“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, gather around because we're going to create qualified customers before your very eyes!
“We're going to sell 100 units more a month, increase parts revenue, retain service customers and yes, we're going to do this without you lifting a finger. Write us a check and poof, like magic, your dealership will be transformed into a mean, lean selling machine.”
Give me a break.
Throughout my years in the car business there has always been something offered to dealers that was full of hype and promise but carried little substance or return on investment.
Here is why Search Engine Optimization (SEO) falls into that category:
- Impossible to measure
SEO will bring people to your site, but most of them will be folks that you would have got anyway or who are a waste of your time. SEO companies claim all sales that originated from any search engine are success stories for the optimization process, which aims to make websites search-engine friendly. With 70-80% of all car buyers using the web at some point, it will appear that most of your sales are caused by their efforts.
- Jargon means nothing
I don't care how many hits I get on the keyword I bought at Google. I don't care about how many “click-throughs” my site paid for either. I only care about leads that turn into car deals. It's easy to get dazzled by all the lingo and hype that claims SEO is imperative to compete in the modern era. Truth is, our business is not the same as Amazon.com, so we shouldn't market like it does. Until we begin bubble wrapping cars and shipping them by UPS, this is just a waste of money.
“Come on Mr. Car Dealer, it only takes two extra deals to pay for itself.” How may times will we hear this before we learn.
- Loss on investment
There are some issues with third-party leads, but for the most part we get what we pay for (local leads from sometimes real people). With SEO we get to work people that live 600 miles away, folks who are price-shopping us against 1,200 other dealers and a few shoppers who are convinced I should overnight a brochure to Brazil. How much is your staff's time worth? How many lost opportunities will we create by being inundated with worthless price quotes?
- The buck stops, um, nowhere
Part of the beauty of the SEO sale is that, no matter what happens, there is a ready scapegoat for any possible criticism of performance. All they have to do is get people to your website and, because the Internet is anonymous, there is no way to tell who's who. If you don't get leads, the website is flawed. If you don't close the leads, your process or staff is flawed. Anonymous traffic is not the golden ticket to the chocolate factory. It is a distracting misuse of resources.
- Highest bidder wins
I like Google but it's important to note that its system showcases the guys who pay the most. So for important keywords or placement, it is extremely rare that any single-point franchise would bid high enough to compete with manufacturers or big third-party lead providers.
- Page-ranking hyperbole
Most folks that promise to get you in the top 10 for any major search terms never deliver. Even if they do, what results will you get? A ton of leads from unqualified people not within your buying range, which will overwhelm your operation and result in lower sales.
Look at your internal process, refine your mission and attack the customers already in your pipeline and service drive. Leads are not the problem in 90% of the dealerships I visit. Lack of sales-staff training is the problem.
Keith Latman is chief executive officer of iCarMagic LLC. He is at [email protected].