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I was browsing through the latest delivery of one of Dealer Communications eNewsletters when an article caught my eye – “Consumer Reports Index: Sentiment Plunges To Lowest Level Since December 2009”. Being a person who likes to look at surveys and statistics, I began to read through the article. The article contains survey data and analysis conducted by Consumer Reports around various categories including consumer outlook, financial troubles, employment, stress and purchase behavior. Besides being an interesting read, at least to me, the article also got me thinking about how this information could be used to help increase the marketing effectiveness of a business.

The overall findings in the Consumer Reports study are a bit depressing:
• Consumer sentiment dropped to 43.4 a 5.1 point drop in only one month – this indicates a more pessimistic consumer attitude toward their finances.
• Financial difficulties were reported 10 points higher than the previous month at 60.6 – indicating many more households are experiencing problems paying bills.
• The Employment Index fell to 49 another drop from the previous month and reportedly the largest monthly drop in 2 years.

So what got me thinking about marketing in the midst of all of these woeful numbers? By reading between the lines and looking at the secondary points within the article, you can find data on which categories are faring the best. While the overall consumer outlook is bad, the report indicates the most optimistic consumer groups are ages 18-34 and households with $100k or more income. Consumer retail behavior was actually up from the previous month despite the negative outlook. Vehicle purchases remained static month to month and forecast for new car purchases are expected to increase in following months. Looking at these points, it is possible to see where your marketing efforts and money might best be spent.

So how flexible are you in your marketing efforts? Are you able to review data such as this and make changes based on your analysis or are you locked into doing the same things month after month. I am not suggesting you should make a massive change to your philosophy based on a single article or report but imagine how much more efficient capitalizing on current situations would be. The phrase ‘throwing good money after bad’ comes to mind; being locked into committing time and money pursuing markets that are returning less and less results or are predicted to do so is counter-productive.

So take a look at this study and let us know what you think. How flexible are your marketing efforts and have you seen a return on investment from being flexible? If you wish to see the article in its original post, it can be found here: Consumer Reports

Google has, after a great deal of time, false-starts, and speculation, entered into the Social game with their latest offering – Google+. Google+ is Google’s long anticipated response to Facebook. It is still in its early infancy and currently an invitation-only format where you must be invited to join. This is similar to how they rolled out Gmail with ever-increasing numbers of people able to create accounts. You can visit https://plus.google.com to add your name to the list for future invites if you wish. Should businesses start salivating over another Social Media opportunity in Google+?
First of all, after initial reports of corporations like Ford jumping in with both feet, Google has announced that it does not want businesses to begin launching accounts on Google+ just yet. They have stated they want the program to be for individuals for now but will be launching business profiles by the end of the year. (http://www.clickz.com/clickz/news/2086707/google-brands-fast)
Google has provided an additional sign-up form directed at businesses however – here . The details around this portion of the program are vague at this point but Google does state there is no guarantee of acceptance and that “test profiles will be retired when we launch our business product”. So the benefits of participating as a business are unknown at this point.
Should you sign up for the business profile waiting list? While the potential benefits may not be concrete at this time, what would it hurt? Worst-case scenario would be that you get denied or never make the cut. Maybe you do make the cut but then have to create a new account once the trial period is over. I would guess Google would offer a way to carry over your trial account’s followers but that is just speculation on my part. Conversely, what could be the harm of not signing up? Again, speculation here, but there is a chance of the trial accounts getting preferential placement in line for the full-blown business accounts once they are available. Also, it might be nice to experiment and learn the new system while it is still in ‘trial mode’.
Will Google+ be a true competitor of Facebook and/or will it be another potential benefit to businesses? Only time will tell for certain but Google obviously has some strong factors on its side. Not the least of these benefits is Google’s large cash reserves of over $30 billion – that’s a lot of money to throw at any problems that might arise. Google is also the dominant player in Search Engines. Recently, I wrote a post regarding Microsoft’s Bing search engine and mentioned their partnership with Facebook to tie search and social media together. Google has a potential advantage in this area in that it would control both areas under one large umbrella and it already has a leg up in search.
There are some glaring negatives for Google+ however. Possibly the most difficult obstacle Google will face will be the firm entrenchment Facebook has in the Social arena. There are so many users already on Facebook with all of their friends already established that it may be hard to entice them onto a new platform. While many will jump on board just because it is the ‘new’ thing, there may be just as many if not more who are unwilling to start over or do double effort. There is also Google’s past attempts at entering the social game – Google Buzz and Google Wave. Heard of those? Probably not so much unless it was in regards to the class-action lawsuit about privacy rights. Not Google’s finest hour by any means.
So check out Google+ – http://www.google.com/intl/en-US/+/demo/ and http://www.google.com/+/learnmore/ . Temper your expectations and decide whether this is something you want to try out. At the very least, I would recommend adding yourself to the personal account waiting list just to see if you can get in and experience the application from a user’s perspective. Google+ may be another failure but it may also be the next big thing in Social Marketing.
Let us know what you and your dealership plan to do!

