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My Autotrader rep strolled in this week to pitch "Alpha." My first reaction to his pitch was that ATC was adding another level of advertising that would further devalue the "Partnership" we now have. To me, this is the straw that broke the camel's back. I firmly believe it's time to move on from ATC and redistribute the ridiculous sum we send to Atlanta every month. I realize that ATC is a hot-button topic for most of us. I'd like to hear about the experiences and results some have had by canceling ATC and reallocating that money to other Digital Advertising.

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There are many dealers asking themselves this very same question... My first response is to ask them if they are aware that Autotrader.com accepts any dealer's inventory data for listing within Autotrader.com at NO CHARGE TO THE DEALER!

Many dealers and digital marketing managers seem to have forgotten that whatever you are paying to Autotrader.com is primarily for better position and promotional services and online content in addition to listing your inventory within Autotrader.com. The fact is that buying the "Premier Partnership Package", or the "Alpha Dealer Package", or whatever they are calling these high dollar upgrades these days, is not necessarily the right thing to do for all dealers.

The other thing I like to ask dealers is; "Are you aware that Autotrader.com is NOT a lead provider?". Anybody who thinks that Autotrader.com is a 3rd party lead provider has not been paying attention to where their $4,000 to $8,000 a month for a "Partnership Package" has been going! Autotrader.com is an online Digital Advertising supplier... Yup, it advertising... Period. So, when the person who is in charge of making the decision on how to use Autotrader.com gets paid for selling cars to Internet leads, and is not involved or compensated for the overall advertising effectiveness driven by the dealership's ad budget as evidenced by the combination of Showroom Traffic, Incoming Phone Calls and Internet Leads... We have a "conflict of interests".

My own personal experience is that dealers are better off with one of the middle sized Autotrader.com packages, and then investing the difference, the money saved, into online search and display advertising... Including display advertising on popular automotive sites such as Autotrader.com, KBB.com, Edmunds.com, EbayMotors.com, YahooAutos.com, MSNautos.com, Cars.com, etc.
I'd like to know what the whole "Alpha" program is about before I get into it too much. Unfortunately, Autotrader knows exactly what they have and what they mean to every dealership. I feel, as many others do I am sure, that it has led to above average costs to the dealerships out of fear that they could lose the exposure that Autotrader provides.

We tried the Premier new listings, and saw no improvement into the leads we were receiving on our new inventory. Of course, after we had tired it out for a few months we decided to cancel it. Lets just say we didn't have the same rate for the exact same package that we had 6 months prior.

Between the ever increasing costs for the lead source, and the difficulties in updating inventory(the data integration from various inventory providers that are unable to fully integrate into Autotrader proprietary data formatting requirements) it seems that Autotrader may run itself out of an increasing amount of dealerships especially if they continue diluting the relationships by increasing costs without showing measurable increases in performance.

I see it as a very difficult decision for most dealers to make stepping away from Autotrader, but if my numbers are like other dealers, Autotrader is not the cheapest per lead or per sale for online marketing. In fact, Autotrader

This might sound a little odd, but Autotrader has become more like traditional advertising in that the costs keep increasing and the effectiveness is decreasing.

I will welcome any response to me here, or personally if you have any questions. Just keep in mind that I am not saying to run away from Autotrader, I'm just pointing out a few issues that I have had with them in the past.
I am in VERY big with AutoTrader and I am the Las Vegas Toyota Alpha Dealer. My ideology for being with AutoTrader And Cars.com is two fold.
And this really goes back to the whole 3rd party lead generation ~vs~ captive ~vs~ ?X?

I have moved away from tons of 3PLP's as a whole as most of you have. Do I still buy any? Yes...I've just limited who I buy them from and how many. We all know there are many reasons why we are doing this.

But, with AutoTrader’s Alpha package, not only am I gaining BRANDED views of my inventory, I further my position to control customer recall of my dealer name as associated with my OE in this market. So, more specifically, as a Toyota dealer, I know that my main competition in this market are other Toyota dealerships. There are four Toyota dealerships in the greater Las Vegas area. If you do a search for any kind of Toyota in Las Vegas on AutoTrader, you see me. You see me and only me when the search is parsing, and you see me at the top of every page when you are looking for new, used or TCUV Toyotas. This works in large markets too, such as Dallas, Houston or LA.

Second, due to what this product offers, combined with spotlight ads and New Car specials, this helps my SEO to a degree. The New Car Specials that I get with my package act as a semi-micro site. They contain my URL, on a separate URL, and point to my site, or specific pages on my site. And those ads work! They get people to click and connect with me. On any given weekend I have 10 or so New Car Specials live, and I sell 4-6 cars each weekend just off of those specials.

Toyota is about to roll out a new Toyota Rewards Visa Card. I created a very simple page on my site (so much so that it is embarrassing). And I sunk the URL into a few places on my Alpha package with AutoTrader. Go to the three major search engines and type in Toyota Rewards Visa and tell me who is consistently page #1 top three in the SERP?

Finally, we are all looking for what I will term an uncompetitive advantage right? Why play fair? Sure, we play by the rules (no black hat), but what if you could create a strong grass roots type source for your Dealer brand? So much so that it demoralizes your competition? Alpha does that if you use all of it's tools.

