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Larry Bruce

Larry Bruce Founder / President / CEO

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Clearing up a few things

For the past 2 days I have been in debate on dealerrefresh about online marketing numbers and conversion. It appears that my comments on what a website should convert at have caused a stir in the dealer community, enough so that I was called out on it and asked to back off. It also appears a label I have placed on a main website is causing some people heartburn.

This post will hopefully clear up a few things:

1.       Why I believe that the benchmark for conversion in online marketing should be 30% minimum.

2.       What the definition of a “Random Access Website” is and why they are the way they are.

3.       Why I believe that you should NEVER…EVER send paid traffic back to your main website deep-link or otherwise.

So let’s jump right into conversion percentages and benchmarks.

First let me start out by defining conversion – A conversion is any form submission, phone call (tracked from your online properties), email or chat session where good re-contact information was captured that would allow the dealership to follow up on the customer. I have yet to have anyone dispute this as a proper definition. If anyone has something that I am missing please feel free to share with the rest of the class. Make no mistake each of these actions can be tracked with absolute accuracy, do not let anyone tell you otherwise.

So how did I come to this 30% benchmark? Ok it starts with my own store were we track everything. We found that we could use the visitors query string data to determine intent and direct visitors to the part of our website that closest matched that intent and when we did so our conversion rate rose 377% to as of this morning 26%. We also found that by tracking and changing certain things about our eBay motors ads we got a higher conversion rate to as of this morning 17%. We also found that using Facebook marketing in ways that were geared to customer interests not so much to customer in market probability we got higher click through and as of this morning a 47% conversion rate, ironically add all of that up and average it and as I write this post we are an average of exactly 30% (there are some decimals there but I am rounding up) and we are a small independent used car operation with none of the brand help dealers have today.

Which brings me to phase 2 of my justification for a 30% benchmark.  I have personally analyzed hundreds of dealership websites over the last 9 months and come to the same conclusion I hear from a lot of dealers and internet personnel I talk to in the store. Branded terms (your dealerships name) drives over 60% of the traffic that comes to my website. I have met very few that will argue this stat, the ones that do say it is too low. Ok so now let’s do some math:

Average dealership website gets 3000 unique visitors per month. 60% came from the stores branded terms (dealership name) that is 1800 visitors whose specific intent was to find your dealerships website.

1800 x 30% = 468 is it too much to ask that out of 1800 visitors 468 engage the store in some way? Let me ask it another way.

If your dealership got 1800 visitors last month and your sales staff could only get 468 of the people who came in entered into your CRM system would any of them be still employed at the dealership?

Any way you slice this up it doesn’t make sense to say 30% is unrealistic. I don't care who you are.

The definition of “Random Access Website”, apparently this adjective has offended a couple of people in the auto community as this is the second post I have been called out on this term, in this last post the offended person even when so far as to Google the term.

A main website has random people that wonder into it from organic links (one of the problems with web marketing and SEO by the way, but that is another post) you have no idea how or why they are there and when they get there they can wonder randomly throughout your site, hence the term “Random Access” a site that is randomly accessed from anywhere by anyone and anyone can randomly go anywhere in it and yes this is basically all main websites. A main website is basically the Encyclopedia Britannica of your online presence you have everything including the kitchen sink in it. From inventory to job postings to press releases to Facebook and twitter links, is it any wonder that visitors become distracted, lost and just basically give up when it come to this maze of information?  I discussed this in depth in my post “Get outside your random access website” from Feb this year go there for more on the pitfalls of conversion in a main website.

Finally the above is a great lead into why you should NEVER…EVER send paid traffic back to your random access main website…EVER!

You should understand by now that your main website is so full of distraction that anyone coming there with a specific purpose will have to work hard to complete that purpose. People specifically looking for your dealership will work harder to get the information they want than others, not by much but harder none the less. I think we can all agree on that and that is why you see higher conversion form branded terms (your dealerships name). When you pay for a click you have to get something out of it sending that to a place where you know they are not interested in all the distractions around them, that doesn’t match with what they were searching for in the first place and make this work to find it, is a recipe for conversion disaster.  

Aside from the distraction factor of a deep-link here are some other reasons to use off site pages and microsites.

1.       Tracking and accountability – it is much…much easier  to track and hold marketing channels, ad groups and keywords accountable for results when you have separate landing experiences.

2.       Split testing – you cannot get to high conversion rates without testing and it is impossible to test in a dealership random access website today even a deep-link.

3.       Matching the message tightly with the ad and the landing. If you think you are doing this with a dynamic deeplink landing page that changes the picture and the header your sorely mistaken you will have to get much more relevant than that.

