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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Sometimes I Think the Auto Industry is Corrupt

Yup, the title of this post is intentionally sarcastic in nature. The fact is, a high percentage of car shoppers believe the auto industry is overloaded with dishonest dealers, sketchy salesmen, and an almost endless supply of people/companies who want nothing more than to see the shopper separated from their hard-earned money and to sign on the dotted line for delivery. A 2012 Gallup poll listed car salesmen at the bottom of their list of perceived trustworthiness, right below members of Congress. Whether you agree with that assessment or not is irrelevant; it's not what this post is about. This is about the same (or maybe worse) level of corruption within the industry from a vendor perspective.

First some background. For every Rolls Royce Phantom there are many more Chevy Cavaliers, yet people buy more Cavaliers than Phantoms. That makes sense based on affordability. Why then would someone who can afford a Rolls Royce go with the Chevy? This happens all the time on the vendor side. There is no shortage of companies in the auto industry that push crappy products, due in large part to the fact that there's no shortage of dealers who buy those crappy products. What about when a dealer or salesperson is under the false impression that their vendor is legitimate though? The short answer is that it doesn't matter. Whatever the impression, there are some bad companies out there, many of which haven't been called out by their competitors. I'm not about to call anyone out by name, but I am going to expose a few practices which dealers may not know about.

Let's start with one of the dealership rating/review sites. My last vehicle purchase which was not from a client did not go very well. I fought for 3 full months to get the dealer to honor items which were agreed upon in writing at the time of delivery. I visited the service dept. at least 5 times during those 3 months too. All in all, not a good experience, which is why I wanted to let others know about my personal experience. I submitted a review to a well-known dealer rating website and to my surprise, it was removed by an administrator the same day with no explanation why. Maybe it wasn't "moderator bias" or the fact that the dealer was a paying client of the rating site, but it sure seemed like it. My review was completely objective and truthful, but the site moderator apparently did not want my negative review to hurt the dealer's already poor reputation.

There is another company who publishes an annual report of dealer website providers. We (Higher Turnover Websites) have received decent reviews in this publication on a consistent basis, so clearly that's not my issue. My issue, which I brought to the publisher's attention last year, is that their publication which is presented as an objective review, is not always apples to apples in their comparisons. They will do a "quick review" of a company's products/services, but if a company wants to pay them a fee (if I recall it's a few thousand dollars), they can be more fully reviewed. If their objective is to provide a good source for unbiased comparisons of companies, they should not be taking money from a small portion of those companies they are reviewing. To me that's not far off from presidential campaiging...ever been to one of those $25k per plate dinners? Me either. I don't know that I can really categorize this company as being "corrupt", but unbiased as they say they are? I don't think so.

The third and final gripe I have is with another industry website/blog. I have respect for the creator of the site, but I think it has evolved over the years to become something that I'm not happy with. Occasionally I get inspired to comment on a post when I feel I can contribute something positive to the community. The past 3 times I've left comments, they were deleted by the moderator. These weren't comments that were hurtful, no foul language, or anything else of the sort. They were literally just me weighing in to discussions that I found relevant and that I could offer some helpful advice to other readers. I have to wonder, since the site owner knows I'm a vendor, and they accept sponsorship money from other vendors, is this a possible reason my comments are being removed? Who knows if that's the case, but I do know this: it really seems like more sites/companies/etc. out there are filtering things (i.e. "media bias") so you only see or hear what they want you to see or hear.

It's discouraging, but I guess we live in a different world where some things are crammed down your throat until you believe them and other things are intentionally hidden from the masses.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Craigslist Charging for Auto Dealer Ads

Well we knew it was coming at some point, and it seems like today is the day. Craigslist will begin charging for ads in the "Cars and Trucks - By Dealer" section of their site on December 3rd. As you can see in the screenshot below, a new message is appearing on Craigslist when posting ads as a dealer: "$5 fee per ad in US cities starting 12/3 - questions? ctd@craigslist.org"

$5 fee per ad in US cities starting 12/3 - questions? ctd@craigslist.org

Craigslist has charged listing fees for quite some time in certain markets and certain categories within those markets. This new policy is sure to upset a lot of car dealers because it's always been free for vehicle ads, but the reality is that you can't complain about a free site, and like any other site, there are other advertising options available so if a dealer doesn't like it, they can advertise elsewhere.

I'm sure many dealers will begin posting their ads in the "By Owner" section instead of the "By Dealer" section, and I'm sure that will ultimately get a lot of dealer accounts blacklisted. At the very least it will cause irritable anti-dealership car shoppers to flag any ads that seem like dealer ads.

