I often get asked, “Who should I advertise with on the Internet?” Obviously, the place to start is with your own website. A www.YourDomain.com will give you a base on the Internet to direct your clients towards, a place to retrieve credit applications and purchase inquires and all the room you need to state all the positives about you an your business. Once all that is accomplished, though, it is only natural for us to seek out other opportunites.
The Internet is vast and provides too many advertising opportunites to count. I want to narrow the focus down to only third party link providers. These are sites we often have to pay to advertise with and in exchange send car buyers either to your website or directly to your dealership. These advertisers can be split into three groups, small, medium and large. In order to know which one is best for you it helps to know how each one is similar to and different from the others.
LARGE: In this category we have two worth mentioning: Cars.com and Trader Online. Trader is considered the pioneer of Internet advertising for car dealers but Cars.com has done a lot of catching up in recent years. The thing these two have in common is that they both reach out to a national audience. They both utilize other advertising media to attract car buyers to their sites. Both also attract search engine traffic through Pay Per Click (PPC) campaigns. Cars.com has the backing and support from The Washington Post and a group of other large newspaper companies. Both companies spend a lot of money advertising on network TV. Trader benefits from sponsor partnerships with many sports groups like the NBA. If you are advertising with one of these companies it is like having an advertising campaign that includes Internet, TV and newspaper exposure all in one package.
Just because they are both similar, though, does not mean you should choose one or the other. They both are unique in web experience from one another and for this reason, each site may fit one dealer better than another. The biggest difference between the two is cost. We have clients that can remember less than ten years ago advertising on Trader for less than $200 a month. Today, it several times that amount. Trader has priced themselves out of some independent car dealer budgets. Essentially, the more you pay the more you get. That is fine except for the fact new car dealers always seem to be willing to pay more and therefore get the most. Cars.com, on the other hand, does not have a system in place that allows one to pay more to get top placement or additional exposure. They have an even field pricing system fair to both new and used car dealers. At a recent seminar I even heard Cars.com has frozen prices for 2006 at prior year levels.
MEDIUM: We have all been watching TV and seen advertisements for companies like Vehix.com, Autobytel.com and others. These sites work on the same premise as the others already mentioned. They advertise for car buyers to come to their site and in turn pass those car buyers on to car dealers advertising with them. They are smaller only because they were not first, in most cases. Still, they should not be overlooked. Not all car buyers shop alike. We have dealers from Louisiana to Ohio advertising with these and other similar websites because they see leads come from them and not from the Goliath sites in the previous section. Often, they are less expensive so provide a way for dealers to increase exposure without breaking the advertising budget. All sites advertising vehicle listings will provide you with statistics on how well your listings do on their site. This gives you a yardstick by which to compare the effectiveness of various advertisers.
SMALL: This section is often the most over looked. In this category I would include sites like www.VAUsedCarDealers.com, www.ShopAutosOnline.com, www.CUDL.com and even include a larger company like Pilot Online’s DRIVE website utilized by many Tidewater area dealers. I put it in this category because the thing all these sites have in common is a focus on the local geographic region. You see, most car dealers in Virginia could care less how many people in Utah see their listings. 99 times out of a 100 that car shopper is not going to travel all that way for used automobile. It is human nature for people to want to do business in their backyard. It keeps tax revenue in their region and it gives them an easier means of following up in the event of mechanical failure. Sites like these attract car buyers only in their immediate area. Since this is the most likely client to do business with you, why not focus on them? JTZ Enterprise provides counters to all our website clients and they not only tell you how much traffic comes from each of the search engines but also tell you what keywords were used to find you. In more than a third of the cases, a geographic area is mentioned. A car buyer might go to Google, for instance, and search for a car dealer. The first search result leads them to a car dealer in New Mexico, the next to a dealer in Maine. It does not take too many of these clicks before that surfer goes back one page and refines the search to “used car dealer in Virginia”. Now instead of having millions of sites to click on for dealers all around the world they have narrowed it down to thousands all around the Commonwealth. The third party advertisers in this section focus on the car buyers in their immediate surroundings. I have seen car dealers sell more by focusing on a specific market such as vans or work trucks and the same is applied in this section. The advertisers in this section may bring you less leads than those in the other groups but the leads they bring are of higher quality only because they are more likely to do business with you because you are in their backyard.
Still you ask, “Which one should I use?” The answer is not that simple. In truth, if your advertising budget allows for it, one of them is not enough. We have many clients advertising with a combination of them because they realize each of them will bring leads to you the others could not. Before signing up with any of them I recommend a dealer do their homework. Search for cars similar to what you have on your lot at these sites before getting started. See if your cars “fit” the site, are there others like it listed and if so how does your price compare to others like it listed on the site? Then ask to see what statistics you will get regarding your listings. After you sign up with them, be sure to monitor those stats and be ready to make a change if you see one advertiser is a better fit over another. In no time, you will have the makings of a successful Internet advertising campaign and your sales will be hitting on all eight once again!