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(For discussion purposes, this does not relate to multiple DEALER OWNED domains. I am only referring to 3rd party landing pages)
For those of you considering a 3rd party landing page as a part of your SEM/PPC package, think again. I can understand copying your company owned domain into a shadow site so you can promote your online and offline traffic separately and know what you are getting for your money. That’s just smart. After all, SEM is supposed to be about trackability and transparency. But landing pages that are separate from your primary domain and that you have little or no control over just don’t make sense.

What would you think if someone told you this? I am going to design and construct a building. By the way, there will be another building that pretty much looks the same next door that sells cars. I know you already have your own building, but I can make a more “sales friendly” building. Instead of you learning how to construct a similarly “sales friendly” building for yourself, you can just use my building. In my building, I will sell your cars…I will divert all the traffic YOU PAID FOR to my building…where I will represent YOUR brand for you...trust me, I will do you proud. Instead of closing 20% of the people who walk in the door, I promise to close 25%. But when I go out of business…or you terminate your relationship with me…no one who ever before has driven by or come to my building to buy a car from YOU will know where you are now…NO ONE. And you will not have learned how to build a “sales friendly” store so you will have to find someone else to do it after I am gone.

THAT, my friends, is what is happening with landing pages. Dealers need to learn how to speak to their customers and prospects through their websites. Don’t rely on someone else’s landing pages! Don't let them suck you in when they say...I will build you a site and send search traffic to it for $X,000 per month. You need to be in control for the reasons pointed out above and the following:

1. You need to know how to build an effective website that people respond to anyway...why not start TODAY? The internet isn’t going away in 5 years. It will be even more important to your business.

2. 85% of internet users (possibly more) aren’t going to fill out a lead form online...period! Don't let anyone convince you otherwise. No matter how efficient that landing page is or how many plasma TV’s you promise to give away, an overwhelming majority of them just simply won't fill out a lead form. And many would argue that higher end buyers with better credit scores are even less likely to fill out promotionally based lead forms. So why don’t you expend your resources speaking to them in their own language…interacting with them…giving them a good feeling about your store, your staff and your service? That is, after all, what a well designed, effective site will offer you.

There is no magic formula that will make EVERYONE fill out a lead form. For that matter, there isn't even a magic formula that will make A THIRD of everyone fill out a lead form! It’s just not going to happen in a vast, vast majority of cases. So, what is the end goal? Isn't it to get a customer to come to your site...view your inventory…find the car they want…call or walk into your store…ask your well trained, well paid sales person some questions…and then buy the car? Isn't that how it works in an ideal situation?

Don’t get me wrong, I KNOW that some people legitimately fill out lead forms with their real names (not Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck). But by focusing ONLY on those people, we are focused on the smallest portion of visitors (and potential buyers) to our sites. Let's not forget, it’s not just about the leads! It's about selling cars! A strategy and budget that focuses only on sending people to a landing page and turning them into a lead is not a realistic or well balance strategy!

The greatest upside the web offers consumers is that it allows them to do it on their own terms. If you don't let them do that on your site by not offering logical, simple yet comprehensive navigation, they will just simply go somewhere else!
Cheers!
Betsy

Tags: 3rd, landing, marketing, pages, party, ppc, search, sem

Views: 147

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Thanks for the input! Nice to hear it in action from the dealer side.

