SEO for |  | AutoTrader | CarGurus | WTF! Something else I have to Optimize?

SEO for |  | AutoTrader | CarGurus – WTF!  Something else I have to Optimize? > YES!

The new SEO is here now for all of our Third Party Marketing Partners. Don’t get left behind with their new Inventory search Algorithms! All of the third party listing sites, AutoTrader,, CarGurus, Edmunds, etc are using new Algorithms to serve more relevant search results for their online shoppers.

I can’t stress enough how fast our business is changing and moving forward in this digital age.

Any dealer who partners with me will have an edge and will learn how to maximize their online inventory for more VDP views by taking advantage of these little know changes to their 3rd party online listings.

I will show you the most effective way to post your inventory so your vehicles show up in search on these sites along with some very effective pricing strategies as well as how to optimize your pictures and descriptions for your customer’s shopping habits.

Hint: At this stage in their shopping journey, shoppers don’t want to hear about you in the vehicles descriptions!

Facebook and Instagram Advertising and Posting for the Independent

Facebook and Instagram Advertising and Posting for the Independent

You are doing it all wrong! Full article available for my Used Car Dealer Partners only.

Quick Hint – eBay:  Trying to sell inventory on the News Feed is hurting you. eBay Targeted Ads are currently the showing the best ROAS (return on ad spend) Period!

Quick Hint – Instagram:  A little know secret, There is an extremely easy and effective way to optimize this popular platform!  No one in York or Baltimore Counties is currently using Instagram right!

SEO – You are Going to Learn Something Today !

SEO Is Not a Project – It’s All of Them

I want to talk about SEO from a bit of a high level. I share a lot of specific tips & strategies for boosting specific signals for your dealership, but today we’re going to take a step back. A lot of people are disappointed in their SEO efforts because they’re thinking of it as a project with a start and an end date – like a radio ad or a billboard – where the costs are predictable and they’re buying something specific.

Instead, SEO is all of the projects that go into maintaining and improving a website’s visibility, with recurring and variable costs depending on how large the projects are.

SEO is Content, it’s Public Relations, it’s Social Media, it’s Community Involvement, it’s User Experience, it’s Conversion Optimization, and everything else combined. Everything digital that you do at your dealership sends a signal, which search engines use to determine your visibility. All of those signals need to work together. A slow website with poor content can get all the links in the world, but its potential visibility will be very low. On the other hand, a fast website with great content will go nowhere if no one knows about it. Good optimization needs a holistic approach that addresses each signal with a purpose.

Now, in order for it to be holistic, we need to find out what we’re working with. The first month of most SEO engagements is spent on audits and research. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution if you want sustainable results. How many times can you hit the bullseye if you’re wearing a blindfold? The audits point us to the board, and the research lets us see the target. There are a lot of moving parts that need to align in order to get results – and we have to know the condition of each one.

Sometimes, people like to just focus on specific areas of SEO, like Content, or only do what they’re good at. A-la-carte SEO can work if you’ve already got resources put into everything else and just need some extra hands. However, if that one piece off the menu is the only thing you’re doing, the results are going to be sluggish and unreliable. Everything needs to be dialed in and working toward something specific. If you’ve got an SEO provider, but you never talk to someone who understands how every channel needs to be aligned with your goals, do yourself a favor and walk away before you spend too much time going nowhere.

It’s also important to keep in mind that even the strongest efforts don’t show quick results. Your site’s organic performance typically stems from changes that were made weeks or even months ago. If you stopped SEO 90 days ago and are starting to see a decline, it’ll take another 90 daysto fully recover – that’s 6 months down the drain while your competitors are moving further out of reach.

What Are SEO Signals?

I’ve mentioned signals a number of times – all that really means is the stuff search engines see when they’re crawling the web. These digital signals are what SEO projects are designed to influence.

There are direct signals (or On Site Signals) that are under your control:

  • Your Name, Address, and Phone number (NAP)
  • Your code, like the alt text for an image, or Schema markup
  • Your content

And indirect signals (or Off Site Signals) that you can’t actively control, but you can influence:

  • Reviews
  • News articles
  • Natural backlinks

Each one is used by search engines to help them interpret a page, its purpose, and determine its value.

So at its core, all SEO really means is optimizing the right stuff consistently. Search engines look for two answers for each signal: Yes, or No. A few examples:

Is the searcher’s phrase on the page? Does the rest of the page support it?

