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I thought that I would start a conversation on automotive microsites and why they should be a part of an automotive marketing strategy. Microsites are not to be confused with landing pages or doorway websites.

Landing pages are an optimized web page that dealers use in a pay-per-click campaign like Google Adwords. The landing page can be on your website or on a third party website. If a dealer was running a tent sale and created an optimized page about the event and directed clicks from Google Adwords to this page, it would be considered a landing page.

Doorway websites are a landing page placed on its own domain name. They are normally a one page website used to capture leads from traffic generated by pay-per-click campaigns, affiliate marketing programs, or in some cases, direct traffic. These doorway websites are not content rich and often are more graphically weighted with attractive designs or even flash technology to add pizzazz.

My definition of an automotive microsite, up until last month, was 10-15 pages of targeted content placed on a targeted domain name with blogging enabled but without live inventory. This base content would be supplemented by 2-3 articles per month.

A theoretical example is a BMW dealer that wanted to increase their service business in Atlanta.

If they purchased www.bmwserviceatlanta.net and created content about all their service offerings and common BMW service procedures, that would get hundreds of hits to this site organically each month. Google indicates that at least 400 people a month type the phrase “BMW service Atlanta” and this domain would be an exact match for that phrase. With good content, this microsite would be #1 in organic search results because the “.com” version is being redirected to another website.

The question for service managers is this: “Would you like to attract another 25, 50 or 100 service customers a month from your PMA?” With the right call to action, services specials and offers you can expect to capture some of those 400 customers each month who search that phrase.

WordPress Microsite Technology

The tool that I like to use for creating microsites is WordPress. This popular “open source” content management system (CMS) tool is recommended because:
  • There are no licensing fees
  • It is easy to setup a website and blog
  • It can be hosted inexpensively (<$100 a year)
  • There are thousands of developers around the world improving the platform every year
  • There are thousands of free software enhancements to make the website more attractive
  • It is easy to maintain
  • Anyone with Microsoft Word equivalent skills can create and add web pages
  • You can drop in video, audio and images easily to any page
  • It’s an SEO consultant dream

New Plug-In Technology

At the 7th Digital Dealer Conference my definition of a WordPress microsite changed. DealerTrend unveiled the industry’s first commercially available plug-in for WordPress that displays a car dealer’s new and used car inventory. The plug-in creates an SEO optimized website page for every car you have in stock.

This plug-in has changed the rules for automotive microsites because it takes what was once a 20 page microsite with rich content to a microsite with a few hundred highly optimized model specific pages. Taking WordPress microsites to this level turns WordPress into a robust automotive inventory marketing tool. I applaud DealerTrend for being the first to offer such a tool and taking the risk to offer it to car dealers.

The Pasch Consulting Group was the first Automotive Marketing Company to integrate the DealerTrend WordPress plug-in to our Automotive WordPress microsites. We have hundreds of microsites that are operating for lead generation, Internet Reputation Management, and branding. Having this tool available to our customers can transform these sites into more effective tools for car sales.

This plug-in creates dealer inventory microsites in minutes, once the feed is setup, and allows dealers to add content themselves or hire a consultant to write content which will make the microsite effective for organic search marketing. For more information on the plug-in, visit www.dealertrend.com .

Can I Boot My Existing Website Vendor?

Some dealers have been quick to ask me if the WordPress plug-in will change the industry website landscape by offering open source website platforms that can replace the traditional leased website platforms. The answer is no; at least for the near term. Also, the DealerTrend plug-in is not free since it requires your inventory feed to be hosted and fed to your microsite.

Adding inventory to a WordPress website is not a replacement for a full service automotive website platform offered by companies such as eBizAutos, TK Carsites, Dealer.com, DealerFire, DealerOn or Dealer eProcess. Dealers need to have a solid infrastructure for Internet Marketing which includes tools for CRM, ILM, Newsletters, Video and SEM. Dealers need to find a core web infrastructure that gives them a set of robust tools for search marketing, sales process management and customer support.

Data integration and analysis will only get more important in months to come and the majority of dealer marketing budgets will move to online spending. Until companies come up with WordPress Plug-ins for CRM, ILM and other functions that dealers need to run their businesses, WordPress will still be a complimentary platform.

A number of people are working on WordPress tools, so in a year from now my answer could very well change. For small independent used car dealers, the WordPress platform and an inventory plug-in may be just the trick to give them the SEO marketing tools that they need at an affordable price tag.

