It’s Time to Stop SEM Theft

It’s Time to Stop SEM Theft

If you’re an average car dealer – and I do mean just average – you’re likely wasting $50,000 or more every year on basically worthless Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (sometimes interchangeably referred to as SEM or PPC). For some of you, you’re actually the victims of outright fraud; though for most of you, you are likely experiencing some form of theft (intentional or otherwise).

It gets worse when you realize your OEM is often an unwitting partner in this theft.

The ROI of Digital

Let’s be clear, there is no marketing spend a dealership can make that has the opportunity to provide more visibility to the actual “Return” part of Return on Investment (ROI) than Digital Marketing. The word “opportunity” in that sentence is italicized because there is a world of difference between what could be provided by your digital marketing vendors and what is actually provided.

Many of your digital marketing vendors have the opportunity to provide you with to-the-penny ROI measurements, but they choose instead to try and confuse you. (This is because a confused dealer spends way more than an informed dealer.) The funny thing is… it’s just not that complicated.

SEM Shouldn’t Stand For “Steal Everyone’s Money”

I’d been trying to recommend an honest PPC vendor for my dealer-clients for a couple of years; though even after sitting through a series of webinars from a whole mess of SEMs (and even one large classifieds site trying to explain the value they bring to dealers) I became further convinced most of you are simply being taken.

In my search for a good PPC vendor, I joined countless webinars/demos/meetings over the course of many months and listened as SEM after SEM explained their “unique” advantages. While they presented, I tried to write down every buzzword or descriptor they used, and then tallied these across all presentations. Any term used by at least three vendors is included here:

  • Best campaigns
  • Inventory marketing
  • Inventory targeting
  • Inventory retargeting
  • Automotive intenders
  • Exclusive data
  • Only qualified targets
  • Best retargeting
  • 100% in-house
  • Google certified
  • Google master partner
  • Bing certified
  • Quality traffic
  • Lowest cost per click
  • Quality Score

Interestingly, not a single traditional SEM mentioned Cost per (real) Lead (CPL), Cost per Sale (CPS), or Cost as a % of Gross during their presentations. These, of course, should be the primary, secondary and tertiary metrics you care about with your digital marketing; because these metrics are the only ones that can show you the actual return on your investment.

If you’re running into the same mumbo-jumbo I discovered, then instead of trying to find an honest provider, perhaps it’s time to simply cancel your current SEM vendor.

 “But Steve, we have to spend thousands every month on pay-per-click, right? I mean our OEM even co-ops this!”

Excellent! So, you’re only paying for half of the theft; is that what you’re saying?

The Only 3 Questions to Ask Your SEM Vendor

I am not anti-PPC; though I am strongly opposed to theft, fraud, snake oil, and smoke & mirrors. Unless your SEM provider can answer “Yes” to each of these questions, I’m going to suggest you look for another vendor:

  1. Do you allow me to pay Google directly for both PPC and Display?
  2. Are the phone calls derived from the SEM budget tracked/recorded separately from other website calls?
  3. Is my Google Analytics Account properly set up with goal tracking and connected to my AdWords Account so that I can see Keyword-Level Tracking for all dollars spent? (Yes, you should always use your existing Google Analytics Account. If any vendor ever tells you anything different, it’s time to immediately find a new vendor.)

There are three automotive SEM providers that I know of who can answer yes to these questions; though I can only recommend one of them to my clients for two primary reasons:

  1. I don’t have first-hand knowledge (from a dealer perspective) of what the other two actually deliver – only what they claim to deliver. Once I encounter a dealer-client successfully using their services, I will be able to recommend them.
  2. The company I do recommend (Venture Automotive) doesn’t try to upsell you “integrated marketing” that can include everything from reputation management to call tracking to email marketing to direct mail. While it can be nice to have “one throat to choke,” when it comes to search, I want my vendor focused on this and nothing more. The potential for fraud and the cost of failure are too great to have my PPC results comingled with direct mail data into some pretty vendor report.

But, What About Multi-Touch Attribution?

There’s been a lot written about multi-touch attribution where, basically, the proponents want you to split the credit for a car sale to any digital source visited by a given buyer. As of this writing, I see nothing wrong with this concept for nearly all digital partners… except the SEM vendors.

That is, despite what Google wants you to believe, just because a buyer was on a webpage that included one of your banner ads, it does not mean you should give that “impression” any credit. Because most people suffer from Banner Blindness (their mind intentionally avoids display ads) and a myriad of other reasons (truly too numerous to list here), SEM impressions deserve no credit in a multi-touch attribution model; zero, zilch, nada.

This would basically be equivalent to recording license plates on a given street and giving a billboard company credit when one of those vehicles eventually pulls onto your lot. It’s not completely crazy to track this, but it’s so far from the perfect reporting these SEMs could provide (if they wanted to) that it would be crazy to use this in any ROI measurement.

Real Results

Moreover, you should be paying your SEM provider to deliver low-funnel, ready buyers to your website and landing pages. If a prospect discovered your website via a paid click 90 days ago, never submitted a lead, then visited ten other sites before they showed up on your lot and purchased, can anyone argue the PPC click from three months ago deserves any of the credit? (I hope not. While it might be a “nice to know,” it shouldn’t impact how you allocate your future SEM dollars.)

Basically, your SEM should be able to show you real results (actual leads, calls, chats, texts and sales) from their efforts; so, the need to correlate back to some months-old online impression to prove their worth is unnecessary.

Using the right SEM vendor (one that provides real transparency and can answer “yes” to our three questions) and staying focused on the real results allows you to cut through the fluff and BS that currently costs dealers tens of thousands of dollars every year in wasted spend and fraud.

Next up: How to stop the SEO fraud impacting your bottom line.

Good selling!