Digital Advertising Strategy That Leverages Micro Sites
By Ralph Paglia
The following are questions I am frequently asked by dealers and managers in regards to the use of Landing Pages and Micro Sites. My responses are framed within the context of using micro sites as part of a dealer’s overall Digital Marketing Strategy.
1. What is the difference between a landing page, a micro site and a dealer’s normal web site?
For practical purposes every micro site contains a landing page, but not all landing pages are part of a micro site. Additionally, both Landing Pages and Micro Sites are distinctly separate and in addition to a dealer’s primary full featured web site. Here are a few characteristics that define Micro Sites:
• A micro site is comprised of multiple web pages with an index or home page attached to a unique URL that is descriptive of the micro site’s subject matter.
• A micro site’s web page that is accessed by the root domain of the URL is known as a landing page because it is where the consumer “lands” when they click on an advertisement, text based sponsored link or search engine listing.
• In addition to the landing (index) page, a micro site has 1 or more daughter pages that are accessible from linked text or images.
• A micro site’s daughter pages are created within the same root domain structure as the root domain URL. This is different than using links to a different web site’s pages.
• Each daughter page within a micro site will contain additional content relevant to the Micro Site’s subject matter and is what qualifies the domain as a “micro site” instead of a simple “landing page”.
Obviously, from the first part of my answer you already know that a landing page is a single web page connected to a unique URL, but without any additional pages of relevant content connected to it that are hosted within the same root domain structure. A good example, and the epitome of a “Micro Site” (it’s even small in size), including rich media presentations and specific vehicle component sections along with daughter pages containing vehicle information, photographs and specifications can be seen at www.SanDiegoChevyImpala.com
Conversely, a good example of a true “Landing Page” devoid of any other content within the same root domain structure is: www.ChevyPriceQuote.com
Every micro site contains a landing page, along with one or more additional content pages. Technically, any web page connected to outside links, such as banners and other forms of display advertisements shown within published web sites, as well as text based sponsored links and URL listings in SEM campaigns are “Landing Pages” because it is where the consumer lands when they click on the advertisement or listing… However, within the car business today, the most common use of the term landing page is to describe a single web page specially created for a specific advertisement, designed to convert visitors into electronic leads.
2. When and how are Landing Pages and Micro Sites used?
Both micro sites and landing pages are used for a variety of purposes by dealers, 3rd party lead providers, SEM services providers, dealer advertising associations, dealer groups and car companies. Compared to landing pages and depending on the richness of content they contain, automotive micro sites usually show increasing levels of effectiveness in generating leads over time. There are 3 prevalent digital marketing campaign objectives that micro sites and landing pages are used for within the car business today.
A. Generate sales leads in the form of completed online forms, incoming phone calls and showroom traffic…
B. Attract unique visitors using highly specific and limited subject matter content that is indexed by search engines as relevant to key word searches related to the site’s subject matter.
C. Generate traffic to other dealership web sites through the use of linked objects displayed within the micro site, or within the text based content of the site.
If you are like me, seeing a few examples really helps to clarify a concept. If you visit www.Chevy-Malibu.com
you will see a micro site that is focused on the all new 2008 Chevrolet Malibu and nothing else. It has lots of rich content relevant to the all new Malibu, including an interview with the dealership’s New Vehicle Director, Scott Gruwell. At the bottom of the landing page are links to content within the store’s primary full featured web site that supplement the forms and phone numbers within the micro site in seeking to convert visitors into leads and phone calls. 3 months after being launched, a search for “2008 Chevy Malibu” returns a world wide front page listing as follows:
2008 Chevrolet Malibu from your Phoenix Arizona Chevy Dealer ...
2008 Chevy Malibu. Come and fall in love with the all new 2008 Malibu from Chevrolet. Courtesy Chevrolet in Phoenix offers the best pricing and financing on ...
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You should click on the photo galleries and specifications pages within the above micro site to truly understand what differentiates a micro site from a landing page. Landing pages by themselves do not usually generate any significant organic site ranking.
