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Clearing up a few things; Random Access Websites and Conversion Rates

For the past 2 days I have been in debate on dealerrefresh about online marketing numbers and conversion. It appears that my comments on what a website should convert at have caused a stir in the dealer community, enough so that I was called out on it and asked to back off. It also appears a label I have placed on a main website is causing some people heartburn.

This post will hopefully clear up a few things:

1. Why I believe that the benchmark for conversion in online marketing should be 30% minimum.

2. What the definition of a “Random Access Website” is and why they are the way they are.

3. Why I believe that you should NEVER…EVER send paid traffic back to your main website deep-link or otherwise.

So let’s jump right into conversion percentages and benchmarks.

Phase 1

First let me start out by defining conversion – A conversion is any form submission, phone call (tracked from your online properties), email or chat session where good re-contact information was captured that would allow the dealership to follow up on the customer. I have yet to have anyone dispute this as a proper definition. If anyone has something that I am missing please feel free to share with the rest of the class. Make no mistake each of these actions can be tracked with absolute accuracy, do not let anyone tell you otherwise.

So how did I come to this 30% benchmark? Ok it starts with my own store were we track everything. We found that we could use the visitors query string data to determine intent and direct visitors to the part of our website that closest matched that intent and when we did so our conversion rate rose 377% to as of this morning 26%. We also found that by tracking and changing certain things about our eBay motors ads we got a higher conversion rate to as of this morning 17%. We also found that using Facebook marketing in ways that were geared to customer interests not so much to customer in market probability we got higher click through and as of this morning a 47% conversion rate, ironically add all of that up and average it and as I write this post we are an average of exactly 30% (there are some decimals there but I am rounding up) and we are a small independent used car operation with none of the brand help dealers have today.

Phase 2

Which brings me to phase 2 of my justification for a 30% benchmark. I have personally analyzed hundreds of dealership websites over the last 9 months and come to the same conclusion I hear from a lot of dealers and internet personnel I talk to in the store. Branded terms (your dealerships name) drives over 60% of the traffic that comes to my website. I have met very few that will argue this stat, the ones that do say it is too low. Ok so now let’s do some math:

Unique Visitors

Average dealership website gets 3000 unique visitors per month. 60% came from the stores branded terms (dealership name) that is 1800 visitors whose specific intent was to find your dealerships website.

1800 x 30% = 468 is it too much to ask that out of 1800 visitors 468 engage the store in some way? Let me ask it another way.

If your dealership got 1800 visitors last month and your sales staff could only get 468 of the people who came in entered into your CRM system would any of them be still employed at the dealership?

Any way you slice this up it doesn’t make sense to say 30% is unrealistic. I don't care who you are.

Random Access Website

The definition of “Random Access Website” (RAW), apparently this adjective has offended a couple of people in the auto community as this is the second post I have been called out on this term, in this last post the offended person even when so far as to Google the term.

A main website has random people that wonder into it from organic links (one of the problems with web marketing and SEO by the way, but that is another post) you have no idea how or why they are there and when they get there they can wonder randomly throughout your site, hence the term “Random Access” a site that is randomly accessed from anywhere by anyone and anyone can randomly go anywhere in it and yes this is basically all main websites. A main website is basically the Encyclopedia Britannica of your online presence you have everything including the kitchen sink in it. From inventory to job postings to press releases to Facebook and twitter links, is it any wonder that visitors become distracted, lost and just basically give up when it come to this maze of information? I discussed this in depth in my post “Get outside your random access website” from February of this year, go there for more on the pitfalls of conversion in a main website.

Don't Send Paid Traffic to Your RAW

Finally the above is a great lead into why you should NEVER…EVER send paid traffic back to your random access main website…EVER! You should understand by now that your main website is so full of distraction that anyone coming there with a specific purpose will have to work hard to complete that purpose. People specifically looking for your dealership will work harder to get the information they want than others, not by much but harder none the less. I think we can all agree on that and that is why you see higher conversion form branded terms (your dealerships name). When you pay for a click you have to get something out of it sending that to a place where you know they are not interested in all the distractions around them, that doesn’t match with what they were searching for in the first place and make this work to find it, is a recipe for conversion disaster.

