Is Your Paid Search Paying Off?

By David Metter

It’s time for a reality check. I’d like to begin with pointing out the fact that more often than we realize, the correct solution to a problem is both obvious and simple. We live in a common sense world, but I think people forget that sometimes. From a young age, we’re programed to be “critical thinkers” and to look at a situation from all vantage points. Our encoded mental paradigms tell us we should analyze, overanalyze, and overcomplicate every possible variable that may contribute to a desired outcome. On the contrary, according to Ockham’s Razor, a scientific theory dating back to the 14th century, “the simplest solution is usually the correct one.” Spending my entire career in the auto industry, with much of it in a dealership, we skip most of this (thankfully) but there should be a happy medium. It’s where common sense meets analyzed data. 

Paid search, or pay-per-click, while it may appear to be an affordable form of advertising, there is a significant breakdown in the attribution no matter how transparent and detailed the reporting. Plain and simple, paid search is complicated. As one of the first automotive marketers to use paid search over 10 years ago, I have “complicated” scars. Yes, you can see the amount of clicks your campaign received. You can see the impressions. You can see the engagements. But can you see, validate, and know that a paid click led directly to a showroom visit without any other factors involved? Absolutely not. People looking for information doesn’t in any way translate to a sale. So, how do you measure the true ROI?

Think about how much you spend driving people to your website each month. Thousands upon thousands of dollars are devoted to driving potential customers to your site in hopes of converting a click to a sale. As of today, the vast majority of customers cannot and will not purchase a car on your website. Therefore, dealers depend on leads to attempt to convert web traffic into showroom traffic.

The stats speak for themselves. There is no arguing that well under 5% of website visitors will complete the standard dealership lead form. Specifically, WardsAuto, DealerRefresh, and other industry leaders report 3-7% of automotive shoppers actually submit leads. CDK’s Digital Business Intelligence study shows only 1% of auto shoppers submit email leads from dealer websites.

It’s time we stop chasing imaginary attribution lines. If something isn’t working 95%-99% of the time, we need to do something about it. We need to direct our attention towards something we can quantify without a shadow of a doubt that led to a sale. We need to change the game – or more specifically, change the average lead form.

Let me provide you with a real life example. Just a few weeks ago, in February, 2016 (with only five days left in the month), a leading OEM came to my team asking what we could do to help push them to a stronger close. Typically, OEMs will rush to spend more money on search or display to increase traffic and then hope and pray that web traffic will convert to leads and showroom visits before the month ends. Unfortunately, that’s tough to do in five days. Its tough to do in 10 days, but manufacturers and dealers chase this same avenue month after month. But this particular OEM knew they had sufficient site traffic. What they needed was to see it convert in the showroom. AutoHook’s incentives generated more than 1,800 showroom visits in just five days and these customers were directly attributed to nearly 800 sales in the same time period - something I would challenge any digital effort to perform and validate.

In the Bounce Exchange’s latest Guide to PPC they acknowledge the tremendous waste potential of paid search. “Whether you’re a do-it-yourself small business or an agency managing hundreds of thousands of PPC dollars, you are leaving money on the table right now. Guaranteed.” Even worse, you could unknowingly be creating more opportunities for your competitors or just tossing money straight to Google. Their advice? “Move your budget into something that works.” More importantly, make sure that you have better and bigger nets to catch the fish. 

Let’s be clear. I am not saying don’t do paid search. It can be a great tool for driving traffic to your website, however it’s not ideal for converting actual sales or showroom visits. The reality is, paid search is not simple, and you can’t draw a straight line from your search campaign to a vehicle sold. A smart PPC provider, and more importantly a smart marketer, knows the difference between “researcher” and “buyer” search terms and online actions. Which do your campaigns target? What about your inventory? Are your search efforts boosting aging units or wasting ad dollars on high demand vehicles that will sell on their own?

Buyer search terms are specific and measurable. Buyers know what they want down to the year, make, model, and color. Most will not contact you before coming in for a test drive, UNLESS your website provides an experience that gives them something in return for submitting their personal information. Yes, I’m referring to offering incentives just for coming in for a test drive. It’s so simple. Give something to get something. If you are willing to pay for a click, why wouldn’t you be willing to pay for a showroom visit? Heck, they probably would have clicked anyway.

At the end of the day, you can empty your pockets in attempt to drive the world to your website. But the real question is, does your website convert once they arrive?