Check out this example. If someone is looking for an oil change, they probably aren’t looking for articles on how often fast food places change their oil. How can we optimize for that search phrase? Add some extra context with Service Coupons, Tech Certifications, Oil Brands, or Mileage and Maintenance checklists.

We also have to stay within that context. If we overload the page with references to Buying Used Cars, or Leasing New Cars, and talking about Multiple Cities, we’re effectively diluting the amount of confidence in the page. A higher level of confidence means more potential visibility – don’t make search engines guess what the main topic is. If they’re confident in what the page is about, they’ll show it more frequently in the results.

Does the page have any authority? Does the page matter?

Does anyone else care about the page enough to link to it? Did you make sure search engines could find it through smart internal linking, or is it hiding in the sitemap? If everything else is highly similar to your competition, a higher authority may make all the difference. Get involved with the community – work with car shows, work with charities, and work with other businesses. In general, the more references there are to your site the more authoritative you become. Trustworthy references build trust.

Does the page load reasonably quickly? Is the experience good?

If it consistently takes 15-20+ seconds for the page to load, the searcher has already hit the back button and found your competitor. Search engines can recognize that, and they know how long it took the page to render last time they crawled it.

The click patterns of an unhappy searcher are pretty recognizable: click a link, come back to the results quickly, click on another link, and stay there. After hundreds or thousands of people do that, search engines catch on that the competitor should be ranked higher.

Putting it All Together

SEO is about cumulative action and smart, purposeful optimization to maximize your signal strength. Everything that isn’t consistent is just an anchor that weighs down your site.

Research – what are people looking for, what’s the competition doing? What has or hasn’t worked?

Implement – optimize specific pages to answer specific questions.

Promote – community outreach, social posts, share content, get links.

Patience – trust the research and let it play out. When the strategy changes, the clock starts over.

Convert – this is the whole point. The funnel has to be optimized in order to turn visitors into customers.

At the end of the day, the best SEO strategy is specific, realistic, and data-driven — and that requires understanding the process soup to nuts. A common complaint I hear is that SEO services were paid for, but the results just weren’t there. If that’s the case, go back through your SEO strategy, point by point, and make sure you’re covering the areas I’ve listed here. If you’re not, fill in the gaps.

Happy optimizing!

Author: Greg Gifford

Greg Gifford, Director of Search and Social at DealerOn, has over 16 years of online marketing and web design experience and has specialized in automotive SEO for the last 5. His local search tips and tricks can be easily found online.

A Map to Success for Independent Used Car Dealers

A Map to Success for Independent Used Car Dealers

Cox Automotive’s Mark O’Neil Offers Keys to Finding Your Way Through
the Unmapped Territory of a Growing and Changing Used Car Market

The automotive business today is driving into unmapped territory.
Yes, all of us in this business have for nearly a decade enjoyed a robust, expanding
industry for both new and used cars. But we are beginning to see the headwinds of a
contracting market – because growth is never forever.
It’s not all bad news though. Far from it. In fact, for used car dealers, the outlook is
Good data is more important than ever as we head into a somewhat murky future.
At this year’s NADA Show, Cox Automotive released its 2018 Used Car Market Report
& Outlook, which now includes a forward-looking perspective on 2018 and beyond.
In it, we took a careful look at our industry and were generally encouraged by what we
The report shows the used car market will continue to be a strong opportunity for
It’s no coincidence that more major players – including Sonic and Penske – are making
moves toward stand-alone used car operations.
There should be sufficient room for all players in the near term, as buying conditions in
the economy remain robust despite the stock market volatility in February and March.
The demand for personal transportation was strong in 2017 with more than 56 million
new and used vehicles sold, and 2018 is expected to be a very similar year.
Strong labor markets, coupled with low interest rates and solid credit availability, are
providing a sound foundation for vehicle demand by supporting both the need and
ability of potential car buyers. Consumer confidence continues to be strong, near record
But as Cox Automotive president Sandy Schwartz has said: The time to change is when
times are good.
So here are some key areas independent dealers should focus on to remain successful,
and even increase profitability, in the current market.