The other day as I struggled to get my car off the highway while it silently broke down, I thought about how I had been planning to take it in to a mechanic for a while but just never found the time. I knew I needed new tires badly. I also knew from the last time I changed the oil the undercarriage was filthy with dirt and oil which may have been a leak or may just be from years of use and lack of cleaning. There just always seemed to be something more important to be done so I never got it looked at until after it was too late.
If you have ever broken down, you know the awful feelings that ensue. Coupled with these was the knowledge that I might have avoided the whole situation with some more preventive maintenance. While it turns out this wasn’t the case – it ended up being the fuel pump which would not likely have been caught ahead of time – it got me thinking about preventive maintenance and how you hear about it but don’t often listen. What if I had been incentivized to take action rather than just having the thought in the back of my mind? How many of your potential customers are just like me?
We often concentrate on how to help our customers improve vehicle sales and attract customers through that gateway but we don’t realize parts and service can also be an effective gateway to more customers. Are you maximizing this potential? Studies have shown that the coupons sections of websites are one of the most popular destinations for visitors. By having strong compelling coupons for your Parts and Service Departments, you could capture these visitors. Many of these could be visiting your website for this exact reason; not everyone that hits your site is looking to buy a new vehicle.
Of course, websites are not the only place you can reach out to people. Consider including offers in any newsletters or emails you might send out. And there are always radio and tv advertisements. The point being to give people a reason to not only think about getting maintenance done but to give them that extra push to do it right now.
This time of year can be very hard on vehicles. With the increased temperatures and vacations or road-trips, cars may be stressed more than they ever are on a normal basis. My car is a perfect example of this. Normally, I don’t drive it more than going to work and back but this weekend I was returning from vacation and was approaching the two hour mark of highway driving. Take this opportunity to not only increase customers to your dealership but also help prevent those in your community from getting that terrible sinking feeling as their car coasts to the side of the road.

Accurate information – everyone knows how important this is. Dealers especially know how important this can be for their online vehicle listings. Inaccurate information leads to missed opportunities, angry customers, or even hefty fines and penalties. There is no mistaking how important it is to make sure what you represent online matches reality.
There are several methods of making sure you are covered in this area. You could theoretically go out every day and check every one of your vehicles on every site where you list. This is obviously inefficient and mind-bogglingly boring. The better solution is to have your inventory processed through as few intermediaries as possible. If your inventory is delivered to destination sites via five different distributors, you have five different places to validate along with potential issues at the end site. But, if you can knock that down to a single distributor, you simplify your efforts greatly.
Also, by working through a single point, you gain a more personal interaction with that provider. You, your dealership, and your inventory become known to them and they can provide superior service. You also gain the ability to use any integrated tools they offer to validate your inventory has been successfully distributed. This greatly reduces the chances for potential errors as well as the amount of leg-work necessary to check for accurate listings.
There is still the potential that something may be lost in translation. Occasionally it happens that information which is correct in one place gets misinterpreted when transmitted to another. That is why occasional spot-checking on your listing sites is important.
This spot-checking is particularly vital when you know a major change has occurred in your data such as changing lot services or DMS providers. Recently, one DMS offered an upgrade in their software. After dealers upgraded, everything seemed fine to them, the DMS itself worked just as it always had. Unfortunately, what the dealers could not tell was a change behind the scenes affected how their data was labeled. This led to a ‘loss’ of vital information everywhere their inventory was distributed. A quick fix was available but unless the dealers knew there was an issue by checking their listings, they would not have known to implement the fix.
We live in a digital world. While this offers us great benefits and amazing features, it also presents new and ever-changing problems. A slight change in one area can have totally unexpected results in a seemingly unrelated area. A few minutes each day verifying your online information is accurate can save hours of headaches.

