How to Ensure ROI with Internet Advertising

 From Digital Dealer Feb. 12, 2008
by : John Federman

According to the National Automobile Dealers Association, in just 10 years, Internet advertising for automobile companies has gone from a fraction of a percent to 11.5 percent of total advertising spend. That’s nearly $680 million a year spent on online advertising.

Why the increasing emphasis on online advertising?  Because it engages prospective buyers at the moment they’re most likely to be interested…just after conducting research online about a particular vehicle.  Today, more than 80 percent of shoppers turn to the web first when researching automotive purchases, according to another study by Capgemini.  Not surprisingly, the ad dollars are following the consumers.  However, while you may already be investing in online advertising, it is imperative that you take a step back and set goals for your online campaigns, and implement measurement techniques that will help you assess the success of your online spending.

When considering your options, it is imperative that your dealership considers exactly how online customers will interact with your brand. 

Organizations that spend in search engine advertising will pay a premium for popular terms such as “Ford” or “sedan.”  With web site tracking and analytics tools, it’s easy to see which keywords are generating the most traffic for your site.  However, as effective as search marketing may be in delivering eyeballs, the reality is that most car purchases happen offline. For that reason, it’s imperative to track how your advertising is performing across channels. 

Think beyond the click
Studies show that live customer service remains the best way to close online sales leads for complex purchases, such as automobiles.  The Capgemini study report referenced earlier also found that:

• 34 percent of consumers said they expect to receive a response to a web inquiry within four hours.

• Half of the respondents say they would look for a new dealer if they don’t get their response fast enough.

• 25 percent say they would look for a new manufacturer or both a new dealer and a new manufacturer.

This means the goal of most dealer advertising initiatives should be to get customers on the phone and into the dealership as soon as possible.  This means dealers must have the ability to track which ads are delivering phone calls and not just clicks to their web site.

Call tracking and click-to-call technology gives customers browsing online auto listings the option to connect with local dealerships via telephone, and gives dealers the ability to track which ads and keywords are generating phone calls. 

Click-to-call allows online buyers to transition seamlessly into immediate telephone or PC-based voice contact with businesses from any online medium, including web sites, e-mails or directory listings.  Call tracking technology allows dealers to assign unique local or toll-free telephone numbers to individual ads to track inbound phone response to online and offline campaigns, directory listings and advertisements, and provides a 360-view of call detail that offers more data on callers that can be used to supplement additional marketing efforts.

These two technologies also form the backbone of pay-per-call advertising where advertisers are charged by publishers on a per-call basis, rather than a per-click basis like other online advertising models.

What most advertisers find is that callers typically convert at a much higher rate, and have a much shorter sales cycle compared to standard web site contacts.

Drive offline leads
Research shows that consumers typically begin researching a vehicle purchase online and can take anywhere from 30 to 45 days to make their decision, which is why it’s critical to capture that last mile from initial contact to conversion.

One emerging trend is the use of save and send features on dealer listings.  These services allow consumers to save or send information about an automobile in the electronic format of their choice – on the desktop, the web or mobile device – predisposing to return to that listing.

Save and send tools extend the shelf life of automobile listings by encouraging consumers to save data from their preferred dealers.  Visitors can return to the information at their leisure and can even share attractive offers with friends and family members who may be looking to purchase an automobile.  Online browsers can use a variety of information delivery methods including SMS, Skype, e-mail or fax leading you to potentially net two reservations using just one listing and transferable data.  Dealers can even track online leads that come into the dealership if consumers decide to print out their stored listing, or if they’ve stored it to their mobile device. 

The majority of consumers that conduct local searches transact offline, and most car buyers buy from dealers in their immediate area.  Therefore, the ability to convert local online traffic to a phone call or a visit to a dealership is vital as consumers are shopping on the Internet. With technology, tracking phone calls can measure the quality of a lead and making sure that advertisers are able to convert online traffic into valuable leads.

Dealers are leveraging call tracking and monitoring programs to improve performance across channels and help close in on that “last mile” to conversion by extending the utility of online ads through services like click-to-call and save and send.  More importantly, these services provide granular ROI data that helps prove performance to advertisers.

The online influence of offline automobile purchase is indisputable.  Consumers have already made the transition and now rely on the Internet as their primary research vehicle for these kinds of purchase.  As online automotive buyers become more sophisticated and begin to use a variety of online sources to research their purchases, dealers must be able to quantify every advertising channel to guarantee they don’t lose potential leads.

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