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Can ADM Members Create A Website Conversion Standard?

I received a call from a dealer this week informing me that he was unhappy with the conversion rate of their website.  Specifically, he was looking at the unique visitor traffic per month to the number of leads that were generated by the website.  

It seems that another dealer claims to have twice the conversion rate of his website platform!  If it were true, you could imagine why this dealer was upset.

Comparing website conversion metrics or vendor reports is a slippery slope.  For example, some website platforms considers a "conversion" completed when a consumer visits the "hours and directions" page on the dealership website.  

Other website platforms count ANY completed website form as a conversion, which includes forms for employment.  In both of these examples, these types of "conversions" pale in comparison to a conversion that results in a phone call to the dealership inquiring about an in-stock vehicle. 

 

So, it is time to recognize that not all conversions are created equal!

 

The topic of conversion is also a delicate conversation because according to AutoTrader sourcing studies, 60-70% of consumers who purchase a car never call the dealership or submit a lead form.  If the majority of car buyers do not submit their information or call the dealership, what other metrics can dealers look at to compare the effectiveness of different website platforms?

 

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.

 

I look forward to seeing ADM members in Orlando at DMSC!  http://www.DigitalMarketingStrategies.org

 

Brian Pasch, CEO

PCG Consulting

732.672.2356

Views: 224

Tags: automotive, conversion, dealers, leads, sales, standards

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Comment by Richard Roy on January 28, 2013 at 7:05pm

Brian,

This is an awesome topic...I agree with you there are many facets to "conversions". As a lead generator, I see things from a slightly different lens. Looking at Cobalt Group's most recent eShopper Automotive Experience Study, it's obvious the auto industry as a whole still has some issues with following up on leads of any type.

A few years ago I did an audit of  an auto dealer's CRM system to discover 50% of the leads they had purchased over the course of a year had never been opened. They were spending $3-6k per month on leads back then.

So while "conversions" is only one part of the conversation, I think it's important for dealers to look at what they do with a single conversion and move the ball forward from there.

Last week I saw a returned lead come over our fax machine that said "Already bought a vehicle :-(" - Every time I look into one of those types of returns...the dealer took too long to get back in touch with the visitor or "conversion".

Look forward to saying hi at NADA Orlando

Comment by Jason Ezell on January 28, 2013 at 2:24pm

I'm so glad to see this discussion, this is exactly the Genesis of Dataium; to standardize and normalize auto data to define one set of metrics all can be measured by. There are too many data point to make sense of it all from a dealer's perspective. LTV, Lead To Visitor Ratio has been the norm for measuring on-line success almost from the beginning.

 

The problem? This number continues to go down since 2005 as shoppers find more efficient ways to communicate to dealers other than email. How do you measure yourself or your vendors on the lowest performance metric and one that if fading; email lead submission.

 

we track over 12000 dealer websites, built by over 150 different web providers thus there could be 150 different set of metrics, or at least 150 ways those metrics are being derived.

 

Meaning you can’t just compare data from two sites and say one is better than the other. Websites are  built differently; different languages, different naming conventions, different page structure, pop-up forms, secure forms. Frankly it's a night mare sorting it all out.

 

But it has to be done because the data from all these different sites first needs to be aggregated to one source but most importantly all that data from all those sources has to be NORMALIZED. meaning adjusted to be measured on the same scale, comparing apples to apples. There is no other way to measure LTV or any other metric, from two different sites, much less thousands.

 

And there are too many other UN-NORMALIZED performance metrics to consider. Bounce rate by source/page/form, indirect ad source traffic, searches/visitor, VDP views/visitor, maps/directions page views...so many factors that have direct correlation to increased traffic in all forms. All of these metrics need to be standardized so dealers have so sense if they are outperforming or underperforming in any metric to know where to push a specific lever.

 

We are very excited to help in this effort as we have been doing this for over three years now. By pooling our knowledge and resources, we can truly change this industry by providing the most accurate, relevant and actionable data we can for our dealers, OEMs, vendors and anyone supporting the industry.