We have access to more data than we’ve ever had before, and while access to
insightful data is not the sole driver of success today, it is certainly the foundation of any
good, profitable business.
As a dealer, you need to find ways to use actionable data and intelligence to make
faster, smarter business decisions.
I’m not talking about analyzing the various metrics in the automotive industry. You can
leave that to the economists.
Instead, I am talking about making the conscious decision to stop relying on instinct and
intuition – your “golden gut” – and start relying on intelligence, prediction and, ultimately,
optimization based on market data.
Strong retail demand for used cars is largely being driven by affordability. Dealers
should consider using stocking tools to align their inventory mix accordingly.
Data and intelligence gathered from many sources across the automotive industry can
be processed and analyzed in ways to help you determine which vehicles will perform
best in your specific market.
You can also use market-based data to find the perfect price for every vehicle on your
Now let’s think about using data to assist you with inventory and floorplanning.
For example, how much inventory should you stock? The answer varies based on
realistic, monthly desired sales numbers and turn times.
Let’s say you want to sell 60 units per month. Assuming the average turn time is 40
days, that means you would turn your inventory nine times in a year.
The formula for inventory in stock, then, comes down to some simple math: monthly
desired sales divided by how many times your lot is turned per year, multiplied by 12.
So based on 60 desired sales per month and a 40-day average turn time, you would
need to stock 80 units.
By putting powerful information to work, you can focus on making your customers happy
instead of chasing inventory and constantly worrying about turn times and holding costs.

Dealers face three key inventory challenges in the year ahead.
In order to make the most of actionable data and intelligence, look for software and
tools that integrate data to drive operational efficiencies that enable you to find the right
inventory at the right price, and know how to price inventory to improve your velocity.
Despite the challenges, there’s plenty of opportunity to make operational efficiency and
profitability cornerstones of your inventory management strategy. But you’ll need to do
things faster – whether it’s acquiring cars, getting them retail-ready or pricing them for a
fast sale.
We hear from dealers all the time that there are so many inventory details they want
consumers to see but they don’t have the time or bandwidth to keep the merchandising
consistent and updated across all of their consumer touch points.
Look for tools that help solve that challenge and easily integrate into and streamline with
the existing sales process of your dealership.

One of the growing headwinds for new vehicle sales comes directly from the used
market, in the form of off-lease vehicles.
Leasing’s share of total sales has grown rapidly since the recession, rising from 17
percent of the total market in 2010 to more than 25 percent in 2016 and 2017.
A result of that sales strategy by OEMs is that off-lease vehicles are now flooding back
to dealers and providing a steady supply of high-quality, high-content alternatives for
new car buyers.
Cox Automotive estimates nearly 4 million off-lease vehicles will be coming back to
dealers over the next year, 1.5 million more than what had been considered normal.
They will provide an opportunity for further growth in the used car segment as they
become competition for the new vehicle market.
The opportunity is not only in the sheer volume of off-lease vehicles coming back, but in
the types of products available. The product mix returning to dealers over the coming
years will have many more SUVs, CUVs and pickups – the products that interest
consumers most.
And the content of those vehicles will be strong. They are not stripped-down, baseline
versions of higher-end nameplates. Most, if not all, will have touch screens, Bluetooth
connectivity and other features consumers crave.
In the business today, SUVs and CUVs are king, so this new mix of off-lease vehicles
creates an excellent opportunity for used car dealers.
When you are looking to acquire those sought-after off-lease vehicles, you need to look
upstream from physical auctions to digital opportunities, such as OEM open sales and
digital marketplaces.
Several online marketplaces exist that can make it quick and easy to find the inventory
that meets your customers’ needs at the right price.
Look for options that deliver personalized search results so your search, bidding and
purchase history is taken into account, allowing the platform to serve up increasingly
more relevant inventory recommendations.
Given the influx of off-lease vehicles, several OEMs have created digital storefronts
accessible to independent and non-OEM franchise dealers. Through those digital
storefronts, dealers have 24/7 online access to national inventory of off-lease vehicles.
Using a site like that, you can set up saved searches and alerts that will automatically
alert you when specific inventory becomes available.
Given that the website is an open platform, you no longer have to reserve time to attend
simulcast online auctions at set times or attend on-site live auctions. That can save you
both time and money.