3. Who creates the online digital advertising that dealers would use to help drive traffic to micro sites and landing pages?
Creating online advertisements that dealers can then place on various web sites or as sponsored links with paid search engine advertising is typically done by the dealership’s suppliers, such as BZ Results. I also give Cars.com a lot of credit because even when they build a Flash based ad for the dealers that advertise on Cars.com, you can ask for the same ad in an animated GIF file format which they will provide. This allows the dealer to use that great looking ad created by Cars.com on other web sites and further leverages ROI from the dealer’s investment in Cars.com advertising. An example of a digital ad created for a BZ Results dealer in San Diego is shown below:
Another example of a BZ Results dealership’s digital ad by Cars.com is below:
As Director of Digital Marketing for ADP Dealer Services, I have spearheaded a project where BZ Results will by supplying digital advertising content to dealers. Our first priority will be to provide digital advertising that has already been proven effective for dealers to those who have web sites supplied by an ADP Digital Marketing provider, such as BZ Results and ADP Dynamic Websites. ADP Digital Marketing is now providing digital advertising content for online promotions that comply with industry standards so that they fit into various web sites that a dealer may choose to advertise with. Digital Advertising assets (files) can be created by anyone using a PC with MS Office installed, but there is a ton of work and expertise that goes into making an effective digital advertisement. Here are a few prototype examples of the most basic ADP Digital Marketing dealership ads:
We offer a wide variety of dealership digital advertising files in animated and dynamic versions, we can even provide digital ads with lead forms built in.
When it comes to paid search advertising, text based sponsored links are usually created by a dealer’s SEM services provider, such as BZ Results. However, despite the fact that there a lot of very knowledgeable SEM services providers, such as BZ Results, Clickmotive, ReachLocal, Jumpstart and others, in my opinion this is a bad practice. Outsourcing the thinking and creative promotional exercises that have historically been done either in-house or in conjunction with a dealer’s ad agency is more likely to result in a failed digital advertising campaign. This happens because separating digital advertising from the other forms of dealership promotional activity leads to a disconnect with the dealership’s marketing strategies
4. Does a dealer have to use an outside supplier to do this, or is it something dealers can do on their own? How do dealers organize to do this?
All or part of a dealer’s digital marketing activities can be managed in-house. Alternately, a dealer may choose to pick and choose which components are executed in-house and which are to be outsourced, or a combination of both. The training can be delivered by our ADP Digital Marketing Catalysts over the course of 4 visits, 2 days each (8 day total).
Yes, it takes focus, time and effort, and although all of a dealer’s digital advertising needs can be outsourced to save time, this typically results in the managers being disconnected and removed from the store’s digital advertising initiatives. Outsourcing digital advertising concept creation can result in a lack of commitment to making the sales to the leads generated that is required to get the ROI results. I recommend learning how to do it, then doing it long enough so that if the dealer decides to outsource the work, they at least know what it is, how to measure it and what it takes to do a good job. Other considerations are the ability to adjust campaigns daily, even hourly and saving money. Most stores can save thousands of dollars by managing their online campaigns and by knowing how to evaluate a supplier for the portion of the digital ad budget that is outsourced. Generally speaking, I consider a blended approach of both in-house and outsourced digital advertising to be the best of both worlds, and it keeps the vendors honest when you compare their results with the in-house results.