Comment by Alexander Lau on January 28, 2013 at 6:29am

J.D. Power has done a nice job and thanks for the information Ralph. I've never come across that data.

"And for those of you chuckling... No, I am NOT KIDDING! Until we stop using terms like "Conversion Rate" which can be any number of specific measurements depending on who is speaking and get more specific, we will have situations like what brian describes above." - Ralph

A complicated equation and Ralph absolutely nailed it. There's no one number or metric for a conversion rate, you can aggregate them as stipulated by Ralph in #12. It really pisses me off to hear that, in fact. "So, what's our conversion rate for our website...?" Really...!? Dealers need to get this out of their heads or the heads of whomever they employ as their business intelligence expert (usually not an expert at all). That's presuming they have a user-centered designed and usable website that contains the options mentioned (does site print, have social media, contain usable forms, contain a maintained chat mechanism) in order for it to convert to the highest degree (a massive task in itself and not something most take into consideration - even the folks at Dealer.com and Cobalt dodge the question when you ask them - I've been there).

Also, most dealerships want to be able to understand which Marketing initiatives lead to one of the many conversions as well (the overused and misunderstood "ROI"), which absolutely does make the entire measurement process even tougher and at times more convoluted. 

Google, yes they are doing a much better job at allowing users to set up Conversions and Goals easily. There are some smaller and much more affordable groups out there that could easily measure those metrics Ralph (Adobe Omniture, WebTrends, etc. are going to charge you a small fortune and you're right, generally they want you to define the conversion requirements, which is a pain).

A contact of mine at Metronome Labs, which doesn't use traditional tags and is passive-based analytics @ http://www.metronomelabs.com/solutions/passive-capture.phpMetronome Capture™ seemlessly integrates passively captured web data with your existing solutions, saving your investment. Web analytics, CRM, ERP, data warehousing, Metronome Capture™ can feed them all, breaking your web data out of the silo of an analytics package.

Comment by Ralph Paglia on January 26, 2013 at 2:04pm

I opened up an ADM Forum for creation of the Website Measurement and Tracking Task Force at: http://www.automotivedigitalmarketing.com/forum/topics/adm-task-for... 

Comment by Ralph Paglia on January 26, 2013 at 11:58am

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 above, 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...

Contrary to what Brian calls for in this article, or rather to expand upon it, what we should be doing is standardizing the definition (Requirements) around measuring a variety of "Conversion Types"... Why? because once you get outside of automotive, you find that EVERYBODY uses the term "Conversion" differently... For example, we should have a "Form Submission rate" which is quire 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 defined and measured by their very title or name. Let me list 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 any number of specific measurements depending on who is speaking and get more specific, we will have situations like what brian describes above. 

 

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. 

Comment by Mike Watson on January 26, 2013 at 11:45am

At DD13 in Vegas I heard the number 4% thrown out there by a speaker, Michael Groves, e-Commerce Director, Apple Auto Group. I believe they are in Canada. I don't know how a Canadian market varies, but I asked him where he got the conversion number, he said that was "industry benchmark" but could not quote a source. I personally would be jumping for joy if we had a 4% Unique to lead submission rate. I completely agree, are we tracking only web leads from our site? Are we including phone ups as well? With all the tools we have for tracking these days I find this stat is more of a pot of gold at the end of rainbow than it is something that I've heard of being empirically tracked. I'm willing to throw out a number, I'm just north of 1.5% from my uniques to lead submission. Good, I hope, bad, maybe. That's where I sit, let me know ...

Comment by Travis Mitchell on January 26, 2013 at 9:05am

In a "Criminal World" there are systems of tracking rich guys with chalk marks on their backs.  In a perfect world, we could identify the customer in market and temporary tattoo our bar-code on their heads.  When they walk through the door, a 2D scanner can recognize a conversion and the Finance manager could scan them for ROI.
People will not let us tattoo their heads.  Nor will they wear a mark.  Customers are extremely defensive when purchasing a car.  SO... If we could find a way to make the customer more comfortable identifying themselves on the internet, and dealership... we have something.

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