How To Demystify the Origins of Your Website Traffic

At every digital marketing conference I attend, there are multiple presentations filled with dealers asking where online traffic is coming from. The truth is this information is readily available to you — if you know where to look.

If Internet shoppers don’t look at your cars online, they are unlikely to come to your showroom to buy a car. That’s why it’s not enough to know how much traffic you’re getting — you need to know how online shoppers are reaching you.

Typically, there are three top sources of traffic:

  1. Direct traffic. This is your best source of traffic. Because these are the shoppers that entered your website address to go directly to your site, they bypass any opportunity for your competitors to intercept them. Some of this traffic may come from returning customers, but it’s often driven by other forms of advertising. That’s why direct traffic is a great way to gain insight regarding how your traditional and digital ads are working. It’s also a critical reminder to emphasize your website address in your advertising materials.
  2. Organic search. These are visitors who find you through search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo. This traffic typically comes from two sources:
    • Those who typed your company name into a search engine, which means they were familiar with your brand
    • Those who typed a term that led them to your website, such as “Phoenix Chevrolet dealers,” indicating strong search engine optimization performance for that term. I’ll talk more about this in a future post.
  3. Search engine marketing. These are the sponsored links that appear above and to the right of organic search results (Google AdWords are the most popular type). This is an underleveraged opportunity for dealers that we’ll dive into in my next post.

If you’re interested in finding out the sources of your website traffic, talk to your vendor about how to use Google Analytics, which can tell you where the traffic from your site is coming from. You can then go into the dealer analytic portals of, and other sites to compare with each other and your website. Since this can be labor intensive it’s easiest to have it in one place with a tool such as MAX that combines the various sources in one location to help you measure and manage your online traffic.

My next post will cover optimizing spend and testing.

How To Increase Profitability By Reducing Time-To-Market

Every dealer knows that the inventory that turns the fastest is often the most profitable. This is compounded by the carrying cost of the vehicle (often cited as $10 to $25 per day), for both reasons, the longer a car remains in inventory, the more it eats into your profits.

That’s why it’s critical to measure and improve “Time-to-Market”, or how long it takes for a car to get through the service department and become fully merchandised online. But for many dealers, the problem goes undetected because they fall into two common traps:

  • First, cars spend too much time in the service department. We all know that the customers of pre-owned vehicles are the service department’s top customers. But we also know that because the service department is focused on serving retail customers, this can lead to inventory that moves through the reconditioning process slowly, resulting in expensive fresh inventory. For many dealers, it’s hard to maintain visibility on this process, which makes it difficult to manage.
  • Second, the handoff to digital marketing is too slow. When a car completes reconditioning, too often there’s lag in getting vehicles fully merchandised online.

It’s obvious that a vehicle unavailable for sale prevents a quick turnaround. But that’s also true for a vehicle that’s available for sale but isn’t visible to consumers on the Internet. So what can you do about it?

You can’t improve what you can’t measure, and there are three easy ways to get started:

  1. Measure your “Time-to-Market”
    • Compare the date a car was received in inventory to when it was fully merchandised online. This simple metric allows you to keep a pulse on both your service activities and digital marketing efforts. Cars should make the transition from service to digital marketing in three to five days.
  2. Identify potential gaps in your current process
    • By tracking vehicles that fail to meet this goal, you can identify opportunities for the teams to work more efficiently, as well as hold people accountable for their responsibilities. There will always be outliers — vehicles waiting on a title or critical parts on order, for example. But by measuring time-to-market, you will be able to identify those outliers and focus on vehicles that had a breakdown in process.
  3. Accelerate your “Time-to-Market
    • Before a vehicle enters the service department, have the digital marketing team immediately take three exterior photos and post them online immediately (in states where this is appropriate). This will help speed the process of getting a vehicle fully merchandised online once it’s reconditioned.

