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Recently, I was conducting a training seminar at an automotive conference when a dealership employee asked me:
 
“What is your opinion on the effectiveness of sending a dealer’s inventory to be published on free listing websites”.
 
I have been researching inventory listing websites as part of the launch for the Automotive Advertising Network (AAN). The AAN is a membership based inventory advertising service which delivers unique benefits to its member dealers. 
 
For a low monthly fee, member benefits include Facebook social media integration, blog integration, press release publishing and search engine optimization which will benefit the car dealer’s main website.
 
In the spirit of full disclosure, I am the chief architect of the AAN model which display cars for sale on a national level at CarDealerSale.com as well as on hundreds of regional and local advertising websites.
 
I have been testing car dealer inventory optimization and digital marketing strategies for the past five years. In recent months I have decided to take those years of experience and create the first dealer-centric inventory advertising platform.
 
As part of my research, I have observed the Google search results for automotive searches in national, regional, and local markets. Every month it seems like a new inventory advertising website appears and many have initiated their service by offering free listings of cars for sale. As a result, Google Page one search results are showing less dealer websites and more lead collection and advertising portals.
 
Some of the more recognized “free” inventory advertising websites are: Vast, Oodle, EveryCarListed, Trovit, BackPage, and Lemonfree.
 
Back To the Dealer Question
 
So back to the initial question: Is it beneficial for the dealership to participate in these free advertising offers?
 
Every dealer inventory advertising website needs to be individually evaluated on the number of leads (calls and emails) that resulted in a sale based on what a dealer can track in their CRM system. If the number of sales is not significant, I would request from your website provider that they stop sending your inventory to non performing websites. The more places that you send your inventory that don’t generate sales, the more you are hurting your own search results, sales and brand equity.
 
Looking at 77 Dealers Over 90 days
 
I reviewed the Internet email leads for 77 car dealers that push their inventory out to free services. Over a three month period, these 77 dealers received a total of 128,000 email CRM leads from all lead sources. 
 
The number of leads that came in from select advertising websites over a three month period is shown below:
 
  • 457         Everycarlisted.Com
  • 21          Vast.Com
  • 15          Lemonfree.Com
 
EveryCarListed is tough to measure since they offer both paid and free services, but they are by far the best of breed solution in this free space.  Their paid services may yield higher results.
 
Before you judge any inventory listing service mentioned in the article, you should do your own research at your next 20 Group meeting or call a few industry peers.   Then contact the service providers directly and ask for local peer data.
 
These lead counts do not account for phone calls, but not all free sites list the phone number of the dealer anyway.
 
Is this the type of results you expect when you are pushing out your entire inventory every day to these free advertising models?
 
What About SEO Value?
 
Since most of the free inventories listing websites do not provide back links to the car dealer’s website, they also provide NO SEO benefit. Dealers may “think” they are getting a link because they have a link on the car page that says “Visit Dealership Website” but the link has a “no follow” tag which kills any SEO benefit. 
 
The Multi-Million Dollars Advertising Model That Dealers Fund
 
If you haven’t noticed many free inventory listing websites are filled with Google Ads, cross-sells from related industries like insurance companies, and even OEM banners. In some cases, your car listing pages have competitor ads or lead forms that encourage consumers to get multiple price quotes from local dealers.

Think about what is really going on in this model.
 
Your car may actually match a consumer long tail search and the consumer lands on your car detail page on a free listing website. The page is designed to capture a lead OR to encourage the consumers to get multiple quotes from local dealers. So, since it’s a free listing, the website owners have no problem selling the leads generated from YOUR car detail page to your nearest competitors.
 
So your participation in this free website generates leads for ready to buy consumers to your competitors. Have any doubts? 
 
Take a look at the bottom of this car listing page on EveryCarListed which has similar cars from local competing dealers on this dealer’s listing page.  These competing cars can lure consumers away from your page listing which can result in a purchase from another local dealer.
 
On the Vast car detail pages the name and address of the selling dealer is omitted. The page tells only the name of the city where the car is located. This begs the consumer to submit a lead or call. The Vast lead form collects the consumer’s name, phone number and email information to send the dealer.  
 
The privacy policy states that they can keep your information collected on the lead form and that they can give this information to other companies and subsidiaries. This implies that your car inventory is building someone else’s lead and marketing database and these leads can be resold. One good note is that competing dealer inventory is not shown on the detail page.
 
This Model Is Not Dealer Centric
 
 The irony about the “free” advertising model is that car dealers generate millions of dollars to the advertising site owners for free. Dealers send these advertising websites their most valuable assets which enables the site owners to capture and sell leads in addition to lucrative banner ad sales. Dealers don’t share in that revenue. The more dealers that participate in this model, the more money these websites make from advertising. 
 
If the majority of these advertising models don’t generate meaningful sales, why do car dealers keep sending their inventory out each night?
 
Once again I will restate that if a “free” website is generating dozens of leads a month which are converting into real sales, you should continue posting. In most cases, when I look at lead sources on Dealer CRM systems, these free sites are nowhere to be found.
 
Diluting Organic Search Results
 
Most dealers may not even be aware that their inventory is being sent to 3, 6, or even 8 different free listing websites that yield no sales. Why is this bad? There are only 10 organic listings on Google Page One. Dealer websites are becoming a minority on the first page of search results for the most popular search phrases. The more pages that are created based on Make, Model and Year in your PMA the greater the chances that dealer websites will be pushed off Google Page One. 
 
Why would this happen? As thousands of dealers participate on these free listing sites, the websites grow in PageRank and authority. This makes it very hard for a local dealer to compete for placement on Google Page One. All the time they have invested in on-site SEO, website design and consumer call to action is being sabotaged by their own actions.
 
Most dealers who have taken the time to create a beautiful website will agree that their website presents cars and a call to action much better than these free sites. If you believe you have a better display mechanism for your cars, then why would you send them to places that may rank ahead of yours for long tail searches? Why would you send your inventory to sites that will push down your own sites and yet produce no measurable leads?
 
What Should Dealers Do?
 
Dealers should print put a sales report for the last three months and see how many cars were sold by a lead source.   Dealers should call their inventory management company and ask them to which websites  they are sending your feed. Ask them to check this information carefully.
 
If your inventory management vendor gives you a list of websites that are not generating sales, I would send them a letter in writing, as well as an email, asking that your feed not be sent to any non-performing website platforms.
 
The Ideal Advertising Model
 
Here are my thoughts about what makes an ideal inventory advertising model:
 
  • Car detail pages are free from competitors’ banner ads.
  • Car detail pages are free from Google text ads
  • Car detail pages have live links back to the dealership website
  • Car detail pages that clearly show dealer name, address and phone number
  • Car detail pages are optimized for organic search in the dealer’s primary PMA
 
In addition to the functionality of a car detail page, the website should be easy for consumers to navigate and find the information they need without so many distractions.
Adam Ross
I notice you did not talk about Craigslist when talking about free listing websites... how come? Car Dealers - Sell More Used Cars Every Month on Craigslist with Infinite Prospects' automated Posting tool... http://bit.ly/d9kCnk
Brian Pasch
Adam Craigslist works for many dealers so they are not a concern to me based on the ROI. For some dealers, Craiglist is one of their top lead sources. Also, Craiglist is a different animal in how cars are posted than those that take a feed and require no human interaction.

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