Speed to market can be achieved if you streamline your inventory process from the
point you acquire inventory to the time it’s retail ready.
Think about the process you follow today. Do you get your vehicles online while they
are in transit from the auction to your dealership or do you wait until those vehicles get
to your lot?
The name of the game is maximizing velocity. Once you have acquired the right
inventory, the next step is to look for integrated solutions that enable you to efficiently
manage your inventory by getting it retail ready fast and quickly marketing your newly
acquired inventory in near real-time – even before the vehicle is on your lot.
When taking cars in on trade, choose options that include VIN scan technology and
quick, uncomplicated self-service options so you can load comprehensive build data,
receive market-based pricing and create enhanced images into a consumer-facing or
wholesale digital marketplace listing within minutes.
By connecting vehicle auctions, transportation, merchandising and advertising together
into one unified partner, we have shown we can shrink the time it takes to acquire and
market inventory from the industry average of 28 days down to just three.
That means less holding costs and more exposure for your vehicles, which translates to
faster vehicle turns and more ROI for used cars.
The simple truth is this: The faster and more efficiently you can get used vehicles to
your front lines, the more profitable you will be.

I have talked a lot about what you can do on the business side to increase your
profitability. Now let’s address the flip side of that – the consumer buying experience.
The typical car buyer in the U.S. spends more than three hours in the dealership from
start to finish, according to Cox Automotive’s 2018 Car Buyer Journey Study.
For most car buyers in America, that’s entirely too long.
Year after year, we have seen consumers express their frustration with the car-buying
process and demand a change.
We have found consumers want to choose their own path to purchase, which means
they want to be able to structure their deal and monthly payment before visiting the
dealership, and only then visit the store to confirm their numbers, take a test drive and
complete the paperwork.
Dealers can create an enjoyable buying experience by adopting the digital retailing tools
today’s consumers expect, which the recent Cox Automotive Future of Digital Retail
Study showed means not only happier customers, but more profit per unit.
With the right tools, you can deliver the shopping and buying experience nine out of 10
consumers want and the control and efficiency dealers need, making it faster and easier
than ever for dealers to close sales.
The data is clear: It’s a good time to be focused on used cars.
That said, dealers continue to face the challenges of margin compression and growing
consumer expectations.
For used car dealers, margins have decreased by 20 percent over the past 10 years. At
the same time, consumers know what they want, both in a vehicle and a buying
So I encourage you to take this opportunity to assess everything in your toolkit to
ensure you are competing at the highest level.
Now is the time to make changes so you can remain successful in the current market.


What Happend to Our Tax Season? The “PATH ACT”!

Our Tax Season has changed due to the “PATH ACT” and Now Requires a New Strategy!   

 Instead of money coming in late January and early February, the IRS held refunds for an additional three to six weeks for many folks. That is an additional three to six weeks for a customer to change his or her mind on what to spend their refund dollars on.

If you did not have a tax partner advising you on the refund delays and how to capitalize on the aftermath, your first quarter was likely a disappointment. Dealerships that were prepared had another record season with higher revenues.

Tax season is not three months long the way it was in the ’90s. It’s not even six weeks long the way it was 10 years ago. In the age of technology and fraud prevention, the tax refund sales season consists of just FIVE DAYS in late February and a stream of lesser dollar amounts in late January in the form of refund advances ranging from $400 to $1,500. Future refund advances could reach $2,000 or more.

The tax season has become nonexistent for many dealers. Dealer education seems to be the No. 1 reason behind this problem. Prior to the tax sales period, the shrinking window of opportunity was known only within the tax professional community. Even the best of the best within the automotive industry underestimated the contraction of the tax refund selling season.

Why would a car dealer know about the PATH Act? (Find out more about what the PATH Act is below). Who has the time to focus on the details of the tax industry while dealing with floor plans, employees, compliance, budgets, and everything else in the automotive business? These questions make it crucial to have a tax partner that also has a presence in the automotive industry.

What Is the Value of a Tax Partner?

Tax partners come in many shapes and sizes. Some dealers don’t have a partner; they handle customer traffic as it comes and assume very little changes from one year to the next. Other dealers are content with a “tax place down the street” that offers a discount for the dealer’s customers.

A tax partner that specializes in the automotive industry can offer so much more value. You want a partner that:

  • Attends industry conferences, including educational sessions
  • Speaks at industry conferences and writes for relevant publications
  • Is familiar with the premier DMS companies, such as DealerSocket
  • Is known as an authority in multiple segments of your trade
  • Understands your customer demographics
  • Understands your marketing and advertising needs
  • Communicates directly with you about changes in the tax climate will affect your bottom line
  • Takes on all IRS liability

What Are Irregular Payments?
Irregular Payments are special, contractual, inflated payments in the customer financing schedule that allow the dealer to collect more money earlier in the loan. Irregular Payments are not down payments nor are they pick-up payments. Irregular payments occur in addition to the down payment and are in the customer’s contract.

