Archive for August, 2008
By Brandt Dainow
Learn where most companies misstep when it comes to his crucial component of their online marketing strategies.
Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the process of tuning the content and coding of a website in order to maximize its listings in search engines. SEO should be part of every well-rounded online marketing program. Pay-per-click advertising is all very well, but it means you have to pay for every visitor. SEO is about getting free traffic from the search engines. Over the course of two years or more, nothing has a better return on investment than SEO. Thus, if you plan on having a website that runs for more than two years, search engine optimization should be a key part of your online marketing strategy.I started doing search engine optimization in 1996 when Web Position (the world’s first SEO tool) was in beta. I remember receiving an e-mail from the company that pointed out that its tool would make it possible to sell SEO services to clients. At the time, nobody was doing search engine optimization, but it was instantly obvious to me that such a service would be essential if people wanted to be found on the web. I have now been doing search engine optimization for 12 years — and in some areas I “own” Google.
The most common mistake that organizations make with regard to SEO is bringing their SEO consultants into the process too late. Many companies fail to give SEO its due consideration during a website’s design phase. In fact, many companies don’t give it any thought at all until after a site’s design has been finalized. However, it is during the planning and design processes that SEO considerations are most important and will provide the greatest advantage.
Coding for success
The coding of a site affects search engine optimization in many ways. In fact, coding has a greater impact on a site’s listings in the search engines than the site’s content. Many sites — including those of some top brands — simply cannot be read by search engines at all. If you want to see for yourself, install the Google taskbar in your browser and start looking at the page ranks that appear when you visit various sites. Page rank is Google’s assessment of the global importance of a site. It will not take you long to find major sites that have no page rank. Unless the site is very new, a lack of page rank means Google cannot read it.
The technology used to build a site has a direct bearing on search engine optimization. For example, most search engines will not read pages if a URL contains a question mark. A question mark indicates that the content is the result of some dynamic process, such as a content management system or PHP. In other words, it tells a search engine that the content is being generated automatically.
When a search engine perceives that content is automatically generated, it has no way of knowing if the content is generated every hour or only once a year. There is typically a delay of six to eight weeks between the time that a site is read by a search engine and the time at which it appears in the listings. Thus, the search engine has no way of knowing whether what it has just read will still be there when it sends a user to the page in a month or two. In short, any page with a question mark in its URL is potentially untrustworthy. It was precisely for this reason that the mod_rewrite module was produced for Apache. (Microsoft has a similar module for IIS.) Mod_rewrite enables you to lay static URLs over dynamic ones. Adding mod_rewrite to a system before you start coding it is a small job. Adding it to a large dynamic shopping site after it is running is a major headache, and may simply be impossible.
This becomes more important if you plan on having a content management system (CMS). If software is going to be writing your copy, or code, you need to ensure that what it produces is as search engine-friendly as possible. Many content management systems generate horrific code from a search engine point of view. Once again, changing a CMS after it has been deployed is a major nightmare — and often impossible.
Early communication for optimal results
You often won’t hear complaints from SEO consultants unless search engine activity is absolutely impossible (and sometimes not even then). SEOs are used to dealing with (from their perspective) sub-standard sites, sites that are barely readable by search engines, and sites that contain many problematic elements. SEOs have learned to accept such sites, and they often have no choice but to do the best they can with the garbage they are given by customers. Many SEOs have learned that pointing out problems may result in a client’s deciding to go to a yes-man who will not make waves and is happy to take the client’s money for a year or two while achieving nothing.
If you want to get the most out of search engine optimization, your SEO consultant should be the first person you talk to when developing a site — before you even write a brief and start searching for potential designers. The sites that have had the most success when I’ve worked with them are the ones that asked me to modify their briefs to cover the requirements of SEO. The last time I did this, three of the five design agencies that had been asked to bid withdrew because they could not meet the standards required to make a search engine-friendly site. Throughout the design and construction process, I worked closely with the coders. Most new sites don’t get listed by Google at all for months. Our site was No. 1 in Google within two weeks of launch.
Bring SEO experts into the discussions of what will be built at the earliest possible moment. Don’t let the design agency or your own designers get their feet under the table until you have spoken to the SEO expert.
There are many elements that need to be considered during the SEO process, and these discussions often result in the SEO expert becoming the most unpopular person at the table. Such conversations often degrade into a litany of “no, you can’t do that because the search engines don’t like it,” followed by “no, you can’t do that because the search engines don’t like it.” Companies have to watch their favorite design features drop like flies. Sometimes designers have even gone so far as to accuse me of trying to cripple their designs. But ultimately, it is not the fault of the SEOs; they are just the messengers. They are simply telling you the way things are. When it comes down to it, if you want your site to get listed in the search engines, you have to give the search engines what they want.