In a previous post, I discussed some basics of choosing a camera for taking photos of your vehicles. As I mentioned before, we seem to constantly be hammering the need for proper photos for you online marketing efforts. While this is not the only important element, you won’t have much success without them. The first step to taking your own photos is getting a decent camera and that was the gist of my previous post. The next step is determining how you are going to take your photos.

There are two main factors in this – where to take the photos and what photos to take. Neither of these are terribly difficult to determine but overlooking either will sabotage your efforts quickly. As far as where to take your photos, try to find a nice clean area free of any distractions. Some common examples of distractions I have seen are people milling about, traffic going by, stains on the ground or walls, and even garbage in the background. If you have an area where you can get either the storefront, a sign, banner or other identifying element that does not detract from the car itself, this is a good idea. Even better would be a clear open area where the only point of interest is the vehicle you are promoting. Try to think like a customer – if you were looking at the photo, where are your eyes drawn?

Once you have a great location determined, you need to establish a process on what photos to take. If you follow the same process each time, you will establish consistency and will not need to over think each vehicle you photo. The first photo is the most important photo you take. This photo will be used for the main image and thumbnail on every site you market on. You should make this shot either a front ¾ view or a side view of the vehicle. Since most sites will place the photo to the left of the listing information, try making your first photo with the vehicle facing right. This will result in the vehicle facing the listing information.

After the first photo, begin taking photos in a logical order moving around the vehicle and make sure to capture any special features. Get photos of each tire including visible tread. Remember to also include any imperfections on the body of the vehicle. Your honesty in presenting these will go a long way to establish trust in the customer. Once you have a full walk around view of the exterior, move to the interior. Include shots of each seat so the customer can see there are no tears or wearing. Be sure to get a photo of the odometer and the VIN number. Remember customers want to see pictures so don’t be afraid to take as many as necessary to truly represent the vehicle.

