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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Internet advertising compared to traditional media for selling vehicles

You’ve probably been hearing it for years: auto advertising is making a shift from traditional media toward online media. Every year the J.D. Power Report shows percentages of shoppers using the internet to find their vehicle steadily increasing, and the most common traditional advertising (magazines and newspapers) have decreased. It’s no surprise for me. I mean, as a consumer if I need something the first place I go is online. It’s quick, easy to find what I’m looking for, and it saves me the time I would normally spend driving around all day to get it. There are three main advantages to companies advertising online with their own websites: exposure/reach, cost, and the ability to collect data.

Exposure/Reach: The internet is the best of both worlds. It enables a dealer to reach customers they wouldn’t normally reach in addition to their local customers, something a local magazine can’t do. Obviously a dealer’s bread and butter is their local customers. The purpose of advertising in general is to broaden reach – to make those customers who don’t drive by your lot every day aware that you exist, and that you have vehicles for sale they may need. The internet is not something that should be a standalone marketing tool to only reach long-distance buyers. It’s simply a tool that effectively promotes your dealership to buyers who may not know you exist, and long-distance buyers are just an added benefit. Your own website also gives you exposure to your customers 24/7. Many people who buy cars do their shopping from the comfort of their home when your lot is closed. The internet is like having a salesperson working for you even when you’re not there.

Cost: The cost for advertising on the internet is far cheaper than newspapers or magazines too. Consider newspapers. Let's say you use a newspaper that has a circulation of 300,000. Statistics show that only 7% of readers are looking for used vehicles. That drops your prospects down to only 21,000 right off the bat. Say you pay $150 for one basic black and white text ad. Many times the ads only run for a day, so you have to hope the people looking at the paper that one day are looking for that one car. Having your own website means having all your vehicles out there, running until they sell, multiple photos, and nearly 100% of visitors to your website are looking to purchase a vehicle. To use the old fishing analogy, it's like having many more lines in the water with better bait in an area you know the fish are swimming. Common sense should tell you that it's a better way to advertise, but your own website being cheaper makes it a no-brainer. If you had 30 vehicles and paid $150 a month for your website, it works out to less than 17 cents per vehicle per day compared to the $150 newspaper ad. Is that right? You bet.

Collecting Data: The other major advantage internet advertising has over traditional advertising is trackability. With a reputable website company dealers have a tremendous amount of data at their fingertips. Higher Turnover for example tracks how customers find the dealers website and provides a constantly updated return on investment calculation for the dealer. If a dealer was spending more on magazine ads than on third party internet sites like Autotrader.com but was receiving more sales from the internet sites, as a business owner it would make sense to spend more where it's going to yield a better return. I understand that most dealers are busy and focus on selling the cars, but there are two sides to owning a business: income and expenses. Too often the dealers get tunnel vision and only see the income side. I have been in the online automotive marketing field for several years, and I am amazed at how little dealers do with their data. Aside from streamlining expenses, the data can be used for other things such as marketing or cross-selling. If a customer visits your website and inquires about a car, say a 2001 Porsche, wouldn't it be valuable to you to know they were also looking at a 2003 BMW?

To summarize, the internet is a growing tool for auto dealers. Because it's so new to some people, they don't realize the full potential it provides. It can help you as a dealer to reach more buyers, cut your costs, and gather valuable information about your customers. Sales is a numbers game, and by taking advantage of companies like Higher Turnover that essentially hold your hand through the online process you will be amazed at what a small shift in advertising can accomplish.

Search Engine Optimization - Internal Techniques

To optimize for search engines, there are both internal and external techniques. Internal techniques are what you can do to your website and each individual page to optimize for search. External techniques are what you can do outside of your website to increase your results in search engines.

This entry I am going to focus on the internal techniques. The following list will explain the most important aspects and considerations that you must be aware of for your website to be properly optimized for search engines. There is one other tidbit about search engines, the big three Google, Yahoo and MSN all use different algorithms to calculate the importance of a page and thus the current ranking of the page. Since Google has the #1 market position at the moment, most people focus on what works well for Google.

1. Page Title - Each page must have an accurate, descriptive, and unique page title. This by far is one of the most important factors that search engines consider. The length of the title should not be more than 30-50 characters and must contain the keywords that you are trying to target. For Instance, if you want to attract buyers of used cars in Miami, FL, your title should be something like "Used Cars in Miami, FL - MyBusiness Name 1800-111-1111". This will place your targeted keywords in the earliest part of the title, while keeping your business name and phone number in the title. This will help with each listing on a search engine.

Research Must be done for each page's keywords. You must identify the targeted users of each page and then research the most common keyword phrases that are search for in the search engines. This will give you a list of keywords that you should use in the page title.

2. Keyword Density - After putting the correct keywords in the Page Title, you must concentrate on the placement of the keywords in the body of the webpage. Search Engines will "read" your webpages and count the number of words that are used, and the font used for those words. Usually if use use the H1, H2, or H3 tag in HTML (heading tags, which make the font bigger) it means that those words are important to the page. The frequency of words is also important to understand the importance of a page. The more frequently (but not overused) a word or phrase is used, the more important it must be.