What Exactly Happened to the 2017 Tax Season?
In December 2015, Congress passed the PATH Act. This law changed the timing of many of the refunds that car dealers count on to boost their first quarter numbers.

Buried deep within the legislation was a provision that mandated the IRS delay any refund with the “big 3” tax credits: the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Additional Child Tax Credit, and the American Opportunity Tax Credit for college tuition. These returns were held for up to five weeks and not processed by the IRS until Feb. 15.

The reason for the delay was to reduce fraud. The PATH Act also required that businesses submit their employees’ W-2 forms to the IRS by Jan. 31. This allowed the IRS to match the W-2 forms on the tax return with the information provided by employers. Refunds with mismatches did not get paid and underwent an additional level of screening.

What Does This Mean for the Future?
This delay is the new norm. More than 95 percent of tax returns filed in January are not expected to have refunds released until after Feb. 20. You should anticipate the same for years to come. The IRS will save billions by foiling tax refund fraud, so there is no reason to presume that the schedule will change much in the future.

Obviously, we are talking about Uncle Sam and the IRS here, so changes do occur on an annual, monthly, and weekly basis. Having a proper tax partner will allow you to stay educated on the essentials that allow you to run your business in the most efficient manner.

Benefits for Dealers
For years, dealers have understood that you must be the first business the customer visits with their tax refund to stand a chance of getting paid. Statistics show that most Americans spend their $4,000 to $11,000 tax refunds in 24–48 hours. Having the right tax partner allows the dealer to print the customer’s refund check on site before they have the chance to spend the money elsewhere and break their promise to you.

This is also true with collections. If your customer is not willing to catch up on a past-due account when his or her annual tax refund arrives, he or she will never put in the effort to get caught up.

History shows that customers who purchase during the tax refund season put more money down than a July customer. These deals are the best performing deals in static pool analyses.

The customer benefits through lower payments, shorter loan terms, lower payments, increased vehicle equity, less interest paid over the life of the loan, and a savings of up to $200 on his or her tax preparation compared to leading national chains. The process is fast and easy.

The Big Picture
Car prices are on the rise. Your customer’s down payments remain stagnate. This has led to ever-expanding customer loan terms and a business model that is unsustainable. NABD statistics show that more than 60 percent of customers fail to make their final car payment. There is, however, a solution to 45-, 60-, and 72-month loan terms for a car with 100,000 miles.

Do you think this sounds absurd? We have seen the contracts.

Getting a satisfactory down payment is no longer acceptable. Ask your customer for an additional $800 out of his or her next tax refund and put it into the contract. Why settle for $1,000 down when you can get an extra $800 the following February? You will never get what you do not ask for.

Why a Responsive WebSite Platform is a MUST for Car Dealers.

Why a Responsive WebSite Platform is a MUST for Car Dealers.

For car dealers, your website is your shop window. So when considering a new website, or looking at improving your existing site, responsive web design should be your very first priority.

Responsive web design basically means that no matter the device your website is viewed on (computer/tablet/phone), your website’s layout will change to accommodate the screen size. While you could build various websites to accommodate all the different sizes, that wouldn’t be a good move for you or your customers and we will explain why.

Make Google Happy

Google views responsive web design as one of its most important factors for ranking on its search engine. This means that no matter how good your website may be with all its well-thought-out content and images, Google will penalize you for your lack of multi-device support and ultimately, slip you down their search engine pecking order. Importantly, this will see you out of the view of all those customers who trust Google to supply them with the most relevant and trusted results to their searches.

Keep your customers on-side

Along with Google, if there is one group of people on the internet that you do not want to get on the wrong side of, then it is your customers.

The likelihood is that even in your home, you will find devices of all different shapes and sizes, and no doubt your family will use a number of these devices throughout the day. If there’s one thing customers do not like, it is getting lost on a website, which means you should make it as easy as possible for them to find the information they need, even if they are constantly viewing your website on different devices.

The idea of having two websites, a desktop and mobile version, will often lead to content on the mobile version being located in different places or even non-existent as you strive to decrease the size of your mobile site. If customers are unable to find the same content on their mobile as they were on their computer earlier, then the chances are they will probably get annoyed and leave, and no one wants that to happen.