One of the most basic yet vital aspects of successfully marketing vehicles online is photos. We hammer this area harder and more often than any other. Quite simply, if you cannot get the basics of good photos, there is no need to be concentrating on more advanced areas. Customers want to see what you are selling. A picture truly is worth a thousand words in online marketing.
But how do you get these photos? Some dealerships choose to outsource this task to a lot service company; and this can be an effective solution. For those who choose to keep the task in-house, you need to have the proper equipment starting with a digital camera. And that is what I wanted to take a minute to cover. For those who use a lot service company or those who have a well-established process of photographing your vehicles, this will be way below your level but there are still many who are just starting to do their own photos and may not know where to start.
What’s the number one thing you always see marketed when looking at a digital camera? The number of Megapixels. A Megapixel (MP) is a million pixels. A 1MP camera uses 1 million pixels while a 3MP camera uses 3 million pixels. So the greater the MP rating of the camera, the larger the photo it can take. For taking photos to be used on the Internet, you don’t need to break the bank. Honestly, the number of Megapixels is one of the least important factors in your camera choice. Your final photo presentation is going to be of a size that is a fraction of what most cameras are capable of taking. You don’t need to spend huge amounts of money to get the best camera in the market just to use an even tinier fraction of its capability.
Probably the most important qualifier for selecting a digital camera to photo your vehicles is the available aspect ratios it can take. The aspect ratio is the relation between how wide a photo is versus how tall. A majority of higher cost digital cameras will use 3:2 aspect ratio. Computers and websites generally use a 4:3 aspect ratio however and that is what you want to take your photos in. If a camera cannot take photos in 4:3, you will run into problems.
Image resolution is the next factor to consider. Frankly, if you have chosen more than a 1MP camera that can take photos in 4:3 aspect ratio, image resolution is already taken care of. Most websites will not display photos any larger than 1280 x 960 pixels and anything below 640 x 480 won’t show the detail you desire. So your main choices to shoot in are 640×480, 800×600, and 1280×960. All of these should be available on the camera mentioned above. Higher resolution images will be reduced on most sites. Any time you change the original photo resolution, you run the risk of losing quality so taking huge photos just to have them reduced is counterproductive.
(If you really want to prove you don’t need an 11.1MP camera, you can calculate the actual photo pixels by multiplying your photo pixel width times pixel height. So a 1280×960 photo will use 1,228,800 pixels = 1.23Megapixels. So a 3MP camera more than handles this while the 11.1MP camera would only be utilized at 11%)
There are many external devices that can improve the final quality of your images. Items like a polarized lens or filter and an external flash can improve lighting quality and make your images more uniform. But at its most basic, a camera that can take images in a 4:3 ratio and is comfortable and convenient to use is what you need to get started on your way to good photos of your vehicles.

You have most likely heard of or read an article recently about Google Places. Many industry experts are recommending you secure your business listing on Google Places and make sure you do what you can to enhance your listing. This is solid advice and if you have not already followed it, read on to learn more about why you should.

Google Places is an offering by Google which allows a business to populate a free page with photos, hours, services and other information which can then be found by prospective customers. This page benefits the business owner by allowing them to present the information they want known about themselves and it benefits Google by allowing them to present more complete and accurate information to searchers.

Google uses information gathered from various sources to populate as many businesses and as much information as possible. However, since this information comes from third-party sites, it may be inaccurate. By allowing the actual business owner to submit their information about the business, Google can present that info with confidence.

Again, this page is provided for FREE. All you need to do is have a Google Account, also free, and then verify your business listing via phone or mail. Once you have completed this step, you will be able to access your page and personalize the information found there. In addition to photos, you can upload video, specify the various services provided, and post a description of your business. All of this is great information for a prospective customer to have easily at hand.

Oh, and there is the little matter of search ranking. Google states “All Google search results are based primarily on relevance, and Google Maps listings are no different. Google Maps ranks business listings based on their relevance to the search terms entered, along with geographic distance (where indicated) and other factors.” Google Places puts the power in your hands to make sure your business listing contains that ‘Relevance to search terms entered‘.

Properly populating your Google Places page can have a major impact on your search ranking. It is a Google product so there is no doubt Google will be able to make the most out of it for indexing. Think of this just like Search Engine Optimizing your website, except this page is free and hosted by the search engine itself.

So if you haven’t already done so, get your business verified on Google Places. If you already have, make sure your content is up-to-date and all of your services are listed with good descriptions. All it will cost you is a little time and the benefits could be great.

For more information, Google’s help page is here: http://www.google.com/support/places/

You may have noticed in my previous posts regarding Search Engine Optimization that I was overwhelmingly one-sided as far as the search engine referenced. I admit I am a fan of Google for my Internet searches. I use it at home, I use it at work, and I use it when I talk about SEO. There is a good reason for this – Google accounts for the lion’s-share of the search engine traffic within the United States.

According to an analysis of search engine traffic conducted by comScore, www.comscore.com, Google accounts for about 66% of all searches conducted within the U.S. Yahoo accounts for just under 17% of traffic and Bing (Microsoft) accounts for 11% of the traffic.

search engine traffic

Taking these numbers at face-value, it is apparent why Google is the main player when discussing Search Engine Optimization. The other players’ market share is minor compared to the Google giant. Therefore, you get the most bang for your buck by following the Google guidelines when optimizing your site.