Remember: Search engines do not have to list every site on the Web. In fact, despite what they may claim, they don’t even try. All a search engine has to do is provide people with a list of 10 reasonably valid results from which to choose. The lesson: You need the search engines. They don’t need you. Therefore, it is incumbent upon you to understand what they require and give it to them.
Bringing an SEO in after a site is finished is like deciding to do the electrical wiring on a house after you have moved in. By bringing an SEO into the site design process, you can save time and money later. In addition, your site is likely to achieve listings that it could never achieve if SEO were undertaken after the site was already finished.
Design a site for the search engines, and the viewers will follow. Design a site the search engines can’t read, and nobody will ever know it exists.
I’m going to take a break from my normal market-centric rants to call attention to this fascinating article about a new company called Better Place. The company’s basic premise… mash together automotive and cell phone business models to create the infrastructure and consumer demand necessary for the mass-scale adoption of electric cars — and the elimination of the oil-based economy.
Crazy? It’ll never happen? Read the article from Wired and judge for yourself.
A few weeks ago, we discussed how your brand is more than the sum of your tagline, logo and name. Rather, it’s a promise that you deliver to individuals every time they interact with your company. And that promise begins and ends in one place — your people.
Even in an automated and digital world, people do business with people — it’s there that we begin to judge the organizations we dealing with. So, if you’re positioning your dealership as “the customer-friendly alternative to the big boys” then your people best live every aspect of that. If your brand promise is “the lowest price, no exceptions,” then how your people act and make decisions should change to reflect that.
In short, if your people can’t live your brand, then it doesn’t matter what your logo looks like or your tagline says.
Marketing Strategist/Creative Consultant
Social media…it is THE internet buzz phrase of the past year. MySpace, Facebook, MeetUp, Twitter, Flickr…they’re all changing the way people interact with the internet and each other. But entering this social space as a dealership can be a bit scary. So here’s one idea to get you started.
Take a look at Meetup.com. Meetup is a social networking site that allow people with like-minded hobbies and interests (i.e. stay-at-home moms, fly fisherman, unicycle enthusiasts, etc.) to find each other, organize “meetups” and communicate with each other. Consider signing up your dealership, or an individual within it, for the local Corvette collectors group, or the classic VW owners group – whatever makes sense for your dealership. Doing this will give you an opportunity to interact with fans of your brand and perhaps even host a “meetup” at your dealership where members can test drive special vehicles or get a sneak peek at the new models.
Try it and let us know how it goes.
Marketing Strategist/Creative Consultant
Nothing has changed the way consumers use the Internet quite like video. Youtube.com and its brethren have fulfilled the true multi-media promise that was made back when we were all still on dial-up. We knew the day would come… and it has arrived.
So what’s made it happen? Well first of all, well over 50% of all internet users in the United States now have high-speed internet access. Secondly, simpler video editing software and less expensive video cameras have made user-created video affordable to middle America.
Video and multi-media are no longer nice-to-haves for dealership websites… it’s a must have to remain competitive. In fact, video has been shown to increase click rates and the time a user spends on your site.
In short… It’s time to make video a part of your dealership’s web system.
Marketing Strategist/Creative Consultant
I’m often asked about “branding” in terms of a company’s name, logo or tagline. Although these three elements are important, they constitute a small fraction of your brand.
Instead of thinking about your brand in terms of logos and taglines, think of your brand as a promise. Your brand is the promise you make to customers, employees, strategic partners, the media and everyone else. When you talk about brand, you’re really talking about experience — the experience an individual can expect each and every time they interact with your company. This extends to every touchpoint of your business, from calling customer service, visiting your showroom, clicking out to your website and returning to your dealership for service.
Thinking about branding in these terms forces you to ask different questions about how you run and position your business. Branding in this way can have dramatic effects on your business — effects that changing up a logo or tagline will never have on their own.
Marketing Strategist/Creative Consultant
JULY 3, 2008
A Look Behind the Numbers
“More than one-half of the average marketer’s budget is now spent online,” according to a press release from lead generation company Clash-Media. The firm conducted its “Online Lead Generation (B2C) Report 2008″ in May with E-consultancy.
