The digital DNA of nearly every automotive dealership operating today is comprised of two important codes: SEO and PPC. If you don’t have someone at your dealership who knows what search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) ads are — and how to leverage them in your dealership’s digital sales and marketing strategy — then you need to hire someone who does!
Alternatively, you can hire a digital marketing firm to manage these important marketing points. That can be a great investment for dealers who can afford to outsource. But only a select few guarantee results, and in this day and age, even a small, independent dealer can rule the first page of Google and increase Internet traffic to their website themselves by understanding four key elements of a successful SEO and PPC strategy.
1. SEO and Google Rankings
Do you show up on the first page of Google search results, or are you buried in the noise of the third page? Most dealers I have spoken with don’t have any sort of in-house SEO strategy. They are clueless as to why the dealership down the street — which moves half as many units — ranks above them on Google and other search engines.
Many have turned to traditional ad agencies to do their SEO work. Unfortunately, the “experts” at many such agencies are themselves trying to catch up to the Digital Age. If you do decide to outsource, I recommend finding a digital-first agency. Whichever path you take, remember that SEO is a long-term commitment and it will take a continual focus and frequently updated, original digital content to maintain high search rankings.
A common, antiquated SEO strategy I hear from dealers is to load up your website with an overabundance of keywords. This no longer works as a standalone strategy. Google now bases results on much more than keywords, so you have to produce quality original content to increase viewing engagement. Launching and maintaining a blog, for example, gives you the opportunity to embed keywords and offer interesting articles that will give Web visitors a reason to spend more time on your site. They might even share those articles across multiple social media platforms for even broader viewing.
Here are four recommendations for enhancing your dealership’s SEO strategy:
- Update your blog posts or custom content on a regular basis. Customers can tell if you haven’t, and old material will give your dealership a somewhat “dated” online presence.
- Understand what your most important key performance indicators (KPIs) are and watch them closely. Monitor what type of content is bringing traffic to your site and getting the most shares on social media. Content that performs poorly should be tweaked or removed.
- Create an SEO budget just like any other traditional expense. Yes, it will cost you some time and money to create content and optimize your site, but you can’t afford to underfund your web presence.
- Remember that title and description Meta tags are the most important elements for the search engine indexing of your content. There is no longer a use for keyword Meta tags due to updated secure-search approaches.
2. PPC Equals ROI
Traditional media such as newspaper ads and TV and radio spots are not delivering the return on investment (ROI) they used to. PPC ads are beginning to take a leading role in dealers’ marketing budgets, and unlike traditional ads, PPC campaigns can be tracked with data and analytics that support your KPIs.
The most common PPC platforms are Google AdWords and paid ads on Facebook and Twitter. They work much the same way as listing a car on third-party sites that only charge for “clicked” views. PPC campaigns can be very effective when you know the key characteristics of your average customer. As a bonus, they are not overly complicated to set up, so time-to-view is shortened.
For auto dealers, my favorite platform is Facebook Ads. Facebook is offering a unique new feature called “Like Audience” building. You can upload your existing email lists of customers who have purchased vehicles and then a Facebook algorithm will create an audience of similar people to target in a new campaign. You can drill down further to particular geographic locations to find these similar audiences in your city, for example. Or you can target specific demographics, such as age or gender, depending on the campaign you are running.
Google AdWords and Twitter ads are also effective means of pushing traffic to your website. AdWords offers a robust network with text ads, video ads, mobile app ads and a retargeting mechanism, all in one simple platform. Remarkably, the video ads feature can target your dealership videos to YouTube viewers. These are essentially PPC commercials for your dealership at pennies per view.
For Twitter, I like the targeted follower ads by geolocation. One of the unique features the Twitter ad platform offers is the ability to target followers of specific Twitter usernames. This can be useful for dealers who operate in cities in which residents follow high-profile influencers. The platform also can be used to target specific groups like your local AAA branch or rotary club.
3. Understand Your Web Traffic Patterns
Have you or one of your senior managers ever logged into Google Analytics? Have you at least undertaken an in-depth review of the online traffic results provided by your website provider? It never ceases to amaze me how unfamiliar dealership management is with their website traffic and the data associated with it.
It is very tempting to leave the analysis to your marketing staff or advertising agency. I suggest you get engaged and understand how your dealership is being perceived online. Ask your prospects how they found you. Ask what online content is of interest and relevant to them. Enhance that real-time feedback with ongoing analysis. Google Analytics offers a robust (and free!) platform to monitor the sources of your traffic all the way down to the demographic level. It lends insight into how your customers are finding your website, whether it’s through social media, a Google AdWords campaign or search engine results. This tool can also be used to get insight into how long potential customers spend browsing your site and what pages are viewed most frequently.
4. Anticipate Key Takeaways
I can’t say it’s “never too late” to get onboard with SEO and PPC, but it certainly is not too late to take the digital plunge today. In fact, this is a great time to get onboard. Today’s car buyers are always “on,” always connected and increasingly well-educated. They often come equipped with a complete understanding of competitive pricing for various models and trim levels, all to an extent unimaginable in previous years.
To stay competitive, you have to adapt, and you must be willing to put an appropriate budget toward digital marketing. And if you are going to rely on an agency to manage your digital presence, be sure you find someone who understands your goals and how to steer your operation’s SEO and PPC strategies accordingly.
Above all else, stay involved and encourage your management team to do the same. You must be active in monitoring your dealership’s digital strategy, and don’t be afraid to ask tough questions and get more directly engaged in your agency or marketing manager’s online initiatives. The better you understand today’s customers and the campaigns you undertake to reach them, the better you will fare.
Zach Klempf is the CEO of A1 Software Group, makers of the Selly Automotive sales platform. ZKlempf@AutoDealerMonthly.com