The only good news about a decline in sales of new cars over the past several months: used cars are fueling the automotive rebound. As consumers trend to buying used instead of new, dealers are filling their lots with pre-owned vehicles to meet the increased demand.

You have the cars. They want them. How do you bring them to you?  How can you stand out from your competitors? With marketing budgets being cut, many dealers are looking to the Internet to “spend smarter.” There are still obstacles. With hundreds of vendors and marketing firms flaunting their products, it’s possible to spend more online than offline.  Luckily, there are only three areas you have to cover to make sure you’re geared for success.

Used Car Exposure
It seems like a no-brainer, but it just isn’t. Over 94 percent of car dealer Web sites do not appear on the front page of Google for “money terms” such as “(metro area) used cars.” In any large metro, “used cars” is the most competitive search term because of the abundance of third-party sites competing for it.

Then, there’s the longer tail searches such as “used Toyota Camry (metro area).” While these terms are easier to get, they are also much lower in volume.

A proper strategy would be to use search engine optimization for the high-value money terms such as “Used Cars Minneapolis” or “Richmond Used Ford,” while using sponsored pay-per-click marketing on the longer tail searches such as “Used Chevrolet Camaro Albuquerque.”  The high-value keywords offer low ROI for pay-per-click campaigns and the longer tail keywords have too low of a search volume to utilize SEO techniques.

It’s possible to get the individual inventory items optimized, but be certain that there is a permanent page you’re optimizing. Otherwise, your site could be dinged by the search engines for offering up results that will soon be removed once the vehicle is sold.

People are willing to drive further distances for a specific pre-owned vehicle. Optimizing your site for cities outside of your normal area can be the most cost-effective way to grab the attention of the searchers. If you have the right pre-owned vehicle at the right price, a two- or even three-hour drive is not out of the question.

Third-Party Listings
Most dealers use and/or to list their used cars. It comes down to dealer preference whether to use either of the two “kings” in the automotive online classified arena, so there’s no need to cover them here. can be a good resource if used properly. It can also be a budget drain if not used properly. As a general rule, if the listings are working, keep them. When it comes to actual eBay auctions, tread cautiously. The costs can add up when the right vehicles are not selected. Hard-to-find vehicles, as well as those with an odd year/miles/price combination, work well.

Craigslist is one of the enigmas in the automotive sector. For some, it’s their Internet department’s bread and butter.  The key is in consistency, diversity, and making sure to write the ads properly.

To maintain consistency, post often, preferably every day. Craigslist lists chronologically so plugging in your entire inventory one day a month gets you exposure one day a month. To ensure diversity, mix up the posts. Rather than posting all of your Accords one day and your Civics the next day, post a nice mix of 10 or so vehicles a day. Properly writing ads can be an article unto itself. Check your local Craigslist and see which ads appeal to you. If they appeal to you, they’ll probably appeal to others as well.

With dozens of other smaller vendors  offering listings, it’s hard to know who else to use. When making a decision, your best friend is good ol’ Google. Search the terms that we identified above. Sites that pop up for your area are the ones that will be your best candidates.

Once you know which ones are ranking well , you must decide based upon two primary criteria: functionality and competition. To determine functionality, do some searches on their site. How easy is it for you to find specific vehicles? Once there, is the phone number easy to find? Is filling out a lead quick and simple?

As far as competition, how many local dealers are using them? Not too much, not too little – that’s the goal here. If there are too many competitors, your listings are going to possibly get lost in the mix. If there aren’t enough competitors, visitors won’t consider the searches relevant.

Treating Long-Distance Leads with “Online Respect”
Internet department employees are trained to make the appointment and get customers to the dealership with as little information as possible. While this can be effective for locals, when dealing with long-distance leads, you really want to flood them with information. Why? Because your competitors probably wouldn’t, and the customers will appreciate this.

Does your Internet department have a Flip camera or other form of digital video recorder?  If you’re able to get someone two hours away to find a pre-owned vehicle they like, you have to get them to make that long drive, and a video camera is your Internet department’s best friend for this.

A good, attentive, well-trained salesperson can do a personalized video walk-around of a pre-owned vehicle and post it on YouTube for the potential customer to see in 15 minutes. They should make it comprehensive, pointing out flaws if there are any, looking inside, outside and throughout the vehicle describing what they see as they go.

They should start it up, rev the engine, put it in gear, and then take a quick shot of the rest of the used car line if it’s impressive while saying, “And if this one’s not what you’re looking for Mr. Johnson, I have 100 other pre-owned vehicles that might strike your fancy.”

Put it up on YouTube, make it private, and invite the customer to view it. Even if you have video walk-arounds or (gulp) static images turned into “videos” online, this crucial, personalized step will put the customer instantly at ease. The chances of them driving two hours to come see you just doubled.

Used cars are the only thing keeping many dealers successful right now. Spending money wisely and going the extra mile when the customer will be traveling an extra 100 miles can be the difference between success and failure in this volatile economy.

Vol. 6, Issue 7