in the development of an internet department
Progressive steps to implementing a successful automotive internet department
Leadership – Ownership & Management buy-in is the cornerstone to succeeding in the development of an internet department. Without the full commitment of both these entities it will be too easy for any one team member to faultier when the adversities of success must be overcome.
Willingness to Except Change – One simple word, “Evolution”; the automotive consumer buying cycle and market has changed and will continue to change within short time periods. The day of simply searching through the Sunday paper for the biggest ad, driving over to the dealership, and hoping to get the best price are numbered. The automotive consumer is now educated, demanding, and less brand loyal than ever before. Understand this and adapt to it.
Establish Long-Term Goals – With success usually comes many failures, otherwise everyone would be successful; establish both short-term internet marketing goals and long-term marketing goals. Be willing to except short-term trials and tribulations, developing a successful internet marketing department is not much different than managing any other department within a dealership. You must promote, hire, manage, recruit, establish procedures, sell, re-evaluate, and adjust on a daily basis with a long-term goal of obtaining profitability within an internet department based on sound business practices.
Step 1 Completed: Ownership and Management is ready, the Willingness to Change is in-place, Long-Term Goals are in the making, its now time to set things in motion...
Build a Team & Develop a Business Culture – Developing an internet department is not a one person show, it’s time consuming and there are not enough hours in a day. The larger your team is the quicker you can accomplish your long-term goals with strong leadership. Each individual working within an auto dealership in one way or another can contribute to the success of the internet marketing development. Evaluate each automotive position and role within the dealership and how they can positively contribute to the success of a newly formed automotive internet department. Consider everyone from the switchboard operator, to a parts counter clerk, to the outside vendors that supply marketing support.
Personnel Capabilities and Time-Management – With a listing of all the dealership workforce in-hand, its now time to evaluate each individual’s personal capabilities and active role as a team member. You’ll need to develop a few individual teams to successfully market a dealership online, they are;
A little point of interest; be careful not to overlook anyone, computer usage is now mainstream and you may be surprised by the capabilities of an individual that you would normally not consider a viable candidate when developing a new dealership department. As for Time Management, there are only 24 hours in a day, it is suggested that if one individual possesses extraordinary skills that you team that individual up with understudies and delegate job responsibilities.
Finally, with all the above in place the only two reasons an internet department may not succeed are;
Accountability – It’s a down-right shame that not all individuals put their best foot forward and give 110%, but the fact is its true. The leadership team in the end is solely responsible for its team member’s actions. Set goals and job reasonability’s for team members, follow-up on those individual goals, and reward those individuals that obtain those goals. As for individuals that don’t buy-in, not because their incapable, but because their unwilling, remove them form the total team effort and eventually from the dealership team. Remember the classic saying, “One bad apple can ruin the whole bunch.”
Re-evaluate, Re-evaluate, and Re-evaluate your automotive online internet presence
Now, lets get going there’s no time to waste, your competition is hard at work now ………
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