Article

Search Engine Marketing Buyers Guide - Part 1 Choosing he Right Provider For Your Dealership

August 2006, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Dean Evans - Also by this author

“Hiring an SEM firm can be a financial investment that can provide great results – and knowing what to look for
can ensure that your investment pays off.”
- Yahoo Small Business
Industry experts and dealers nationwide are hailing paid search advertising as the next evolution of online auto retailing. Because paid search is such an important, yet time consuming and resource intensive program, choosing the right service provider is critical.

The Dealix Dealer Newsletter spoke with industry experts who made the following recommendations for choosing a paid search service provider. Part I of this article presents some things you should demand from your business relationship with your provider and the quality of service it provides. Part II will cover key questions to ask regarding the service provider's level of expertise with search marketing and the return on investment you should gain from its program.
Together, these requirements represent the four key areas that paid search providers can be evaluated by auto dealers:
1. Business relationship you’ll have with the provider
2. Quality of service
3. Provider’s level of expertise with search marketing
4. Return on your investment from the program (ROI)

Part I

Business Relationship

Does the vendor require a long term contractual commitment?

A contract with a paid search service provider should give you the opportunity to see the full benefits of your program, without locking you into a long-term campaign that is not producing ongoing positive results. Dealers should be cautious of contracts that last longer than six months without a performance based out-clause.

Does the vendor require minimum spends you aren’t comfortable with?

Your service provider should work with you to determine an ad spend budget that is tailored to your market and your dealership. While some dealers may spend as little as $1,000, others will spend $10,000 a month on their campaigns. The key to your success will lie in your provider’s ability to find an amount that suits your specific needs.

Does the vendor charge you up front for click through charges?

Beware of vendors that collect your money for your ad spend before showing you any results from your campaigns. Less established companies that require dealers to pay for ad spend up front may not have the financial resources to cover their operating costs, let alone your monthly ad spend. This can lead to a misallocation of ad spend to vendor fees. In contrast, a well-established provider should have the resources to cover the ad spend up front and bill dealers appropriately.

Does the vendor bill you a flat ad spend fee, or do they charge a variable fee based on actual click results?

Quality traffic matters more than quantity when it comes to paid search. Vendors charging a fixed ad spend may make irrelevant keyword bids on tier two and tier three search engines, solely to use up your monthly budget. Whereas a high quality service provider will only bid on appropriate keywords for your dealership and your market with tier one search engines. This bidding strategy is aimed at generating qualified traffic that converts into quality leads.

Does the vendor make lofty promises in its marketing materials?

Dealers are wise to be cautious about fantastic search marketing slogans such as exaggerated traffic numbers, keyword buys and cost per lead figures. An experienced vendor considers your market, your brand, your Web site, the customers’ stage in the buying cycle and many other factors when developing your paid search program. Again, look for a provider focused on helping you to generate quality leads from your site, not one that brags about millions of keywords or guarantees conversions.

Does the vendor provide a list of references?

A skilled provider should be able to give you a list of dealer clients who are pleased with their services.

“Ask to speak with a firm’s existing clients before you make a decision.”
- Yahoo Small Business

Are the vendor’s goals aligned with your dealership’s goals?

There are two primary strategies for keyword bidding: bidding for maximum traffic or bidding for maximum leads. These strategies are mutually exclusive and your provider should tell you which one it employs. Be aware that a maximum visitor strategy may result in a lot of traffic to your site, but not necessarily quality leads. By contrast, a lead based strategy will focus solely on traffic that converts into quality sales leads.

Level of Service

“Did it (the vendor) return calls and e-mails promptly? Was it responsive when there was a problem?”
- Yahoo Small Business

Does the vendor give you a named account manager to address your questions?

Auto retailers understand how important customer service is. That’s why a distant 800-number will not provide the support you need for a successful search marketing program. Your provider should be accessible through a dedicated account manager who is available to personally answer your questions about this often complicated marketing initiative. Because this is a new program for many dealerships, it is important for a service provider to be responsive to any questions or concerns you have.

Does the vendor offer tools, support, and reporting that help you evaluate your paid search campaigns?

Do not accept a “trust me” attitude from your search marketing service provider. A skilled provider will give you the tools you need to easily measure the success of your program, and outline its performance on a monthly basis.

Does the vendor leverage your dealership brand and messaging in your paid search advertising?

A skilled paid search provider will have both the creative and technical aptitude to develop hundreds of tailored ads that help drive more visitors to your site, which will convert to high quality leads. A provider that doesn’t offer advertisements that are customized for your particular brand will fail to distinguish your ads from your competitors'.

Be sure to read the second part of this article. Part II will give you the questions you need to ask about a provider’s expertise and the return on investment it offers.

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