Five Reasons a Responsive Site Platform is a Must for Car Dealers

01.Google loves responsive websites, and so will your prospects

The new Google “mobile friendly’ website ranking algorithm favors cell phone friendly responsive car dealer websites that dynamically re-arrange page layouts for ease of use on any screen, over older “adoptive” websites which display a single rigid page layout regardless of the screen size.


With mobile search outstripping traditional online search in many key markets, your prospective customers will love it too.


02.Better usability, better visitor engagement

According to Google, prospective car buyers now spend up to 15 hours online researching, comparing, and learning. They are likely to return to their shortlisted websites from a multitude of devices, including a laptop at work, cell phone while traveling, a tablet at home, and more. Responsive car dealer websites ensure a better user experience on any web device. If yours is responsive, you have an edge over the competition.


03.No duplicate content

With a single website for all devices and screen sizes, ranging from big desktop screens to laptops, cell phones, and tablets, there is no risk of duplicate content or even worse, conflicting content. Upload once, and your audience will see the same content on all of their web devices. What’s more, they can effortlessly return to where they left off, visit after visit.


04.Smarter SEO

Instead of spreading your SEO and search marketing efforts thin across main and mobile websites, you can now focus your full attention on promoting a single responsive auto dealer website. Obviously, your website will perform better, with less overall effort. With just one website to track, it also makes your web analytics easier.


05.It’s Faster, too 

With no redirects to slow it down, responsive dealer websites will perform faster too, compared to traditional adaptive websites.


Using a Flat Pricing Strategy to Increase VDP Views and Conversions

Using a Flat Pricing and a Priming Strategy to Increase VDP Views and Conversions

Flat pricing is where you would price the car at a flat price like $15,000 instead of $14,995, it’s a strategy that I’ve used to increase Used Car Inventory VDP views. Basically by Flat Pricing your vehicles you get them to show in 2 price buckets instead of one. A very higher percentage of consumers go to sites like Autotrader and do a search for a price band like $15000-$20000, so if you price your car at $14995 you miss that search for $5.00, by pricing at $15000 even you get both shoppers, the one that might search $10000-$15000 and the one that shops $15000-$20000. I have been using and studying this price strategy for over 2 years now and I wouldn’t price a car any other way. Here is a webinar that will show all the benefits of Flat Pricing some of your Inventory.

Prime your fresh vehicles by posting them initially at a higher price and then when they hit the lot after recon drop them so they show as ‘Just Reduced”. Do this again a few times as they age to get the attention of anyone who marks them as “watching” as this will trigger a price drop alert to them.

Flat price where ever you can to show in 2 price buckets instead of just one! Never ever price a car again at $19,995 or $9,999!

Millennial Buyers Have Arrived – Meet Them Online with a Transparent & Great Web Presence. You Will Not Earn their Business Online doing business as usual.

Millennial Buyers Have Arrived – Meet Them Online with a Transparent & Great Web Presence. You Will Not Earn their Business Online doing business as usual.

Millennials – roughly those born between 1980 and 2004 – are late in joining the car-buying market. In fact, they appear to be late to everything – leaving home later, getting married later and having families later. But the latest reports indicate that generation is finally entering the market en masse. Recent studies by Cox Automotive and Deloitte Consulting Services found millennials made up 36 percent of the lending market in 2016.

However, the millennial care-abouts and approach to purchasing a vehicle are very different from traditional car buyers. And those changes could mean profitability for independent dealers. According to Forbes, Cox Automotive and online news site Elite Daily: • Almost 60 percent of millennials set a budget before looking at vehicles, compared to 46 percent of Generation X and 40 percent of baby boomers. • 83 percent of millennials said an affordable monthly payment is very important when selecting a lender. • 62 percent are more likely to become loyal customers to brands that engage with them online. • 87 percent use two to three tech devices at least once daily.

THE COST-CONSCIOUS CONSUMER Millennials are budget-conscious because they have to be. With an average monthly student loan payment of $351 extending well into the future, they’re looking for vehicles that can fit within their budgetary constraints. A study last year from LendingTree. com reflected an increase in auto loans for drivers aged 18-34. But the average loan amount was $3,000 less than for those 35 and up. While an increase in disposable income could account for that difference, in general millennials remain cautious about taking on more debt. In the past, vehicles were viewed as an extension of a buyer’s personality or social status. Got a promotion? Get a luxury or a sports car. Millennials currently swamped with college debt don’t have the luxury of thinking that way. For now, a vehicle is a means of transportation – an easier way to get groceries home or ferry a growing family. In fact, according to a survey by the personal finance website NerdWallet, 43 percent of millennials said owning a car is a hassle.