Cheers!
Betsy
Nice post Betsy. I have been saying the same thing for years. Use your dealer website to promote and convert, not landing pages. In the past, I was back an forth between using landing pages and landing the consumer on the dealer website (yes, even the homepage). With several months of tracking, my conversion and lead to sales was much higher when landing the consumer on our dealer website and even on the dealers homepage. Go figure.
In deference to some of the comments made so far, especially Jeff's, there is not a doubt in my mind that a dealership's primary web site, when properly executed and maintained is a GREAT place to drive paid traffic from both SEM and display advertising campaigns, especially when using deep links specific to the promise made by the advertisement or sponsored link. However, I can attest to the value of multiple DEALER OWNED web site hosted on different servers from the dealer's primary web site hosting provider, and which have content that is highly focused on a specific subject that is generating related search queries. The key is focused content to that there is an SEO amplifier effect adding effectiveness to the dealer's paid digital advertising campaigns... I have seen certain micro sites become SEO homeruns, and with their links driving THOUSANDS of unique visitors into various content sections of the dealership's primary web site, the micro sites themselves become traffic sources into the dealership high engagement content elsewhere... In the meantime, the product freak enthusiasts have something to tell their friends about. The viral marketing impact I have seen from focused subject matter micro sites is nearly impossible to duplicate with an all-purpose web site. Now, I have had some people tell me "Ralph, that type of strategy is easy for someone like yourself, but what about the average ISM in the average dealership?" to that question/statement I have one response: Micro sites are a heck of a lot easier to set up and manage then full-featured whole-dealership web sites, so if you are not qualified to manage a micro site strategy, then you CERTAINLY are NOT QUALIFIED to manage a dealership's primary site!

The key to remember is that it is not that easy to figure out which micro site topics are going to generate the organic traffic runaway successes of sites like 2008ChevyCamaro.com or Chevy-Malibu.com, so you must produce and host them as cost effectively as possible, and then keep a steady stream of them going live each month... In my opinion, micro sites should be included in the dealer's monthly budget allowing the store to launch a new one each month. When the Gruwells asked me to create a Camaro Concept Vehicle site in December 2005, I thought they were nuts, they turned out to be geniuses as the site has never been advertised and pulls in over 25,000 Unique Visitors each month, with over 5,000 of them clicking on links into content within the dealership's primary web site. Not to mention the 500+ leads it generates each month for less than $100... You can say what you will, but the facts, metrics and evidence out there in the real world shows that micro sites WHEN EXECUTED PROPERLY can be a valuable part of any dealership's Digital Marketing Strategy.

Here's a few links to dealer-owned micro sites that have proven successful and HIGHLY COST EFFECTIVE at converting SEO success into primary web site traffic amplifiers and lead generation:

www.2008ChevyCamaro.com
www.Chevy-Malibu.com
www.Tahoe-Chevy.com
well... at least the comment got your attention...
Ralph,
There is no doubt that you know how to do this as well as anyone. Thanks for the examples.

As there seems to be some confusion, I wanted to make sure that it is clear that I am referring to the drawbacks of NON-dealer owned landing pages. There are a lot of SEM/PPC companies out there who offer the "Landing Page as part of the package" solution. I was pointing out that these are domains that are owned and developed by the SEM company, not the dealer. The problem that I have run into with my clients is that when they dissolve the relationship with the SEM company, they lose a TON of brand equity and control...among other things. I have found myself in the position of helping companies "clean up the mess" after such a relationship. It ends up leaving a horrible taste in their mouths for SEM companies and I hear the question "does anyone simply care about MY business objectives?"

Thanks again for your examples. I encourage my clients to develop dealer owned microsites or shadow sites. I just get frustrated at the "black box" reputation the SEM industry is getting....the mystery of where is my money going and what is it being spent on?

I look forward to seeing you guys this weekend!

Betsy
Betsy,

Sorry... I know what you are referring to. And, I couldn't agree with you more. I believe what is sometimes WORSE than the landing pages that several SEM companies use is when they set up "mirror sites" to duplicate and mimic the dealer's actual primary web site. Betsy, what is your take on these "mirror" sites as used by SEM companies such as ReachLocal?
I don't want to sound overly self-serving here, but I have purposely developed my business model based on what works and what is in the long term best interest of my clients, the dealers.

With that said, I cannot understand why anyone would choose "mirror" sites over their in-house dealer sites which they own, have control over and have access to all the data first hand. These mirror sites add to the mystique of what we do in the SEM world. What is the benefit of mirroring your own site? I can understand the argument that people accepted a few years ago about using a 3rd party owned, higher converting landing page...but I cannot understand the need for mirror sites. You gain no bump in conversion over your own site (afterall, it is the same site) and as I mentioned, you lose the ability to benefit from people who bookmark your page after you terminate the vendor relationship! You also lose the ability to view web stats in-house, leaving you vulnerable to shady reporting and billing (no accusations being made, just speculation).

