I had the opportunity to participate in a two hour review of the latest features in the Dealer.com platform in August and it is clear that the Dealer.com development team in Vermont has been busy. Last year Dealer.com was a 2009 ASMA Awards dual award winner so this year they had big shoes to fill. They did not disappoint our review team.

This summary is not a full review of the SEO architecture and search strengths of the new platform. A full review will come when PCG Digital Marketing presents the 2010 ASMA Awards and Study Report on October 13, 2010 in Las Vegas.

It is hard to improve on a product that has so many strengths but Rick Gibbs, CEO of Dealer.com, has managed to inspire his team to greatness. One of the highlights of the presentation was the demonstration given by Eric Mayhew who is the chief architect behind their TCD Platform (Total Control Dominator). The Dealer.com TCD platform is truly one of the most important automotive advertising tools that car dealers can utilize for digital marketing success.

TCD is best described as a car dealer’s personalized digital advertising dashboard. TCD directly communicates with Google, Yahoo and Bing paid advertising networks so car dealers can adjust Pay-Per-Click budgets and targets without being a Digital Marketing Geek.

TCD is Google Adwords on steroids!

(If I had to rename the product I would call it Total Competitor Domination.)

Dealer.com TCD digital advertising platform takes business operating rules and translates them into actionable tasks in Google, Yahoo and Bing’s paid advertising network. One rule could be to advertise all off-make used cars as soon as they come into stock.

Another rule could be to start a weekend advertising campaign which offers a $2,000 reduction off of MSRP on select new models starting at 5:00 PM on Friday. Google Adwords out of the box is not designed for the average Internet Sales Manager to operate proficiently and in many cases, self-managed Adwords campaigns can be very costly to dealers.

Dealer.com TCD Budgeting

In the screen shot above, a dealership executive or Internet Sales Manager can easily see their current cost per lead and current balance. Need to make a change? Slide the $ button to increase or decrease spending. The Marketing Focus panel allows high level adjustments of spending by marketing focus. Do you want to increase the distribution of spending in your current budget to include “Used Vehicles”? Simply click on stars 1 – 5 to activate those keyword goals.

Innovative Phone Number Tracking

Dealer.com has integrated phone number tracking with all Pay-Per-Click campaigns. You may not be impressed by that fact since other companies offer similar services. However, Dealer.com takes it to the next level by scraping all pages on the dealer’s website that has a phone number and replacing it with the PPC tracking number. This includes all custom text content pages created by the dealership staff or advertising agency that may have embedded different phone numbers.

This creates more accurate PPC campaign metrics so more calls can be attributed to their true source of visitor engagement.

What is brilliant with TCD is that once campaigns are setup, these high level executive controls can really keep the dealer engaged with digital advertising success. I could write a 20-page report on the unique benefits of TCD but that is not the focus of this overview. Suffice to say that Dealer.com clients have a distinct advantage in automotive digital advertising if they choose to leverage the power of TCD.

Automated Integration of Dealer Inventory

TCD is the leader in integrated car inventory management that is seamlessly connected to Google Adwords as well as Yahoo and Bing PPC services. Pay Per Click advertisements can utilize information in the dealers DMS about any new or used car in stock. (See graphic below) Dealers who use PPC campaigns for used cars will save significant setup time if they compare the time it takes to create campaigns for individual used cars.

Dealer.com Website Review

Behind these well-designed executive level controls is an amazing drill down user interface that can control every detail of a Google Adwords campaign from inside TCD. In the graphic above, dealers can decide what time slots to allocate their paid advertising dollars.

This panel also provides check boxes to turn on or off their powerful integrated inventory advertising features. Other automotive website providers can operate Google Adwords from inside their administrative panel but offer little in terms of user interface and integrated business intelligence rules.

Dealer.com has even enhanced the Google Adwords platform by adding new geo-targeting functionality that even Adwords does not provide. Dealer’s ability to create custom advertising “bands” could not be easier with the custom interface provided by TCD. What this means to potential critics is that TCD does not “dummy-down” Adwords so proficient PPC experts will not be held back.

Dealer.com TCD GEO Targeting

It is hard to capture my excitement for the TCD platform because there is nothing on the market more perfectly designed for car dealers who believe in paid digital advertising, aka Pay-Per-Click (PPC). I tip my hat to Eric Mayhew, TCD’s chief architect, because not too many people can claim that they reinvested Adwords functionality for the automotive industry.