But can you just ignore the other guy? Up until now, the prevalent wisdom has been yes; go Google and go Google hard. But there’s a new kid in town and he is itching for a fight. The new kid, in this case, is not the current #2 (for reasons you will see later) but the #3 player – Microsoft’s Bing. You are probably aware of Bing and may even use it yourself. Microsoft did not spare any money when they released their new search engine and launched a massive marketing campaign to go with it.

So why is it that Bing has caused a shake-up in the world of SEO? There are several factors but three major ones:
• Microsoft has enormous resources, money, and influence. This has allowed them to bring about the next two factors.
• Bing partnered with Yahoo earlier this year to provide the search results for Yahoo sites
• Bing has partnered with Facebook to incorporate the ‘likes’ of Facebook users and their friends

Microsoft and Yahoo announced earlier this year the plans to have Bing power the search results for users on Yahoo sites. Their stated expectation is to have this transition completed by the end of the year or early next year at the latest. As far as SEO considerations, this effectively merges the #2 and #3 players in the search engine market. Google’s 66% share still dominates the now combined share of Bing/Yahoo’s 28% but this makes it awfully hard to justify a Google-only attitude.

Perhaps the change with the biggest potential to cause Google headaches is the Bing / Facebook partnership. This partnership represents the first full marriage between a search engine and a social networking site. The fact that Facebook has become THE social networking site makes this all the more relevant. While there is some debate about how much the initial influence of ‘like’d pages will have on consumers’ searches on the Internet, there is no denying the potential for this partnership to drastically alter the world of SEO.

So with all that being said, what’s my point? Google has real competition and Bing should no longer be ignored. I don’t think there is a need or value in running out and trying to drastically alter the best practices proven to be effective for SEO. Bing and Google appear to use the same key elements for their rankings – good relevant content, pages with concentration on one subject, alt tags, keyword-rich page titles, site maps, etc… So there really isn’t a stark contrast between Bing SEO practices versus Google SEO practices although they obviously apply different values based on differences in their search results. For now, I would recommend the following:
• Be aware Bing is a potential up-and-coming player and watch for any more major announcements from them.
• Check out the Bing Webmaster Tools (similar to the Google Webmaster Tools) at http://www.bing.com/toolbox/webmasters/Default.aspx• Submit your site to be indexed by Bing using the Webmaster Tools
• Submit any site that links to your site to be indexed by Bing
• Run some searches to see the differences between the search results using this neat little tool: http://www.bing-vs-google.com/• If you haven’t already, get a Social Media plan in place and begin implementing it (see some of our other great blogs for details on that)
• Don’t Panic

Google Instant is the latest enhancement Google has made to their search engine. There are a few visible changes with this enhancement with the most obvious being the real-time updated list of search results as you type.

If you go to Google.com and start typing a search term, you will quickly see this demonstrated. The returned results update quickly and this allows you to stop typing as soon as you see what you want.

Another visible change you will see as you type is that Google will ‘guess’ at the word and phrase you are going to type. The search engine best guess is displayed in gray in the search bar and additional results are displayed below. You have the ability to select any of these best guesses using the keyboard arrow keys and the displayed results will update accordingly.

Below is a Google video demonstrating their new search functionality:

Depending on your personal tastes, Google Instant can be a mix of fun to play with, visually stimulating, seizure inducing, or just a plain distraction. However, you must always keep in mind that your website must meet the needs of as many potential customers as possible. While your opinion matters, the opinions of countless potential customers (think revenue) are critical. With that in mind, how will your Google Instant affect your website?

To put it simply, Search Engine Optimization becomes even more important. Previously, when someone searched on Google, they had to type in their entire search phrase and then they would receive a single set of search results. Now, they are receiving many more potential results as they type. So your site needs to rank well on multiple key words in order to maximize your visibility.

It is important to keep in mind the algorithms Google uses to rank their search results are still in effect. So attempting to keyword spam will not benefit you any more than it did before. You need to have your site properly optimized with valid content, page urls, alt tags, and all the other critical pieces of SEO that were important before.

