Reaching Automotive Consumers Online White Paper Final
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  • 1. Reaching Automotive Consumers Online - A Dealer Web Site Builder Study
  • 2. About Sorgenfrei Sorgenfrei, LLC is a consulting, competitive intelligence, and market research firm based in New York. The firm’s principals come from the automotive, financial services and consumer goods industries with experience in corporate strategy, marketing, market research, finance, and investment banking. Our focus on client responsiveness and precise data analysis has helped us generate a client list consisting of some of the world’s most influential companies, such as Toyota, Mazda, Sony and American Express. NOTICE The content in this document represents the current view of Sorgenfrei as of the date of publication. Because Sorgenfrei responds continually to changing market conditions, this document should not be interpreted as a commitment on the part of Sorgenfrei. Sorgenfrei cannot guarantee the accuracy of any information presented after the date of publication. Copyright © 2009, Sorgenfrei, LLC All rights reserved. Sorgenfrei, LLC 320 Washington Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11205 Phone: (646) 696-1701 Fax: (646) 390-7547 www.sorgenfreillc.com www.sorgenfreillc.com 2|P a g e
  • 3. Contents Introduction ........................................................................................................................ 4 Search Engine Optimization – Best Practices ..................................................................... 4 Automotive Online Research .............................................................................................. 5 Who Gets Better Placement? ............................................................................................. 7 Study Methodology............................................................................................................. 7 Study Results ....................................................................................................................... 8 Aggregated Results across All Brands and Markets............................................................ 8 Path to Best Placement..................................................................................................... 10 Summary ........................................................................................................................... 11 Appendix ........................................................................................................................... 12 www.sorgenfreillc.com 3|P a g e
  • 4. Introduction The days of searching the Sunday newspaper for a new car deal are behind us. Internet search engines have changed the way consumers shop for everything; new vehicles included. A consumer who is looking to buy a new vehicle will likely spend most of her time researching on the internet. Once she has narrowed down the make and model she will then need to find a dealer for a test drive. Chances are she will use Google and end up with hundreds of results organized in pages of 10. Those results are not necessarily the dealer closest to her or the most relevant to her query. Rather, they are the web sites that are the best designed to be found by Google. What is the likelihood that she will click on the first listing, the tenth or go to subsequent pages? How does a site owner get their links to appear in the most-clicked position? This paper will answer those questions and will examine which automotive dealer site builders do the best job getting their clients in the first top ten search results on Google. We will look at 12 brands in 20 markets and catalog a total of 148 builders, 2,400 sites, and 670,733 pages. But first, let us look at some fundamentals. The process of designing and modifying a web site to be best found by search engines is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Search Engine Optimization – Best Practices Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is more art than science. The search engines are constantly modifying their algorithms and most keep their methodology a secret. With that said, there are some fundamental principles to follow when designing a site to be easily found when a consumer conducts a search. Beyond providing clear, concise, relevant and regularly updated content and providing consumers with an easy to understand URL (www.atlantabmw.com is better than www.helmutsbayerischemotorenwerke.com) three design principles stand out; making your content easy to find, labeling it and provide a map. Easy to find content: Search engines use automated scripts to scour the internet to find and index content. These scripts are called spiders and if the spider cannot find your content, it cannot index it for the search engine to serve up later. The more straightforward a site is designed the more “spider-friendly” it is. For example; simply using HTML instead of Flash increases a sites ability to be indexed. Labeling your content: Once a spider finds your site, it needs to be able to easily understand what your site is about. The first step is to use unique and descriptive title tags on each page, and to support the title tag content with relevant text on the www.sorgenfreillc.com 4|P a g e