But the press release may be a misreading of the report. According to respondents, a greater proportion of lead generation budgets is being spent online (on average, 53%) than offline (44%).
The survey’s methodology seems to confirm the point.
Of those polled, 73% said their channels to market were “online or multichannel,” and 23% said “online only.” Only about 4% said they were “offline only.”
So respondents were focused largely on online approaches. The rest of the summary issued with the report was more accurate. Among the findings:
- Seven out of 10 responding marketers said their companies used search engine optimization, paid search and e-mail marketing to in-house lists.
- Offline marketing methods largely decreased, with only press and television advertising growing. Over 90% of marketers saw online lead generation as a growth area.
- Print media was still the most commonly used offline method to generate consumer leads (65% of organizations).
- Natural search (79% of respondents), e-mail marketing to in-house lists (75%) and paid search (71%) were the three most commonly used online methods for lead generation.
Without question, online ad spending in the US is rising quickly. eMarketer predicts double-digit growth will continue for the next several years.
by Mitch Turck
If I had a dime for every dealer who demanded to be at “the top” of Google…trouble is, most of them don’t know where the top actually is. Or, they know where the top is and (as usual) prefer to invest money for instant ROI rather than invest time and effort for long-term ROI. In both of these cases, the dealer inevitably lands on spot #2: the top of paid search.
But folks, that ain’t the top.
If you’re a dealer asking questions about getting to the top of Google, then you already have some understanding of the power and value of search engine presence. But what you haven’t realized – or refuse to realize – is that “paid search” (PPC) marketing is not the magic bullet of search engine marketing. While PPC is highly cost-effective and can be tracked and analyzed to no end, it’s still just rented ad space. If you don’t pay for your ad to be there tomorrow, some other competitor will take your place… just like print ads.
Organic SEO on the other hand, builds upon itself. These are the results that “naturally” list out along the left side of the page; the sites which Google has deemed relevant to what users are searching for. The closer your site gets to the top of that area, the more clicks you receive, the more Google values your site, and the higher your site will go. It’s the snowball effect, and there’s really nothing like it in any other area of automotive advertising. Build a high-quality site and maintain it frequently, and you could be on top of the natural listings within a few months. That’s the discipline to keep in mind: the top of Google is in the organic/natural listings, not the paid listings.
The #1 result in the organic listings (Spot#1) gets about 40% of the click share on Google and other search engines. The #1 paid result doesn’t even come close (maybe 20% of the click share on a good day when listed above the organic side (Spot #3), and more like 10% at the top of the sponsored side (Spot #4)), and often you get better results as the #2 organic listing (Spot #2) than you would as the #1 paid listing. That means the majority of people are going to look past your PPC advertising efforts to find the page that Google has declared the most relevant page on the queried topic. That’s because users know PPC marketing listings are ads, and to a degree, they’ve trained themselves to avoid looking at such listings. It’s also because the organic results deliver more information in their results, so the user has a better idea of what they’re clicking on.
Now there are still a ton of people who mistakenly or purposefully click on paid listings, and I’m not suggesting you give it up. It is, after all, the second best marketing expense in this industry right now. But it’s still an expense, and that’s why it’s in the same boat as newspaper, direct mail, radio and TV advertising: when you stop paying, you stop getting leads. If you’re on a tirade about being #1 in Google, your first step is to realize that it’s not going to happen overnight, and that PPC marketing is not what gets you to #1. Your second step is to find a website developer who rocks at SEO and can build you a killer site… unfortunately, that means looking outside the offerings within this industry.
By Chris Lien
Sometimes being in the third or fourth paid search position is actually more effective — and a lot cheaper — than winning the top spot. Find out when it pays and when it doesn’t.
When marketers buy keywords, they often get caught up in the idea that their ads have to come first on the page — and they pay a premium for that placement. But first position isn’t always the best. Sometimes, position three or four will actually convert at the same or higher rate than position one, and at a fraction of the cost.
First position keywords can cost two or more times what a third position one does, and in some cases, it makes sense to pay that premium (for example, when you’re more interested in brand building than conversion, you’ll want to make sure your brand comes out on top). For campaigns for which conversion and profitability are also factors, position three or four can be better.
But how do you know which keywords should be in position three or four, and which are worth the splurge for the top position? How can you measure and test campaigns to find out which should be top-tier and which should be third-tier? How can you maneuver within Google, MSN and Yahoo to get the positions you want? Here are some tips that should help you win the position game.
