Article

Search Engine Marketing Buyer's Guide Part 2 Level Of Expertise

August 2006, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Dean Evans - Also by this author

Last week, Auto Dealer Monthly published Part I of this article, which covered how to evaluate paid search service providers based on the business relationship they offer and the quality of service they provide. 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 the program.

Part II

Level of Expertise

“If you need a firm that can handle your entire online marketing campaign, but the firm you’re thinking about using only does search engine optimization, you should look elsewhere.”
- Yahoo Small Business

Does the vendor have years of expertise and a comprehensive understanding of online automotive marketing?

The best SEM service providers should have an understanding of the entire auto retailing landscape – particularly the online arena. Many firms offer search marketing services but lack auto industry experience. Using one of these vendors for a dealership SEM campaign is like having a refrigerator repair person service your car’s transmission.

Skilled providers that know the auto industry will understand how paid search advertising can help dealerships meet their overall marketing and advertising objectives.

In a recent industry study, dealers surveyed said they would expect to get search engine marketing services from their Web site provider or their third party lead provider.

Does the vendor understand dealership Web sites?

The focus of search engine marketing for dealerships is drawing the right buyers to your Web site. Ideally, a good search marketing campaign will attract customers to all of your dealership’s profit centers, for example: service, parts, or new vehicle sales. You can have a good search marketing program that draws more visitors to your site, but the ultimate goal is to turn those visitors into customers for what's offered on your site.

Does the vendor design your paid search campaigns to take advantage of your Web site’s offerings? And does it keep you informed of any changes or modifications it makes to your Web site to support paid search?

Vendor’s use different methods to collect leads, including making changes to the dealership Web site. Your provider should always give you detailed explanations of any change so you can track its impact, and those changes should be carefully implemented in order to avoid conflicts with other elements of your Web site. A good provider will also keep you informed about the rapidly evolving search marketing landscape and design your program to mitigate risks such as Web site spam techniques, and the like.

Does the vendor understand third party leads?

Veteran third party lead providers have been working with paid search for years on their own sites and through their third party site partnerships. There are many new vendors selling search marketing to dealers that have no track record of success in this area. You want a provider that is a veteran in the field, not one that is figuring out search marketing with your ad dollars.

Any vendor that advocates eliminating third party leads for an SEM program is doing you a disservice. According to Ward’s, J.D. Power and Associates, and Forrester Research, the majority of online auto sales leads are still generated at third party sites. In addition, any SEM vendor that tells you to drop third party leads without discussing how much you’re spending on traditional advertising, is out of step with current industry trends.

It’s important to keep in mind that no matter your Web site’s placement in search engine results, some buyers will always prefer to go to third party sites, like Edmunds, AutoTrader, KBB, etc. Some buyers will go to your site, some will go to third party sites, and some will visit many sites before walking into your showroom. The key is connecting with as many in-market buyers as possible, and selling to all of them.

Can the vendor integrate your paid search campaigns with the rest of your marketing efforts?

The best paid search providers will tailor a program specifically to your marketing needs. For example, coordinating the ad copy in a paid search ad and a radio promotion can strengthen your brand and reinforce your message. Search marketing campaigns should fit seamlessly with the rest of your Internet marketing efforts and improve your overall sales efficiency.

Is the vendor a reseller for someone else’s core technology?

Your vendor needs to fully understand the technology behind its services so it can make necessary adjustments in a timely manner. In particular, the technology needs to be appropriate for the specific needs of automotive dealers. The automotive paid search market will change significantly over the next few years. You need to be sure that your provider can adapt and meet your dealership’s changing needs throughout this time period. A vendor reselling someone else’s technology will have trouble doing this. Be cautious of vendors that have trouble integrating paid search into your overall Internet marketing efforts, and that lack critical automotive industry experience.

Does the vendor track and bid on keywords based on phone calls as well as email leads?

Studies are now showing that phone calls make up 60-70 percent of inbound opportunities that result from paid search advertising. If a vendor is not tracking phone calls and bidding based on them, it is essentially ignoring up to 66 percent of inbound leads. Would you ignore two-thirds of your leads? Make sure you provider explains exactly how they are going to track all of your leads. This isn’t just to prove ROI; it also ensures they are making smart bidding decisions.

Does the vendor have trusted relationships with top search engines?

Strong relationships with major search engines is a must for any paid search provider. Any vendor that does not have published partnership arrangements with the top search engines is most likely managing your campaigns manually. This approach typically results in simplistic bidding strategies and is prone to errors. Tight partnerships with Google, Yahoo, and MSN allow a good search marketing provider to directly integrate its paid search technology with the constantly changing search engine algorithms and expanding functionality. This results in real-time bid management, on-demand campaign updates, extensive reporting, and a continual flow of insights that help keep your program one step ahead of the competition.

Return on Investment

“Find out how long it took for the SEM firm to devise and implement their campaigns, what kind of results they’ve had, and if they’ve achieved the ROI they were looking for.”
- Yahoo Small Business

Does the vendor provide a return on your investment?

Don’t necessarily go for the low cost provider when it comes to search marketing services. A search marketing program should be evaluated like any other advertising program – by ROI and overall cost per vehicle sold. A service that seems more expensive, but generates higher quality leads, could yield a lower cost per sale and ultimately pay for itself.

Does the vendor provide detailed reporting on your results?

Whether a service provider charges a fee for detailed reporting on your program results or not, they should make it readily available to you so you can easily determine the ROI from your program. A good paid search provider should be monitoring and responding to results, just as you are. So, look for a provider that is more than willing to give you the data you need to be confident in your program results.

Is the vendor’s fee structure clear to you?

Your provider should give you invoices that show you what you’re paying for, such as the fees it charges and the actual ad spend. Don’t settle for one lump fee that combines ad spend and vendor fees.

What is the key to choosing the right provider?

While paid search advertising is undoubtedly complicated, the promise it holds for dealerships cannot be ignored. The key to choosing the right service provider is finding one that responds to the question: “Will you make this easy for me so I can sell more cars?” - With a resounding “Yes.”

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