My advice, for what it's worth:
1. use the sites you own and in which you have long term equity
2. learn how to build and keep refining your site to capitalize on the traffic you receive
3. don't give up the ability to monitor and respond to traffic trends in-house
4. demand transparency in reporting and billing!

Again, I think dealer owned landing pages can be very effective when done properly (see Ralph's examples). But don't give up control of the traffic you are paying for by sending them to a 3rd party site! At the very best, you gain a short term boost in conversions (leads) but the long term damage far outweighs the short term benefits!
Ralph - you are correct in saying that building mirror sites is bad - specifically in that it can severely damage an organic listing in the SERPs. RL does not mirror websites. We create a dynamic proxy version so we don’t have an issue with duplicate content. We have both no-index and no-follow robots.txt files and metatags so the search engines to not crawl our proxy server. We also create a custom version of the proxied robots.txt file to do the same. i.e. if www.abc.com/robots.txt file said follow/index, then normally abc.reachlocal.net would say the same. However, we have a fixed robots.txt file that always shows no-index, no follow. We have filed several patents around reverse proxy. This is a great concept for a couple of reasons.

1) RL does not have to make any modifications to the original website. Because the proxy is dynamic (not a fixed duplicate or “mirror” site), any changes made to the original site will be automatically updated on the proxy side.
2) The business who advertises with RL can validate all traffic RL reports because the clicks originating from the search engines are really directed to the original site (through the RL proxy). So if you are using an analytics tool on your website, the traffic from RL will show up in your analytics.
3) RL can produces reports that give the type of information that businesses really care about, including phone calls (via CallSource), emails, forms submitted, etc... as well as traditional data (CTR, CPV, etc.)
4) RL uses this proxy server system to log which clicks actually generate phone calls, emails, etc. Our algorithmically driven bid management technology actually watches which keywords at which search engines result in a phone call/email/form submission, etc. to the business. Since RL has click-to-call visibility, all of this data can be automatically fed into the RL Optimization Engine (a different system and really impressive technology) that optimizes each campaign based on the clicks that resulted into some type of online or offline conversion event. We take a portfolio based approach to PPC, rather than a manual or rules based approach.

A couple of other points to consider about our SEM methodology and technology.
1. We run campaigns for close to 10,000 advertisers including some of the largest multi-local and franchise companies in the country. They have good organic placement (without our help of course), and good PPC placement and reporting through us. You can be sure that most of these companies do a significant amount of due diligence before naming us their digital ad agency of record.
2. We are the pioneers in Local search. Our founder and CEO, Zorik Gordon, was a product of Idealab with Bill Gross (who basically developed the PPC model as we know it today.) We have had very reputable Venture Capital firms including Rho Ventures, Galleon Crossover Fund, and VantagePoint Venture Partners invest almost $70 million into our business over the past 3 years. David Carlick (VantagePoint), who sits on our board of directors, was one of the pioneers of search, a founder of DoubleClick, and a Board member with Ask Jeeves. This would not happen if we were doing something that is “black hat”.
3. We are a Google Adwords Reseller and probably do more business with Google at the local level than any other company in the world.

If anyone would like an opinion from outside sources, they should feel free to contact Steve Crim with ScreenCrafters. Steve has been an SEO expert for 10 years and does SEO for well over 1,000 automotive clients. I’ve had several conversations with him about how we manage PPC campaigns and he is a big advocate of ours. Also, Shaun Raines, a former skeptic - is now part of our team as an Advisory Board member. Shaun has a great reputation from his vendor days with Reynolds & Reynolds and I’m confident he wouldn’t risk that reputation if he didn’t believe in our Company.

Nancy did make a good point concerning bookmarks, but I don’t recall this ever being an issue with any of our clients (even past clients). If it were, we would most likely keep the proxy URL live for a period of time after someone discontinued using us. Also, I couldn’t agree more with several of Nancy’s points – especially her comment that 85%+ of Internet shoppers aren’t going to fill out a form.