Focus on what each click is worth, not on what position it should be in
In general, if a purchase conversion is worth $10, and one out of 10 people purchases, you should pay about $1 per click. You should offer that maximum price to Google (or another search engine) for the specified keyword.
After you launch campaigns, continue to test them for conversion metrics and adjust your top bid accordingly. Many marketers think that if the clickthrough rate is higher, the keyword should be more expensive. But you should determine the value of a keyword based on conversion rate, not clickthrough rate, because you only pay by the click.
Heads or tails?
Head keywords are generic terms that people search while browsing or doing product research, such as “mp3 player.” Head keywords often benefit from being in first position, because they capture a lot of “browsers” who just click on the first link and may be exposed to your site for the first time. These people may not buy now, but they’ll connect with your brand.
Tail keywords are often best in third or fourth position. These keywords are specific and appeal to committed buyers, such as “black ipod nano 8gb.” People searching for these keywords are usually more ready to buy, so they’ll look at — and even click through — several ads to find the best deal, even if that deal appears in a link halfway down the page.
The upshot? Head terms get much more volume and are often more expensive to boot, so to justify your investment you may need to measure carefully which visitors return to your website.
Set a top position
This is a tool on Google you can use to hold your keywords down in the rankings, even if you are bidding enough to be #1. It’s always better to figure out first how much your keywords are worth to your bottom line, and then find out where that places you. But this tool can be useful if you find that position #1 gets a lot of poor quality traffic that never converts.
Focus on the dirty dozen
Most marketers spend the majority of their budgets on a few top keywords, usually about a dozen, which are high volume and have a strong conversion rate. Focus on fixing the position of these keywords first, because correctly placing these top keywords will have the biggest impact on total revenues. Let the others fall where they will according to their conversion rates as described above.
Turn off Google Search and Content Networks
If you don’t opt out of Google’s search partners, like AOL and Ask.com, your position numbers will reflect a blend of your positions across all of those properties. To get an accurate picture of where your keywords are positioned on Google itself, turn off the additional distributions. You can always turn them back on after you finish your measurement.
Turn off Google Content Network. Ditto as above
To figure out what your keywords’ true positions are, focus on Google itself, not your position across all its content partners, such as New York Times, MySpace and About.com.
Some keywords perform stronger on the weekend, such as “gardening” or “beach wear,” for example. Set up automatic bid increases for these terms to boost your position solely on the weekends. (Google supports this at the campaign level; MSN supports this at the Ad Group level; and Yahoo doesn’t support it right now.) Remember: These boosts should be based on changes in conversion rates, not click volume. Look for the pattern before you set the boosts.
Pony up for brand and “executive” keywords
If you’re Coca-Cola, you just have to pay whatever it costs to have “Coca-Cola” be in the top position — that’s crucial for your brand. Plus you can use your company name in those brand-term ads, and other advertisers cannot (call the support team at the search engine if you see any violations of this). Likewise, if your CMO tells you the company needs to be in top position for certain keywords, like “digital camera” or “PC” to build your brand in those categories, then just pay what it costs to be in the top spot (and pull the cost from the branding budget!).
Double-digit Web ad growth
Automotive advertising spending in the US dropped to $1.99 billion in Q1 2008, according to TNS Media Intelligence. That was down more than 14% compared with Q1 2007.Ad spending is “sinking as fast as new car sales,” said Jon Swallen, senior vice president of research at TNS, in a July 2008 Detroit Free Press interview. Mr. Swallen noted that consumers’ focus on fuel economy has cut into truck sales, which has affected ad spending. “A year ago, for every dollar spent on truck advertising, they spent 80 cents on passenger auto,” he said. “This year, the ratio of truck advertising to car advertising is almost 1-to-1.”Automakers have traditionally been the biggest advertisers in the country. General Motors is the fourth-largest advertiser in the US, and the company spent $535 million in Q1 2008, according to TNS data cited in a July 2008 Media Life article. GM spent $2.1 billion on ads last year, which was the third year in a row of lower ad spending for the company.
Last year total auto ad spending was down 10.8%, to $12.3 billion, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus data cited in the Detroit Free Press article.
If there is a bright spot in auto ad spending, it is online. Internet spending was up 57.9% last year, to $441.6 million. TNS put GM’s Internet spending alone at more than $212 million (excluding search and online video), 79% over the previous year’s spending.
eMarketer predicts double-digit growth for auto online ad spending through 2012, when it will reach more than $5.61 billion.
Learn how auto marketers are using the Web. Get your copy of eMarketer’s Automotive Marketing Online: Negotiating the Curves report.
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