 MARKET-SHARE OPPORTUNITY!  Because of their debt and budget constraints and economic concerns, millennials want reliable, affordable vehicles. And that’s where independent dealers thrive. The challenge with millennials is getting their attention. To really capitalize on their purchasing power, you must meet those consumers where they already are – online. Engaging with millennial consumers online is more than simply displaying your inventory on your website. To really connect and gain their loyalty: • Train your team to answer inventory questions over email, text, social media sites, etc. • Actively monitor and respond to dealership reviews. • Provide F&I product information online.

Here’s the secret dealerships that engage with consumers online don’t want you to know: Answering customer questions and providing F&I product information online can increase your unit sales, penetration rates and PRU. A recent Cox Automotive study showed improved transparency online boosts customer satisfaction, especially in F&I. On average, millennials spend 17.5 hours shopping for a vehicle – two-thirds of it online, using sites like CarGurus, Autotrader and They look at customer reviews. They browse your website. The companies to which millennials give their business either conduct all their business online or provide as much online transparency as possible with regard to their products and services. ONLINE TRANSPARENCY Millennials view their time as a form of payment. To that end, they don’t want to go to a dealership just to find out the history or condition of a vehicle. They want that information up front and online. Think about it. How many of the emails you send to consumers asking them to come to the dealership for more information actually result in a visit? Not as many as you’d like, right? That’s why answering consumer questions and responding to reviews online is so important. It helps create transparency by providing a two-way conversation between consumers and the dealership. In the traditional finance process, consumers know nothing about F&I products until they reach the finance office. And the fact they have no control and no knowledge of F&I products makes them feel somewhat defensive. That’s why many times their guard immediately goes up when they enter the F&I office. Dealers that offer F&I product information online give consumers the feeling of control. They’re also generating greater interest in the products and benefits by letting consumers take in that information on their own time, with no one there to pressure them into buying anything. Cox Automotive’s research found 83 percent of consumers are interested in learning about F&I products before entering the dealership, and 63 percent would be more likely to buy F&I products if they could learn about them on their own time before finalizing the vehicle purchase. Providing F&I product information online lets consumers enter dealerships with questions about – and interest in – available F&I products. Their guard is down. They want to buy. Now that millennials are in the market and looking for vehicles you have to offer, isn’t it time to capture that market share by increasing your online presence? BY GARY BISKUP



 It is neither a secret nor a myth that car shoppers largely begin their buying process online. As a result, dealers continue to adopt more modern marketing approaches to grow their portfolios, remain competitive and put buyers in the right car. Dealers realize adopting digital marketing methods does not require sophisticated marketing tools. The most recent NIADA Business Confidence Survey conducted by NIADA in partnership with Equifax, found nearly 50 percent of the independent dealers polled said they planned to increase investments in digital marketing channels – including online and mobile delivery channels. Directing incremental online traffic is key to moving virtual shoppers into the physical dealership. Not knowing who the virtual browsers are or why they are Internet shopping means dealers will struggle to get consumer contact, whether by phone, email or face-to-face – and limited customer contact can be detrimental to dealerships’ profitability. Additionally, it’s imperative for dealers to identify gaps in customer affordability and develop plans to fill those gaps and build trust with consumers to convert leads into satisfied drivers and repeat customers. Those gaps have become increasingly important for used car dealers to understand, because over the past dozen years, finance penetration in used car sales has greatly increased.

Used cars are attractive options to buyers who want to save money by avoiding the decreased value of a vehicle due to depreciation loss from when the vehicle was new. But today used vehicles generally maintain value, reducing the dreaded “upside down” percentage of traders with negative equity and creating more with positive equity. That affords dealers opportunities to leverage that value and employ top-notch marketing approaches, similar to their franchise dealer brethren, which can reap strong back-end profitability. To attract ready-to-buy consumers into that process, dealerships should consider why someone who wants or maybe even needs a car would engage online, and what information he or she is seeking.

