Article

Three Hot Technology Questions: It’s Not Always Black and White

October 2008, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Harlene Doane - Also by this author

For some technology issues, the answers are black and white. There is a right way and a wrong way to approach them. For other issues, there can be a great divide in opinions—even among those who work in the industry. This month, three questions asked by dealers warranted a closer look.

Is indexing your entire inventory on your Web site worth the effort?
First, let’s make sure everyone understands what indexing your inventory means. The not-so-technical definition is listing your entire inventory on your Web site in a fashion that is friendly to spiders and bots that crawl the Web to index sites for search results.

Indexing your inventory will, theoretically, create more organic rankings for your site. If everyone does it, will it continue to work? Probably not, because the search engines will just make another change to their algorithms, but no one can predict when that would occur. The good news is that not everyone will go to the trouble of indexing their entire inventory. So, for those who do, there is certainly an advantage.

According to Todd Swickard, CEO of Auto Dealer Traffic, a technology company that monitors millions of search transactions daily, “Now, Internet searches are becoming more sophisticated and keyword searches have grown much longer. At one point in time an Internet search might have been ‘used cars.’ Today, it might be ‘2005 Cadillac Deville, Evansville, IN’ or ‘Black 2006 Chevrolet Tahoe, Arizona.’”

There is a reason large portal sites want you to list your entire inventory on their sites. They want to index your inventory to drive traffic to their site and then back to you. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as it all gets back to you and not your competitor. But the customer is in control of that factor, not the portal site and certainly not you.

For example, if a customer searches for a vehicle and winds up on cars.com, they will likely find several vehicles close to what they searched for and several other dealerships. They could easily be distracted and never make contact with you, even though your vehicle got them to the cars.com site.

Now, what if you could capture that same shopper by driving them to your dealership site directly? Think about it for a minute; do you want the customer searching for “used cars” or the one searching for a specific used car? The customer searching for a specific used car is a better prospect. They are likely to be farther along in the buying cycle if they have decided on the type of vehicle they want.

Now, will it do much for you to index 15 2008 Red Toyota Corollas on your site? Probably not, but it might be worth the extra effort to index the rest of your inventory to capture just a few extra consumers each month who are ready to buy.

Do I really need a third party to buy and execute my SEM/SEO program?
That depends on how much time you have. “There are currently 15 ways to buy on Google alone; add in the other top search engines and you have a complex buying situation,” said Swickard. On top of that, there are hundreds of thousands of sites that sell display (banner) advertising directly and you have to figure out which ones reach your demographic target.

For the majority of dealerships, human resources would be better spent on selling or servicing vehicles, not on navigating online media buying. If you don’t spend your time deciding what airtime to buy for your TV commercials or radio spots, why would you even consider spending your time on trying to purchase online spots?

The majority of companies that will do this tedious work earn the same commission as the agency purchasing your radio and television spots—a flat 15 percent. That is not in any way to imply that the same agency can do both. There are a few full-service agencies, but for the most part, buying online media takes someone very experienced in the online market. You want someone who is constantly monitoring changes in keyword searches and is able to make recommendations to you, not just on a monthly basis but on a weekly and sometimes even a daily basis.

If you do hire someone to execute your SEM or SEO program, you need to be cognitive of one often-overlooked issue.  “Many dealers wind up working with multiple companies all claiming to be helping with SEM/SEO, but they don’t communicate well together,” said Swickard. When this happens, you wind up with mixed messages to your prospects. All your media must be sending the same message. It is up to the dealer to have someone on staff who is responsible for ensuring that every media service provider, regardless of whether it is online or offline, is working toward the same goals—those of the dealer.

Is it time for me to tackle video marketing?
If you are always the person who has to have the latest gadget as soon as it comes out, or you are the person in your market to always be the first to do “x,” then it is possibly time for you to tackle video marketing. On the other hand, if you usually wait for the bugs to be worked out, the prices to come down or for someone to show you quantifiable results, then maybe you aren’t ready yet.

According to Swickard, more than two years ago, JD Power discussed video as the next marketing channel for auto dealers. It has yet to be a part of most automobile dealership marketing strategies. Today, a few dealers are posting videos on YouTube, and some of their videos appear in search results but rarely at the top. During a recent hour-long exercise of trying to search for words that might force video (in any industry) to the top of search results, the highest any video came was second, and that was for “how to tune a guitar.”

For those videos that do appear, what happens when the searcher clicks to the video? Obviously, they watch at least part of it, but what is the bounce rate? For anyone who doesn’t know what a bounce rate is, it is a measurement of people who visit a Web page or, in this case, a video and don’t visit any other page of your site. Videos loaded on YouTube don’t link back to your Web site

If customers watch a video clip, do they go back to your Web site and browse inventory? If they don’t, what have you accomplished? Millions of video clips are viewed every day, but what is the reason they are viewed? Some are purely entertainment. Others are informational, but very few have any real call to action.

Additionally, as video gains more momentum, there will be many legal issues that will be debated in court. Even today, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) is getting involved in petitioning to pull unauthorized videos for copyright violations. Before you say, “That won’t affect me,” look at something that could happen in this industry.

Let’s say a major automotive manufacturer shoots a commercial with a top actor, who is a SAG member, as the spokesperson. The commercials are then tagged with the local dealer contact information and the dealer runs the commercials in their market—all fully authorized. The dealer then decides to load the commercial clip on his Web site. Problem number one: does his authorization cover that, or is he violating copyright laws? Then his Internet director loads it on YouTube, thinking the dealership will get additional exposure. Problem number two: it is no longer running on a regional or local basis. Anyone from anywhere could access that video. Both problems involve residuals that may be due to the actor, residuals you might be responsible for since you caused the violation.
 
In this scenario, there is also a third problem. Will customers watch a car commercial online? If customers won’t watch automobile commercials on TiVo, can you expect them to watch them online?

Does all of this mean video is bad? Definitely not! What it does mean is that dealers entering this arena of Internet marketing need to clearly define what they want to accomplish with video marketing. It needs to be a part of their overall marketing strategy, not their entire strategy. This market is not fully developed yet, so if you don’t fall into the “I have to be there first” group, keep an eye on the developments because technology changes faster than most can keep up.

Share your point of view on any of these three questions or to ask a question you want an answer to by e-mailing [email protected].

Vol 5, Issue 9

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