5. How can dealers manage multiple URLs? How do dealers ensure they get ranked by the major search engines?
As far as acquiring and using domain names (URL’s), although a lot of dealers use low cost domain management service providers such as www.GoDaddy.com
, I feel most comfortable going directly to the source by using www.NetworkSolutions.com
where dealers can buy a domain and web forwarding services (if needed) for less than $47 a year. Significant discounts apply if registering for 3 years or more. Since it can take up to 3 months to get a new micro site organically ranked for free search engine traffic, I recommend creating a Google AdWords account and building a paid search marketing campaign using keyword bidding on text based sponsored links that point to the dealer’s new micro site. This gets traffic going to a micro site right away, and then if the site is built well enough to be considered relevant to the intended sales, parts or service shoppers, you can back down the paid traffic after 3 to 6 months and let the organic relevancy of your micro site do its magic by attracting search engine generated traffic. After your micro site is up and running, copy the actual URL string of characters from your browser’s address bar when viewing the site, then go to http://www.google.com/addurl
and paste the micro site’s domain based URL string into the field for the site address. Then type in a description of the site using no more than 20 words into the text field set up for it. Next, try to decipher the garbled up characters that Google displays to keep bots from being able to do this and type these weird looking characters displayed into the indicated form field…
6. How can the dealer make sure that their landing page/microsite strategy actually delivers desirable content to automotive Internet users, and that the landing page sites deliver on any promises made in the ads themselves?
Dealers should be consistent and transparent in their digital advertising campaign messages. In the case of paid search campaigns, why would you want to attract clicks from people that don’t want to buy a vehicle, order parts or get their vehicle serviced? Only if you are an SEM services vendor who is evaluated by traffic and leads generated! (oops, that one slipped out) When doing it yourself, make sure the ad contains verbiage that describes the landing page’s content that you are linking it to. For example, if your ad says “Chevy Price Quotes… Get Discounted Prices on a New Chevy from Courtesy Chevrolet in Phoenix” and it points to www.ChevyPriceQuote.com
you can be pretty certain that the people clicking on the ad are interested in getting a price quote on a new Chevy and that they are willing to buy it in Phoenix.
A good example of this is a micro site I built for a Free Gas advertising campaign that you can visit at www.YouGotGas.com
. This micro site has a built in calculator that asks the customer how many miles they drive every week, then how many miles per gallon their current vehicle gets. It then shows the customer how much money they will spend in a year. The customer is then invited to enter a contest to win a free gas card, or to register to receive a year’s worth of gas at no additional charge when they buy a new Chevy from Courtesy Chevrolet. This is then promoted using the following image ads:
If you look at the ads shown above and then you visit the web site by clicking on the ad, you can’t help but see that the site delivers on the promises made in the ad itself. If the ads were linked to my primary web site’s home page, and the consumer was then expected to find the free gas special offer from there, then it would not be delivering on the promise implied by the ad and it would fail to produce any results. Online advertisements should be directly linked to single click access to the promised content.
7. How does a dealer incorporate the use of micro sites into their existing CRM tools and processes to maximize the ability to track and manage results?
The forms used to submit leads from a dealer’s micro site must be set up to be submitted into the dealer’s lead management tool in XML/ADF format. Each form should be tagged to display the lead source as that micro site’s description in the dealer’s lead management tool. Each micro site will have it’s own source tag so that leads and sales generated can be logged and traced to that source. It is the same process as tracking leads from a third party lead provider, then calculating the ROI… The only thing missing is the profit requirements of the lead provider! When done properly, micro sites generate more ROI than when splitting the pot with a lead provider that uses the same methods to generate leads and then sells them to multiple dealers at a profit. It is important that the dealership’s staff that will be handling leads from a micro site be shown the ads and site content used to generate those leads, so they can respond appropriately. A best practice is to have campaign and micro site specific email templates and auto responders. If you submit a lead through www.2008ChevyCamaro.com
you will see that the emails coming back are specific to that micro site. Don’t worry about costing the dealer any money, because incremental leads from micro sites don’t cost any money… They make money.
8. How can dealers measure the results of digital ad campaigns that make use of micro sites? What are the most common and useful metrics?
Be sure to display (big and bold) a unique toll free AdTracker phone number on your micro sites to track incoming calls generated, and make sure your micro site supplier embeds site visitor tracking software such as Omniture’s SiteCatalyst into the site. One of the most useful reports is the Referring Domains reports which show how many leads were submitted by the URL used to link an advertisement to the micro site. I use multiple URL’s for each micro site and then monitor each ad group by using distinct URL’s as the pointing web address that then shows up in the Omniture reporting.
