Part II: The Naked Truth Exposed [Paid Search, Retargeting & Budget Allocation]

Paid Search, Retargeting & Budget Allocation Best Practices

by the AutoHook Marketing Team

AutoHook’s nation-wide survey conducted over the last 3-months revealed the top five digital marketing topics dealers currently struggling with. These issues were addressed and exposed during Digital Dealer 21’s most jam-packed session, the Naked Truth. 

Top 5 Dealer Pain Points:

  1. [Social]: Does social sell cars?
  2. [Video]: Video, video, video…tell me more.
  3. [Paid Search, Retargeting & Budgeting]: What should we expect?
  4. [Online Buying]: Should we do it?
  5. [Data & Marketing Attribution]: Who has it and how do we get it?

With 2017 quickly approaching, AutoHook felt it was our responsibility to demolish the uncertainty and ambiguous topics that plague the auto industry. These digital marketing mysteries will be uncovered in our four-part series. Part I revealed the naked truth about Social Media Marketing & Video Marketing. Click here if you missed it.

Now prepare yourself for Part II: The Naked Truth of Paid Search, Retargeting, & Budget Allocation.

Allow us to re-introduce our Naked Truth defenders and share what they had to say about SEM, paid search, and optimizing your budget across channels:

Alex Jefferson (eCommerce Director, Proctor Dealerships)


“What has helped our dealers the absolute most (and this is a secret), but I’m going to give away…is in-store sourcing.”

One of the biggest challenges for dealerships today is sourcing, or attributing a sale to a single media channel. Proctor Dealerships use Survey Gizmo, an in-store survey tool to assist with crediting sales to a single source. Alex admits it can be very challenging to integrate something new and different within the culture of your store, but if you can do it successfully - it’s worth it.

How do in-store surveys work? At the time of purchase or delivery, Proctor dealerships provide customers with an iPad containing a 90-second survey. This gives buyers the freedom to share their own perspective of what led them into your store. Do not underestimate the importance of getting a consumer’s personal feedback on the things they saw, heard or felt that drove them to buy from you.

For Proctor Stores, this in-store survey has been significantly more effective than having their sales staff ask customers on the spot, “Hey, how did you hear about us?” Many won’t know or will give a false response. Placing an iPad in their hands and walking away provides a level of comfort so they can think clearly, and answer questions to the best of their ability and without that on-the-spot pressure.

These types of surveys allow dealers to look at their budget from the other side: the consumer’s point of view. When you look at both your reporting and your survey responses at the close of the month, you can see where you’re spending ad dollars, and then adjust how you distribute funds based on your results. The sources with the highest percentages of influence are your validation to spend a little more in that category.


“What we’ve learned over the years when it comes to search companies is you don’t always get what they preach here at these events.”

Alex recommends dealers proactively communicate with their search providers to establish proper expectations up front. Always ask questions! Ask about their internal team infrastructure. You’re probably not going to work directly with the VP or CEO of the company who may have originally sold you. Find out who will be handling your accounts and to what extent they will be managing your campaigns throughout each day, week, or month.  

Also, ask your paid search account manager how long they’ve been in that role, at that particular company? How much experience do they have related to your needs? You never want to run into a situation where you know more than the person who manages your search campaigns. Dealers need to force SEM companies to identify and show you their process of how they’re going to do what they say they’re going to do.

Kelly McNearney (Senior Automotive Retail Strategist, Google)


Kelly advises dealers to determine their paid search budget based on which ad sources drive the most traffic and leads to your store. The biggest indicator of how to spend your money directly correlates to where your customers are spending their time. For example, where is your website traffic coming from? Where are you getting the highest conversion rates? Who provides you with incremental leads you don’t get anywhere else? What’s working? What’s not working? First, determine which source drives actual sales and conversions for your store. Then spend or invest more in that area.


The biggest complaint Kelly hears from her dealer friends regarding paid search is: “I was promised the sun, the moon and the stars, and then I signed on, and now no one calls me back.”

The lack of dedicated service among paid search companies is apparent and widespread throughout the auto industry. Dealers are wined and dined for their business, yet when they need something, their search advisor is unresponsive. Many feel SEM companies overpromise and under deliver. Kelly’s advice? Establish a point of contact at your search agency you can rely on – someone you can call today, as in right now, that will pick up the phone and listen to you.

Don’t be afraid to test the integrity your search providers. If you have a great idea you got from Digital Dealer that you want to implement right when you get back, can you do it? Do you have someone on your side, monitoring and adjusting your account in real-time? Also, work with Google certified search partners that have been evaluated and endorsed by Google – meaning they’ve gone through training and passed extensive testing to become Google approved.


“This is where you’re going to get your money’s worth people. This is the naked truth…so here we go.”

Why did Google make the unexpected change? It all stemmed from the latest evidence of heat map tracking. Heat maps show the path people’s eyes follow when they land on a search results page. Before mobile took over, these maps showed the human eye went directly to the top left corner, or top left triangle of the page. Fast-forward to 2015, and heat maps started showing something completely different. People’s eyes are now moving in a linear fashion. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Everything you do on a mobile device is liner – whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, or reading emails, you scroll up and down to view posts and messages.

