“I am Art Vandelay. I am an architect.” I am pretty sure that you are familiar with this quote by George Costanza introducing himself during a Seinfeld episode. I am here to say the same: “I am VJ, and I am an architect as well.”
Even so, I am not wearing a blue hard-hat during my daily tasks at my dealerships, not sitting in front of a huge tilted drawing table with a ruler in the left hand and a pencil in my right, and I’m certainly not saying, “Did you see the new addition to the Guggenheim? Yep. And it didn’t take very long either.” – But still, I am an architect. I’ll show how creating and building a house is very similar to building a successful Dealer Internet Operation.
Let’s get started – you have been pre-approved for a loan to build a house or, in this case, you made the cut during a job interview and have been asked to create a blueprint and Internet organization. How do you make and follow a plan that will lead to a successful realization of this major task? Here are some of the steps you might want to consider.
Location for your new home
Climate – similar to figuring out if you want to build your home’s terrace with a Southern exposure (and get grilled in the summer months laying out to get a tan) or, more likely, a Southwestern exposure, you’ll need to find out what business climate, in regards to your direct competition in town, is awaiting you. What is your competition already doing? Where are they in the search rankings? What website provider(s) are they using? Are they more aggressive or passive in regards to monthly specials, 3rd party leads and offline marketing? What are they doing with online marketing?
Foundation – we all agree a home built on sand or swampy ground won’t make you happy in the long run. Depending on the existing conditions of your location, you have to make some decisions about how to construct your foundation. Do you add a basement or settle with concrete slab? Concrete slab or raise the structure onto stilts (similar to how Katrina victims now rebuild their homes)? For your Internet store, how stable is the terrain and existing foundation in terms of processes? How long are you covering a follow up? How well were adjustments made after the financial turmoil two years ago?
Utilities, Infrastructure, Materials – In what state are the utilities, infrastructure and materials available? Do you have to dig new sewer lines? Are you near the local school bus route? Is there a grocery store nearby? And for your Internet store: what are you working with? Do you have dedicated Internet sales people? BDC or is the Sales Manager passing out leads? Did we have a high turnover in the Internet dept?
This is really the messy groundwork you have to observe and handle first. An attempt to just jump in and start to “dig,” or, in your case, “do it,” usually lead to failure. Let’s continue with our process to form a more vivid picture.
Design / Blueprint your home
Similar to an architect deciding how many bedrooms and baths you want and where to locate your kitchen, you will need to figure out which approach you’ll take on SEM and how much money you want to spend, combined with the mix of organic search, 3rd party leads, Social Media outlets, etc.
How many rooms will your house have? Or… how many pages are at your main URL? Do you use the website provider’s suggested number count on pages or do you plan additional pages (like I love to do)? Instead of just having three categories on your new car page like “new car inventory,” “new car sales staff” and “new car locator,” consider adding each new model to this page. In my case, that was one of the first tasks I did for two reasons:
SEO on steroids. By having each model as a separate page showing in your main, URL (i.e. 2011 Audi A4; 2012 Audi A7, etc.) you create content that is loved by the search engines. Your website will get more density; get content that is “richer and deeper” as I call it. Make sure your additional vehicle pages will have unique URL’s that are easy to read, like “http://www.jimellisaudimarietta.com/2011-audi-a3-sportback-4-door.htm” (this particular URL generated 100 additional hits in its first three weeks). It further helps to have inbound links moving traffic to this page instead of the generic dealer page when trying to guide traffic to one designated vehicle. For example, when writing on my external dealership blog about the A3, I create back-links. If somebody wants more information on the model while reading my blog, they just click the link and they’ll be guided to a dealer URL/page (search engines love this stuff).
The ability to be found often occurs after approximately 60 to 90 days because of “depth” of the content you provided on your vehicle page. Use this method when new models are on the horizon. I did it for the new 2012 Audi A7. This allowed me to gain more than 500 page views on my dealer URL/page, increase duration and form submissions for “more information” on the Audi A7 (which will be out in Fall of 2011). When Googling “2012 Audi A7 Atlanta,” we show up in Position 1, Position 2, Position 3 and Position 9 (Facebook).
Have the property surveyed
Make as analysis of the property to find out how ‘the land lies,” by finding out from all your vendors what they are planning in the future for products and assistance. Have them recount what they have done for your dealership so far. Look at the numbers from your AutoTrader folks and Cars.com reps with their keyword “impressions” and “directions to location” print-outs. Consider carefully what the conversion and closing ratio are. You’ll likely discover certain providers who don’t (as it appears) do anything. Make it clear that you want, in a time frame of 60 to 90 days, to have a clear picture of where the dealership will be and what to expect.
The same applies when looking for the right General contractor. You need to have a strong partner when taking on a website provider. During the dealer trainings I have conducted in the past years, I heard almost every time, “Your website stinks,” or “XYZ is not doing anything for me on the website.” Polite as I am (I am playing it soft now), I acknowledged the issues and brought the matters back to HQ. I let our back-end folks know that something needed to happen to help the customer – and I WAS WRONG IN DOING SO!!!