Is it expensive? We all know that is relative. Right now I am getting 4.237 X RIO with AutoTrader. And no my bill is by no means small. But I see something happening in the near future with the way all of our websites are used by our customers. And I believe AutoTrader, Cars.com, and other local/grassroots/SERP generated type results (google base, etc.) will supercede our current model of Dealership Websites. Trust me on this…remember back in the late 90’s when corporate America thought they were going to teach customers “how” to use and shop on the internet? Didn’t happen. The users taught all of us what they were going to do. More change is one the way. Thus, I will remain large in AutoTrader, Cars.com…and I will pick up the stragglers through a small budget with Dealix or whomever. Otherwise, welcome to www.centennialtoyota.com !

Here are some expamles of what Alpha gives you:

I agree Ralph. I've long disputed in my dealership that ATC should not be calculated as an expense toward the "Internet Department's" budget as if it were a third party lead provider or PPC vendor. It should be looked at as dealership-wide advertising.

As Google and sites like EveryCarListed.com enter this arena, it will be interesting to see how ATC reacts.
Please tell us about www.EveryCarListed.com ...
Hey Drew,

I already did enough digging to make me and mine comfortable with EveryCarListed.Com but I agree with your initial concerns as evidenced by my initial comments when Meg posted a forum on ADM to introduce them!

Frankly, the "author" of the Wikepedia article and search for support that you found was also Meg, a recent member of ADM - and a truly nice person. She is a full time student and part time "networker" for EveryCarListed.Com and I can assure you that her heart and head were in the right place in her preliminary testing of the waters in using the Internet to start some buzz on ECL.

They have only been in operation for 60 days but based on the in depth review that I have completed from internal sources at ECL and confirmed networked partners I am confident that they are a keeper!

Please read my more extensive reply at the end of this blog - and listen to the radio show referenced where I interviewed their CEO and COO, and I think you will be able to stop digging!

Of course if you uncover some "dirt" that I missed - PLEASE TELL ME! After all, what are friends for!
We Cancelled Autotrader four months ago as we looked at ROI for the previous two years and decided we could use our advertising dollars more wisely. I always liked autotrader and the reps that came by and I never went for the premium package etc, but when we cancelled we were paying 2,300 per month that was more than we were paying anyone else and yes it was included in my internet budget not the store budget (if it were in the store budget we would still have them) I really have not missed them to much, and the rep stopped by yesterday and it was nice to see her again, very nice young lady. We pay Cars.com 1,320.00 and I get a good amount of telephone traffic from that source (1 to 5 calls per day) I believe if autotrader would take down the other 14 links that are on every vehicle page and they cut the cost to 1,000 per month I might consider going back on board. But with all those links that direct consumers away from the vehicle they were looking at then I cannot see why we should go back. Autotrader I believe has got way out of line with those links and the cost, the rep said yesterday that because of the economy they would not be raising prices again until 2010. I told her when they cut the price by more than half with a contract that said no price increase period then come and see me. Her reasoning for the price increases was the vast amount of advertising they do. I let her know we can use our advertising dollars ourselves we do not need autotrader spending it for us. 2,300 x 12 months 27,600 per year how much are you spending and could you spend it more wisely to drive the same amount or even more traffic to your own website? We did.
EveryCarListed.com is being backed by Verizon and Idearc (the Yellow Pages). Their idea is just what their name implies. They want to list every vehicle for sale in the United States, public and private, on one website. Pricing looks to be about 1/2 of an ATC Partnership. There are three positioning levels; bronze, silver and gold. Bronze is free for everyone.
I don't know about you, but i'll take all of the free stuff and worry about upgrading if we see results from it down the road.
You may also want to check out www.easyautosales.com then. EasyAutoSales is a consumer driven automotive resource for buying and selling cars and our free service includes unlimited high impact photos. Here's a sample of our used car page.
I have to comment on this question. First I will say in full disclosure I work for CoxAutoTrader/Automart, however not with the AutoTrader.com division. Being on the streets in Arizona and Las Vegas for almost 6 years selling AutoTrader Magazine, AutoExtra.com and now AutoMart.com. One of the questions I have always asked is how is AutoTrader.com doing for you and what package do you have? The answers have always amazed me. They range from they are my best lead provider to they s**k. Which then begs the next question how do you track them and what do you consider a lead? Surprisingly, the definition of "lead" means many things to many people. Of course in the conversations the budget comes up, and at some of the pricing I have heard I can see why money is tight in some departments. Don't get me wrong, I don't advocate not using AutoTrader.com or Cars.com or any other online 3rd party inventory listing service. Sometimes I think the big 2 now have the same effect on dealers the newspaper had a couple of years, the "paper syndrome". My competition is there so I need to be there. AutoTrader.com enjoys the name recognition and branding because of the ad budgets the have and of course because of the long history of the AutoTrader name.
Working for one of the "little guys" has taught me alot about the competition on the street. I'm not going to do a pitch on my product here since that is in bad taste. When I talk to dealers about advertising budgets, I always try to get the Internet, New Car and Used Car departments in the meeting. As Ralph said in his response, we are advertising nothing more. Obviously the Internet department is going to get the biggest benefit from online advertising, but the floor people are going to benefit also. On another thread I heard the situation of online people walking through the door and buying from the floor people. Unfortunately we are going to have a great majority of Internet shoppers walk through the doors. I found that the hard way when I was at a PAG store and found myself splitting alot of deals when people didn't ask for me.
I guess this diatribe boils down to before you cancel any online service, an effort needs to be made(and if your respective "Internet Consultant" isn't suggesting that, shame on them) to get the monthly investment spread across sales departments. Its not the fact they don't work, it is the case, IMO, they don't work 100% of the time for a particular department. Just like all advertsing get as much as you can afford. The old adage of frequency and reach still apply, just with online inventory services, it's targeted to boot.
That's my take of the question from the other side of the desk.

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