Are There Swim Lanes On The Internet?

swim-lane-600
By Brian Pasch  (article number three in a series)

When  I learned about Acura’s new Adwords bidding strategy, aka “Swim Lane Project,” for their franchise dealer network, I started to research the impact of this pending announcement.  In my last article, I outlined how this policy will allow third party automotive websites and competing brands easier access in the top three Adwords positions for select keywords.

Dealers are being told that competitors don’t have relevant content to rank highly in paid search for the five reserved keywords.  False. They are also being told that the five reserved keywords can cost competitors 5x-10x more than Tier1. Exaggeration.  This is hyperbole, meant to justify the keyword “swim lane” strategy and support the theory of keyword inflation.

Starts With Five KEYWORDS BUT WHEN DOES IT STOP?

In my first article, I listed the five keywords that were reserved for Tier 1 advertising. I received feedback from industry colleagues stating that these five keywords “may” not be ideal for local franchise dealers to include in their Adwords strategy; meaning there are better words for dealers to go after.

Having spoken with Acura dealers, they feel that they should have the ability to protect their local market from online websites that could divert customers to competing brands; especially mobile shoppers.

Keep in mind that the five keywords is just the start of the Swim Lane Project.  MediaVest will be analyzing keyword purchases from Tier 1 and Tier 2 and they will recommend who is best suited to buy certain keywords.

Is it unrealistic to foresee a time that Tier 2 may start to have a reserved list of keywords, if MediaVest can show it is “better” for Tier 2 to purchase certain keywords?

not-linear

DEBUNKING THE PREMISE OF SWIM LANES

There are no swim lanes on the Internet.  The graphic shown above, from a Google presentation on the path of today’s car shopper, shows no swim lanes.  Each one of these online touch points has advertising embedded into the page, video, or publication.  The shopping path is uncontrolled; it’s a free for all.

New buyers, at any moment can move, without prediction, to buy a car. Tier 1 does not have a crystal ball to know that that will happen. The concept of restricting dealers to connect with shoppers,when that moment happens, seems like a step backwards.

Consumers will select and click on information that is relevant to their needs. Guessing what the consumer needs and who should serve that LOCAL customer seems to be a great conflict with the franchise model.

As I stated earlier, OEMs allow dealers to place their own radio, TV, and newspaper advertisements that cross PMA lines.  Traditional media shares messages with Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 agencies.  There are no swim lanes on traditional media, yet someone decided there are swim lanes on the Internet.

A consumer using a mobile device who searches the keyword “Acura,” may very well be looking to find a local dealer to service their car.  How can Acura say that the mobile shopper should be typing a LONGER search phrase, on their smartphone, if they wanted to service their Acura?

RETARGETING MUDDIES THE WATER

Retargeting allows Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 to “follow” car shoppers on websites and on video in the form of pre-roll ads.  A consumer, who visits an OEM website, can see OEM ads on thousands of other websites, when the consumer is shopping for a car.  These ads can also be on their mobile devices, inside of the local dealer’s PMA.

These ads drive consumers to OEM lead collecting websites that will sell and/or distribute leads to local franchise dealers.  If swim lanes really existed, should dealers be able to demand that OEM ads DO NOT show up for their dealership name, or localized searches?

GEO-TARGETED SEARCHES EXPOSE HYPOCRISY

In the example below, a consumer is looking for a local Acura dealer in Chicago.  They use the keyword phrase “Chicago Acura Dealers“.

Three digitally competent dealers appear in positions 1,2, and 4. Why would Acura.com want to compete with these dealers when the INTENT of the consumer was a local dealer?

In fact, the example shows that the Tier 1 ad (in green) pushed a local dealer off the top of the page, and took them down to position 4 (in red).

acura-sem-bidding-chicago

It seems that the people advising Acura that “swim lanes” exist are not connected with the realities of the Internet.  The policy is one-sided, and it is clear that Acura’s own Adwords policy violates the spirit of the “swim lane” theory.

If Acura believed in the swim lane theory they would not appear for a specific search phrase looking for local franchise dealers in Chicago. I invite the digital team at Acura/Honda for a lively discussion on this strategy.

ITS NOT LIMITED TO CHICAGO

dallas-sem

I do not envy being Vandergriff Acura; an Acura dealer in the Dallas Metro area.  Acura has decided that when a consumer is looking for a local Dallas Acura dealer, they must be democratic, and outbid a local Acura franchise and pass leads to someone else in their network; see their ad in green above.

