I spend a lot of quality time with auto dealers, and I’m often surprised at the state of their online marketing programs. Sometimes I am even downright outraged at how some online marketing providers (website developers, SEO & SEM companies, and social media agencies) are taking advantage of dealerships. Frequently, franchise dealerships are laying out some serious cash to rank above competitors with very little results to show for it. I recently spoke with an Internet manager at a small, 50 cars-a-month Ford dealership that was using one of the popular automotive website and digital marketing providers. He was paying $4,500 a month and really had nothing tangible as far as results to show for that huge monthly expense! To help balance the online showroom playing field, I have outlined five warning signs of digital potholes ahead that signal a bumpy relationship with your dealership’s online marketing providers.

Warning Sign #1: They don’t explain key terms nor define a clear strategy

Are they able to explain key digital marketing terms like SEO, SEM, SERP, CPC, H1 & H2 tags AND define a clear strategy of use for your Dealership’s online presence? Many marketing vendors that offer digital services have misled dealerships by not fully explaining what terms like Search Engine Optimization (SEO) mean and how they can be used effectively for your site. Avoid this by nailing down exactly what these terms mean, how these digital marketing components are going to be used as part of a documented online dealership strategy, and jointly agreeing to success milestones and timelines that need to be achieved for your dealership’s online presence.

Here are a few questions you should be asking:

  • How are you using long tail keywords? What research was used for selecting the keywords being used and how does it relate to my dealership?
  • What on-page SEO factors like H1 and H2 will be used and why?
  • What sort of original and engaging content are you creating for my website? How often will site content be refreshed? Make sure you define “refreshed” as something more than changing a few words or titles on a page.
  • What does success look like? What metrics will show that the online strategy is producing results?
  • How often will we revisit the strategy and perform a milestone check to make sure we are on track?

If your provider cannot clearly explain the online strategy they have in mind for your dealership and what they will be doing to actively increase your SERP (Search Engine Results Page) results then ‘Houston. We have a problem.’

Remember, just because a marketing vendor claims to be doing SEO services, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are. In some cases they may only be changing the title of your website! A solid SEO provider will optimise on a page level and will do a significant amount of keyword and competitor research. They will also be willing to explain in detail the online strategy for your dealership and work with you to tweak it for optimal results on a regular basis.

Warning Sign #2: Just read the monthly report I sent you and trust me

If your provider does not give you full administration access to the CPC (Cost-per-Click) campaigns and real time analytics of your dealership’s digital marketing efforts, then there’s a big problem. This is the equivalent of not giving the customer the car keys and title after they purchase a car from you! Monthly reports on the performance of your dealership’s site are insufficient as this is something you really need to monitor on a daily basis. Not having access to adjust these campaigns and seeing which variants of CPC ads are the most effective puts your dealership in the dark about real time performance.  Always adopt a ‘Trust but frequently Verify’ approach to make sure that you are getting your bang for your CPC bucks.

Also be wary if your digital marketing provider creates a social media account for your dealership and then proceeds to use it to advertise their brand on your page. For example, they could be retweeting promotional ads for their services under your dealership’s name. This is fairly common for providers to do and it’s basically free advertising for their brand while riding on your dealership’s name.

Warning Sign #3: Selling guns to both sides

Is the same marketing vendor you are using to build SEO and improve your Google ranking also servicing the competition down the street? Believe it or not, this is a real problem that happens more often than you may think.  If both your competition and you are selling the same vehicles (i.e. 2015 Ford Mustang), in the same city or nearby cities, whose side are they on? How can they promise both dealerships to rank highest on Google SERPs when they are competing with another Dealer they directly service?

How can you trust a provider that is playing both sides of the fence? When your dealership is selecting a provider for website and SEO services make sure they do not service your local competitors too. Otherwise both of you are being taken to the cleaners.

Warning Sign #4: Low percentage of actual spend on CPC campaigns

When you pay your provider for running CPC marketing, make sure you have a detailed breakdown of how much money is being spent on the actual campaigns versus how much money is being spent on other expenses. You need a breakdown of how much is being spent directly on AdWords, FB Ads, Remarketing Ads, and so on. If they are only spending a small amount of money on these CPC campaigns and more on the miscellaneous administrative services, then you have a ROI disconnect.

CPC campaigns need to be carefully monitored. If your provider is throwing money at campaigns with a low ROI, then issue a cease and desist campaign notice immediately. If you have tried CPC campaigns in the past for your dealership and know that certain networks aren’t effective (i.e. Pinterest Promoted Pins), then let your provider know ahead of time to save you both time and money. Balance that past experience though with being willing to explore new channels if your provider can provide you sound business rationale based on your target demographics and user profiles. Also, be sure to ask them for previews of the CPC campaigns they are running, so you can see how consumers are viewing your targeted advertising.

Warning Sign #5: Updates are bogus and are really just minor text changes

You have every right as a dealership to audit your provider on a regular basis to make sure they are doing what they have been hired to do.  Dealers who are not actively monitoring their providers are more susceptible to questionable practices. For example, some marketing vendors will claim that they make weekly ‘updates’ to your social pages without actually doing anything tangible. The Ford Dealer mentioned earlier in the article discovered that his provider was making blank edits to their social media account, and billing him as if they were making meaningful updates. To prevent these types of issues, the Dealer needs to ask for an in-depth report of all updates made by the provider that describes in some depth what actual changes were made and what percentage of each page’s content was actually updated.

Key takeaways for the GM

In this digital age, many Dealers fall behind when it comes to understanding SEO, CPC, and Social Media marketing tactics. Some online marketing providers take advantage of non-tech-savvy Dealers and do minimal work through questionable, and sometimes unethical, business practices. The best way to protect your investment in digital advertising is to audit your provider and ask as many questions as possible. It is your right to receive proper and in-depth reporting of your providers activities. Keeping a look out for the warning signs mentioned and following the tips outlined in this article could save your dealership thousands of dollars a month, ensure a smooth digital highway experience, and put you a step ahead of your competition!

Zach Klempf
CEO, A1 Software Group

About the writer – Zach Klempf is the CEO of A1 Software Group, makers of the Selley Automotive sales platform. Visit SellyDealer.com for more information.

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