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Stop Focusing on Search and Start Focusing on Conversion!

Most Internet marketing experts will agree that driving traffic to your website results in the most valuable leads you can get – if you can convert visitors into leads.

Just like the old adage, “volume is vanity, gross is sanity,” your website traffic is only worthwhile if you’re effectively converting it into sales opportunities.


According to an advertising efficacy study by Dataium, an average of 55 percent of dealerships’ online advertising budgets are devoted to paid search engine marketing, but just six percent of dealership website traffic is referred by paid search keywords, and less than one percent of this traffic resulted in email form leads submitted on dealership websites. While effective SEO/SEM campaigns are necessary up to a certain point, eventually the law of diminishing returns kicks in. How much more are you willing to spend for a search term that attracts 100 more unique visitors when only one or two of those visitors will convert into leads?


Compounding the challenge of effective SEM campaigns is the cost. Many website vendors and Internet marketing gurus push dealers to pay more for “their” search terms because other parties-- competitors, independent lead providers, auto shopping websites-- are all buying up the search terms and bidding up prices. To some extent, this is true: it's open competition, and automotive retail isn't the only industry subject to it. Companies in every industry must aggressively compete to attract online customers with increasingly sophisticated SEM campaigns.


Since search is now integrated into the consumer’s everyday experience, it’s also important to pay attention to changing consumer behavior and modify your campaigns accordingly. According to a study by Slingshot SEO, more than 80% of search terms today use five or six keywords. Users are becoming more sophisticated with their search terms and demanding results that deliver exactly what they're looking for. If you are a Toyota dealer in Chicago and you think you can attain a page one search engine ranking simply by paying a lot for the terms "Toyota" and "Chicago," or your website content is the same as it’s been since you optimized it for search 5 years ago, you will be disappointed.


As the competition, sophistication, and challenges increase, your ability to convert precious, valuable search-generated traffic must improve. The average conversion rate for dealership websites is estimated to be between two and four percent. Some dealers claim conversion rates more than double this percentage. What if you could double the number of leads you receive from your dealership website, without spending a penny more on SEO/SEM campaigns? Increasing conversion is the key to achieving this goal.


To convert more visitors, try this three-pronged approach:


  1. Content. Keep the content on your website engaging, up-to-date, educational, and include "calls to action" on every page. Also be sure that your content supports your brand consistently. If you're a family-owned business heavily involved in your community, ensure that your website content reflects and promotes this. 
  2. Conversion Tools. An increasing number of tools are available that are designed to engage visitors and keep them on your website. Chat applications are one of the most successful conversion tools; so are payment marketing tools like trade-in calculators and shop-by-payment tools like Payment Pro. Incentives and coupons have all been shown to increase conversion rates. 
  3. Marketing. Conversion tools will convert, but only to the extent that your website visitors know about them and use them. Don't expect them to just stumble across the latest tool or gadget on your site and start using it, unless they know what to expect. For instance, if you have a payment marketing tool, create a marketing campaign to educate your customers about their credit score and to let them know they can get accurate payment quotes without affecting their credit score. A full-blown marketing campaign might include the following elements: e-mail, a dedicated area on your website landing page featuring the benefits of shopping by payment, a blog, a video of one of your salespeople explaining the benefits, geo-targeted banner ads, and more.


If you have found that funneling more of your budget into SEO/SEM campaigns isn't getting you a proportional increase in website visitors, try focusing on increasing your conversion rate. Customers will stay on your site if they find what they are looking for, so figure out what that is and provide it to them to increase your website lead count and quality.

Views: 466

Tags: AutoUSA, Internet, SEM, SEO, auto, car, conversion, leads, marketing, new, More…search, used, website


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Comment by Alexander Lau on June 11, 2014 at 12:23pm

This is exactly what every application and website needs to have done @ User-centric, expert analysis of your interface and/or information architecture that identifies what is useful and usable, what is not, and provides recommendations for better business results.

Comment by Ken Lees on October 17, 2013 at 4:46am

Josh, and all --  good points - and along the same lines, conversion of EXISTING traffic is not only a common challenge for many, but executed right can be a strategic & competitive advantage many.  A great example (and there are many) is a Northern Virginia Hyundai dealer who utilizes a SUITE of 8 Smart Conversion Tools (INSTANT price quote, INSTANT Lease Quote, INSTANT Incentives, etc....) that is generating an average of 2%+ more leads/mo. from existing website traffic!  Happy to share details of how the Conversion Driver tools strategically plugged into dealer sites like can show similar results for any dealer, any make, using any website provider...

Comment by Alexander Lau on October 14, 2013 at 12:19pm

" and Cobalt are the worst at doing this"

YEP! I was just pointing out the study, not supporting their wares. Was forced to use them at a super dealer (previous position) and it was terrible.

Comment by Britt Hoffmann on October 14, 2013 at 12:18pm

This is good and bad. While there is truth tho providers asking dealers to pay more for terms, the dirty secret is that most providers simply do not follow Google fundamentals and create cookie-cutter ads for multiple dealers within the same market. This creates a victory auction which is exactly what Google is designed NOT to be. and Cobalt are the worst at doing this. Relevant ads that create a good user experience and a retargeting campaign attached to PPC can should bring a 7:1 ROI and grab, at minimum, 70% of impression share with in your geo and key words at a 5% CTR. The reason why search under-performs as a whole, is simply due to lack of fundamentals and management. The right PPC program can gain a large proportional increase in visitors who are quality shoppers that lead to incremental conversions. It just has to be done right. And, yes, your website is your best friend! Get that right with content that improve relevancy and it will automatically improve search results. Check out

Comment by Alexander Lau on October 14, 2013 at 11:10am

Good article, I've been staying this for some time, in these waters. Figure out which keywords bring the most search traffic (globally / nationally and locally) and optimize your site (on and off, socially, etc.) for those keywords. Measure their conversion success through time.

With that being said, it's all about your VDP Numbers. Not to give Cobalt any more credit than they deserve, but here is a good article with real numbers @ 9 Million Reasons Why VDP Views Are The Metric That Matters.

Unsure what you meant exactly Tom, but forget spending money on PPC / SEM. Make sure you are organically converting. Don't waste your money, invest it in search content marketing. I suppose you could still drive visitors to a VDPs, but still, go after organic.

Comment by Josh Vajda on October 14, 2013 at 10:39am

Tom - the linked Dataium study referenced three major categories in Digital Advertising: Paid SEM, Automotive Marketplaces, and Miscellaneous Digital. While I was not part of the study, I'd assume that AT fell into the Automotive Marketplace category.
David - #truth

Comment by David Farmer on October 14, 2013 at 10:29am


Comment by Big Tom LaPointe on October 11, 2013 at 12:21pm

I love your tips, but strongly question

 an average of 55 percent of dealerships' online advertising budgets are devoted to paid search engine marketing

It is certainly a chunk, but does this include the website and 3rd party lead sources like

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