As some of you may know, I served in the United States Marine Corps back in the 1980s. I was lucky, and was allowed to spend most of my time in the service sitting on the tropical island of Guam. While I enjoyed serving with nearly everyone I met in the Corps, there were a few people who always seemed to rub me the wrong way. In the Navy and Marine Corps, these people were referred to as sea lawyers.
Because sea lawyer is a slang term, not all dictionaries attribute the same meaning to the words as we did. In fact, the closest dictionary definition comes from the online urban dictionary: Sea lawyer – An old navy term, when at sea a sailor is a law expert, but in reality, they know nothing. This seemed to be the best description available to describe this group.
Meet the myth mongers
While these pretend know-it-alls were christened with the sea lawyer moniker in the service, in the automotive space I like to call them myth mongers. As someone who regularly consults with dealers, I am constantly presented with industry myths about everything from Facebook to website design to Google that sometime border on lunacy. While you might think that the purveyors of these myths are only the sellers of these or competing services, the truth is that many of these are perpetuated by the merely uninformed – just like the sea lawyers. Over the years, I’ve encountered literally scores of half-truths and good old fashioned misinformation being sent my way, but here are my picks for the eight most pervasive falsehoods perpetuated by the myth mongers that deserve to be officially debunked:
Myth number one: Buying pay-per-click advertising hurts/helps your organic (free) search results. My favorite thing about this myth is that there are as many believers on one side of this argument as there are on the other. The simple truth is that both sides are wrong: PPC campaigns have no effect on a website’s organic search visibility. While there have been studies (completed, of course, by those who want to sell you PPC) that you can receive more clicks on your free results if you are also running a PPC campaign, none of the major search engines will punish or promote your website in their free results based on how much or how little you spend on paid results.
To me, this means you should feel free to buy PPC if it fits within your overall marketing strategy and budget. Otherwise, pass on this medium and focus your time and money on great search engine optimization.
Myth number two: Pop-ups violate Google’s policy and hurt your search results. There is probably no myth that hurts a dealer’s ability to maximize their first-party leads more than this one. Misinterpreted and perpetuated mostly by web site providers and those who sell SEO and PPC, believers of this myth have removed working pop-ups, coupons, videos and other effective parasites from their web sites to their own detriment – ultimately reducing their first-party lead counts when it was simply not warranted.
There is a kernel of truth in this myth, and that is that Google will not allow you to point a link from your sponsored results (PPC) to a page that displays a pop-up when someone enters or leaves your site. The key terms here are “sponsored results” and “when someone enters or leaves.” If your site employs a pop-up coupon that fires only after visitors click a link on your site, then you are not in violation of Google’s policy. Moreover, even if you have a pop-up that would violate this policy, it will not have any effect on your organic results – it only applies to PPC campaigns. The bottom line is that you should feel free to take advantage of one of the most effective lead sources many of my clients enjoy: lead generating pop-up coupons.
Myth number three: My web site is an electronic billboard. Every time I hear a dealer repeat this myth I feel like someone has punched me in the stomach. The truth, my dear dealers, is that your website is not a billboard and it is not a Yellow Pages ad; your web site is simply a lead acquisition tool. Of course, if you’re doing everything correctly on your site, it should be the best lead acquisition tool you employ.
As an automotive dealer, it is important that you understand that your dealer website serves two primary purposes: 1) to attract visitors (via great search visibility); and 2) to convert those visitors into customers. That’s it. If you consider your website to be just an electronic billboard, then you can easily fall into the trap that has already snared so many dealers: How can I get the coolest, most mind-blowing, non-cookie cutter website in the world all to myself? The short answer here is plenty of dollars and a lack of sense.
There are literally dozens of providers willing to design you a website like no other; one that totally sets you apart from everyone else. Of course, the costs are astronomical and the loss of traffic and leads can be devastating. Do yourself a favor and seek out the sites that work for other dealers – cookie cutter or not.
Myth number four: My web site is stale. Hearing this one hurts my teeth. Can we just stop already with the constant tinkering and redesign and the desire to freshen up your web site? Your web site, unless it was launched more than four years ago, is not stale. Perhaps it seems stale to you and your team because you see it every day; but to your customers – who only see it sparingly – your site is as fresh as the day it was launched.
Moreover, dealers who try to freshen up a stale web site often do themselves more harm them good. They include confusing design, remove conversion (lead generating) elements and anger those few customers who might visit regularly to schedule service. If your site is visible to the search engines and is converting at least three or four out of every one hundred unique visitors into email leads, then take a deep breath and go fix something else that is wrong in your dealership – just leave your web site alone.