Whether it is a micro site, any other site or simply an online advertising campaign to deep links within your primary web site, here’s the metrics I find most useful:
Analysis Subject Cost Unit Description
Advertising Impressions $2.16 Per Thousand People
Micro Site Visits $2.43 Per Visitor Session
eLeads and Phone Calls $31.94 Per Lead
Appointments Generated $12.78 Per Dealership Appointment
Vehicles Sold $412.65 Per Vehicle Retailed (PVR)
We then use the above metrics to calculate the following cost effectiveness analysis
Metric Description Actual Case Study Example:
Total Cost of Ad Campaign and Micro Site: $71,801.30
Advertising Impressions Generated: 33,257,657
Micro Site Visits Generated by Ads: 29,528
eLeads and Phone Calls Generated: 2,248
Appointments Generated from Leads: 562
Vehicles Sold to Site Visitors: 174
9. Will a Micro Site strategy work for both long-term sales campaigns, and short-term promotions?
Micro sites can be used for current promotions and then left intact for long term use in generating organic traffic and leads after the current month’s ad campaign is finished. Sometimes keeping them updated can be a chore, but what isn’t? I have used them for both long and short term campaigns and objectives, as well as modified short term campaign micro sites to be relevant after the campaign is over. Usually the monthly hosting fees are low relevant to the set up costs, so why not let your micro sites collect organically generated traffic and produce leads as an ongoing yield from their hosting fees? As for when they are or are not appropriate… Plenty of dealers look at other dealer advertisements in every media channel and criticize or applaud those ads. Micro sites and their cheaper cousins (landing pages) are the same way. I could show you some truly tacky looking micro sites that generate plenty of leads and sales for their dealer, but which other dealers will say “that’s terrible, he shouldn’t be allowed to do that” or “I would never use something that looks that hideous”… Beauty is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to micro sites and landing pages. The metrics tend to show whether they should or should not have been used. Keep in mind that micro sites are never appropriate without the dealer’s commitment to invest money in marketing and promoting them. Individual results may vary, and runaway successes like www.2008ChevyCamaro.com
are only available to those dealers who try multiple micro sites. Anyone who tells you that micro sites are a “sure thing” or “guaranteed to produce sales” or that they can duplicate the success of some of these micro sites on an “at will” basis is either lying or does not have any experience doing it. Micro sites are a form of communication and depend upon online advertising and search engines for their success… This means they must be conceived, gestated, born and raised. At the end of the day, some will work better than others. Just remember, nothing is better than rich and relevant content that people are looking for and which search engines can index… Especially when served up free from the clutter and distractions of other subjects, products and services. And THAT is what creates the magic of micro sites!
10. What about the costs of creating and hosting micro sites? What kind of initial investment is required, and what does it cost to keep them up and running?
Different micro site suppliers charge different fees. At ADP Digital Marketing we have not yet established our micro site pricing matrix, but they will be completed by the time this article is published. We are still assessing the typical costs involved, but we have sold, designed and delivered micro site prototypes to our pilot dealers on the following cost basis:
Design and Setup: 3 micro sites package = $1,995.00 one time fee
Monthly Hosting: 3 micro sites package = $595.00 monthly
Alternately, we have sold prototype micro sites to other dealers as follows:
Design and Setup: 5 micro sites package = $0 one time fee
Monthly Hosting: 5 micro sites package = $3,000.00 monthly
I have personally used some smaller independent micro site designers that charged $750 per site as a one time set up fee and $75 per month to host them. And, I have seen some of the large enterprise dealer groups purchase micro sites from ADP for as little as $295 a month per site with a $595 set up fee. It is safe to say that costs are reasonable for the sites themselves, but it is usually the advertising campaigns are where the real money is spent. As for staff and overhead, well… Tina Pratt, the GSM at People’s Chevrolet in Chula Vista builds her own micro sites and uses the store’s digital advertising budget for pure advertising buys, which I taught her to do herself and she does a heck of a job for that store. I have recently been hired on a consulting basis to compete with her and she wins the search engine placement battle quite frequently. But, that is when the teacher shows the student how it’s done and I usually come right back at her with an online ad campaign for Courtesy Chevrolet in San Diego that kicks her butt, until we run out of budget. Ahhh, the car business… You gotta love the competitiveness of it all!