Aside from the distraction factor of a deep-link here are some other reasons to use off site pages and microsites.

1. Tracking and accountability – it is much…much easier to track and hold marketing channels, ad groups and keywords accountable for results when you have separate landing experiences.

2. Split testing – you cannot get to high conversion rates without testing and it is impossible to test in a dealership random access website today even a deep-link.

3. Matching the message tightly with the ad and the landing. If you think you are doing this with a dynamic deeplink landing page that changes the picture and the header your sorely mistaken you will have to get much more relevant than that.

4. Getting searched right out of an opportunity – time and time again I see deep-links go to inventory then the customer searches to find out you have 1 or 2 that’s not choice and you missed the opportunity before you ever got a chance to win the customer.

5. With each off site page or Microsite you create another back-link for you main random access website helping its SEO value.

Pay Per Click Advertising

PPC is and will continue to get more competitive, it is imperative that you create a culture of continuous improvement in conversion for any traffic you are paying for and lets be real you're paying for all of it. Branded terms (your dealership name) comes from your traditional media advertising, organic links comes from SEO (that aint free! All dealerships are paying for this in some way or another), listing sites are costing you subscription & listing fees and obviously you are paying for every click in PPC. You need to track all of these and hold them accountable for conversion because conversion is indicative of what walks in the door…period. Off site landing pages and microsites help you track all of this very accurately and helps get more of what you are paying for.

I hope this clears it up for those who were unclear. For those that think I should “back off” sorry that just wouldn’t be me, can’t do it and for anyone this somewhat helps I’m glad. If I can clarify anything here or you need help contact me I will do all I can.

Cell – 281.455.3811

Email –

Views: 90

Tags: CRM, Post-click-marketing, automotive, bruce, click, dealership, internet, larry, marketing, post, More…sales, sem, seo, site, web


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Comment by Larry Bruce on November 22, 2010 at 3:27pm
@Matt, you're missing the point of Conversion Rate Optimization entirely.

1. I didn’t say it was a global conversion rate you did, I said it was an average conversion rate and it is the average of the 3 channels I operate in

2. You assume that visitors intent across all online channels is the same, it is not.
3. You assume all clicks are created equal, they are not. Your “Free Car” example is making my point no one wants that click or that conversion

4. Of our two examples, your 18% average is the most misleading as you are counting the dealerships name as a search term and the majority of calls that come from that those terms are little more than an online telephone book; the paid search campaign has absolutely nothing to do with it.

Now let get into some detail,

Conversion = people that take the desired action.

This is semantics and I won’t argue that with you suffice to say 99% of the time the desired action is call the dealership to make a appointment for sales or service and what the dealer would like the Sales Person / Service Advisor to do is to get good re-contact information therefore if we say conversion = a call, form submission, email or chat with good re-contact information we are talking about the same thing.

Exception – the social conversion, collecting a friend or follower, in either case friend or follow could also be defined as good re-contact information as you are able to contact the friend/follower. Some may argue even better because of the access to their network. Any way you slice this up for Lead Generation re-contact is the key.

If we take your “Free Car” example again you assume all traffic, clicks and conversion are equal. They are not. My numbers have been over a 14 month period, millions of impressions and several thousand clicks, granted it’s only our site but we are at a disadvantage in that our site doesn't have the same brand recognition a franchise dealer would and I don't have complete control over it either.

That said your study takes into account 1 channel, search and you are assuming all key words are equal, all clicks are equal and that all conversions are equal. According to your study calls were 20 to 1 for service, we have no idea how the budgets were allocated between sales and service but I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to know you can get a lot more conversions for service with branded terms (the phone book) than you can sales and the CPC (Cost Per Click) will be considerably lower too.

The only pure way to calculate conversion percentage is to separate your channels, separate branded & non branded terms and look at each on their own merit, then average them as I have in my example in the post. Get with any statistics professional you want they will tell you the same thing.

Comment by Larry Bruce on November 12, 2010 at 6:32am
Matt demand generation will always have a lower CTR than Demand Fulfillment that just a given. If anything I should rate facebook marketing and content marketing much higher as those customers were pulled into the market not already there to begin with.

