Article

Driving Customers Through Online Search: How To Optimize Web Sites For Search Engine Marketing

October 2007, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Rob Chesney - Also by this author

Every day, customers are searching for vehicles online. Even if a purchase is not immediate, customers are researching makes and models, looking for reviews and reading feedback from vehicle owners. The number of customers visiting dealer Web sites has grown by 70 percent during the past four years and the Web is increasingly influencing dealer selection, according to automotive marketing research firm Friedman-Swift Associates.

In order to increase the odds of consumers selecting your dealership, consider search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO). These two tools can help you build relationships with new customers during the consideration and planning phase, while building a loyal customer base that will return to your site or come to your dealership when ready to make a purchase.

eBay Motors regularly uses search to drive 12 million unique visitors, and potential buyers each month to eBay Motors sellers. SEO and SEM play a pivotal role in ensuring eBay Motors is consistently ranked the No. 1 automotive site on the Web by Nielsen//NetRatings.

When your dealership promotes vehicles through a third-party automotive site such as eBay Motors, you are essentially purchasing that site’s SEO and SEM expertise in addition to the listing itself. Well-established automotive sites have invested years of time, money and experience into learning the nuances of search marketing and driving traffic to their respective sites.

Here’s some basic information you should know about the two tools and how to use them to maximize exposure.

To explain, search engine optimization (sometimes called natural search) uses search engines like Google and Yahoo! to crawl Web sites and index key words and phrases that people may use when searching. Consumers searching online during the research phase tend to look at natural, or unpaid, search results as the most credible because they want to hear from other owners and third-parties to gauge experiences.

Later in the buying cycle, people are more likely to look to paid links, or search engine marketing, because they want an established business with a more exact price attached.  If you are looking to increase your presence and improve results on the Web, you may want to consider a program that involves SEO and SEM together, rather than one in isolation.

For instance, if your search engine optimization rankings are strong with vehicle guides, then you could use search engine marketing strategy focused on driving buyers in the purchase phase to your site. If your goal is to drive consumers to your vehicle guides in order to build name recognition for your dealership, you could reiterate that message with paid search.

Probably the biggest benefit to SEO is that it’s free. Search engines want to index as many sites as they can to provide the most relevant matches to those who search. A site that has targeted words and phrases and updates pages frequently will stand a better chance of securing a higher ranking. Search engines also take into account a site’s popularity or relevance by noting how many other sites link to it.

One way to receive better rankings in search results is to incorporate descriptive terms that make sense to human intuition and that search engines are able to figure out. For example, not all car buyers would search for a named option package but rather for specific features such as “anti-lock brakes” or “cruise control.”

You can use paid search listings with tailored messages to reach specific customer demographics. You also control which page the link goes to and therefore the user experience once the consumer reaches your site. SEM is powerful because it can be measured very accurately. When you buy an advertisement on television, you may never really be sure of how many sales are direct results of that ad.

With an SEM tracking system in place, you have access to specific details and results. You’ll know when someone clicks on your ad, the path they go through on your site and if that eventually results in a call, a visit or a purchase. You’ll have the statistics to show the impact of your marketing dollars.

You have several options to start utilizing search engines to drive traffic and add customers:

1)     Appoint someone internally who handles online marketing

2)     Outsource it for a fee to a third party

3)     List inventory on an automotive site that already engages in search marketing

Search engine optimization and marketing can be a powerful traffic driver when used correctly and monitored frequently. Consumers increasingly use the Internet to research products and services, and many are making large purchases online. To make sure those consumers notice your dealership, consider a search strategy to drive increased traffic and serious shoppers to your site.

Vol 5, Issue 9

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