Transparency, trust for auto dealers a must for media companies

LA GRANGE, Ill.  - 

Misleading performance metrics in the automotive industry will erode the trust between vendors and dealers. These ramifications will have lasting effects for everyone providing marketing services to dealerships.

Most dealerships are beginning to rely heavily on analytics to evaluate their marketing campaigns. Because many marketing products can’t be evaluated only by CRM data, leads and phone calls; dealers are looking to tools like Google Analytics to gauge the effectiveness of their marketing programs.

Google Analytics has predefined two types of data: dimensions and metrics. Google Analytics displays this data in its reports, usually in the form of a table. This standard predefined data allows dealers to honestly evaluate the effectiveness of one marketing campaign against another weighing in cost and other variables.

The latest trend by some vendors is to convince dealers to allow them to manipulate standard Google Analytic data to have their campaigns perform better. While setting up goal conversion on your website is a good thing and should be done for all dealership websites, other changes should be met with some skepticism.   

Events and bounce rate

The current recommended change is adding event tracking to vehicle detail pages (VDP). When using event tracking on your website, you need to be aware that events will impact the bounce rate of the page by default. Events count as an interaction (not a bounce) in the same way as visiting another page.

On the surface, event tracking may seem like a good thing; however, it may be done for all the wrong reasons. For example, if an auto shopper lands on your VDP and clicks to watch a video, you may want to add an event to show how many videos are being watched on your website. This can be used to measure the value of video on your site and to make adjustments in the quality of video or the photos used to build your videos.

On the other hand, if that same person is on a VDP but doesn’t click but stays on your site for a few seconds, does that warrant an event? I suggest not. If that person quickly views the vehicle and clicks back, in standard Google Analytics that would be tracked as a bounce. Some companies are suggesting that adding a “time on site” event to trigger Google Analytics that this was not a bounce.

There are many issues with this advice. First being it manipulates Google Analytics to benefit the vendor suggesting this change. All traffic sent to a VDP regardless of the source in this set up would benefit from this event. It would dramatically lower bounce rate, inaccurately inflate the metrics that measure engagement which would alter the evaluation of your marketing campaigns and your decision making ability.

If there is an issue on your VDPs you wouldn’t know it because all shoppers going to the page would appear to be engaged. Even if auto shopper didn’t click on anything it would seem like everything is great, but what if you had an issue with being overpriced? Or, what if your photos were not high quality and the majority of shoppers truly bounced?  Wouldn’t you want to have the correct data and know immediately there is an issue so you can make the appropriate changes? Also, if you are using this logic to add an event to a VDP why wouldn’t you add the same event to the homepage or the SRP pages?

Secondly, it would be very difficult to accurately compare seasonal metrics from prior periods before you added the event. If you compare the quality of your traffic in February to the prior February, it would be almost impossible to use the year-over-year data. While the amount of traffic is always a good thing to measure, it isn’t the complete story. We’ve had clients who saw great improvements in the bottom line without big jumps in traffic when they began to have better focused traffic.

The issue with providing marketing vendors access to make these changes only allows them to modify standard Google Analytics to benefit their product(s).  There is no reason to allow a vendor to manipulate your Google Analytics without a logical reason. By adding these events there is no actionable meaning behind them.

Let me be clear, event tracking when properly applied for the right reasons, can be a powerful tool for understanding exactly how people respond to your website and how other marketing efforts are working. But when done for no logical reason, it only benefits the company requesting the change. Be suspicious.

We must not allow the practices of some digital media companies to manipulate the metrics to improve their results because it will diminish the value of all digital marketing over time. And, we can’t ignore the larger idea of trust. Marketing agencies and dealerships both exist in a synergetic environment — we both need each other. Almost all consumers are shopping online before buying a vehicle so digital marketing has become very important. Dealerships will continue to need vendors that are honest, provide value and help strengthen their business.


Tony French is the president of Automotive Internet Media a digital marketing agency that provides CarClicks, websites and digital marketing services to the automotive industry. 

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