In short, use the research that was used for the Page Title for your keywords, and use them to create the copy for your page. Use the important keywords more frequently and highlight those keywords if it makes sense. There are tools to give your reports about your keyword density of each page. I have a list of excellent SEO tools to help you out on the right hand side of the blog.

3. Site Map - Internal Links - Site Structure. The site structure of your website must include the correct internal links and a site map. The site map will help the search engine find all of the website pages, and will also help increase your internal links. Internal links should have appropriate and targeted anchor text (the text that is a hyperlink). Search Engines use that anchor text to help determine each page's important content. Internal links/Site Maps will help increase your link count to all of the individual pages in your website structure. The Search Engine's view each page as it's own separate entity and not part of a structure. So increasing the number of links to each page (without overdoing it, which SE's can figure out) will increase the importance of each page in your website according to the search engine.

4. Don't Over Optimize - This last item is important so that you are not doing too much work and actually hurting your placement. The search engine companies have realized that people are understanding the SE algorithms and taking advantage of the algorithm while making the actual content of the webpage useless. This has led to the SE companies to update the algorithm to penalize pages for overoptimization. In the end, make sure the copy on the webpage is human readable and makes sense for the user. The content must be useful to the user, and not just a bunch of keywords. Other techniques that people have used, like adding a bunch of keywords in a font color that matches the background color will be penalized as well. The goal was to try and have the keywords read by the search engine crawlers, but not users. A goal directly targeted at increasing the search engine ranking of the page.

These are probably the top 4 items that are most important for internal search engine optimization. I will go over the external techniques in the next post.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Interesting Pay-Per-Call information

I came across this article about pay-per-call through one of my RSS feeds. The article contains valuable information from a company that has been using pay-per-click for over a year now. It provides some good information about what information to add to your pay-per-click ad and some lessons learned.

I think that pay-per-click will become more and more popular among certain industries. Since a lot of businesses still require a phone conversation of some sort, it will be important to use this technique.

It looks like the minimum cost per click is $2 on some sites, it is important to make sure your ad qualifies the person before they call. Once the customer makes the call, it will cost you, no matter how long the call lasts.

Take a look at the article

Here is another article about pay-per-call advertising

Ingenio is one such place to setup your pay-per-call campaign on AOL.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Introduction to Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing

One of the most important aspects of running a website is to optimize your website for the search engines. Most people use search engines to find websites that are relevant to what they are looking for. Aside from the major online auto directories like AutoTrader.com and Cars.com, most new traffic to your website will come through search engines.

In regards to vehicles, people will usually search for cars or dealerships in a local area. This is important because as a business owner running a website, you want your website to show up on the first page of the major search engines when a user is searching for vehicles in a certain region. It is important to understand what the most popular searches are going to be, so that you can optimize your website for those search keywords. This will help your placement in the search engines results, which in turn creates a lot more visitors, which will generate more leads and hopefully more sales.

So what is Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Search Engine Optimizaton (SEO)? SEO is the tasks that are necessary to optimize your website for the target keywords. Search Engines have things called spiders or crawlers which are little programs that visit the whole internet and read what current websites are available online. These spiders follow all of the hyperlinks on a page. That information is stored in the Search Engine database, and is used for all of the searches that are performed. As you can see, the links are very important to search engines. Some of the major search engines, such as Google, count all of the links that are pointing to you (in-bound links) and give you a score based upon those links along with some other algorithm calculations and give you a score. The most popular score is the Google Pagerank which scores a each site from 0-10. 10 being the highest, and 0 the lowest. most websites are in the 1-4 range.

I found this article about Small Business Local online marketing which is a good overview about the power of SEO and local search Market Local Search Online

Over the next couple of posts, I will go over the specific techniques that will help websites increase their page ranking. These techniques will include what needs to be added to your web pages, what you need to do to build your incoming links, and which online directories you should register with. All of these tasks will take a fair amount of time but will pay off in the end as the traffic to your website increases!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Auto Dealer Websites

This blog will examine how auto dealerships can effectively use the web to increase leads and sales. From the basics of starting a website with inventory management, to keeping track of leads, website visitors and SEO (Search Engine Optimization). An auto dealer must have an online presence in today's car buying experience. More than ever consumers are going to the web to do research about the cars that they are interested in, and also visiting potential dealers websites to view cars that are in inventory. This is all done before the auto dealer has had a chance to know about the potential customer.

It is very important to have an easy to use website to allow your customers to research what they are interested in buying. Posting your inventory on the web does not have to be a chore. Batch uploading and other feeds are available to increase the efficiency of keeping your inventory online in real time. Once the inventory is online, it can be sent to other lead generation sources, such as Autotrader.com, cars.com, oldcartrader.com. No more duplicate entry of vehicles onto each site. For Instance, Higherturnover allows you to choose what third party sites you want to send your inventory to, and we will send your real time inventory to each site every night for you.

Once you have a website, and are updating your inventory it doesn't stop there. Your website needs to be included in all of your marketing materials. Both online and offline marketing is important. The more people visit your site, the better it will perform and the better search engine placement you will see. The goal is to have a really high search engine ranking so that your site will be shown on the first page of relevant search results of the big three search engines: Google, Yahoo and MSN. This is like free advertising and marketing. It takes work to get these high rankings, but this is what this blog is all about. To help the automobile dealers compete online.