To play devil's advocate, the dealer ads on Craigslist have become quite numerous. Not just because so many dealers are listing cars on the site, but also because so many dealers violate the Terms of Use and overpost. At times I've seen hundreds of cars posted the same day for one dealer, and as a consumer it does get annoying...almost to the point of pop-up ad annoying that used to be the norm in the early days of the internet. Speaking as a consumer, we get it...your dealership has a lot of cars that you want us to see, but don't force them down our throats by posting 200 ads 3 times a day. Customers search the ads for a specific make/model or price range, so having your ad come up so many times does nothing more than push someone like me away from your dealership.

I get that (especially since the site is/was free) you want as much exposure as possible for your vehicles, but think like a consumer when you're marketing, not as a dealer. Personally I think Craigslist is shooting themselves in the foot with this move, but time will tell.

If you're looking for an alternative, be sure to check out Backpage.com which is a similar format, brings high traffic, and is free to use/advertise.

There are very few answers at this point, so in the meantime,you can check out the list of FAQ's at http://www.craigslist.org/about/ctd

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Password Security, Think You're Safe?

No way anyone will ever guess my password. I mean, how would some hacker on the other side of the world know the name of my dog? Shoot, they're making me use numbers in my password too? Fine, I'll just add a "123" at the end. And there you have it..."Lucky123" is born.

Unfortunately this is how a lot of people think when it comes to creating a password. I read an article this morning about the most popular PIN numbers, and one statistic really surprised me: "DataGenetics says thieves can correctly guess more than 25 percent of PIN codes within 20 tries." This is because most people just don't want to be bothered with security, or have to remember more secure passwords/PINs. The effects of having this mindset can sometimes be catastrophic. I'll bet that when it comes to PINs for your bank card, more than half of our readers have a PIN that is either (a) their birthday, (b) a sequence such as "4567", or (c) some other meaningful numbers like their address or last 4 digits of their phone number.

Getting back to the password issue, we had one client earlier this year, let's call him "Bill", who had an email account compromised. Their password? Apparently they had simply set it to their last name. For those of you who weren't aware, someone hacking into email accounts isn't sitting at a computer with a large cup of coffee and continuously typing in new passwords. It's much easier than you think to use a "dictionary attack" which (through a program) guesses millions of passwords one after another. Use a simple password, and the likelihood is good that your account will eventually get hacked. In Bill's case, the hacker gained access to their email account and began sending spam messages out to thousands of addresses. Once we identified the compromised account, we changed the password to something more secure and informed the client of what had happened. We told Bill his new password and thought he understood the reasoning, but within a few weeks, Bill didn't want to keep remembering the new password so he changed it back to his last name.

I'm sure you can guess what happened next. The account was compromised again, and we changed the password again to a new randomly generated series of letters/numbers/characters. We also made sure our server required a higher level of security when changing passwords to prevent similar situations. Bill called us about two weeks ago requesting we change his password back to his last name, which of course in the best interest of our client we were unable to do.

There are several measures we can have in place to prevent some of the hacking attempts...firewall rules which block all activity from an IP after a certain number of failed logins, required security level for passwords, etc. These things are helpful, but at the end of the day, nothing is going to prevent unauthorized access to one of your accounts like a strong, secure password. Try to remember this next time you find yourself typing "Lucky123" when signing up for something online.

Monday, April 08, 2013

SEO Scare Tactics - Don't Fall For Them!

About once a week we'll get a call or email from a client who has been solicited by some "company" to use their dealership SEO services. Sometimes the solicitations even come from our less-than-ethical competitors. Most of the time they come in the form of spam email messages, but for some reason, the dealers don't realize it's spam. A typical message will go something like this:
Hello website owner, your website is terrible. You're not #1 on Google for all keywords. Pay us money and we'll guarantee #1 placement.
To someone like me or any other ethical SEO expert these emails are laughable. Jade Sholty wrote a good summary here which I recommend reading. These "companies" (many aren't even legitimate companies) send these emails out to every website contact they can find. This is one of the reasons we recommend registering client domain names with our own contact info, so there is a lower chance that our clients will get sucked into one of these scams. The truth though, is that the wording seems quite scary to the untrained reader. Someone who knows very little about SEO or website structure is only going to see "my website needs to be improved right now". There are a handful of reputable SEO companies out there, but like anything else, a good rule of thumb is that if you're going to buy a product/service from someone, either you call/email them to buy it, or you do some due diligence before pulling the trigger on someone who is soliciting you.

Like Jade mentioned in her own article, I too have occasionally called these companies to see how they present themselves over the phone. I have yet to speak with anyone who knows much about legitimate SEO, yet they continue to (successfully) acquire clients on occasion. PT Barnum had it right, but I'm still trying to do my part and convert some of those suckers into educated dealers who are able to hang on to their money in the face of spammer snake oil salesmen.