Third Party Inventory Marketing Platforms

The WordPress enhanced microsites can feed into a dealer’s main website system as an affiliate marketing source. Just as companies like Cars.com and Autotrader.com place dealer inventory on their marketing platforms and send leads to a dealer’s CRM system, enhanced microsites with live inventory will perform a similar function. This plug-in allows you to create targeted, in-state inventory marketing platforms; the possibilities are just endless.

The WordPress open-source development environment and this type of plug-in makes it affordable to deploy live inventory on multiple domain optimized microsites. According to DealerTrend, dealers who implement five microsites would end up spending about $200 a month per microsite.

Automotive Microsites New?

Car dealer platform providers have the ability to offer microsites as part of a marketing strategy using their proprietary website software. From my viewpoint, most vendors in the website space do not see the need or the economics for such an offering.

What makes the WordPress option interesting is that it allows for unlimited content creation and hundreds of free software enhancements. The counter argument is that car dealer platforms are just now integrating blogs and content on-the-fly so they can now compete with the content creation element of WordPress.

The rules of marketing and consumer engagement are changing. The 2009 ASMA study of 34 website platforms revealed that nine automotive website platforms have industry leading platforms for search marketing. This includes content on the fly and fully optimized inventory pages.

We will wait to see, however, if automotive website providers have the insight to create a microsite marketing model within their existing offering. The marketing data that we have collected would suggest that microsite marketing is here to stay and it is an untapped marketing opportunity for car dealers.

OEM Guidelines on Domain Names

Let me conclude by saying that some OEM’s have been discouraging their dealers to own domains for web marketing that do not include their business name. I have witnessed car dealers being forced to consolidate or shutdown their microsites that have state or city names plus their OEM brand.

Restrictive marketing guidelines that forbid a Boston dealer from creating a microsite like www.toyotacamryboston.com are a lucrative opening for third party lead collectors and automotive marketing platforms to dominate local search and force car dealers to pay for leads or advertising.

To be fair to OEM concerns, car dealers should not be allowed to deploy domains that include their competitor’s brand name. However, city names in or around their PMA should be open game if consumers are willing to drive to their dealership.

A strict crackdown on dealer domain marketing will be a boom for third party lead collectors and would restrict car dealers who are innovative and aggressive online marketers.

PMA Maps Are Invisible To Internet Shoppers

For years, TV stations and newspapers in Metro areas like Boston have run ads from competing OEM dealers in downtown Boston and its suburbs. Those were the rules of engagement since the media outlets crossed PMA lines. Treating the Internet in terms of PMA boundaries is a naïve thought.

Dealers should be able to innovate automotive online marketing with a microsite strategy that uses high value domain names. Otherwise, it would be like telling car dealers that they can’t advertise on TV because someone outside of their PMA might see their ad and cause an unfair marketing advantage.

The first Toyota dealer in the Boston suburbs who is smart enough to purchase a domain like www.usedtoyotaboston.com should be able to market their cars on that domain. OEM’s already endorse car inventory advertising from multiple dealers in one state on Cars.com and Autotrader.com. The hypocrisy is amazing. Let’s hope that cooler heads prevail in the coming years otherwise dealers lose significant tactical advantages.

What is Your Microsite Strategy?

Microsites are extremely effective tools for online marketing and they will increase in value as the evolution of blogging and social media turns car dealers into content marketing engines. Having the right website assets to place that content will determine who wins the competition for high value keywords in your local PMA and state.

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Tags: automotivemicrosites, microsites, wordpress

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Comment by Ralph Paglia on November 14, 2009 at 5:11pm
EDITOR'S NOTE: The response shown below to the above blog post was made in the ADM Presentation File Exchange Forum Discussion... Since posting this comment, Brian has made revisions to his PDF document. The original post preceding these revisions is copied below for ADM Member convenience when reviewing this matching blog article...