Remember: if you measure it, you can manage it. A number of tools, including MAX, make it easy to monitor these metrics. Just make sure you set up alerts that keep this information in front of you on a regular basis. Once you get a handle on where the bottlenecks are in your time-to-market, you’ll be able to make your digital marketing efforts more efficient, and your inventory more profitable.

My next post will cover the importance of understanding exactly where your online traffic is coming from.

3 Ways to Make Your Online Ads Stand Tall

Our previous post explained the importance of converting your vendors to a pay-for-performance ad model. That is, knowing your cost per lead across your various online traffic sources. When it comes to measuring your cost per lead, we see top performers achieve at $70, while typical dealers perform around $100.

But once you have those figures in hand, what tactics should you employ to get the most from your online ads? First, make sure your online ads are standing tall. Here’s what I mean.

  1. Include all the details that influence a customer’s decision. Dealerships can be chaotic, making it hard to manage the finer details of your online ads. But the reality is that you’re a digital dealership now. You would never leave gaping holes in your front line or on your showroom floor. But too many dealerships post incomplete listings, leaving gaping holes in your digital dealership. Photos, prices, and complete vehicle descriptions are essential components to drawing customers to your dealership.An survey found that dealers who include original photos and prices with their postings had significantly greater traffic to their vehicle detail pages (VDPs) than those who didn’t. Including this information increased VDP views by 140 percent and shopper interaction by 110 percent. And don’t try to cut corners — the survey revealed that listings with stock photos didn’t perform much better than listings with no photos at all.
  2.  Monitor your ads. Staying on top of the details requires a commitment. The old saying “you can’t expect what you don’t inspect” isn’t just a cliché. You need a digital performance management system in place to measure the effectiveness of your ads. A digital performance management system, like MAX, can alert you to issues in your online inventory that need immediate action, such as missing photos or vehicle information.
  3. Make sure a human is keeping tabs. Technology alone isn’t enough. You also need someone in place who’s responsible for overseeing the program. Whit Ramonat, executive vice president of Penske Automotive Group’s central region, regularly reviews an exception report that shows him which of his dealerships have cars with incomplete online listings, or no listings at all. Because he employs this and other digital performance measurement practices, Penske’s dealerships are among the top performers on most benchmarks across all sites.

The bottom line is that the more customers that click through to your VDPs, the more likely they are to interact further with your listing, including details on your dealership. And as I mentioned in a previous post, when your sales force knows where your leads are coming from, they’ll be better positioned to get the necessary “ups” to close a sale.

This is the first of three posts to show you how to reach the ranks of the top performers. My next post will cover the importance of getting your inventory online quickly.

5 Metrics That Tell if You’re Getting Your Money’s Worth Online

You probably know that 50% of your new car buyers and 59% of your pre-owned buyers found your dealership online. Your online vendors are likely bringing you reports and presentations justifying all of the money they are charging your dealership to attract those buyers online. These reports show an alphabet soup of metrics (“SRPs”, “VDPs”, etc.), but they don’t tell you if you are really getting your money’s worth.

I am always impressed when I visit a dealership and see the “sales board” measuring how many sales each salesperson has each day of the month, often compared against a goal or prior period. It is equally remarkable that dealers don’t do this as regularly or publicly for their web traffic, even though it’s now driving the majority of their business. If you want to start managing your traffic and getting the most out of your spend, there are 5 quick and easy ways to measure your web vendors just like salespeople.

