The Hidden Cost Of Cheap SEO & Social Media Labor

Fact: All businesses, large or small, want to save money wherever they can.

I understand this. I sympathize with this. What I don’t understand, however, is why so many businesses try to take the cheap route and cut corners in their online strategy— and then are dumbfounded when they get scammed/receive terrible results/get blocked by Google.

I know how devastatingly costly it can be to launch, maintain, and grow a business. But there are certain aspects of building a business where it’s never okay to cut corners. You wouldn’t hire an inexperienced, too-cheap contractor to build the building. You wouldn’t buy discounted, bruised produce if you owned a restaurant and you wouldn’t buy day-old bread for your sandwich shop.

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Google’s view of the auto industry for 2008

This article was originally written by Jodi Harris, the managing editor of IMedia Connection. I feel it is worth posting.

The search giant‘s automotive director shares strategies for localized marketing and precision targeting and predicts some key industry trends on the verge of their tipping points.

Jodi Harris: It’s been over a year since you joined Google as the automotive vertical market director. From your perspective, have there been any big changes to the category or to Google’s automotive strategy, since then?

Bonita Stewart: We’ve seen major changes within the industry, such as soaring fuel prices, sales declines, market share fluctuations and reduced production; however, our automotive strategy remains the same. We work with our clients to demonstrate how technology, especially during turbulent times, aids ROI-driven media solutions.

Harris: Green marketing and reducing oil consumption seem to be major focal points for the coming year, and the rise in mobile technology and niche social marketing indicate that that localization will become a key marketing touchpoint for conveying brands’ positions. What thoughts or best practice recommendations can you share to help automotive marketers strategize for these big issues in 2008?

Stewart: First, automotive marketers should implement localization on two levels — brand and dealer. Brand marketers have the unique opportunity today to deliver relevant messages to their precise target, whether it’s a potential hybrid customer or someone interested in fuel economy, through contextual targeting. Meanwhile, dealers have the opportunity to geographically target their products and services, and mobile technology offers the ability to connect with a dealer during the shopping process.

Harris: Focusing in on the idea of precision targeting, what strategies do you feel work best for brands to identify and target the right niches associated with their nameplates?

Stewart: Most brand marketers have defined targets, but it’s critical to identify and then optimize their niche targets throughout the campaign, since some may have a higher ROI than others. We suggest placement targeting and taking advantage of niche sites to complement your brand strategy. If auto sales are expected to slow, it’s critical to mine for potential consumers by targeting relevant content on niche sites. More than 76 percent of page views are in niche sites. (Source: AdRelevance)

Harris: Are there other key marketing trends do you anticipate will play a big role for automotive in 2008?

Stewart: Right now we are particularly keen on the benefits of online video. It’s the new portable TV and offers the sight, sound and motion automotive marketers crave to differentiate their product and to evoke consumer emotion. In November 2007, U.S. consumers viewed more than 225 million auto/vehicle videos on YouTube. And several auto marketers have used online video to successfully launch new vehicles during the LA and Detroit auto shows, achieving views between 400,000 and 950,000 in a single day.

Harris: Video strategy also seems to be a top priority for the automotive market because so much of the purchase process involves getting a deeper feel for the car than just looking at pictures. Are there upcoming trends you see for video search and its ability to meet more tech-savvy consumers’ needs?

Stewart: Assuming they have the appropriate digital rights we encourage all of our clients to upload their video content. Google’s resources and expertise make YouTube’s search experience the best it can possibly be. Recommendations, related videos, active sharing and subscriptions are very popular ways for people to find meaningful automotive-related videos. We will continue to make search and discovery of videos a priority in 2008.

Harris: Recently, you mentioned the concept of “atomization” in campaign distribution. What suggestions do you have for dealers who want to take advantage of multiplatform communications but may be limited in their budget or staff capabilities?

Stewart: Both brand marketers and retail dealer associations should consider atomizing their content and tools. Don’t build it and wait for consumers to come to your site. Venture out, find them and communicate with them online through gadgets that provide dealer locators, photo/video galleries, build and price features directly to the consumers in a microsite format. Consumers control the dialog now, so make it easier for them to connect with your brand on their terms.

For dealers, I would recommend a stair-step approach to multiplatform marketing. Start with search, add contextual targeting, add geographically targeted display advertising and intermingle with video.

Harris: Obviously, at Google, search is a critical component of your marketing purview. So, what would your No. 1 piece of advice be for an automotive marketer looking to optimize its search presence?

Stewart: With U.S. vehicle sales expected to be 16 million or less in 2008, we recommend going back to basics with search marketing. All auto marketers should ask themselves if they are always on, 24/7, as consumers gather product information in today’s virtual showroom. In a study we published with Compete last year on the automotive buying process, we found 65 percent of auto buyers research their products in one month or less. We also found the search engine is the No. 3 most important source for auto buyers, behind the OEM site and third-party auto sites, during the buying process. So if you are not attempting to engage your consumers on their terms, when they are ready to receive your message, you should expect diminished OEM site visits and fewer leads than your more aggressive competitors. And always remember offline plans (TV, major events) drive online activity. Be ready online for what’s happening offline. Combine relevant search marketing with targeted display campaigns.

