Let's face it. Websites are becoming a commodity in the automotive world. Most quality website vendors are putting out solutions that are good enough to work well. Few are coming up with innovations that can differentiate them, and those differences are relatively small in the whole scheme of things. The difference between a good and a great website is minimal when translating it to increased sales.
The reason for this is that consumers are becoming increasingly impatient when in car shopping mode. It's not that they don't spend as much time doing it as before. It's that they are doing most of their research on websites other than a dealer's site and only visiting when they're ready to look at live vehicles. At that point, they're going straight to inventory or specials and deciding from there whether to consider doing business with a dealership or not. If you have the right inventory items that they're considering, a bad website isn't going to keep them from contacting you. Conversely, if you don't have the vehicles they're seeking, an amazing website isn't going to coax them into doing business with you.
Websites are websites. Some are better than others and have strong conversion tools, but the real arena through which dealers can move the needle is in the quality of their digital marketing efforts. One of those efforts, search engine marketing, is arguably the greatest opportunity for advancement because it translates into more visitors, more leads, and potentially more sales when done right.
The biggest challenge that dealers with OEM-mandated search marketing products face is in defining competition. From the OEM's perspective, a Ford dealer's competition is the Chevy dealer down the block and the Honda dealer around the corner. They want search exposure that can take sales from the other brands. This is a good and noble cause, but unfortunately it's not the most practical target for individual dealers and dealer groups.
From the perspective of the Ford dealership itself, their primary competition isn't the Chevy dealer and the Honda dealer but rather the other Ford dealers in the area. It's how they're graded; we all see reports every month that tell us how we're doing against other dealerships in the area that sell the same brands. It is for this reason that OEM-mandated search marketing, as affordable as it is, simply isn't the best way to improve sales. At the dealership level, the lowest hanging fruit for increased business is by taking sales from the real competition, namely the other Ford store a few miles away.
As mentioned, there is one advantage to the OEM-mandated search marketing: it's cheaper. It's often paid for in whole or in part and can act as a check box on your marketing. "Yep, we're doing SEO and PPC. The OEM is taking care of that for us."
Unfortunately, that's really the only advantage. It's designed in most cases to keep every dealership inside their own little box. Reaching outside of the direct market area is a no-no for companies that work for the OEMs. In fact, they're goal is to keep the boxes neat and tidy.
When the search marketing is focused at the dealership level, it's a completely different strategy. The goals have changed; it's not that a Ford dealer doesn't want to take market share from a Chevy dealer, but that's a heck of a lot harder than taking a deal from the Ford dealer down the road. Let's say there's a dealer in a small town a few miles from you. They're the only Ford dealer in that town. Everyone in town knows them. When they want to do business with that dealership, they'll search for the dealership by name.
Consumers who search for the dealership by city are looking for an alternative. They know about Bob Ricky's Toyota in the heart of town. If they do a search for "Somewhereville Toyota Dealers" or "Toyota Dealers Near Somewhereville", you'll want your dealership to pop up. People that do searches like that are trying to find someone else from which to buy their Toyota. If they wanted to buy from Bob Ricky's Toyota, they would have searched for "Bob Ricky's Toyota". They didn't. They want someone else. They want you. If you're ranked for that search, there's a good chance they'll check out your website to see if they can do business with you instead of Bob Ricky.
Unfortunately, the OEM-mandated search marketing products aren't designed to help in this regard. In many ways, they're designed to prevent this from happening.
If your goal is to beat the competition, your competition, then don't look to the OEM's search marketing company. Don't just check off the search marketing box and call it a day. Explore your options and see if there's a way to improve your search marketing to focus on helping your dealership the best way you can, by being aggressive and getting your dealership in as many relevant searches as possible.