Online Opportunities

Ramp up your search engine marketing efforts

Nearly 97 percent of people with online access research products and service providers prior to making a purchase. This clearly explains why Google reported $22 billion in ad revenue in 2008 and continues to be the largest ad platform in the world. The No. 2 slot is held by Time Warner, who, with $9 billion in ad revenue, doesn’t even come close to Google. So where does Yellow Pages fall in terms of ad revenue rankings? You guessed it … it’s not even on the charts.

Back in the late ’90s, when I was a dealer principal, the Yellow Pages was taken very seriously. I remember thumbing through the book looking at my ads and comparing them to those of my competitors. I also remember taking the semi-annual scheduled meetings with my Yellow Pages rep very seriously. It was complicated determining which books I should participate in, which ad copy I should use, what size ad to go with, to use color or no color, cost, to co-op or not, etc. I took the Yellow Pages seriously because when prospects were looking to find Honda motorcycles, ATVs, parts, accessories and service it was the first place they went.

I had a close friend back in those days who owned a successful construction company. He swore by the Yellow Pages and, in fact, it was the only advertising he did. As I was recently reminiscing with my wife about how much we used to utilize the Yellow Pages, she begin to tell me the story of planning our wedding back in 1995. Of course, I was oblivious to all of the effort she went through to find a florist, limousine rental company, church, reception facility, photographer, caterer, travel agency, tuxedo rental company, wedding dress retailer, videographer, musicians, invitation printer, etc. Ironically, she explained that the Yellow Pages was her primary resource to plan the wedding.

Fast forward to 2010 and pretend you or your spouse is planning a wedding. Would you use the Yellow Pages? Clearly, the Internet has changed everything from how we communicate with our friends and family to how we as a business communicate with our prospects and customers.

However, unlike the Yellow Pages, most dealers aren’t taking online marketing (specifically search engine marketing) anywhere nearly as seriously as us old school guys once took the Yellow Pages. Here’s the real irony.

Comparing the power and potential of the yellow pages to generate sales leads versus the power and potential of the web is kind of like comparing a red rider BB gun to an assault rifle.

In 2006, there was an average of 2.7 billion online searches per month; in 2009, 32 billion. That means the number of monthly searches has increased nearly twelve-fold in only three years. From a trending perspective, that’s absolutely astounding, yet not necessarily surprising. In 2006 I wasn’t totally pre-wired to think "Google" every time I needed to solve a challenge. Now, whether I need a phone number, directions or to research why my knee is swelling after a run, I go to the search engine. (Heck, I’ve just used Google to research stats on Google.) It’s not just me and other Gen Xers who are now pre-wired to think "Google" every time information is needed. What’s more, this explosive growth has come from all demographics. Google is now a way of life for all ages, from the very young to the very old. Online searching has become such a common way of life that "Google" was recently added to the dictionary as a verb.

So if this is such a great marketing tool and so powerful, why aren’t more dealers utilizing search engine marketing (SEM)?

That’s a question I’ve asked myself on several occasions. My hypothesis is that most dealers just don’t understand it. On the surface, SEM can seem complex and overwhelming, however, so can the inner workings of fuel injection. I’m not a super tech and don’t really care to know exactly how fuel injection works — what’s important to me are the benefits, such as improved throttle response, reduced maintenance and not having to deal with a choke anymore. I leave the technical side of how fuel injection works up to people a lot smarter than me.

As far as SEM goes, most dealers assume that having a website is enough, and perhaps in 1996 that was true. But in 2010 just having a website certainly isn’t enough. There are more than one trillion web pages today attempting to connect with someone. SEM leads to more website, telephone and store traffic, which (with proper staff training) will lead to improved sales. The real question to ask yourself in today’s market is not about just having a website. More importantly, ask yourself, "What am I doing to drive traffic to that site?"

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