Why has the customer disengaged from the traditional process rather than just coming to the local dealership and talking to a salesperson from the start? What makes those consumers automatically head to the Internet? When those behaviors are analyzed, only then do dealerships begin to pinpoint their motivations and align their efforts to them correctly. One reason car buyers click first during their shopping experience is the comfort of it. Purchasing a vehicle is one of the largest purchases of a person’s lifetime, second only to a home for most of us, so it is a decision that takes time and has multiple considerations. Visiting dealerships can sometimes take an entire day or two, or even more for particular buyers. According to an Accenture survey of 10,000 people in the U.S. and other countries, consumers aren’t exactly fans of the traditional car dealership experience. In fact, three-quarters said if given the opportunity, they would consider doing their entire car-buying process online, including financing, price negotiation, back office paperwork and home delivery.

While the auto industry is already seeing some of that end-to-end car-buying online, consumers aren’t necessarily ready to experience that entire process yet, typically preferring to drive their new purchase off the lot. But it is still important for dealers to keep abreast of what is to come and make plans for the future while meeting buyers where they are right now – online.

There’s also another reason: With four times more car shoppers choosing to finance, consumers often opt to remain anonymous as they shop digitally out of fear of harming what might be an already challenged credit score by a dealership pulling credit. That’s an application of credit, which can impact a consumer’s credit scores. That credit-pulling fear can also be derived from previous bad experiences associated with credit, such as being denied a loan. People who have been denied before will just want to browse as many dealers as possible and stay under the radar until they find the right car that works within their budget. Ultimately, they don’t want to experience the feeling of being denied credit again, or maybe even being told they can’t afford the car they want. Fortunately, sophisticated credit based marketing tools are available as plug-ins that can help dealerships remove that fear while providing the consumer transparency, helping convert that anonymous web traffic (online and mobile) into qualified marketing, sales or just plain highly engaged leads. Those credit-based marketing tools can help auto dealers generate more high-quality, identity-verified leads from application forms embedded on their website. Additionally, those tools – through a partnership with a solutions provider capable of integration with a dealer’s website – can offer consumers a risk score to see if they are likely to meet the minimum credit requirements for auto financing from a variety of lenders. Here’s how the process works: To start the pre-qualification process online, the consumer only enters his or her name, address, email and phone number – no social security number, date of birth or driver’s license number is required or requested.

That in and of itself creates a lift in engagement and a drop in abandonment compared to traditional long forms because consumers are hesitant about entering those sensitive identifiers. Pre-qualification results in a soft credit inquiry posting, which does not impact a consumer’s credit score. All captured lead information is then sent to the dealer regardless of whether the consumer completes the input process or whether or not he or she qualifies. Consumers will then receive prequalification decisions, such as a credit limit, interest rate, and term. Once they receive the results, they can decide if they want to share their credit score range and/or prequalification with the dealer to move on to the next step in the auto shopping process. All of that is done by simply checking a consent box online. An overwhelming percentage of automotive advertising from OEM marketing and downstream carries “Buy Now” messages that require finance approval, low leases, zero percent financing, OEM incentive-based financing and payment calls. Pre-qualification can help consumers reduce the set of cars in their consideration set by helping them identify vehicles that are in their payment range and meet their requirements. For dealers, it helps moves qualified, focused leads through the sales funnel and empowers consumers to shop with more confidence. Inserting those marketing tools into existing digital channels helps consumers understand their credit and helps capture engagement, pushing foot traffic to dealership lots and showrooms. It’s extremely instrumental in terms of an overall approach for dealerships, as it works across the board to generate the high-quality, ready-to-buy leads dealers are in search of. Once consumers learn their credit score and can understand the types of cars they can afford, the financing hunt begins and dealers can engage with the customers directly. Lenders can prequalify consumers and provide their credit limits as well as displaying interest rates and loan terms the applicants would qualify for, subject to a full credit application. Now the finance portion of the car buying process has really begun. Some of the credit-based solutions really come to life when dealers use them to “front run” the business and extend offers to consumers who meet predetermined credit criteria – again with no impact to their credit score. We all know traditional credit marketing solutions that fill our mailboxes every day with offers for credit cards, mortgage refinancing, and dealer for a preapproved loan. That is now available to dealers in a real time, digital, consumer-by-consumer environment.

Car shoppers are researching on the Internet and they’re trying to piece together and validate as much of their deal online as possible before they visit a dealership. So it’s imperative for progressive dealers to identify and fill gaps so they can build trust by enabling those shoppers to easily get the information they want. Partnering with a trusted data, analytics and insights partner can provide customer tools that are designed to provide a safe, simple and effective solution that enables an efficient financial process, benefitting both dealers and consumers