11. How about some Case studies; one or two brief examples (with details) where LP/MS made a difference. What was done, and what were the results?
You obviously wrote this question before I answered the previous ones… There are so many examples of micro sites being used to make a difference in a store’s success that it is difficult to pick one in particular, but let’s take a look at the www.PHXfinance.com
micro site I designed for Courtesy Chevrolet in Phoenix. After you look at this very basic, and not so elegant special finance site, take a look at the advertisement we placed in over 60 bus shelters around Phoenix in August 2006, which is shown below:
Imagine sitting in a bus shelter, in 100+ degree temperatures and staring at that life sized poster twice a day, six days a week… To say it generated a few phone calls and visits to the micro site is an understatement. The bus shelter ads cost about $5,500 per month, so was used that part of the budget previously spent with BarNone for special finance leads. Combined with the online advertising, which was $4,500 per month, we set up a $10,000 a month “eFinance Department” total advertising budget. The PHXfinance.com micro site was, and remains able to receive organic ranking in a highly competitive subject matter area and appears as a first page search engine query result, for “phoenix auto finance” as shown below:
Phoenix Finance, Do you have Bad Credit and want a Used Car? at ...
Courtesy is the Phoenix Valley’s only car dealer that has been nationally recognized for their leadership in the area of credit repair by hiring and ...
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The astute reader will notice that the outdoor bus shelter signage features the URL as www.PHXfinance.com
whereas the organic search result lists PhoenixAutoFinance.com. This is because PhoenixAutoFinance.com was used for the actual root domain URL, which is what gets indexed by search engines, and PHXfinance.com was created as a special URL for use ONLY on the bus shelters. This allowed us to evaluate the effectiveness of the bus shelters by looking at the referring domain reports for the micro site. The Courtesy Chevrolet eFinance team really hit its stride in September 2006 when they sold 57 cars. When we examine the metrics around the use of the eFinance micro sites, here is what the results were:
PHXfinance.com Results Cost Unit Description
Advertising Impressions $4.57 Per Thousand People
Micro Site Visits $3.72 Per Visitor Session
eLeads and Phone Calls $17.71 Per Lead
Appointments Generated $48.10 Per Dealership Appointment
Vehicles Sold $178.07 Per Vehicle Retailed (PVR)
We then use the above metrics to calculate the following cost effectiveness analysis:
eFinance Digital Marketing Metric Description Actual Case Study Example:
Total Cost of Ad Campaign and Micro Site: $10,150
Advertising Impressions Generated: 2,221,168
Micro Site Visits Generated by Ads: 2,729
eLeads and Phone Calls Generated: 573
Appointments Generated from Leads: 211
Vehicles Sold: 57
Given the low cost per vehicle retailed (PVR) we initially were very excited by these results and by the integrated nature of the promotion with more phone calls generated than electronic leads. However, once we started counting up all the expenses paid in the form of lender fees, we realized that generating special finance leads online is a lot cheaper than getting the deals bought! Our process for handling the incoming phone calls was to get callers to either schedule an appointment to come in right away, or if they wanted to know for sure whether they were pre-approved, we asked them to complete the credit application at www.Chevy-Finance.com
which is a completely different dynamic online credit application. We set up Chevy-Finance.com to quickly access a deep link connected to an easily remembered URL. The talking credit application is provided by DealerCentric and hosted within a BZ Results web site. So, yes the micro site made a difference in this case study, but it was used in conjunction with online and offline advertising, combined with a very talented crew of automotive professionals made up of Ron Daly, Scott Daly and Barbara Mason.
Ultimately, a dealer’s use of micro sites is not a silver bullet in the world of digital marketing and advertising. It is another tool that savvy dealers can use to get an unfair competitive advantage… Combined with the right people, lead management processes and technology, the use of micro sites is one of many digital marketing tactics that separate some of today’s most successful dealers from those that would like to get there.
Director – Digital Marketing
ADP Dealer Services