Internet Marketing Requires Embracing Change

Digital Dealer Magazine September 2007 by : Bill Mulcahy

In the new world of Internet marketing, one of the most challenging aspects for many dealers to embrace is the huge paradigm shift from traditional advertising campaigns to the ever-changing requirements of effectively selling cars on the web.

When developing ads for radio, television and newspapers, the number of “buys” was often set, with only the content of the ad changing on a weekly basis depending on what specials the dealer was running.

Today, Internet marketers at dealerships need to be aware of a constantly evolving Internet where a program that works one day may not be achieving the same results two months later. Unlike traditional media outlets, new web sites are launched every day, and a site that’s attracting car buyers one month may be an online ghost town three months later. Marketers must keep a close pulse on the industry in order to understand the online market and the latest technologies available.

In short, Internet marketing is a full-time occupation. For many dealers, it’s difficult to justify allocating resources to hiring one individual to focus solely on marketing. Often, an Internet salesperson or other unsuspecting employee will get burdened with—or perhaps even volunteer for—the tasks related to a dealer’s web presence; blithely unaware that once implemented, the Internet marketing program will mushroom into an endless, demanding maw of responsibility.

Take a look at the following elements necessary for an effective Internet marketing program, and imagine it as a job description.

Dealership web site: Work with vendor to develop and implement lead generating specials such as coupons and vehicle specials to be updated on a monthly basis. Keep welcome message on home page fresh and appealing. Monitor web traffic including bounce rate, and tweak appropriate web pages accordingly to increase click-throughs. Since there is no one magic formula that works for every dealer and regional differences require different marketing approaches, and Internet and market trends are constantly evolving, this will be an ongoing task. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Analyze marketing efforts of major competitors with the goal of finding out what works, what doesn’t, and why.

Vehicle inventory: Update on a daily basis to include specs and photos. Ensure that what appears on the web site matches what is in the DMS. Work with a full service or do-it-yourself inventory company to make sure all inventory is updated and distributed to inventory web site partners. Most importantly, keep your pricing up-to-date, accurate and competitive.

Search engine marketing: Monitor SEM reports and work with vendor to develop and update search terms that result in effective search engine optimization. Ensure SEM vendor is keeping your site optimized for search engines on a regular basis. Monitor performance of your site on search engines and tweak SEM marketing program accordingly. Work with vendor to develop paid search programs based on specials, holidays, and inventory changes at the dealership. The more competitive your target market or a time of year is for your dealership, the more you might want to consider an aggressive pay-per-click campaign.

Classified automotive web sites: Classified sites are highly advertised and attract many buyers. Your dealership needs a web service that distributes your inventory seamlessly and accurately. The idea is to get your inventory in front of as many qualified buyers as possible. Remember, on the Internet, buyers are searching for a specific vehicle and you need to make it available to them.

Constant change: If there was a proven scientific formula to selling cars on the Internet, every dealership would be using it. Even if you are selling cars effectively on the Internet today, is it important to be comfortable with the idea that it will be necessary to adapt tomorrow. The most successful dealers on the web constantly adapt their strategy to what works, so no single change will be your last.

If you want consistent results and an Internet department that will enjoy long-term growth, you must commit to an ongoing process and a plan that embraces technology changes and stay ahead of the competition. If your dealership is like most, it is constantly being solicited by vendors offering a “magic pill” that will revolutionize the industry. They might even tell you some nonsense like nine out of 10 of “their” dealers sell every car on the lot every month. Don’t be fooled by false promises of quick effortless results. Selling cars on the web is an ongoing process, but will ultimately come down to the dealership’s relationship to a prospective buyer. Take the television commercials that claim to help people lose 35 pounds in three hours as an example. If you want to lose weight you have to commit to a diet and exercise plan. If you want to sell cars on the web you have to commit to a dynamic sales strategy that creates the best possible online experience for buyers.

The Internet as a medium provides incredible opportunities for dealers who dedicate the necessary resources to take advantage of it. Ever-shifting and never static, the Internet requires a similar marketing mentality. Keeping up with what’s current is challenging enough, let alone trying to stay one step ahead of competitors. But for dealers who embrace this paradigm shift, the rewards will be the attention and dollars reaped from today’s online car shoppers.

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