4.        Getting searched right out of an opportunity – time and time again I see deep-links go to inventory then the customer searches to find out you have 1 or 2 that’s not choice and you missed the opportunity before you ever got a chance to win the customer.

5.       With each off site page or Microsite you create another back-link for you main random access website helping its SEO value.

PPC is and will continue to get more competitive, it is imperative that you create a culture of continuous improvement in conversion for any traffic you are paying for and lets be real you're paying for all of it. Branded terms (your dealership name) comes from your traditional media advertising, organic links comes from SEO (that aint free! All dealerships are paying for this in some way or another), listing sites are costing you subscription & listing fees and obviously you are paying for every click in PPC. You need to track all of these and hold them accountable for conversion because conversion is indicative of what walks in the door…period. Off site landing pages and microsites help you track all of this very accurately and helps get more of what you are paying for.

I hope this clears it up for those who were unclear. For those that think I should “back off” sorry that just wouldn’t be me, can’t do it and for anyone this somewhat helps I’m glad. If I can clarify anything here or you need help contact me I will do all I can.

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JD Rucker
Hi Larry, I'll put my reactions here. I have not read the full thread at DR yet, but I'll go there next. Lead - one point that often gets missed is the "walk in" conversion. They are the best "lead" but often do not get counted as a lead since they are there at the dealership before making contact. If the dealership has coupons, mobile specials, or anything that can attribute a "walk-in" as a website lead, it should count even if they do not make contact before visiting. No biggie - everyone misses that one. A well targeted microsite is an excellent supplement to the "Random Access Website" and should be part of a complete digital marketing strategy. However, there are terms where a dealer is better served utilizing SEO and potentially PPC to drive traffic to an inner-page of their primary website. The longer, more specific searches can go either way, but I agree that in many cases a microsite is great for that. Specific vehicles, oil change specials, special finance - those searches and many others would be well served with a PPC campaign geared towards them (for the reasons you listed in your post). However, higher-volume, less-specific searches should go to the dealership's main website. These terms would include "Denver Ford Dealers", for example, where there is no way to know what it is that they're really needing. They could type that in if they're interested in buying any model, doing any service, or asking any question. There is no way to make a microsite that can outperform a primary website for a term like that simply because you can't know exactly what they want. Now, the prudence of paying for such a term could be debated, but if you're going to get that term (or an of a hundred others) then it should be to your full site. I'll read the thread at DR, but I don't see anything glaringly bad with any of your arguments, Larry. All are valid, even an expectation of 30% conversion. It may not be achievable by many websites and numbers can always be manipulated to fir one's agenda, but you make some great points here.
Larry Bruce
JD the walk-in conversion is the one that’s been with us for some time. They are kinda like life on other planets you know the numbers favor it and there ghost stories about them but you just don't have the hard evidence to support it. I subscribe to the theory “Hope is not a strategy” so I don't want to pay for any marketing where I have t cross my fingers and hope I got something from it. That’s Just me. I know we think there are terms where a deep-link makes sense but I can’t think of one where I couldn’t get more for an offsite page, mostly due to the testing factor. Testing is the heart of conversion marketing and I see no good way to test on dealer’s website platforms today. At first glance I think someone might agree high volume less specific searches should go to the RAW (Random Access Website) thank Ralph Paglia for the for the RAW acronym, I love it. However if you think about this terms like “Honda Dealer” you would like to be able to easily see what the users intent was for this search. You could do that with a offsite page and pre-conversion segmentation. Not only that but you could direct that traffic right to where the user wants to go and test multiple versions of that page. So again I think there are interesting uses for LPO (Landing Page Optimization) that haven’t been explored yet in this industry. Thanks JD I am determined to keep these numbers clean leads / visits to whatever web property, no matter what they show. We are doing it in our store at 30% now and I think franchise stores have even more opportunity.
Eric Miltsch
Good stuff Larry. Curious if there has been an ongoing debate, or any type of confusion, regarding your definition of a conversion. (I'm in agreement...) "A conversion is any form submission, phone call (tracked from your online properties), email or chat session where good re-contact information was captured that would allow the dealership to follow up on the customer."
Larry Bruce
Thanks Eric, Ed Brooks (@velocitysales)did question the definition, Saying that it was more simple to define as any visitor that takes the desired action and brought up examples of service appointments and accessory sales. When I pointed out the that any of those actions would result in good recontact information, I think we got on the same page. I was a good conversaion, long comments and a lot of them but in my opinion worth the read. Let's catch up soon,

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