Archive for December, 2004

Additional Exposure, but at what cost?

Saturday, December 11th, 2004

Over the last decade Internet traffic overall has increased exponentially. Americans from all walks of life have access to the web and utilize it every day for entertainment, information and research. Studies have been published saying that a majority of new and used car buyers turn to the web when making that buying decision.

This online research might be a simple search for the dealer (or private owner) that has that specific Year, Make and Model. Other car shoppers might go to sites like www.KBB.com in order to determine an appropriate price on the car or truck of their choice. Some will turn to manufacturer sites to gain specific information such as what packages are available, what features come standard or are available on specific units. They can turn to sites like www.Edmunds.com to obtain fuel mileage, gain valuable information on known recalls and even get information on obvious defects or common mechanical failures.

For that reason a majority of VIADA members have already contracted my company or one like it to tap into that large customer audience. Your website should not only give that car buying audience a complete listing of your inventory but also give them all the information they need in order to do business with you. They should be able to get things like your business hours, contact information, and a map and directions to your dealership. They should also get information on your credit policies and maybe even a secure credit application to fill out and submit once they get excited about one of your units in stock. Every dealership should have a site that is an extension of their sales approach for those buyers that find them on the web.

As many of you have learned already, though, it is not as simple as building a website and walking away from it. A lot of work goes into keeping the site’s content fresh, the Inventory up-to-date and staying on top of today’s new technology. Once the website is constructed and published on the web it is necessary to find ways of getting traffic to that site. The best site in the world is useless without shoppers visiting it.

One very effective and inexpensive way of getting traffic to your site is by adding the site address to your dealership’s road side sign, building, window sticker, business cards and any other forms of advertising you utilize. But in order to reach a larger customer base it is imperative you have your site registered with Search Engines. Search Engines are websites that list other websites by categories and keywords. For instance, if you go to www.Google.com and type in the search ‘used car dealer’ that site would return a list of 5,080,000 other sites that pertain to used car dealers. If you or your Webmaster has not registered your site with Google, chances are very strong that your site will not be among those five million places for a potential customer to visit.

Over time, there have been other ways of promoting your website online. For instance, companies like Trader Online, Dealer Specialties, Ebay and others have sprung up as a way of attracting car buying Internet surfers to their sites in hopes of finding the car or truck of their choice. These companies solicit dealers to list their inventory on their site as a way of getting more traffic to the dealers’ websites. Many of us have had success with this type of partnership because it allows us to reach an even larger universe without having to put out all the advertising dollars that these large companies invest in order to attract the car buying public.

This additional exposure is usually focused on your inventory. The more places your inventory is found, the more traffic your site experiences. This additional exposure will often times come at a substantial expense. It may cost an independent dealer anywhere between $100 and $1,000 a month in additional Internet advertising dollars to have their inventory listed on their own site as well as other vehicle listing sites. At these rates it is important for dealers to know what they are paying for and to find ways to verify they are getting it.

The added exposure to your inventory is only one reason for enlisting the services of companies like Dealer Specialties. Some dealers turn to companies like this one because they do not have the know-how or time to manage their online inventory. Buying and selling cars is already a full time job! Once the units are purchased, transported, detailed, inspected and otherwise prepared for sale, some dealerships simply do not have the time or manpower needed to take a photo or photos of each new unit, upload them to the web, and list the units with complete descriptions. As the units are sold it is then necessary to take the time to delete them from the web. Some F&I software packages have simplified some of this by exporting your Inventory to the web for you. Again, this often entails additional expense from your F&I software provider.

One dealer in Richmond has found a very effective Window Sticker program that allows them to simply enter the VIN number of each new unit. The program has a VIN decoder that automatically lists all the features and other valuable information for each car or truck in stock. It allows the dealer to enter costs, color and photo(s) and then saves them in a database that can be uploaded to the Internet. The handy thing about this program is that it then produces a custom color Window Sticker detailing all this information for each car as well as an FTC Buyer’s Guide. This program is free and the only thing the dealer pays for are the Maroney labels. All program updates (usually every six months) are also free. Again, for additional money, this program will also export your inventory not only to your site but to as many as five other inventory listing sites thereby lending additional exposure to your inventory as well as your web site.

These other sites are effective because they deliver qualified leads. When surfing the web you can often find yourself a little off target when entering a site. These inventory listing sites help keep car buyers on target and subsequently deliver them to car dealers. The visitors they provide are definitely interested in what you are selling. Because of the substantial expense these site listings come with it is necessary for dealers to judge the effectiveness of these types of alliances. No dealer wants to put out hundreds or even thousands of dollars in advertising expenses and only experience mediocre results. In order to judge the effectiveness each site owner should regularly review server logs and traffic counters to determine how much traffic their site gets from these inventory listing sites. Another way to judge effectiveness is to ask your clients. Ask them, “How did you find us.” If they tell you they found you on the web, do not stop there. Ask them how they found you on the web. Again, they could have found your URL on your road sign or business card. They could have searched for a car dealer in your city or town at a search engine like Google or Yahoo. They could have visited sites like ShopAutosOnline.net or VirginiaCarSearch.com and first found the car or truck of their choice only to find out it was sitting on your lot. These sites then lead them to your site. These types of questions will tell you how the traffic is getting to you and also how you can best spend your advertising dollar.

Any dealer that has a website will experience additional sales. Each dealer can increase the effectiveness of his or her site by increasing traffic to the site. While enlisting the services of inventory listing sites might come at additional expense, it will relieve the dealer of some work and provide additional exposure to their inventory. Not all dealers experience the same results but with a little research it is possible for each of you to find what works best for you.