The “Big 5” are:

  1. Rank Your Spend: Rank your monthly spend for each digital marketing channel. While this sounds obvious, you’d be amazed how many Dealer Principals and General Managers lose track of how much they are spending with each vendor and how much it can creep up if you aren’t on top of it every month. This ranking is important because it provides the lens through which to look at everything else.
  2. Rank Your Consumer Impressions: The number of times a consumer actually clicks on one of your cars to look at it, referred to as a “consumer impression” in other industries, is measured through “Vehicle Detail Pages” (“VDPs”) on most automotive sites. Since someone is unlikely to visit your dealership to see a car they didn’t even bother to click on online, this is a simple yet powerful way to compare how many “eyeballs” a site is producing for your dealership. Watch this trend from month-to-month and you learn a lot about how much sites like and are producing for you versus your dealer website.
  3. Rank the Cost of Each Consumer Impression: If you really want to understand what it’s costing you to get those “eyeballs” on each site and see where you are really getting your money’s worth, divide the number of consumer impressions (#2 above) by your spend (#1 above) and you’ll be able to see where your ad dollars give you the biggest bang for your buck. Once you know what each consumer impression costs you can see if the sites you pay the most justify the extra spend. This will also reveal if a site is producing consumer impressions at a bargain, and therefore might justify more spend.
  4. Rank Your Direct Leads: One of the real challenges with measuring your online vendors is that they will tell you since most of your in store traffic doesn’t email or call you before showing up, they can’t be measured. One way to overcome this problem is to compare the number of direct leads (phone calls and emails) you get from each vendor. While this doesn’t give you the “invisible leads” vendors talk about, it does let you compare vendors on an “apples to apples” basis so you can see which vendors are serving up opportunities to your internet department or BDC.
  5. Rank the Cost of Each Direct Lead: We also encourage dealers to divide their direct leads by the spend allocated toward each vendor to compare the cost per direct lead for each vendor. This should give you a good feel for how each vendor compares to the others on direct leads to help you bring “Pay for Performance” to your leads.

The Big 5 metrics may seem simple but that’s because these are the “drivers” of your web business. When tracking critical metrics, the key is in how you use them to manage your business and, in this case, how you manage your vendors. If you are serious about “Pay for Performance” you need to know these metrics and use them to make spend decisions every month.

The real power comes in when you start benchmarking the Big 5 so you can see how you stack up against other dealers. Our MAX Digital Performance Analysis introduces benchmarking to the equation and gives dealers the insights to manage their vendors and spend so that they can take performance to the next level.

The Auto Industry Has A “Wanamaker” Problem

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

As much as those words still resonate in the automotive dealer community today, they were famously first spoken more than 130 years ago by John Wanamaker, considered the fathers of modern advertising. In 1874, Wanamaker printed the first-ever, copyrighted store advertisement for his eponymously named Philadelphia department store. Customers came to trust him for delivering on the honest, straightforward claims in his newspaper advertising, and business boomed.

But as much as Wanamaker leveraged newspaper advertising to fuel his success, he also recognized inherent challenges long before the internet made them obvious. Newspapers, of course, were only able to sell advertising to Wanamaker based on their readership size, regardless of whether those readers actually looked at his ad or came to his store. In other words, he was paying simply for ad “placement” instead of paying for ad “performance.”

For the newspapers of Wanamaker’s era, as well as the magazines, radio, television and other offline media that followed, “paying for placement” has been a great business model; they’re paid the same amount regardless of how the advertisement performs for the brand. But how well is this model really working for advertisers, especially dealers?

When I put that question to dealers, I often hear a refrain very similar to Wanamaker’s famously worded frustration: “we can’t really tell what’s working and what isn’t.” In many cases, dealers are left to wonder how many shoppers actually came from their TV, newspaper or radio ads and the same is often true for their internet advertising. Consider this: in 2012 alone, US advertisers spent a whopping $128 billion in offline media, according to eMarketer. One can only wonder how much of it was ultimately wasted.

Helping dealers tackle this problem is so much a part of our core mission that the original product codename for MAX was “Project Wanamaker.”

The good news, of course, is that the internet has changed all of this. Because it’s inherently an interactive, data-driven medium, advertisers can hold their internet advertising partners accountable and pay only when their ads “perform.” While most industries have already embraced the shift from “Pay for Placement” to “Pay for Performance”, the auto industry still needs to embrace a new mindset in order to catch up.

Our industry has a Wanamaker problem. In our next post, we’ll discuss the solution.