  • 5. page itself. Heading tags and link labels are additional examples of clues the spiders use to identify themes contained within your web pages. This content helps the search engines in matching your website to relevant search queries. Mapping your content: Another way to help the spider find its way around is to provide it with a site map. Giving the spider a “cheat sheet” of what is contained on the site, makes its job easier and it will index the pages properly. Photography should be easy to for spiders to find as well. Images should have descriptive names and tags. The goal of being spider-friendly is to allow the search engine to find and index on their servers as much about a site as possible; the more information that is indexed, the better the chance of being served up when a consumer searches for similar content. Automotive Online Research Now that we have covered the fundamentals of site design, let us look at how the automotive consumer uses the internet. In the U.S., internet access is increasing and search engine use is proliferating: 73% of consumers have access to the internet1 and 49% of those consumers use search engines on a daily basis2. The top 5 categories accessed online are Health and Medical, Travel, Online Video, Shopping and Classifieds, Entertainment3. The automotive consumer falls into the Shopping and Classifieds category and a quarter of the visitors to that category use search engines to get there. What does that mean for the automotive industry, specifically the dealers? Research shows that 73% of in-market consumers use the internet to research their next vehicle4. They are looking for the information you would expect: pricing, specifications, safety information and photos. They are at the top of the shopping funnel. As they get closer to purchase, over a third (37%) are looking for dealer locations. www.sorgenfreillc.com 5|P a g e
  • 6. Auto shoppers – information sought online Pricing information 53% Fuel economy 48% Performance information 43% Model specifications 40% Safety information 39% Photos 39% Interior features 38% Dealer locations 37% Vehicle comparisons 35% Model availability 33% Consumers are most likely using a search engine to conduct this research and the one they are most likely to turn to is Google. It accounts for over 70% of all search results. The closest competitor, Yahoo, only garnered 19% with Microsoft falling into a distant third place with only 6% of the searches.5 Knowing the most-used search engine is useful, but understanding the importance of ranking of the results by Google is critical. 42% of clicks on a Google search results page are on the first listed result, whereas the second listing only gets 12% of the clicks on the first results page. The top 5 results receive 74% of the click-throughs and the first ten results on results page accounted for 90% of the click-throughs. www.sorgenfreillc.com 6|P a g e
  • 7. Figure 1: Percent share of click click-throughs by position 45.00% 42.3% 40.00% 1st listing 35.00% 2nd listing 30.00% 3rd listing 25.00% 4th listing 5th listing 20.00% 6th listing 15.00% 11.9% 7th listing 10.00% 8.4% 8th listing 6.0% 4.9% 3.9% 9th listing 5.00% 3.4% 3.0% 2.8% 3.0% 10th listing 0.00% In other words, like real estate location is the only thing that matters in the world of estate, search engines. Getting organic (free) traffic from Google, means being at the top of the from search results, and ideally the number one returned result. Who Gets Better Placement? lacement? We have identified the fundamental best practices for designing a web site that is easily found by search engines. We then shed light on the fact that a significant percentage of automotive shoppers use the internet and more specifically, Google, during their shopping process. The next question is how can auto dealers use this information to better reach customers? If they use a third party vendor to build their web presence, which vendor third-party best utilizes the fundamentals of SEO and site design to get their clients high on the est Google search results page? We conducted an analysis of search engine results from around the country to find out. Study Methodology For the purpose of this study we picked 12 brands that represent a cross section of the brands offered on the American market The brands include the top 5 brands by volume, market. domestic and international brands and luxury and mass market brands. The brands are: brands, s Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Ford, Jeep, Honda, Hyundai, Mazda, Mercedes Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Toyota. www.sorgenfreillc.com 7|P a g e