Google Instant may change the way some people search but websites designed and hosted by Liquid Motors are already optimized to take full advantage of these latest changes.

There have been several blogs posted regarding websites and suggestions about how to make yours as effective as possible but have you considered one of the most important aspects of your site – the domain name? The domain name, or url, not only provides the world at-large the means to access your website but also plays a vital role in Search Engines. It is literally your site’s ‘address’ on the World Wide Web. Considering the importance of this wonder, you would want to do everything you can to make sure it is kept safe. There are many site owners who have no idea who is really in control of their vitally important domain name however.
So, how do you find out information on a domain? The first place to start is with a registrar. A registrar is a company that facilitates the actual purchase and management of domains. Every domain in the world can be traced back to a relatively low number of registrars; although there are more today than in the past. Some of the most popular registrars are GoDaddy, Network Solutions, and Tucows. Each registrar maintains a search function called ‘whois’ which displays the registry information for each domain. Using this function, you can usually determine what you need to know about your domain.
Let’s use GoDaddy as an example. If you go to http://www.godaddy.com, you will easily spot their domain search tool. Type in your url and click on the ‘Go’ button. The results, predictably, will indicate the domain is not available for purchase – you already own it (hopefully!). What you will see is a link to ‘get info’. Clicking on that link will show you the information we are looking for including four of the most important elements: the registrar, registrant, administrative contact, and technical contact. Another critical piece of information you can find on this page is the expiration date of your domain – don’t let it expire or you will be subjected to a most painful, read costly, process to get it back. I did a search for google.com as an example (sadly, it was already taken.)

domain_whois

The first item listed in my example is the ‘Registrant’. This is the holy grail we are looking for – the registrant is the owner of the domain. You should definitely see the name of your dealership listed here as the registrant or at the very least the name of the Dealer Principle. If you see the name of your website company or the name of a techie who designed some aspect of your website, you could very well be up the creek in desperate need of a paddle. As far as the registrar goes, the registrant is the one in charge and changing this piece of the registry is a very difficult process. If the domain was accidentally registered with a hosting company listed as the registrant and they realize the error of their ways, the process to correctly list your dealership will be simplified to some paperwork and proof of ID but can still be very time consuming. If the domain was intentionally registered with the wrong registrant information, you are looking at a very difficult process which will involve lawyers. That is why it is so vital to know the status of your domain – especially at the time it is being registered.
We already discussed the registrar but the information you see on this screen will let you know the specific registrar through which your domain is managed. Each registrar’s whois registry will be able to show you the actual registrar for your domain – you do not need to hit yours on the first try – but sometimes you will get more information if you do go directly to the managing registrar (most of the time there will be a direct link to your registrar’s whois page).
The Administrative and Technical contacts are also important as these are the contacts, depending on the registrar’s policies, who will be receiving notifications for the domain such as renewal notices, requests to transfer the domain to a new registrar, requests to access the account, and so on. Generally, the Administrative Contact is the one who will receive a forgotten password email if it is necessary. It is normal to have a GM, New/Used Car Manager, or Internet Director as the Administrative Contact and the Technical Contact although it is perfectly acceptable to have the website provider as the Technical Contact. If you look up these contacts and do not recognize the names and emails or they belong to a former employee, you need to take steps now to correct the situation. Requests to update these contacts are originated through the registar and each one may have slightly different procedures. Start the process ahead of any expected changes to your website hosting – otherwise, you could hit a major roadblock you were not prepared for.
So, who is in control of your website domain? Ultimately, it is the registrant but the administrative contact is pretty important as well. Both of these should be very easily accessible contacts for the dealership. There are a lot of ‘R’ words involved in domain names:

Registrar = the company through which a domain is registered and managed
Registry = the list of important domain information
Registrant = the owner of a domain as listed in the registry

Make sure you know this vital information about your all-important domain names before a situation arises that causes you pain, time, and potentially a lot of money.

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