One more kicker that Eric added to TCD put a smile on my face. Dealer.com looks at the top organic search phrases that bring consumers to a dealer’s website and that produce leads. If these keywords are not in the current Adwords campaigns, they can be automatically added. Slick!

Those that don’t believe in the benefits of PPC will be out of business shortly. Why? Because Automotive SEO strategies cannot place a car dealer on Google Page One for broad search terms like “Toyota Camry,” “Used Cars,” or “BMW Dealer.” As long as consumers continue to use broad search phrases, dealers will need to invest in Pay-Per-Click advertising campaigns to stay on Google Page One.

Managing OEM Incentives

Dealer.com announced a new integrated Incentives Manager package after the 2009 ASMA Study was completed. This month we had the opportunity to drill down into the features of this add-on product. Car dealer websites are notorious for having “specials” pages blank and clumsy integration of manufacturer incentives. Normally, these incentives are not listed on inventory pages where consumers spend the majority of their time on a car dealer website. Go figure!

With Dealer.com Incentives Manager, dealers can leverage direct incentives data streams to their dealership website. These incentives can be controlled to integrate with car inventory listing pages as well as car detail pages. Attempting to integrate incentives manually is impossible and that is why this feature is a great value to Dealer.com customers. Since consumers “shop price” as part of their online purchasing decision, having the lowest price in real-time can make a big difference in lead volume.

Not to dwell on the TCD platform again, but Dealer.com can also take the real-time OEM incentives and create PPC campaigns that advertise their current programs. This is another innovation that is ground-breaking and a time saver for dealers who like to advertise OEM incentive programs and be first to market.

Automotive SEO Architecture

Once again, the Dealer.com administrative management tools show careful consideration to the skill levels of car dealer employees. The user interface to change SEO Page Titles and META tags continues to be a breeze.

One of the nicer elements of editing pages in Dealer.com is that once you are in editing mode, you can navigate through the website using the same menus that visitors use. This may not seem important but it is a time saver. Try matching website pages to cryptic back-end file naming conventions and before you know it, you can waste hours of your time.

Dealer.com Page Builder WidgetsThe Dealer.com Page Builder tools continues to grow with more widgets (see graphic on right) to create pages on the fly.

The Page Builder tool is intuitive and customers do not need to call technical support to create a blank page to edit.

One limitation in the current version of the software is that custom pages cannot be placed more than two levels down in the navigation tree.

Content is King

Consumers search for answers and recommendations for the questions that are top of mind and car dealers need to build content on their websites to meet this need. Dealer.com has a multi-pronged approach to adding content; video blogging, integrated car reviews, and consumer reviews.

The video blogging feature creates optimized blog pages for each car in stock with unique text and META tags based on the audio script for the vehicle. This feature creates a large number of content pages that are indexed by Google which has many benefits from an SEO perspective.

Consumers who purchase a car from a Dealer.com dealer can add their comments on the car that they purchased. Dealer.com will compile and leverage these positive consumer comments on similar cars in stock. Over time, this feature will allow car inventory pages to have more content and targeted keywords to increase the authority of their website pages. This is another example of Dealer.com’s leadership in applying proven Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategies.

Dealer.com offers a blog with their base platform which is a customized WordPress installation. This was also added after last year’s ASMA Awards. This move further reinforces the automotive industry’s growing love affair with content building tools. I’ve been preaching that all dealers need to have content writers as part of their advertising budget. Dealer.com’s latest platform offers many ways to leverage content writers and third party SEO companies.

Fixed Operations Marketing

Lastly, Dealer.com and DriverSide made an announcement in April 2010 which an excerpt has been included below:

The two companies are partnering in an exclusive agreement to launch a series of products for new and used car franchises, the first of which will add robust fixed-ops content to Dealer.com’s industry leading platform. A full line up of further Fixed Operations and service marketing products will follow in coming months.

We agree with Dealer.com that the next area of opportunity for car dealers is in Fixed Operations SEO and digital marketing. Dealer.com has tightly integrated customer data into their product offering for targeted direct marketing. The Fixed Operations package can also be integrated into TCD to drive more service revenue via PPC.

Summary

We look forward to testing the new content management features in the latest Dealer.com platform as part of the 2010 ASMA Study. The product development team at Dealer.com should be recognized for not resting on the laurels and delivering a cutting edge product. Bravo!

Dealers searching for a well integrated digital advertising platform that masters Pay-Per-Click (PPC) marketing and integrates a powerful Search Engine Optimization (SEO) infrastructure should get a demo of this stellar performer.