Myth number five: I can fool Google. Listen, the folks at Google are pretty darn smart and their primary business is keeping the Google results unmolested. No offense, but they are a lot smarter than you, your Internet manager and your SEO provider combined. (In the interest of full disclosure, they are also a lot smarter than me.) Trying to fool Google or even trying to stay a step ahead of them is more often than not a losing proposition. While there are certainly short-term gains that can be realized by adding phony content to your site, trading links with questionable websites, building a series of shadow websites and phony blogs, or doing any number of other black hat and grey hat activities, you will ultimately lose and your website could be punished. (Consumer search behavior, more than anything else, seems to be bubbling to the top of the most important drivers of which sites are on the top and which sites are relegated to page two or worse.)
The best strategy for long-term SEO success is to ensure your site is loaded with relevant, searchable content and that your efforts for improving your search visibility always match what consumers need/want.
Myth number six: I cannot sell on Craigslist/eBay because I don’t have any Craigslist/eBay cars. Wow, all of the dealers who are selling scores of vehicles on these two sites each and every month thank you for your ignorance. The truth is that there really is no such thing as an “eBay car” or a “Craigslist car.” In fact, both of these sites seem just as capable as AutoTrader or Cars.com at delivering high quality leads for virtually any type of vehicle. The difference for Craigslist and eBay is that selling on these sites takes more than just listing your vehicles. It takes commitment and it takes work. You cannot just list your vehicles like you do on AutoTrader and Cars.com and expect to start getting closeable leads immediately. Both sites have unique customer profiles and unique challenges – but I guarantee you, if you’re not selling on these sites it’s not because of the vehicles you stock.
Myth number seven: Facebook is more important than Google. Don’t get me wrong; with the introduction of the Facebook open graph project (basically the spreading of “Like” buttons on the web) and the likelihood of a more robust search product from the Facebook/Bing love affair, I have made a 180-degree turn on my opinion about the potential effectiveness of Facebook for car dealers. That said, Google is still the king, queen and prince when it comes to the website where dealers need to have the greatest impact.
The key difference between Google and Facebook comes down to transaction versus engagement. (See the next myth for more on engagement.) With a number one ranking on Google (whether in the organic results, the local/map results or the paid results), dealers can transact real business today and in the future. They can effectively build their brand, drive immense amounts of traffic to their websites and can even conquest customers of other dealerships. Compare this to dealers who have thousands of Facebook fans. Until (and unless) Bing integrates Facebook’s users’ likes into their search results, thousands of fans means very little. (Because most stores with thousands of Facebook fans likely generated them artificially, we cannot begin to measure whether these inflated fan bases actually drive anyone to transact business with us… or can we?)
Myth number eight: Dealers should track the ROE (return on engagement) of their social media campaigns. Ugh. This one truly makes my skin crawl. First, most dealers I visit weren’t even tracking the ROI of their traditional lead providers before I started working with them. Second, the last time I checked, engagement wasn’t something that could be objectively quantified and then equated into car sales. (That is the goal here, right? Car sales?)
What I love most about this myth is that anyone can shout it out loud (I think they do this to sound smart), though the necessity and/or value of ROE is basically an argument that cannot be proven or disproven. The importance of return on engagement is a vaporous idea founded solely in opinion, though presented as fact by the industry blogs.
It’s so preposterous for dealers to waste time tracking ROE. that I feel compelled to invent my own, though similar, measurement that also means nothing to a dealer’s bottom line (but might make me sound smart). Let’s see, how about we all start touting the importance of tracking your store’s ROS – return on smiles. Beginning today, everyone in your dealership should smile at everyone they meet (whether at work or not) and then report back to the dealership how many smiles they received in return. Over time, it will be possible to correlate your store’s positive ROS trend to your overall sales growth. (Or, you just don’t get it.)
Because the web is still relatively new to the automotive space, we can surely expect more half-truths from the myth mongers in the coming months and years. Simply because there is still so much mystery and opinion about what the Internet will deliver for dealers in the next year, three years and ten years, means that the myth mongers can thrive and survive. Often, these myth mongers are the loudest voices on the industry blogs and at the industry conferences. The trick for dealers is to seek out and rely on pragmatic subject matter experts to guide them, and to help them debunk the fabrications coming from the mouths of the industry’s myth mongers. If it would help, we can all begin to track the industry myth mongers’ ROBS… that’s return on, well you get the idea.)