Using only traditional forms of advertising can be like driving through a downpour without your windshield wipers on, or cruising at night without your headlights on. Your view is clouded. You can’t see where you are or how to stay on track. You just hope everything turns out alright. It’s time to turn on your high beams and allow yourself to see the whole picture.

How can you do this? Search engine marketing.
Major search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and MSN/ allow advertisers to use search results pages to market their businesses right at the time when people are looking for what they sell. There are over 100 million searches on automotive-related queries in the U.S. each month on Google alone!

Search engine marketing, also known as pay-per–click (PPC) advertising allows you to take advantage of this traffic and zero-in on the exact type of leads you want for your business, which in turn keeps a constant flow of qualified leads coming to your site, hopefully resulting in new customers. Without taking advantage of this traffic, you’re leaving money on the table. Your competitors are probably already advertising online, meaning you simply can’t afford to miss out on this opportunity.

When using PPC, you only pay for searchers who click on your ad and visit your Web site. You can limit the amount of spend by setting daily budgets that are reasonable for your business. There is a lot that goes into creating effective PPC campaigns that will allow you to get most out of your advertising dollars, but making a few key decisions before you turn on your campaigns will allow you to start off on the right foot.

Deciding Where to Advertise
While you’re able to monitor your spend by setting daily budgets, it can be expensive for automotive dealers to compete in search engine marketing. One of the best ways to ensure every advertising dollar counts is to make sure your ads only display where potential customers can see them.

Appropriate geo-targeting is a must for auto dealers because you tend to service customers that are relatively close to your dealerships. You would be wasting money if a customer in Seattle clicked on your ad, but your dealership is in Tampa. The top three advertising platforms allow you to geo-target your ads to specific areas where your potential customers are located. You can target by a city or state, by a specified radius around your dealership, or even by hand-drawing an area on a map. You can create multiple campaigns targeting different areas, raising bids and daily budgets in locations that are more profitable and lowering your spend in areas that are relevant to you but don’t bring in as much revenue.

Determining Which Terms to Bid On
When deciding which keywords to bid on, you’ll need to think like someone who wants to buy a car. Some buyers are very specific, searching on the exact model they want such as “2010 Honda Accord EX.” Other car buyers know they need a car, but aren’t sure what they want. They may search something more generic such as “used cars in Atlanta.” Both of these types of people could be in your target market, so you should make sure you’re buying all of the terms that are relevant to what you offer. A useful tool is Google's free Keyword Tool. It also provides statistics for each keyword such as local search volume and estimated bid costs.

Conversely, you should include negative keywords in your list. These are words or phrases that you don’t want your ads to show up for. For example, if you sell BMW’s, you might not want your ads to display to someone looking for Suzuki’s. “Suzuki” would be an appropriate negative keyword in this scenario. The addition of negatives to your account is a very efficient way to ensure that you’re only purchasing the traffic that is relevant to you.

Presenting a Valuable Offer

You can pay to drive traffic to your site all day long, but just having those visitors peruse your Web site and leave will do little for you, except build brand awareness. You need an offer, something to entice those searchers to give you their name and e-mail address so you can market to them in the future. The offer should be mentioned in your ad text.

A landing page is the page on your site where searchers will land after clicking on your ad. Most of your competition will make the mistake of sending traffic straight to their home page. Your landing page should reinforce the message you’ve used in your ad and should make the action you want the visitor to take obvious.

If you want names and e-mail addresses, you should provide something in exchange for the information such as access to your inventory catalog or a top 10 list of the most popular cars in the current year. This way, you’re purchasing leads and not just visitors.

Tracking Performance
All major ad platforms provide free conversion tracking for campaigns. By enabling conversion tracking, you're able to see how many leads were generated from your spend. Having access to that data is the key to seeing the whole picture. You’re able to optimize targeting, ad text, keywords and offers based on how the numbers guide you. What this means is that once installed, you can see with a few clicks what is generating leads and what is wasting your advertising budget. Pay-per-click marketing is an extremely valuable advertising tool. Don’t be intimidated to use it to connect with paying customers who are looking for you. Instead of casting a wide net with traditional advertising and hoping to get results, try using online marketing and see very clearly what you’re getting in return.

Vol. 6, Issue 10