Traffic is the "Crack" of our business. It makes you feel good when you first get it, but like crap when it’s over. Too many dealers are running around after traffic for traffic sake. We intentionally avoid some traffic in search and content marketing. I am looking for the traffic that is in the market to buy a specific car or is interested in a specific car, not a shopper "A BUYER".

So no, I do not weigh traffic into this equation at the conversion level. Obviously if you have an ad with a .01% CTR you need to revisit your ad to see why its not performing but that has nothing to do with the conversion.

A Facebook conversion = traffic coming from facebook PPC that goes to a specific microsite or landing page and generates a call, submission form, email, or chat with good re-contact info.

We are running anywhere from 3 to 15 facebook PPC campaigns at any given time depending on what going on in the store.

What we are missing is the big conversion rates from our website. There are a lot of reasons for this but the main one is we don’t have the brand recognition and credibility that comes with a franchise store. We are using facebook to build our brand but it will never equal Ford.

That's why I believe franchise dealerships have a far better opportunity to get 30% plus conversions than we do.

Comment by Larry Bruce on November 8, 2010 at 7:57pm
@ADM I think there were really only a couple of bad apples in the DR thread. Everyone else was having a good conversation and debate. We all have a mutual respect for each other, just differing opinions. I enjoy that it keeps me thinking.

thanks for the support and the comment,

Comment by Larry Bruce on November 8, 2010 at 7:54pm
Thanks Phil,

Yes our data shows that customers look for a car first and a dealership second. The easier you make the car to find on your site, the more choice you able to convey to the customer the better your chances of converting.

I am glad if anything I post is helping. An educated dealer is our best client and we want to help them do all they can or want to.

Thanks for the comment.
Comment by Philip Zelinger on November 8, 2010 at 9:59am
Hi Larry,

I am not sure who may have challenged your conversion rate statistics, but certainly no one could have challenged your assertions as to the importance of relevancy and transparency and their impact on your ability to convert site visitors. Frankly, I would take your observations one step further by pointing out that today's empowered consumers are more likely looking for a vehicle or a conversation about one than a dealership -- such as is defined by your RAW sites -- which further suports your position as I understand it.

For example, videos posted on you tube sourced from a dealer's inventory with reciprocal links back to specific information on that vehicle and/or other similar vehicles in the posting dealer's inventory are now available through vendor solutions with applications that provide the customer with the information they need where and when they need it vs. at the dealer's RAW site which only provides relevant information after sifting through layers of dealer centric informtion.

Similarly, the market is a conversation before, during and after a customer's buying cycle which is usually ocurring on social media channels that often bypass the need to visit a RAW site -- again, as you described it.
On the other hand, dealers that contribute to the conversation in a relevant manner to the customers and their online friends vs. as a self serving sales message will be sought out when the time to buy or service the customer's vehicle is right.

Conversion rates and closing ratios for a "be-back" or personal referral have historically been double those of first time walk-ins in real world brick and mortar dealerships so challenging your conclusion that similar results with contacts sourced from ongoing relationships earned by providing customer centric information on the Internet without first qualifying your customers as a "today buyer" before you are willing to help them make perfect sense.

PS: I wasn't able to find any negative comments on ADM that suggested that your posts weren't appreciated and valued and as member of ADM as well as DealerElite I don't see why I would! After all, what are friends, ADM and DealerElite for!
Comment by Ralph Paglia on November 7, 2010 at 10:47pm
Larry - You will find that here on ADM we welcome discussion and discourse, and are not so prim and proper as to get upset over a good strong heated debate, even an argument! The ADM Professional Community niche is to be where everyone has an equal voice and will be judged on their own merits. You will not find this community asking you to back off or take anything down. Post away, because you are as much a part of this community as anyone else... Maybe just a little more so because so many of us enjoy reading your posts, even if we do not agree with them!

Comment by Larry Bruce on November 7, 2010 at 2:46pm
No Problem Bryan, glad to help any time.
Comment by Bryan Armstrong on November 7, 2010 at 11:20am
Great post Larry. Now I know where I need to be and some great points in here. Thanks!

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