Another recommended article is here, and talks about questions to ask your SEO provider. Most of the "bad companies" can't even answer half of the questions. Can your provider?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Some Craigslist Autoposters No Longer Working for Many Auto Dealers

If you've been using an auto-poster to list your vehicles on Craigslist, you're not the only one. Many dealers use such tools, because the amount of time required to post so many vehicles manually (let alone renew the ads regularly) is just not feasible. Craigslist doesn't care, because they really want the classified site to be used by individuals, not businesses. The reason why many auto-posters will soon no longer work is that Craigslist is no longer supporting the HTML tag in its listings. This is presumably to combat the rising use of auto-posters, something that is against the Craigslist Terms of Use.

As of today, when posting a vehicle to Craigslist users are shown a message that says the following:
PLEASE NOTE: Externally-hosted images (IMG tag) will soon be disallowed in for-sale ads. Please use CL image upload.

Here's a screenshot of the actual message:
PLEASE NOTE: Externally-hosted images (IMG tag) will soon be disallowed in for-sale ads. Please use CL image upload.
In case you're not clear on what the img tag is, it's a way to have an image (e.g. an ad for your vehicle) displayed on the Craigslist site without actually uploading the image to Craigslist. Using the img tag enables you to specify a source on your own server, or if using a 3rd party autoposter, a source on their server for the image displayed. It was only a matter of time before this happened, because Craigslist had absolutely no control over what images were being displayed, and some sellers (including car dealers) were abusing the site by flooding it with post after post of their own inventory, even duplicating the same vehicle several times per day. If the classified listings have 100,000 ads for used cars in one city and 20,000 of those are duplicates, it decreases the usability of the site for car shoppers, kind of like having to sift through your inbox when it's full of spam.

So what does this mean for dealers who want to continue using an auto-poster? Well the days of posting image-based ads are pretty much over. Dealers can (and will) complain for as long as they wish. The Terms of Use on Craigslist state clearly that (paraphrasing here) if you don't like the way they run the site or the rules they have in place, your only option is to stop using the site. I personally think a lot of dealers will stop using the site because they don't want to spend the time, which will only help those dealers who choose to continue using the site. In terms of supply and demand, it will mean less supply (ads) with the same amount of demand (shoppers). Dealers who continue to use either an auto-poster, manual posting tool, or posting service like Higher Turnover offers will thrive and continue to see a significant return on investment from one of the most visited classified sites in the world.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Choosing a Dealer Website Provider

A simple email I received prompted me to write this post today. The email was from a "website development and marketing company" based in the Western U.S. The message was short and sweet: they saw I just registered a domain name and wanted to know if I needed help with programming, design, or marketing. We get emails like this all the time. Some are well-written, some are not, but the point of this post is the bigger picture.

Someone who didn't know any better and who had a real need for website design or internet marketing at the moment they received the email might have hired this company. Every decision-maker has the right to hire whomever they wish, but chances are you don't have to think too hard to come up with a horror story about a friend, relative, or even yourself who made a bad decision at some point and had to live with it (i.e. money or time wasted). For some reason it seems that car dealers are especially susceptible to "being sold" on a vendor's products or services, without doing any due diligence at all.

To me, this email I received had several red flags:
  1. It ended up in my spam folder - If they can't even get their own emails successfully delivered to my inbox, why would I hire them to do email marketing for me?
  2. There were grammatical errors - Again, if they can't write a 3-sentence email without grammar and spelling errors, how would that reflect on my business if they were representing us?
  3. It was addressed to a generic name - If they want to impress me with their marketing skills, they probably shouldn't be referring to me as "Mr. Admin"
These sort of emails are a regular occurrence. I just happened to look this one over as I was emptying my spam folder and decided to comment. We see it all the time...dealers who choose a website provider because the salesperson "sold" them. These are the same dealers that come to us 6 months later, complaining that they wasted thousands of dollars on empty promises. If you're a dealer reading this, don't say you haven't been warned!

Friday, January 04, 2013

How Many Sales Do You Lose on Fridays?

I'm guilty of it from time to time, and I'd bet money that you are too...mentally "checking out" on Friday afternoons. Sure, it would be great to be at happy hour, or with your family, or whatever it is you look forward to when starting your weekend instead of finishing up those last couple of hours at work, but staying focused at the end of the week can make a difference in your paycheck.

I've seen it a million times...a salesperson is an hour or two from wrapping up their day and watching the seconds tick by on the clock. What they're not seeing, or sometimes even downright ignoring, are customers. Not just customers that show up on the lot, but customers in your CRM system, Rolodex, or whatever it is that you keep customer info stored in. If you're sitting at a desk for your last hour at the dealership and checking out Facebook, reading news articles, or doing other "non-work" activities to just get the day finished, you're shooting yourself in the foot. How many calls to past customers could you make in an hour? All you need is one good call every Friday and you're potentially talking another 50+ units sold throughout the course of the year. Could you use that extra commission?

Sure, salespeople can survive by cherry picking those ups who fall into their lap, but you can EXCEL by being proactive and "running through the finish line", not just trying to get to it. Happy Friday, and happy selling!