  • 8. We then chose 20 major markets geographically dispersed throughout the country. The markets we researched are Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New York City, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington D.C. In order to duplicate users’ experience searching Google from around the country, we used Google’s Adwords targeted ad preview tool6. This allowed us to see Google results as if we were in all the cities above despite being at our offices in New York. The searches took place during the last weeks of December 2008. Using the tool, we entered brand, “dealer”, and city (e.g.: BMW dealer Los Angeles) for the 12 brands in each of the 20 markets. The resulting listings included dealer web sites, third-party sites and vehicle manufacturer (OEMs) sites – excluding paid search listings. We examined 2,400 search results with a total of 670,733 indexed pages from 148 different website builders. The search results were cataloged by: Position on the search engine results page The number of pages indexed per site The website vendor that built the site Study Results Initial analysis of the results showed that there are some clear leaders among the many vendors offering automotive dealers site design, implementation and SEO services. The top 10 builders with the most successful track record at getting their clients’ sites in the top ten search results on Google are, in alphabetical order: AutoTrader.com, BZ Results, Cars.com, Dealer.com, Dealerskins, LotPro.com, Reynolds Web Solutions, Source Interlink Media, The Cobalt Group, and TK Carsites. While companies like AutoTrader.com and Cars.com are technically not independent site builders (rather they are aggregators of vehicle information and dealer web site links) we included them in the study and rankings as AutoTrader.com and Cars.com compete with the dealer sites for the consumers’ attention and click traffic. There are multiple ways to look at the study data. We can sort the data by brand or by market (see appendix for brief tables). For this paper to not be a tome, we decided to look at the top 5 builders across all brands and all markets and focus on their ability to get their clients ranked highly on Google’s first results page. Aggregated Results across All Brands and Markets Ranked by number of sites in the top ten listings across all brands and markets, Dealer.com was a clear leader with 251 sites or 10.5% of the total sites cataloged. The www.sorgenfreillc.com 8|P a g e
  • 9. Cobalt Group had 216 and came in second, with Cars.com, AutoTrader.com and Reynolds Web Solutions rounding out the top 5. Builder Rank # of top 10 placements % of total Dealer.com 1 251 10.5% The Cobalt Group 2 216 9.0% Cars.com 3 204 8.5% AutoTrader.com 4 147 6.1% Reynolds Web Solutions 5 139 5.8% Being on the first page of search results is an important first step in getting customers into your dealership. However, as mentioned, the top 5 placements account for 74% of the click-throughs on a given results page, and so we cataloged the builders in the study by the number of sites the individual builders had in the top 5 listings across all brands and all markets. Dealer.com also had the most clients in the top 5 across the markets and brands that we tested. The Cobalt Group and Cars.com were number two and three respectively. Reynolds Web Solutions and BZ Results rounded out the list. Builder Rank # of top 5 placements % of total Dealer.com 1 170 14.2% The Cobalt Group 2 133 11.1% Cars.com 3 114 9.5% Reynolds Web Solutions 4 77 6.4% BZ Results 5 70 5.8% But what really matters is the top spot on the Google search results; as a full 42% of all clicks are made on the listing in this position. Dealer.com was the leader with 47 sites in the top spot across all markets and brands. In other words, almost a fifth or 19.6% of the top search results when looking for a dealer given our criteria was a Dealer.com site. The Cobalt Group followed up in 2nd place with 35 sites and Reynolds Web Solutions, BZ Results and Cars.com were 3rd, 4th and 5th respectively. Builder Rank # of top 1 placements % of total Dealer.com 1 47 19.6% The Cobalt Group 2 35 14.6% Reynolds Web Solutions 3 18 7.5% BZ Results 4 15 6.3% Cars.com 5 14 5.8% www.sorgenfreillc.com 9|P a g e
  • 10. Path to Best Placement We have established that placement on the Google’s search results page is vital to increase the chance of a consumer clicking through to a web site. What is not entirely clear is how sites achieve high placement. Following the fundamentals outlined at the beginning of this paper is a good start, but in reality, most of the factors involved are nebulous and are subject of much debate.7 Most SEO experts agree that a higher number of pages indexed in Google’s database improve a site’s chances of matching a search query and that the quality of back-links to the website are important for Google’s algorithm and can lead to higher placement. In order to ascertain a correlation between the top performing builders in the placement analysis and the number of indexed pages they generate, we ran the Google “site:” test that indicates the number of indexed pages related to a URL. In the example below, when we typed in “site:universalcitynissan.com” in the Google search box, the site: test indicated that universalcitynissan.com has 551 pages