Automotive Digital Marketing

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Automotive Internet Marketing is the new snake oil

There are many legitimate Automotive marketing experts in the marketplace, and there are just as many snake oil salesmen. Here is one way to differentiate between those who offer real services and those who are looking to make a buck.

There are many categories of snake oil salesmen in this marketplace, including the following:

The followers:

"Traditional automotive ad agency" turned into "Internet advertising agency". This is the result of sleeping dinosaurs who became so fat with their commissions that they lost sight of the goal. Suddenly they wake up, slap "automotive internet department" or "automotive e-marketing" on their website, patch together a few vendors, and think they can take a $50k ad budget and put it into adwords. Some are so late to the game it is embarrassing and couldn't even name 5 search engines without the help of their outsourced department. Typically, these companies turn into vendor whores and sell whatever ends up on their desk to try to get back the "good old days" where dealers lined their pockets with print budget. They know automotive, but do not know Internet.

The wanna-be's:

They are late to the game, have a few tricks in their bag, and have achieved some level of short or long term success. They are riding off of buzzwords and will sell whatever you want to buy or whatever seems to have a good "pitch" at the time. They may also be a version of the "converted advertising agency" concept outlined above or they were involved in another market and are just getting into automotive in the past few years (or months). They may have some marketing experience but they do not know automotive. Many of these companies will be jumping from one hot topic to the next. You may "feel" like you are cutting edge but results can, and should, be measured carefully. You may find yourself saying things such as "I am an automotive social network enabled dealership" or,

The snake oil salesmen:

These are self proclaimed "automotive seo experts" and the type who manage to get dealers hooked on the allure of national traffic that cannot convert or getting them super-long tail phrases that get no traffic such as "2006 Infiniti with low miles and A/C in Bumbletown". Some dealers are just addicted to #1 positions, despite the reality that they may not be good words. These are the true criminals in automotive advertising industry that gives legitimate marketers a bad name. Never mind the leads their service brings, and phone calls that can come of it. A good snake oil salesman will sell the dealer on the sizzle, promising that the steak will come. Six months later, they dealer may (or may not) come off of their high but by then they are many thousands of dollars invested.

A good tracking system including CRM, and call tracking, will help stop the snakes from getting more of your budget.

One recent example is an automotive waste management study we performed on a dealer in the Northeast. He had purchased some microsites, SEO, and some electronic press releases (automotive ePR) among other related services from this provider. Months and months of time and money were invested, and the dealer stated over and over that the investment was one of the best they had made.

However, Rome was burning while Nero was fiddling.

The dealer was not tracking the phone calls, nor were they tracking the actual sales from this "automotive search expert". Sure leads were coming in, but in the past 3 months, they sold a single car. In one week, they received one phone call off of this investment. Now that we have the data, we can help the dealer to see better, but a good snake oil salesman will always say that results are - just around the corner.

Creating legitimate content, focused on driving legitimate traffic on the proper keywords, to the right dealer at the right time is the right move. However, there is too much smoke and mirror activity in search engine optimization that the room can quickly turn into a funhouse with sleight of hand and shell games taking precedence over real logic.

In all, it is not easy for a dealer, and there are many choices, but choose a company that offers full disclosure. Above all, answer every statement that make with "well, how many sales became of that, and who can I call to verify". Quickly, they will load up their huge luggage full of tricks and send their telemarketing company off to set more appointments to find the next sucker.

-Michael Sweigart

Views: 53


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Comment by Ralph Paglia on November 16, 2008 at 1:31pm

Thank you... Your blog post is well written and i will take you up on your offer!
Comment by Michael Sweigart on November 12, 2008 at 10:24am
Great feedback gentlemen.

There are many other shady tactics and techniques, and the major supplier using proxy pages to literally steal a dealers traffic away and resell it to them is one of the worst. There is a certain level of trust given to these providers and the level on which they operate is shameful at best and criminal at worst. I think we both know that this company is definitely "reaching" when it comes to taking credit for some of the keywords they buy. But the dealer keeps buying because the report tells them it is good results.

As for smearing the industry we are in, I'm only looking to help point out some of these vendors do indeed exist, and as an automotive marketing professional for a dozen years, I feel an obligation to let dealers know what to look out for.

There are many ways to waste money online (and off) for dealers. Some additional food for thought is a post I wrote here which lists the Top 10 ways to waste your automotive search marketing budget. Some of the things that Ralph mentions are on this list. (Ralph if you would rather have this posted directly on this site let me know, or feel free to use it with credits)

Comment by Ralph Paglia on November 12, 2008 at 5:10am
Michael brings up some very poignat issues... And, I agree that each of the vendor types he identifies do exist, and should be avoided. However, I also believe that there are multiple legitimate digital marketing suppliers who are more or less competent in various areas. For example, I personally do not believe that dealers should be bidding against their organic listings that are ranked at or near the top of the search results for specific keywords... I personally recommend letting the organic listings dominate and buying keywords on a more tactical basis by focusing on where the gaps are with organic results... But, I know there are quite a few Search Advertising suppliers that recommend bidding on those very same keywords that the dealer already ranks top of page organically... Maybe they have a point, maybe "dominating" search results with multiple paid and organic listings is the right way to go... God and every Chevy dealer in Phoenix knows that I did exactly that when I worked for Courtesy... Yet, as time goes on andwe study the holistic sales results from a given budget, I am more and more convinced that an Integrated approach to both online and offline marketing activities yields the greatest overal ROI for the dealership as a whole.

Another practice that I personally consider a "worst practice" is the use of Proxy Sites by the Search Advertising supplier... Yes, I know a lot of so-called experts disagree with me, but I still say that based on real world experience, both first hand and with dealers I consult with, Proxy Sites are simply not necessary and they generate far more risk than returns, which can easily be duplicated, much more effectively with deep links, dynamic phone numbers, microsites and campaign landing pages... I inherently abhore Proxy Sites and would like to see someone take them out at a federal court level as either copyright infringement or false advertising... Phony is phony... period... fake is fake, and I simply don't buy the justificatons that suppliers who use proxy sites put forth... BUT, a lot of people do... So, are they snake oil or a valid tactic?

My point is that a lot of suppliers genuinely believe what they have provides substantial value... And, they have the ROI metrics to "prove it". These same suppliers are considered snake oil peddlers by others in the industry... Who is right?

Case in point, I have seen the SEM suppliers who use Proxy Sites siphon off the dealer's organic traffic by bidding on words that the dealer's regular site already comes up at thetop of the results. Since they have a dedicated, and supplier controlled phone number assgned to the proxy site, they claim both the phone calls and the lead forms... Which they should! But what about the fact that most of those calls and lead forms would have been generated at no cost to the dealer if they had just let their organic strengths play out?

I mean seriously, why do dealers let search advertising suppliers bid against the organic listings that the dealer gets at no extra cost based on their name, repuitation and the contnt within their web site?
Comment by Indie Results on November 11, 2008 at 9:23pm
Great stuff, its sad to see my industry get even more smeared, but the fact is you are right, I spend more time trying to help dealers get the real picture than I do actually selling them anything like SEO, that said the time I spend sharing with them reality. (taking the blue pill as the matrix would say) helps gain their trust, and by providing a straight forward and honest product, I slowly gain market share. Great post!

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