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Automotive Digital Marketing Professional Community Task Force on Website Visitor Tracking, Measurements and Reporting Standards for Retail Automotive Enterprises

Brian Pasch posted a blog today calling for the ADM professional Community to develop standards for reporting dealership website visitor "Conversion" rates... I agree with Brian's call to action and would like those who are willing and qualified to participate to step forward and say so in the comments below this Forum post...


Link to Brian Pasch's "Call to Action" Blog Post:

Can ADM Members Create A Website Conversion Standard?


Here is an excerpt from Brian's post:

"Dare To Compare?"

"Right now, it is practically impossible to compare two different dealerships on two different website platforms.  There are too many variables that impact car sales, and I think our focus on just calls and lead forms is not in the best interests of the dealer."  


"Trackable leads, defined as chats, lead forms, and phone calls, can be influenced by the the marketing budget, local demographics, brand awareness, and the customer service record of the dealership. Comparing two dealers with different marketing budgets, time in market, and marketing strategy is like comparing apples and oranges." 


"I would be more interested in the number of VDP views per visitor by traffic source than how many times the hours and directions page was visited.  How many of the visits to hours and directions page are for service?   On the other hand, a consumer who is interested in servicing their vehicle does not come to the dealership website to look at Vehicle Detail Pages (VDP)."


"Our industry needs to come together and decide if they want to create uniform conversion metrics that everyone talks about.  This may be an impossible task because everyone seems to bend the numbers to suit their own marketing agenda.  However, dealers can demand better uniformity and industry standards for metrics that are closely related to car sales."


"If you had to get a movement started to create a dealership website standard set of metrics, what would you want to see included in the reporting?  What would you NOT consider a conversion?  Share your thoughts in the comments area below.  Let's see what ADM members can do to lead our industry to better reporting standards."


Shown below is my response to Brian's post and a call to action for the creation of an ADM Professional Task Force assembled for the specific purpose of defining those standards.


I am creating this forum discussion so that we have threaded discussions that the blog comments do not provide...


The disparities between what one person or reporting system defines as a "conversion" and another calls a "conversion" is something that many ADM Professionals have discussed since the beginning of all dealer web metrics conversations and debates... The simple reality is that like many concepts that have created confusion, we are trying to apply a generic term to a mix of various measurements which are specific and in some cases, difficult to measure.  For example, Brian's AutoTrader cited numbers appear to me as being quite conservative, and other sources report different numbers from the same group of customers. The people at J.D. Power and Associates have been measuring various types of dealer website visitor conversions for over ten years and their numbers have remained remarkably consistent, within a narrow range of fluctuations as follows:

Out of Every 100 People Who Visit a Dealership In-Person AFTER Visiting the Dealer's Website online:

  • 19 - 21 (depending on year) Contact the Dealer Prior to their Visit
  • 16 -18 (depending on year) Call the the Dealer by Phone
  • 3 - 5 (depending on year) Complete an Online Lead Form
  • 79 - 81 (depending on year) Visit the Dealership WITHOUT prior Contact after visiting the Dealer's Website...
  • (totals add up to over 100% because of the 1 to 2% of visitors tracked that both complete a lead form and call by phone)


Those measurements have not fluctuated by more than 3 percentage points IN OVER TEN YEARS! Which suggests that we are seeing behavior that is more closely driven by human nature than website design.


So, let's just think about this for a moment... We have a situation where the temptation to manipulate the WAY CONVERSION RATE IS MEASURED is being driven by the perception that a higher conversion rate will provide the dealer website supplier with competitive advantage and more revenue/sales.  Thus, we need a standard that is measured and monitored by system NOT PROVIDED BY THE DEALER WEBSITE SUPPLIER. It really is that simple... Asking the Fox to guard the Hen-house has never been good guidance, why would it work with dealer website metrics?


Years ago, we had very expensive and sophisticated visitor behavior website measurement systems such as "WebTrends" and "SiteCatalyst".  These were expensive but accurate measurement systems that in many ways provided visitor activity before, during and after they came to a dealer's website on a level that may have been overkill.  For the website suppliers deploying these systems, the expense was over $100,000 a year, spread out over the entire network of dealer websites.


As someone who was there, who attended the internal meetings where decisions were made and participated in those decisions, let me share the flow of going from independent measurement of conversion rates to the mess we have today...


First, there is a decision made to develop in-house measurement and reporting systems to save on the expense of paying outside and independent measurement systems. This is actually a good thing for dealers because it helps to facilitate lower and more competitive dealer website pricing. I think most dealers would agree that cost recovery and expense reduction is a worthy management endeavor.


But then, that is where our industry has gone astray, because as the measurement systems are developed there is an inevitable and persistent pressure placed on the developers right from the beginning where people like me would write the "Requirements" documentation that guides the actual code creation... Because those of us who write those requirements realize that we have an opportunity to "Make it Better"... That is when measurements such as visiting the "Hours and Directions" page, which is a website visitor activity that actually has a closer correlation to the dealer selling a vehicle than submitting any lead form, was added to the "Actions" that are included in the total number of "Conversions".  


I know, because I have been the person writing those requirements... I was the guilty party who took the Ford Motor Company's confidential "Website Behavior Monetization Study" which defined, to the penny, the net real value of each action taken by a dealership or Ford website visitor, and I used it to drive changes in how the software being developed measured a "Conversion"... Including visits to the Hours and Directions page (which I stand by to this day)...

EDITOR'S NOTE: When I first read Brian's article, and saw his mention of measuring visits to the dealer's hours and directions page, I had a brief moment of paranoia that he was personally attacking my work while at Reynolds and Reynolds and then ADP Digital Marketing... Like i said, BRIEFLY... Then the coffee started kicking in and I spotted my own paranoia... ahem...