indexed that are related to the site Dealer.com dominated the results, being responsible for 35.7% of all the indexed pages in the study. ADP, which ranked 11th in terms of sites in the top ten results, jumped ahead in ranks to the number two spot when we looked at indexed pages. Reynolds Web Solutions, The Cobalt Group and eBiz Autos rounded out the top five. Builder Rank Share Indexed pages Dealer.com 1 35.7% 239,417 ADP 2 7.2% 48,268 Reynolds Web Solutions 3 6.7% 44,749 The Cobalt Group 4 6.2% 41,318 eBiz Autos 5 4.1% 27,467 The variance in rank and the introduction of other builders in the top five could be attributed to the “quality” of the indexed pages as defined by Google. Simply having pages indexed does not guarantee that Google will deem them important. They must be www.sorgenfreillc.com 10 | P a g e
  • 11. relevant to the content and if there are pages linked to the site, they must be from a high-quality site. The data set above indicates that Dealer.com has both quality and quantity of indexed pages for their clients. ADP has a high quantity of indexed pages, but the dearth of their clients achieving high placement on Google indicates a possibly lack of quality of indexed pages. Summary It is very clear that the automotive consumer is using the internet, specifically Google, during the purchase process. There is also little doubt that in order to reach those consumers during their search activity, it is imperative to be on the first page of Google’s search results and ideally in the top spot. The confusion lies in how to best achieve the goal of optimizing a web site to achieve premium placement on Google. Following Google’s Webmaster Guidelines is an excellent starting point and is where all capable vendors should begin. There is, however, an art to working with the ever- changing Google algorithm and the results of the data analysis for this paper indicate that some vendors are more adept than others. Automotive dealer sites built by Dealer.com and The Cobalt Group come in the first and second place positions respectively when analyzing the top placements in the dominant search engine, Google. While it could be argued that as large entities, they simply have a volume advantage over the smaller competitors, the site: test analysis indicates a correlation between the Google placement results and strong site design principles. Looking at the correlation between top placement results and the number of indexed pages suggests that Dealer.com is more adept at achieving premium organic listing placements for its clients and that their methodology for building the sites is responsible for their success. www.sorgenfreillc.com 11 | P a g e
  • 12. Appendix Google search result page with Paid vs. Organic search results Builder rank by brand Brand #1 builder #2 builder #3 builder BMW AutoTrader.com Cars.com Dealer.com Chevrolet The Cobalt Group Cars.com Dealer.com Honda Dealer.com Reynolds Web Solutions The Cobalt Group Jeep Dealer.com Cars.com AutoTrader.com Toyota Reynolds Web Solutions Dealer.com gsMarketing Chrysler Dealer.com Cars.com AutoTrader.com Ford BZ Results Dealer.com Cars.com Hyundai Dealer.com Cars.com The Cobalt Group Audi The Cobalt Group Dealer.com Cars.com Nissan Dealer.com Reynolds Web Solutions The Cobalt Group Mazda Cars.com Dealer.com Source Interlink Media Mercedes Cars.com Dealer.com Mercedes Benz www.sorgenfreillc.com 12 | P a g e
  • 13. Most sites in top spot, top 5 and top 10 by market Top 1 Top 5 Top 10 New York City Cars.com Cars.com The Cobalt Group Los Angeles Dealer.com Dealer.com Dealer.com Chicago Wencel Worldwide The Cobalt Group Reynolds Web Solutions Houston Dealer.com Reynolds Web Solutions The Cobalt Group Philadelphia Dealer.com Dealer.com Dealer.com San Diego Search Optics Dealer.com Dealer.com San Francisco Dealer.com Dealer.com Dealer.com Columbus Dealer.com Dealer.com Dealer.com Baltimore AutoONE Media Cars.com XI Group Charlotte Dealer.com Dealer.com Dealer.com Washington D.C. Cars.com Cars.com Dealer.com Atlanta Dealer.com Reynolds Web Solutions Reynolds Web Solutions Miami The Cobalt Group Cars.com Source Interlink Media Denver The Cobalt Group Dealer.com Dealer.com Nashville Dealer.com Dealer.com Cars.com Cleveland BZ Results BZ Results Dealerskins Dallas ADP The Cobalt Group The Cobalt Group Boston BZ Results BZ Results BZ Results Salt Lake City Dealer.com Dealer.com Dealer.com Seattle MotorWebs MotorWebs MotorWebs 1 InternetWorldStats.com and Nielsen/NetRatings: http://www.internetworldstats.com/am/us.htm 2 Pew Internet Research, August 2008: http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Search_Aug08.pdf 3 HitWise: http://www.hitwise.com/ 4 Burst Media Research, April 2007: http://www.imediaconnection.com/content/14970.asp 5 HitWise: http://www.hitwise.com 6 Google Adwords Targeted preview tool allows user to enter keywords and a location to replicate being in that geographic location during search: https://adwords.google.com/select/AdTargetingPreviewTool 7 Seomoz.org, April 2, 2007: http://www.seomoz.org/article/search-ranking-factors www.sorgenfreillc.com 13 | P a g e