Harris: When we last talked, you spoke about the three-tiered approach for automotive marketing. But many say the funnel is eroding, and manufacturers no longer have the luxury of campaigns that simply build awareness. Are you finding this to be true? And if so, what can marketers do to streamline the purchase process for consumers who are embracing non-traditional purchasing and are more resistant to marketing tactics.

Stewart: True, the purchase cycle is condensing and the funnel is no longer linear. Nonetheless, marketers must strive to create connections at relevant moments and make it easy for the consumer to get to know the brand. When we address the three tiers, we encourage building a cohesive strategy from the brand, from the retail dealer association and from the individual dealer. All campaigns should align with a complementary message both national and local.

Lastly, don’t ignore the data. Today it’s more compelling than ever to follow the consumer and lead from behind. Consumer engagement is increasing and driving their behavior as witnessed by the growth in social networking, video, mobile and search. On the horizon I see integrated marketing moving to integrated accountability and ROI. Marketers will develop more cause and effect levers.

A great example is the Super Bowl. It’s the all time favorite for mass reach, but how many are prepared for the aftermath? Can I search for the commercial, find it on YouTube, send it to my friends, rate the commercial, watch it on my phone, etc.?

Harris: GM made headlines recently when it announced that it would no longer be supporting the ad efforts of regional dealers. Is this a trend that you see other OEMs moving toward, as regionalization and more flexibility become key to automotive marketing?

Stewart: We see dealers realizing the reach of online marketing and its effectiveness. We see OEMs across the board stepping in to help the dealers with education, business guidance and best practices. This year will be a tipping point for retail dealer associations and we see more requests for assistance to understand the efficacy of search marketing among dealers. We see it as our role to aid their understanding of online media and de-mystify Google.

Ask the Experts

Q. How long does it take for my website to show up in a search engine?

A. As long as there are no technical issues with the search engine spider following links within your site and you’ve been able to get web sites that are already in the search engines to link to your site, you should be able to find your site using specific search phrases within a month or two. If your site is brand new and if you don’t have any links to the site it could be much longer. As far as ranking well on general topics, it really depends how competitive the topics are, how much content you’ve created and how many good links to your site you have.

One thing you can do with Google is to sign up for a Google Webmaster Central account. Validate your site and submit a sitemap of all the pages on your site. In combination with getting other relevant web sites to link to you, it should make getting into Google’s search results happen more quickly than just submitting alone. You can do the same thing with Yahoo Site Explorer. Submit a list of urls in a sitemap file, validate and it may help your site get crawled more quickly. Although, links to your site is still the best and fastest way to get included.

Who’s Qualifying who?

When I first started selling cars over fifteen years ago, sales people were always told of the importance of qualifying your customer. This approach to the sales process still holds true in today’s dealerships however you might be surprised to find out who is doing the majority of the qualifying. A recent study was published by Yahoo, Polk and Cobalt gets to the root of the customer’s buying behaviour. The study states that 88% of consumers do online research prior to walking into a dealership, 83% used the internet to research vehicles and 79% used the internet to research auto dealerships.

The average consumer is exposed to much more information than ever before. From customer testimonials to dealer blogs to online reviews, customers are expressing their opinions and it’s open for the world to see. Apart from actually driving past a dealership, searching for information on the internet has surpassed all other sources for consumers to use when looking for a dealership. Consumers are doing as much qualifying of you as you are of them. They are finding out what dealers are in their area, their contact information, their inventory, dealer reviews, special offers and an overall feel for the dealership.

With the average customer willing to drive over 40 km’s to make a purchase, dealer’s need to be willing to extend their reach beyond their immediate market. So the question is how does a dealer find the right marketing mix to reach their customers before their competition does. The answer is you need to go to where your customers are – the internet.

Where has my showroom traffic gone?

More and more dealers are looking for ways to increase traffic into their showrooms.I’m told on a regular basis that walk-in traffic continues to decrease while the sales of automobiles are on the rise. How can this be? Five years ago, a consumer who was interested in researching a particular vehicle was for the most part, encouraged to visit a dealership to either pick up a brochure or speak to a sales representative. This gave the sales rep an opportunity to create a relationship with each potential customer. However, with the increase in popularity of the internet, potential customers now have the added bonus of being able to do their research online from the comfort of their home. Now when a customer visits your showroom, they are much more informed and might have narrowed their search criteria in advance.The above example is only one of many scenarios that are occurring in most dealerships today.

The question is, how do I connect with my customers in the early stages of the sales cycle? The answer is surprisingly simple, the internet.It is very surprising to still hear how much advertising is being spent in newspaper and print yet so many indicators point to the internet as the fastest growing source for information. With potential customers spending so many hours on the internet each week, why do dealers continue to allocate such a large percentage of their advertising budget to print?

I believe the answer lies in how the two media operate. Typically, a dealer has a dedicated representative for each news publication that meets with the dealer to review their accounts and strategies, where the three larger advertising sources on the web, Google, Yahoo and MSN rely on the end user to do the work. Even though it is more challenging to advertise with these sources, the rewards can be extremely fruitful. For example, when you advertise with Google your ad is only seen by your target market thus increasing your conversions and maximizing your ROI. Dealers will need to become familiar with the term search engine marketing and its affects on the automotive landscape. We will talk more about Search Engine Optimization in the weeks to come.