I should have said right there “what exactly is it you want us to do for you,” and I can almost predict that 100% of the time the answer would have been “we need more leads!” But this is not the issue of the website provider. Example: You hired a contractor and told him you wanted the entry door in a particular area (your website, website name, URL), you want it in red (your corporate identity embedded in the website design), and you want a dead-bolt lock and three windows integrated (pages, flash, credit app, etc). Done! The door is installed, works fine, looking good. Now, two months later, you call the contractor and yell into the phone “You suck…nobody comes through my door. It is your fault!”
What?! How is that the fault of the contractor? Now that I’m in the dealer’s shoes, I recognize that I am responsible to get “found” by having SEO/SEM in-house or outsourced. I am responsible to have interesting content on my site. And I am responsible to weave a net of inbound and outbound links coming to and from my website. When I started out here at my current position, it would have been really easy to blame the web-design and provider for low traffic. I did not. Instead I started out with point 1 and 2 mentioned above, and in less than 70 days I added 2000+ more hits to our website stats – all with the same website provider and without whining “poor me.” Even our secondary website for our VW franchise added hits and is ranking for 6 out of 10 search terms on Google Page 1 with just minor tweaking and without calling the provider names.
Get your Building Permits
When you take on your new career, make sure that your principal (GM, President, etc) is buying fully into your vision. If they don’t have your back, you will struggle from the get-go. When you believe that your suggested strategy is the right one, stick with it and propose it to your boss. When you see hesitation more than twice and a lack of follow through, leave and build your home somewhere else. No “yes, but…” please! You need to go on with your vision.
Decide how much sweat equity you’ll put into your new house
Who will be on your team and vendor roster? Do you enjoy painting? Cut out the painters and DIY. If you know Dreamweaver and Photoshop, then create your banners and specials yourself. If you are an “SEO/SEM” sleeper cell, then do it yourself. Line out exactly what kind of work you are comfortable with and you can combine it with your workload. When you are a selling Internet Manager, I understand that it is sometimes very difficult to get a grip on the tasks. Especially in the beginning of the months when you want to put up all specials on the page, want to hit the fast start bonus and the Sales Manager asks you to send out an email blast twice a week (oh boy… don’t do it). Otherwise, learn to delegate – it will save you from insanity.
No house is built without a solid foundation to stay on
My choice: Concrete slab, thick and sturdy. For my dealership it means that I need to take care of first things first:
SEO is your concrete mix that will allow you to build a solid foundation.
Make sure your Meta Tags are showing a good title that tells who and where you are.
The description needs to have a convincing short copy of your site/page content and should let everybody know what they will find when clicking the link.
Make it your first goal to spread out the SEO seeds if you want to have gratification in your search engine results in the future.
Foundation is poured, now what?
Time to set up the framework and walls - securely braced with the roof trusses in place. Also, when it almost looks like a house (a see-through one), we are not ready to jump into the jet-bathtub yet. For you, it should be the phase when you establish your Internet team’s rules on responses, response time, how - and for how long - you will be following up (You Buy or You Die). Furthermore, look into URL names that are available and that could help you in fulfilling your SEO domination dreams in the future. Buy them and put them on hold for a later phase – like the landscaping. You need to look into available usernames on Social Networks you’d like to participate in. Facebook and YouTube are a must. Twitter is a great vehicle to attract and guide traffic to desired pages. You may also secure Flickr (photo sharing). How to use these Social Networks effectively is a discussion for another time.
After the roof and the siding are in place, installation of HVAC, plumbing and electrical is next. For our purposes here: look at your lead suppliers. How many leads are received, how many close, what is the ROI? What is the competition buying? Let me explain: A group that I had worked for had the motto, “more is better” (Not!). I discovered the same leads came in twice through vendor A, B and C. Knowing that my competition bought B and C leads, I took a look at the leads’ arrival times. I discovered lead provider A (the more expensive provider) was, on average, nine minutes earlier in the CRM than provider B and C. Decision: B and C out. I instructed my Internet team to pick up the phone immediately when a provider A lead came in or to submit an email in less than 3 minutes, which gave me an advantage of 6 minutes towards the competition. Results: Closing Rate increase of 4% for lead source A and cutting 3rd party lead expenses by an average of $3K/mo.
Now we are getting somewhere, don’t you think?
Next up are the drywall, ceiling, interior doors, caulk, paint, fixtures and yes – the jet-tub as well. It means for you: Weekly maintenance of your website, processes and reporting. Your team needs to be instructed to send out weekly mystery inquiries to the competition and the price findings will be discussed with your sales managers to secure your competitive advantage.
Check your competition’s website every week. Because of my weekly routine, I was able to discover my competition’s unethical and non-compliant SEO tactics on their OEM site launched just two days prior. I was able to react fast enough, reporting “dirty tricks” to the OEM-compliance board and dismantled their would-be “black hat SEO practices” from the get-go.
I love new house smell… almost as much as new car smell.
I guess furniture is next. The same should count for your Internet operations. I encourage you to be proactive and not just wait for vendor reps to show up. Attend dealer-specific venues like DrivingSales Executive Summit, NADA Conference or the Digital Dealer Conference. These events are great melting pots of knowledge, best practices and will benefit you in the long run. The vendor booths present will most likely show you what is hip right now and what will be the next “big thing” in the future. Just don’t forget – you are a homeowner now and you decide what comes into your house.
I hope to see you around when you’re “furniture” shopping, and if you need a Handy Man, look me up!