In the example above, if a consumer types “Dallas Acura Dealers“, Acura has a lead collection form that will “help” local dealers?  It seems like an unnecessary step to introduce their Tier 1 website when the local dealer, Vandergriff Acura, is already advertising and Google Maps lists the Dallas dealer for FREE.

I entered a zip code of “75219” which is the exact zip code for Goodson Acura located in Dallas proper, and when I clicked on the ad, it took me to the page below:

acura-zip1

This page is no better than Google Maps, which had listed Goodson Acura for free.  Is Tier 1 inflating keyword costs for local dealers?  I would say that  this could be the case in this example.  It’s also penalizing the one dealer who has an proactive Adwords strategy.

The advertising strategy injects another step for the car shopper without adding any value.  So Vandergriff Acura gets penalized for using Adwords and Goodson Acura benefits without buying that keyword.  What I do not know is of the dealer pays for those leads, which may have come for free if the ad was never presented.

SILENCE DETRACTORS

It’s sad that the Acura dealers are afraid to speak up because of fear tactics and stiff financial penalties for non-compliance.  I stand for common sense for both dealers and OEMs.

In this case, someone forgot that ingredient in this “Swim Lane Project”. This is a DOA strategy that is filled with holes and hypocrisy. I hope that Acura and Honda dealers stand up at their upcoming dealer meetings.

 

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Brian

Brian Pasch, CEO

PCG Consulting

732.672.2356

Google

Acura Adwords Bidding Strategy Increases Online Competition For Franchise Dealers

its-safe

By Brian Pasch

Acura’s new policy on Google Adwords bidding strategies is an attempt to control click costs in SEM campaigns for their national marketing, regional marketing, and dealer marketing strategies.  Using cost as the justification for this new policy, Acura believes this move will reduce the Cost per Click (CPC) charges in SEM campaigns on Acura related keywords.

The strategy is likely to fail for a number of reasons, which I outline in this follow-up post on Acura Adwords strategy.  This decision comes at an odd time in the evolution of digital marketing.  If we extend Acura’s SEM policy to other forms of advertising, Acura could justify preventing local dealers from advertising:

  • on local and regional radio because it is driving up advertising costs for the market.
  • in newspapers that cover large metro areas like the New York Times because it drives up ad costs.
  • on television in major metro areas because it drives up costs.

Acura makes the argument that specific keywords represent “Tier 1” intent which is best served by OEM content and landing pages. They have come to this conclusion based on research from MediaVest, the ad agency associated with Honda and Acura brands.

Are dealers willing to ignore the fact that consumers use broad match keywords in Google for a “yellow pages” functionality to find local car dealers?  If local dealers are not allowed to appear in paid search, does that funnel their local leads through Acura’s lead program and generate additional costs to dealers?

Limited Protection of Positions 1-3

Acura Tier1 ads can only hold one position out of the top three spots in Google Adwords.  This leaves competitors and third party lead collection sites to advertise in key positions 2 and 3 without fear that Acura franchise dealers will buy those keywords.  Here is a search result for one of the keywords reserved for the OEM: Acura Auto

acura-auto

You will see that Lexus (green) is willing to purchase this “reserved keyword” as well as Edmunds (red).  Is this the best strategy for Acura?

Shouldn’t a local dealer be able to be in position 2?  Since Google knows the URLs of all franchises associated with Acura, a high quality LOCAL dealership landing page could easily beat out unrelated listings.

QUALITY SCORE IGNORANCE

The Google Quality Score of landing pages are important factors in keywords costs and most OEM’s have not invested in creating high quality landing pages.  Competitors and third party automotive portals have been students of SEO and SEM for years.  They know how to create high quality, consumer facing content that can yield a high quality score.

Let’s do a search for another reserved (banned) keyword: Acura Cars

acura-cars

For this keyword you will see two competitive brands easily sitting in positions 2 and 3.  However, take a look at the second ORGANIC position for this keyword; its occupied by Cars.com (green).

Google obviously considers this page from Cars.com to have high quality.  It would NOT cost Cars.com a high price to buy the word “Acura Cars” in their Adwords campaign and point clicks to this page.  It would have a very high quality score and filter traffic to their website.

CONTROLLING MARKETING INNOVATION

The ability to dissect keywords by intent and reserve those keywords for Tier 1, Tier2, and Tier3 SEM campaigns sounds like a nice idea in a socialist world, However, this is the United States where entrepreneurs are rewarded for developing local marketing campaigns that make their local franchise profitable.  The strong can also survive if they are able to innovate and dominate.