Further evidence supported this seemingly necessary change on Google’s behalf. Right rail ads represented less than 2% of all clicks. Google was simply adapting to our mobile world, as there is no right rail on mobile, and over 50% of searches now come from mobile devices.

“The part that gets me about this one is that the CPCs have NOT gone up as a result of this change. They have not, I promise you.”

That doesn’t mean CPCs haven’t risen. If your costs have gone up, Kelly says it’s because of something else. Consider the increase in competition within the auction for the top four slots. Or look at your Google Quality Score to see if it has gone down (the higher your Quality Score, the lower your cost per click). Maybe your search agency isn’t optimizing your spend. In her attempt to bare the truth of the matter, Kelly reiterated, “I promise you this is not increasing your CPCs.”

Kevin Frye (pictured below), eCommerce Director of the Jeff Wyler Automotive Family, and long-time valued AutoHook client noted otherwise in his DD21 recap on DealerRefresh:

“Hmmm, if the Google Adwords cost model is driven by the competition for each position, and you now have MORE people bidding for the top 4 slots instead of all of the slots that used to be on the top and side rail, doesn’t that increased competition drive up cost? Kelly – we need to talk. My cost is rising…”  -Kevin Frye
(Pictured above left to right: Lindsay Kwaselow, April Rain, Kevin Frye, & Kevin’s beautiful wife Julie)

(Pictured above left to right: Lindsay Kwaselow, April Rain, Kevin Frye, & Kevin’s beautiful wife Julie)

Anyways, let’s get back to Kelly and the amazing quick wit she brought to our panel.


“Does anyone know anyone that works at Pottery Barn? I need their phone number because I am sitting under this lamp that they are still trying to advertise to me.” -Kelly McNearney

Kelly is a huge proponent of remarketing (or retargeting) as long as it’s done right. We all know the potentially irritating impact retargeting can have on consumers when companies get it wrong. “Bad remarketing is when you bought a dress, and the dress is still following you around the Internet - and I see it all the time. Like I am wearing these shoes, stop advertising these shoes to me!”

Kelly’s advice on avoiding undesired reactions like this? All you have to do is negative retarget customers from the pool after they buy, or remove people who have already purchased from your retargeting lists. Before you jump into retargeting, consider how long you should be doing it. Remember that people are in market for 90 days or less, so do not keep retargeting them 120 days after they made a click, as they’ve probably already purchased a vehicle.

Scott Empringham (CEO/President, Flash Point Communications)


“Know how deep the pool is before you dive in.”

What’s the best way to distribute your budget? Flash Point has a four-step process that has been highly effective when it comes to determining the right budget for social:

Step 1: Identify Your Audience

Who is active, in your market, on Facebook right now? Drop a pin at your dealership, draw a 25-mile radius around your store and determine who is online within that mileage range. Filter by in-market timing. Then determine, who is in market for your brand? Whether it’s Ford, Toyota, Chevy - determine who is in-market for your brand(s) and also who is in-market for your competitors’ brands. Pick 3-4 competitive brands and target those people. The best part? Identifying your audience doesn’t cost you a dime. You can do it yourself or work with a vendor to do this audit or market analysis.

Step 2: Develop a S.M.A.R.T. Game Plan

SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. Determine 4-5 things to focus on over the next 30 days, and be realistic. For example, how many units do you want to sell this month? How many leads do you want? How many clicks or visits to your VDPs do you want to generate? Sit down with your vendor or your internal team and define your goals.

Step 3: Test

Once you’ve set some goals, start testing in small increments ($100 - $500). Don’t just jump in and spend money. Don’t allow your OEM or vendors mandate how much you should spend, as their standards for distributing budgets are not right for everyone. No one knows your dealership better than you.

Test a small budget before you expand and then monitor. Are you over indexing or under indexing? Are you getting more or less leads than you expected? What was your cost per lead? What was your cost per website visit? Validate goals with stats and then you optimize.

Step 4: Optimize (this last step has 3 parts)

  • Optimize Your Audience: Refine your target audience. Have you loaded your customer email list into Facebook? Are you remembering to exclude people that have already purchased?
  • Optimize Your Offer: Work on the offer itself. What message is going to speak the loudest to your audience?
  • Optimize Your Creative: What does your creative look like? Play with video and different images. Inventory-specific ads are very powerful.

To summarize Scott’s key points: Find your audience. Fine tune your audience, work on your offer and use inventory ads. Play with creative. Cancel what is not working and expand on what is working. It’s that simple!


“Transparency is what you need in a search provider. The good news is that data is absolutely available to search vendors.”

What qualifications should you look for in a paid search provider? Scott agrees with Kelly in that choosing a certified Google partner is a great place to start. Beyond that, he advises dealers to look at their search company’s current clients, look at their case studies, call their references, pick up the phone and call them directly. Can they be transparent with you?

Choose a vendor that can tell you what to expect in terms of your cost per click, cost per lead, and cost per sale. That data is available and you should be getting that from your search provider. If you’re not, find a new one!

Stay tuned for The Naked Truth Exposed Part III: Online Buying…Should We Do It?

A huge thank you goes out to DealerRefresh & Flash Point for capturing all the Naked Truth magic live on Facebook.

Click here to watch the recording!

For additional resources or information from our panelists, visit