Expanding upon what Brian calls for in his article, what we need to be doing is standardizing the definition and Requirements around measuring a variety of "Conversion Types"... Why? Because once you go deep into the details, you will find that EVERYBODY uses the term "Conversion" differently. For example, we should have a "Form Submission rate" which is quite simply the total number of onsite forms submitted by the site's visitors divided by total number of "unique visitors"... Speaking of which, how about defining a "Unique Visitor"? Is it 30 days? 10 days? 60 days? What about "Visits" versus "Visitor Sessions"? Excuse me for going off on a tangent... It seems VERY clear to me that within the broad category of "Conversion Rate" we need to define specific measurement types that are clearly understood and measured by their title or name.

Listed below are my recommendations for an initial dirty dozen "Conversion Types" to be defined and measured as part of a universal set of dealer website visitor "Conversion" tracking metrics:

  1. Overall Form Submission Rate
  2. Sales Lead Form Submission Rate 
  3. Phone Call to Visit Rate
  4. Website to Showroom Visit Rate
  5. Visitor to Chat Session Rate
  6. Vehicle Detail Pages (VDP) Viewed to Visitor
  7. Map and Directions Page Views to Visitor Rate
  8. File Download to Visitor Rate
  9. Content Shares to Visit Rate (both social media and email)
  10. Page Prints to Visit Rate
  11. Social media Engagement to Unique Visitor Rate
  12. Overall Visitor Engagement Rate (aggregation of the above) 


And for those of you chuckling... No, I am NOT KIDDING! Until we stop using terms like "Conversion Rate" which can be a combination of any number of specific measurements depending on who is speaking, and get more specific, we will have situations like what Brian describes in his blog post referenced. 


The reason why we need both an "Overall Visitor Engagement Rate" as well as each of the 11 others is that not all website platforms were developed with the architecture necessary to measure each of the 11 other visitor to action conversion types I have listed... Which brings me to my last, but perhaps most important point.


The only way we can have measurement and reporting metrics that are comparable between websites provided to dealers by different suppliers is to use website metrics software provided by a company that is not financially affiliated with any of the dealer website suppliers who are selling the sites being measured (doh!).  

So, who could that be? What company exists that provides dealer website visitor activity tracking and reporting software that is reliable, generally accepted as accurate and is configurable enough to deliver my 12 conversion types listed?  Let me take that one more level... What company provides those capabilities and provides their software at NO CHARGE to the Dealer?  C'mon now... You know who I am referring to: GOOGLE!


I recommend that Brian Pasch leads an ADM Dealer Website Metrics Task Force made up of several members, including yours truly, which defines and documents the "Dealer Website Metrics Reporting Requirements" which can be presented to the Google Analytics Product Management team for creating a configuration and setup template that could be installed on as many dealer website architectures as possible.  That same set of requirements would be provided to all the dealer website suppliers included in the Automotive Website Awards book and supplier directory. 

Brian will receive far too many accolades for triggering this dialogue, so before we induce vomiting among the major dealer website supplier executive ranks, let's take Brian's lead and go forward with an ADM Professional Community Initiative that includes participation by as many as a dozen of our most qualified member professionals. 

Tags: ADM Member, Dealer Website, Measurement, Reporting, Standards, Task Force, Visitor Tracking

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Replies to This ADM Discussion

Let's get the task force started...

Hmmmm, I find this very interesting as I've never found a "trustworthy source of information beyond reproach".  I mean no offense.  I use everybody here as an expert opinion, but I also know that everyone has an agenda.  You will always find people like me who say "Yeah! But..."

I DO agree Google is (at this moment) the most reliable source of information.  I kind of laugh at website providers who want to send you their "interpretation" of Google's information rather than give you the straight dope.

I'm for it if we can come to an agreement as to what is absolute and without controversy.  With the methods of big data available to us, we should be able to distinguish between service and sales "Maps and Directions" views.  Don't you agree?

The term "Conversion Rate" has become anything that causes a click, including a click away.  If they click away from your landing page, it is because they found what they needed and are now going to come in.

Alright, it's a good idea and I'm nothing but a troublemaker.  ;-)


I'd be glad to help you guys in whatever capacity you think I'd fit best. I've worked at Super Groups that have a hard time with this, so I know the smaller groups do as well.


If you guys are serious, I'd be happy to work with you on this, but that's assuming it's cool with K&K.

But this is going to get messy. To accurately measure many of these conversions is going to require the cooperation of website suppliers.

Otherwise there is going to have to be some "smoothing" of the results to reflect conversions not accurately sourced because of current website supplier tracking deficiencies.

Is there some way you could come up with an ADM Approved Supplier designation so that other automotive marketing professionals will know that a website supplier complies with best practices for Analytics?

Further, are you going to attempt to account for quality of traffic source? Is all traffic going to be treated equal, or are you going to really drill down and track conversions based upon visitor source to really provide a measure valuable to dealers in allocating their marketing budgets?

And how do we account for phone calls? How many dealers have CRM and Analytics systems with any real telephony integration? I'd have to pull these reports manually from several different sources, and even then I know they wouldn't be close to perfect. We have so many visitors that use our online assets like a Yellow Pages directory. The majority of our calls are for service, even though we've got special numbers for everything. Short of listening to each call and manually determining whether it was sales or service, I don't see how we're going to accurately track Phone Call to Visit Rate unless you're happy with an aggregated metric for both sales and service.

I would like to be a part of this discussion


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