Ralph – in some ways I’m still convinced you are freak of nature. Mark Powers from CallSource was in our office last week and we were talking about your approach at Courtesy. Unfortunately, it seems that most Internet Managers and/or Directors just aren’t going to take the initiative to implement the tools and processes you had in place. But that’s probably for a different discussion post.

Jamie Adams
ReachLocal
Director - ReachLocal Auto
Phone 318-550-0193 ext. 136
Cell 318-426-1112
www.reachlocalauto.com
Someone pointed out to me that I referred to Betsy as Nancy - I apologize. I was thinking Nanson and just got things confused.
No problem Jamie. I knew who you meant...I get it all the time.

I appreciate your input. Your company's credentials are impressive. I have spoken to representatives from your company in the past and understand your selling points. I think that there is an argument that can be made for the RL product for dealers who struggle with staying up to speed on best practices and maintaining staff.

However, in my opinion I truly believe that building and maintaining effective dealer owned websites is extremely important today and will be even more so in years to come. I liken it to building and maintaining a strong showroom and sales staff. It is more often than not the first brand interaction a consumer has with the dealership and I encourage my clients to resist given up control of that important step in the sales cycle.

Additionally, bookmarking may not have been a problem for your clients in the past. However, I would submit that it may be more important after the relationship is over than you may be aware of since that line of communication may be closed.

I appreciate your response and input. I would love the opportunity to get together at NADA to discuss the issues further. I look forward to meeting you!

Warmest regards,
Betsy Nanson
Jamie,

Thank you for such a thorough and well written response to the issues both Betsy and I raised... Although, now that I have seen first hand, dozens of dealers, large and small, executing the strategies I pioneered at dealer groups such as Ourisman, Koons, Sheehy, Jay Wolfe, Courtesy Chevrolet (first Phoenix, then San Diego), People's Chevrolet, Henderson Chevrolet, Scott Robinson Honda and a few others... It is hard for me to accept the "Freak of Nature" label... Although many of us, including me, like to think we are something "Special". I compare thorough and well orchestrated (integrated) Digital Marketing campaign execution to a dealership BDC, although a dealership BDC is a LOT HARDER to establish and mainatin, they both require attention to detail, multiple vendors and technology and proactive daily management of resources based on sound judgement and metrics. And, it helps to have a dealer who WANTS to be a leader. The fact is that the strategies and tactics I executed at Courtesy Chevrolet are now being utilized on an even more advanced level by the online Chevy competition I created during my tenure at Courtesy. At this moment in time, Courtesy has fallen to the wayside of online automotive digital marketing juggernauts created by Chapman Chevrolet, Midway Chevrolet and a couple other dealerships that ran with the strategy after my departure from the local market. So, if I am a freak of nature, how do we explain Nick Bruce and his trusty side-kick Dana at Chapman Auto Group? Or, for that matter, Drew Ament at Midway Chevrolet? They have expanded the DM strategies I created at Courtesy Chevrolet into a whole new dimension of significance and effectiveness... What I did at Courtesy Chevrolet in 2005, 2006 and early 2007 was simply a preview of what the dominant dealers of the future will be doing in various shapes and sizes, in the future.

Personally, I have a world of respect for what RL has accomplished and if my forum post was challenging enough to elicit the high quality response that you provided... Well... It reminds me of challenging a potential buyer to a game of Halo... He showed up, kicked my ass and his reward was another $1,000 off the purchase of a new Tahoe... I lost, but my salesperson got a deal, commissions, another client and went home happy... I LOVE loosing like that!
Betsy,

Here is a graphic example of what you were describing... I assigned the URL www.ChevyArizona.com to ClickMotive for use as a landing page domain name in 2006. Courtesy Chevrolet cancelled their services after my departure in July 2007 and the landing page is still there. I am not sure how bad the landiing page is, but it sure would have been better to have branded and created awareness around a different URL while we were spending $4K to $8K a month with my friends at ClickMotive... I loved the work that Stuart's team did, and it is hard to argue with their lead generating results, but when leaving an SEM services vendor under those circumstances, it seems like we and up with no residual benefits around branding our sites, awareness of their value and everything else you described.

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