Is anyone having a similar issue with cars.com and Autotrader?

Mitchell Brenner
We have seen a sharp decrease in the effectiveness in our Cars.Com and Autotrader business. Leads are down. Phone calls are down. Hits to our website from them are down. Of course they're only answer is to always ask us what we're doing wrong so let's get that out of the way. We have custom comments on all our Pre-Owned Vehicles. We use First Look software to insure that our vehicles are priced correctly and we check it daily. We have 25 - 50 photos per vehicles and video on our AutoTrader site. Is this a problem others are having?
Brian Pasch
@Mitchell No lead provider will admit the real reason behind any down-ticks in leads and it may be a seasonal thing or something bigger. My vote is that there is a big change underway, as explained below. Car listing websites and lead destination portals like cars.com and autotrader.com will have to reinvent themselves in the years ahead or they will be over-run. As car dealers embrace SEO, social media and blogging the ability for these two sites to appear on Google Page One organically is being reduced by localized content. As consumers get more empowered and confident in navigating the many automotive websites on the Internet, they will search and shop more for bargains and not just go to these portals alone. This means that good content that matches "make and model" searches is pushing these sites off page one. I've been advocating that dealers add great content to their websites for every car that they sell. Create a page of detailed content for each car and watch what happens. Localize the content, and see more surprises! Also, as dealers implement a GPOM strategy, lead collectors like Edmunds.com, Automotive.com and Autotropolis.com will be significantly impacted. Why? Because with a Google Page One Management (GPOM) strategy in place, these lead collectors will not be getting the thousands of leads per month they are getting from pages on their websites that are optimized with dealership names across the USA. Lastly, microsites are road-blocking quality leads from these portals. A dealer in Massachusetts that ranks #1 for "Ford Massachusetts" because his microsite is #1 in search results, will draw leads and attention away from lead collectors. This was not the case a few years ago. As car dealers start to embrace the concept of multiple local microsites for their brands, the third party lead collectors will be impacted. They will have to resort to more expensive pay-per-click marketing to get on GPO or implement microsites themselves. In 2010 you will also see low cost microsites with live inventory. This means that car dealers can easily and cost effectively create THEIR OWN equivalent of what cars.com and autotrader.com is doing. Larger dealer groups have a stronger opportunity because owning their own microsites with consolidated used car inventory from multiple stores, makes this microsites a direct competitor to cars.com and autotrader. A local dealer with a domain like "www.usedtoyotaboston" that has a few hundred used cars listed will come up ahead of cars.com and autotrader.com over time for any Toyota car search that includes the word Boston if they do it right. If you see the writing on the wall, the car dealers that get to market first with their own "mini" car marketing websites that are search optimized and have live inventory will be getting more 1st party leads. A GPOM strategy and automotive microsites with inventory feeds should be part of every dealers 2010 Internet Marketing strategy. Now add dealer videos, press releases, blogs and a few other tricks and these lead generation portals are in trouble. If you need help creating a strong 2010 Internet Marketing strategy that will increase first party leads and push the lead collectors off search for your dealership name, give me a call. I bet that most dealers would love to be less dependent on these companies and generate more 1st party leads themselves. Brian Pasch, CEO Pasch Consulting Group http://www.dealer-seo.com http://twitter.com/automotiveseo 732-450-8200
Susan Burgess
@Brian You're right about wanting to not spend so much for the services of Cars.com and AutoTrader.com, however, I still want to grab the people who directly go to those sites. Your wealth of knowledge was entirely based on searches for inventory- whether short or long tail and misses the fact that some people are just direct traffic to those advertising sites. What I gathered from @Mitchell's post is a trend I'm seeing from all the advertisers that we use- whether it be a used car magazine (three months ago, we were getting 300+ phone calls to it's dropped to next to none- maybe 100 calls a month), TV ads- people are inundated on Channel 3 down here with my work's commercials and we just don't hear people mention the TV ads much anymore or, now that they are an expense to be reckoned with, online sites- people don't want to be hassled with keeping up with where they've shopped and we don't have Google analytics on every place we place an ad. Wouldn't that be great- I would love to see Cars.com's, AutoTrader.com's analytics and I would love to require that my analytics code be put on every ad that I list out there with an advertising company- they allow me to put my physical address and a tracking number...why can't I put my code on there...anyways, I digress... Seems we need to have a boot camp for our consumers to train them to shop how we want them and report to us where they found us... I'm not getting all the traffic I want to justify the large sum for advertising on Cars.com and AutoTrader.com, yet I'm getting enough that the ROI shows me that with some refreshers by me, within 30 days, I can move the needle forward on the amount of trackable traffic from them. I don't have a large expectation of traffic from my advertisers- I try to either get them to convert to a click on my site so I can see them on my analytics or a recorded phone call by using the advertising that others are using that works... Still amazes me how quickly we caught onto reviewing our online advertisers, yet for how long did dealers just throw money at the newspaper and then pray?- just a side thought
Brian Pasch
@Susan My post was not to imply that these sites can't provide good leads or that dealers should not use them. These two sites have millions of dollars of branding and advertising behind them and significant direct traffic. So, if people go there directly to cars.com or autotrader.com, dealers will get leads and sales. In this direct model, as long as your advertising costs are covered by these platforms, you would continue using these direct portals. My commentary was a persepective that a few years ago, these 2 sites had leading edge inventory listing modules with optimized URL's and tags. They had an advantage for many car dealer websites. Now that SEO friendly car listing architecture is becoming more commonplace on dealer websites, (see http://www.asmaawards.org ), dealer websites have the local search marketing advantage and relevance that national portals do not. So, better dealer inventory listing models, off-site SEO and Internet marketing techniques being used by car dealers has and will continue to cut down on ORGANIC leads and traffic to these sites over time. So, if the ROI on on your cars.com and autotrader.com listing fees makes financial sense, keep using their service. If it's not, bail out. This should apply to all online advertising methods. As the industry matures, new CRM tools and Analytics will show the best channel partners for sales and leads.
Jeff Wallen
Agree with a lot on this page. Also keep in mind the yo-yo effect. 2008 was a bad year for ATC (not sure about Cars) with tier 3 clients, tons of cancellations. Cancellations hit and the remaining dealers have less competition for the leads. The remaining dealers that stayed on and started seeing some better results, word travels amongst dealers. 2009 dealers start signing back up because they need to sell cars and heard of success with some other dealers in the area, now more dealers taking part in the lead distribution. Of course this isn't the absolute reason but definitely a factor.
Susan Burgess
@Brian- Thank you for your clarification- I did misread your first post.

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