With the end of the year quickly approaching and a focus on getting as many cars sold as possible, it''s also the only time you have to make sure your plan is right for your web presence in 2010. We're talking about a plan. If you don't have one, it's time do something that will really move the needle for you.
It's a bit of Branding 101, Internet 102, Process 201 (we'll say that since you've likely hired a more traditional "get them excited to do more of the same thing after the excitement of yelling at them wears off in 3 days" trainer although not in a while) and a number of other 'class' sounding names. The long and short of it everything you're successful at will depend on your virtual existence.
So, when you decide to spend $X,XXX to $XX,XXX per month online, and stick with it for the long haul, start with:
WEBSITE: A thorough review of your websites via a true outside SEO review (we use @Grader at http://websitegrader.com), SEO keyword report from a third party (we use AutoFusion at http://www.autofusion.com) and a true review of best practices will have to open to change considering what most website companies offer. If you're website is 6 years old, has 100-400 indexed pages, less than 100 inbound links and a page rank under 4, it's time to say hello to a more competent provider.
We're not going to list website vendors here this time. Just start by knowing what you are paying for and (likely) not getting. The most important part is how dynamic your site(s) and content are. Yes, SEO is here to stay along with usability and design.
CRM/EMAIL MARKETING: While there has been a lot of focus on social media, email is still an effective tool for engagement. That is as long as you make it relevant and compelling. How do you do that? Start really looking at who is in your database, not just deeming them as customers! Without getting into the details here, start thinking about your message and what you would want act on instead of not thinking and leaving companies that know nothing about your business communicate for you. Do yourself a huge favor and read what you're sending out before you simply spend money on someone to spread *&$! out there faster and more efficiently.
When you've got that done, we think that these represent some best-practice partners: VIN Solutions (http://www.vinsolutions.com), Dealer Socket (http://www.dealersocket.com) and DealerUps (http://www.dealerups.com), which has been going though retooling since acquisition can really help you do your job more effectively with way less effort.
Using an email marketing company is important if you want to have more transparency and control (including scrubbing, deduping, targeting and more), remember to focus on content. Emma (http://www.myemma.com), Ratepoint (http://www.ratepoint.com) and Constant Contact (http://www.constantcontact.com) are leaders in their field in addition to the more auto-industry pervasive IMN (http://www.imakenews.com) in addition to surveys made easy by Survey Monkey (http://www.surveymonkey.com). the investments made in the services is minimal compared to the results. Again, your content must be timely, compelling and relevant or your just advertising and most people say 'no thanks' to that.
REPUTATION MANAGEMENT: What are other people reading before they ever talk to or visit you? It's how a majority of people are deciding on where they spend their hard-earned money! Will you spend $150 a night at a hotel with a 2-star ranking from guests? Why spend $30,000 on a dealer that does? Start by checking Yelp, DealerRater, Google and more. Then set up Google, Twitter and other alerts to monitor your business' name for free is a great start. Then there are services for a fee (in and out of the industry providers) from eXteres Auto (http://www.exteresauto.com) to Radian6 (http://www.radiansix.com) that know and understand online reputation and how to stay up on what's being said about you AND your competition.
SOCIAL MEDIA: It's all the buzz. And for most dealers, It's another avenue to scream "BUY HERE". Start with trying to understand that it starts with social. Think about how you're social. If you're selling all the time, you're likely not effective. And neither is selling all the time on networks. Be different, unique, compelling (there it is again!) and someone that people want to talk with rather than ignore. Here's a hint: if you get between 30 and 70% open rate on your emails but no clicks and/or your website visits crash two days later, and you're going to send the same kind of messages out via social media. there's one word for you: don't.
These are merely starting points and things to consider in your online branding. One thing to keep in mind as well: when you do promote and advertise, make sure that your message is contiguous. If you're a Toyota store and taking part in the Tent Event, everything you put on the web should be intertwined and you should have your store benefits and unique aspects promoted in addition to proper promotion.
If the above is already a stretch for your current resources and knowledge, get help. There are dozens of consultants out there. Don't hire an advertising agency to do this. Don't take the word of your current providers. Find out for yourself, ignore reps and figure out what you want from your money.
Get going, your competition already is or will be next. And don't pay the Internet any more lip service about what you're going to do, start and do it so you can have the Internet paying you.
Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results