Brian - Thank you for a well written and insightful overview of automotive microsites, however I disagree with several of your assumptions and assertions that are stated as facts... Regarding the history of microsites; I was marketing, selling and installing microsites before TK Carsites was in business! In 1999 when I worked for the HAC Group based out of Wynnewood, PA and they acquired Automark of Norfolk, VA we began selling microsites to Ford, Lincoln and Mercury dealers, then expanded those offerings as we worked with Honda, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota dealers. Our approach to microsites included a strategy around what we called "Model Franchises" and "Profit Centers". For example, Ford dealers would often times do so well with the Ford SUV lineup at the time that we would build a full featured microsite focused on Ford's SUV models... Other dealers would invest in an F-150 Microsite. Profit Center microsites initially started with Special Finance and then went on to include Fleet and Commercial, as well as a few other variants.

As the companies were sold and purchased, other acquisitions made and new Vice Presidents ordained and put in charge, I repeatedly found myself put in a position of defending microsites as an effective dealer marketing strategy... In fact, the disputes I had with what eventually became Reynolds Web Solutions after certain key acquisitions, and the eventual dismantling of Automark, weaighed heavily upon my decisions to leave what had now become a division within Reynolds and Reynolds and go to work for Courtesy Chevrolet. Again, while certain key people were leaving BZ Productions (Results) and TK Carsites was being formed as a result, I was at Courtesy Chevrolet building and launching a microsite strategy while ramping up an eBusiness Operation that leveraged the traffic and opportunities from this network of microsites into a 400+ Unit Sales per month Digital Marketing and Sales Operation. Even though there is a lot of bad blood between David Jackson and me at this time, I would like to point out that he built a business around the model I designed for him which at the time was called Fresh Start Studios and is now called Fresh Microsites. Due to the problems I have had with David, I am loathe to recommend or promote his business, but for the sake of historical accuracy, his automotive microsite business and examples of his work going back to long before the "Power of 5" was offered by TK Carsites can be seen at http://www.freshmicrosites.com/ You have no idea how much it chaps my hide to put a link to David Jackson's business on my comment! But, for the sake of historical accuracy and in response to the incorrect conclusion that TK Carsites was first to market with a dealer microsite strategy, I am compelled to do so... In fact, at Digital Dealer I in Nashville, TN in early 2006, I presented a workshop on dealership microsite strategies and showcased over a dozen microsites that I designed and Fresh Start Studio built to my specifications... After my workshop ended, the leaders of TK Carsites approached me and we discussed how they might develop a microsite platform and supply Courtesy Chevrolet with microsites. At the time, I was still partnered with David Jackson in a relationship where I helped him secure dealership business outside my market area in exchange for work he would do at little or no charge for Courtesy Chevrolet building microsites, so I passed on TK's offer to build them for Courtesy Chevrolet... In hindsight, I wish I would have worked something out with TK Carsites because David Jackson turned out to be a traitor and I believe the owners and leaders at TK Carsites to be ethical and trustworthy... Despite the fact that they compete with my own team at ADP Digital Marketing, I have no problem acknowledging and complimenting them on the work they have done since that conversation in Nashville in early 2006. In fact, when TK first went to market with the "Power of 5" several of my team mates at ADP came to me and said "this looks like they productized what you did at Courtesy Chevrolet", and I would agree with their observations.

Additionally, although my own team's full scaled dealership websites did not make the cut in your Pasch Consulting Group report, we are hard at work building an entirely new dealer web site platform that I believe will be as good or better in many respects (including SEO) than the platforms you reviewed in your report... By starting with a clean slate and using ADP's development resources in Portland, OR, Houston, TX, Ft. Lauderdale, FL and Coventry, RI we have devoted more brain power, development experts and coders than any previous effort that I am aware of specifically focused on building a dealership website platform from scratch... And, despite the temper tantrums I have thrown and the meetings I have walked out on because of the debate around core architecture and feature structures within this new platform, I believe that ADP will go to market with a dealer website platform and design architecture that is more effective at serving dealer digital marketing objectives than anything that is being marketed and sold to dealers right now. In fact, I have convinced senior ADP management to allocate budget to hire independent consultants to review our team's design and architecture before we go to the next step of launching the prototypes on development servers... Why? Because it costs less to make changes before the prototypes are built than after... Brian, hopefully you will take Bill Reilly up on his offer to hire PCG to review our new dealer website design architecture and make change suggestions...

