Article

Are You Ready? Search Engine marketing

August 2006, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Todd Swickard - Also by this author

At our office, I talk with dealers all day. It's amazing how many dealers tell me that they aren't ready to use search engine marketing. With some dealers however, we actually have to tell them they aren't ready. When we do, some get mad, some thank us and some are really confused. The truth is, you have to be ready to market your site before you sign up with either one of the search engines or search engine marketing companies.
You can drive traffic to your site all day long but if your site and the way you handle your leads isn't ready, then it is like advertising a car that isn't going to hit your lot for another five months. You can have a lot of interest but you don't sell anything. Along the same lines of trying to sell that car that hasn't arrived yet, you get people in the door and you sign them up for more information. Then when the car arrives, you do nothing with the names and waste a whole lot of money. Does this sound familiar to anyone?
 
There are three key elements to getting your Web site ready for traffic besides making them search engine friendly. The first is to make the front page inviting. Make sure that you can find anything that you need at your dealership in less than three clicks from the home page - preferably within one. More than three clicks can get everyone confused and aggravated. Make sure your menus are easy and simple to follow. Make sure your phone number, address and hours are easy to find - preferably on every page. It is amazing that I have been working with dealer Web sites for seven years and I still find these items missing on some of them.
The second key element is making sure that you can handle the incoming information. Make sure that you have a dedicated phone number and that someone answers it. Don't let everything go to voicemail, or worse, just let it go to the front desk. Make sure that someone is checking the e-mails everyday - preferably throughout the day. Make sure they respond, first with an auto-responder and then with a personal response. Make sure they don't type in all capital letters. (Yes, you need capital letters to work on your DMS system but not to type an e-mail.) Mystery shop your own Web site every once in a while. Have a friend call the phone number and see how long it takes sales to get back with them. Send an e-mail with a question about a car and financing. You will be absolutely amazed at some of the results you will get. My favorite stories come from dealers that actually test their own site.
 
The third key element is that you have to understand what is happening on your Web site. You need to keep track of all transactions, not just the contacts or "leads". What vehicles get the most inquiries? If they're pre-owned, you'll have an idea of what to purchase at the next auction. Do you know what the most common vehicle price point is of people inquiring on your site? If you don't know - then learn.
 
Learn to read your statistics on your site. Know how many visitors you had last month and where they are coming from. Your Web site and search engine marketing is an online media buy; it's an extension of your print and radio advertising. You track those, don't you? If you don't know what the information means then ask your Web provider or your search engine marketing company to explain it. If they can't explain it - in layman's terms - get another company.
 
Keep track of the phone calls off your site. The dealers that I work with are amazed at the amount of phone traffic that their Web site generates. Our dealers report that for every one electronic contact that you get off your site (e-mail, contact us, inventory request, finance requests, etc.); they are receiving three phone calls. Yes, I said three phone calls. If you aren't tracking your calls and counting them as traffic on your site then you aren't really tracking the results from your Web site. The goals of an effective Web site are to generate phone calls, showroom traffic and electronic contact, all of which you can then leverage into profit producing sales.
 
So ask yourself the question if you are ready for search engine marketing. I have turned down numerous dealers as clients because they wouldn't realize the benefits of search engine marketing on their site or they simply weren't ready. The best way I can describe it in car terms is that if you had a heavily marketed/advertised three day tent sale and everyone comes to the show room but nobody buys any cars, did it do you any good? So before you open the flood gates of people to your Web site, make sure you know how to surf the waves.
 
Vol 2, Issue 4

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