Finally, I would like to say that in addition to correcting the "History of microsites" that you wrote in your document, there are several key components that I have previously and continue to describe in building effective microsites. These components include:
1. Table of Contents on the index (home) page of the microsite, along with descriptive text based (anchor) links pointing to the dealer's various other microsites, eCommerce sites and Social Network or Community site.
2. Index page title should lead with the same first two or three keywords that comprise the microsite's URL.
3. Photo Gallery daughter page accessible from the index page via text based link, with vehicle model or other relevant photos that have file names accurately descriptive of their content. ie; "2010-Ford-Mustang-GT-Rear-Quarter.jpg" or "Courtesy-Chevrolet-New-Showroom-North-View.jpg" for example... Here's an example of a microsite photo gallery daughter page from before TK Carsites Power of 5 was brought to market: 2008 Chevy Malibu Photo Gallery
4. Product Specifications daughter page accessible from index page via text link which contains multiple H1 and H2 section headlines describing the product specification category, such as "2010 Ford F-150 Frame and Body Specification" or "2010 Chevrolet Corvette Engine and Drivetrain Specification". Obviously, the relevant specifications detailed below the section headline. Here's an example of a microsite product specifications page: 2008 Chevy Malibu Specifications
5. News and Reviews daughter page accessible from the index page via text based link. This is a page within the microsite where road tests, press releases, articles and news stories relevant to the microsites focused subject matter. For example, on the original www.Malibu-Chevrolet.com microsite, the "2008 Chevy Malibu Press" link from the index page goes to a microsite page with multiple articles, road tests and reviews authorized for reprinting to the OEM, and via franchise, Courtesy Chevrolet.

Obviously, there are many more daughter page concepts that would serve a dealer's microsite well, and because the examples above were built several years ago, I am certain that extensive improvements could be made today, but the fact that the examples I cite are so old, they further corroborate my objection to you giving credit to TK Carsites for the first car dealer microsite offering... Please do not mistake my request for historical accuracy as a criticism of TK Carsites or their Power of 5 dealer offering, in fact I truly admire what TK Carsites has brought to market. But when it comes to historical statements such as what you assert, I take objection to giving TK credit for something that may have been influenced by my previous work.

Here's a few microsite examples that were originally launched well before TK Carsites conceived of the Power of 5:
1. www.Malibu-Chevrolet.com
2. www.Tahoe-Chevrolet.com
3. www.ChevyGas.com
4. www.ChevyPriceQuote.com

I do have to make a disclaimer type of statement... Each of the 4 examples shown above was originally built by David Jackson at Fresh Start Studio. When David betrayed me, I took my designs and had Jonathan Monterecy at BZ Results duplicate them and host these microsites on BZ Results servers. David Jackson is upset about this, but I have my original designs that I sent to David in their pre-production Microsoft Word drafts, so I have proof that each microsite was my personal work. I don't like plugging Jackson, because I now believe him to be unethical, but he did build the original microsites for Courtesy Chevrolet and he did do a great job of working with me and listening to my instructions, then executing them well.

Again, all of this was done long before TK Carsites developed their Power of 5 offering! Why does any of this matter? Because, as I have previously stated, if as an industry and a profession we want to encourage the sharing of ideas, strategies, tactics and best practices, it is important that we acknowledge where these tools originated when they are used further dowstream as part of a new implementation or publication. My own personal mission is to establish automotive digital marketing as a respected profession with practitioners and thought leaders. I would like to see the subject become courses at colleges and universities, and am also committed to the original concept behind the AAISP, a professional non-profit organization dedicated to certifying those who meet skills and knowledge standards and providing certified members with the ability to earn more income and be more sought after in the job market.

REVISED DOCUMENT: MicrositeEvolutionBrianPaschRevised.pdf
Comment by Brian Pasch on November 14, 2009 at 1:28pm
Wait till you see what happens in the boot camp...I'm doing the strategy class.
Comment by Craig Belowski on November 14, 2009 at 1:20pm
Microsites can be a great thing......guess I'm smart enough, although I should have started www.toyotacertifiedboston.com on a hosted platform it now has www.usedtoyotaboston.com pointed there as well.
Thanks as always Brian.....next time your using Toyota as an example in Boston please remember to tip us off.
Comment by Brian Pasch on November 14, 2009 at 5:31am
Make sure you host your WordPress blog and not the free hosting they offer. The hosted site can be placed on GoDaddy for example in minutes.

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Comment by Aj Maida on November 13, 2009 at 2:21pm
Brian,

perfect timing for me. I was just on Word Press today speculating a microsite for my service dept. I guess i know what my project for Monday is!!!!!!

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