The attempt at limited SEM campaigns, while other forms of media are not restricted, seems like a “knee jerk” reaction to someone building a case that our free market system is driving costs too high and delivering a poor experience for consumers.

I’m calling bullshit on that claim.

I understand the need for OEMs to have a consistent offline and online marketing strategy that supports the brand. However, I would not place this SEM keyword strategy in the top 10 things Acura can do to increase market share and/or improve the online customer experience.

What is a better use of Acura’s marketing team? I would start by co-oping dealer education of digital marketing, phone skills training, and internet sales process.  In these three areas, more profits are lost, by a factor for 20:1, compared to the costs associated with a perceived increase in SEM click costs.

Who cares how many extra pennies SEM clicks cost if dealers don’t answer the phones properly or respond to leads in a timely and professional manner?

What do you have to say Acura dealers?  Honda dealers, get ready this may be coming your way as well.

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Brian

Brian Pasch, CEO

PCG Consulting

732.672.2356

Google

The Heineken Marketing Miracle

heineken-miracle
By Brian Pasch

As a student of marketing, I thought that I would share a story with my marketing colleagues in the USA.  At first it may not seem like a “miracle” but the more I thought about Heineken’s marketing strategy, it is extremely impressive.

I’m in Amsterdam this week, my fourth visit in recent months as we extend our digital marketing consulting business in Holland. My friends in Holland made a comment that grabbed my attention:

“In Holland, Heineken is considered the beer for the “common man”.  It is not considered a premium beer.”

I asked for clarification, because in the USA Heineken is considered a premium beer.  The Heineken marketing to US consumers has been extremely effective.  I considered Heineken a worldwide “premium” experience, not just in the USA.

What I learned is that in the birthplace of Heineken, it is considered the Budweiser of beers. That is not to knock Budweiser, but it is the Dutch viewpoint of their local beer which is comparable to how Americans view Budweiser in the USA.

A Global MARKETING Success

When I travel around the globe, Heineken is often one of the more expensive beers on the list.  It made me think about the marketing miracle that Heineken has achieved.

One day Heineken decided to expand their beer, for the “common man”, outside of Holland. Instead of setting the bar low, they aimed high.  They believed in their product.

Today, by aiming high, the beer for the “common man” in Holland is the beer that is considered a premium experience worldwide. It is a great reminder to any company that is considering global growth; get the best marketing team for the product’s introduction.

Companies can create a clean slate in new International markets as long as they have a quality product. The relative quality is where marketing steps in and makes the miracles happen.

The next time I drink a bottle of Heineken I will toast to the marketing geniuses behind the brand that are today’s modem alchemists of beer.

Visting Amsterdam

If readers ever get a chance to visit Amsterdam, take an hour and go to the Heineken Experience, which is an active guided tour of the history of Heineken and you get two beers included in the price of admission!

Brian

Brian Pasch, CEO

PCG Consulting

732.672.2356

Google

Acura Bans Franchise Dealers From Using 5 Keywords in Google Adwords

rules

By Brian Pasch

The day has finally come; OEMs are now restricting which keywords their franchise dealers use in Google Adwords to sell their new cars. Acura is telling dealers that they can no longer buy these five keywords:

  • Acura
  • Acura.com
  • Acura USA
  • Acura Cars
  • Acura Auto

Acura will commit 100% “Share of Voice” for these five keywords and have an ‘always on’ strategy. It looks like Acura is forcing dealers to pay into their marketing strategy and create a more homogenous online experience for specific high volume keywords.

Acura believes that this strategy will provide consumers the content they’re looking for however it will not prevent third parties from buying those keywords.

Websites that collect leads or provide consumer information like Edmunds.com, KBB.com, or Cars.com would still be able to buy these keywords.

Acura believe that third parties will be paying a premium for buying the five restricted keywords that franchise dealers cannot purchase.  The higher price they believe will discourage third parties. Acura also believes third parties will likely have a lower position in the SERP than Acura.

This is not necessarily the case.  If the landing pages used by Acura are not designed as well as a third party landing pages, which can use structured data and third party consumer reviews, third parties can rank higher.

Bidding on Acura Models

Dealers will be able to bid on terms such as  “Acura TL” and “Acura MDX” but in conjunction with Tier 1 and Tier 2 guidance.   It seems that Acura wants to control channel costs for Acura terms to reduce keyword inflation.  Overlap it seems is not good for franchise dealers.

This is great news for Adwords conquest strategies from competing brands. Can this policy open up the top positions, once occupied by OEM and Acura franchise dealers, to competitors? Yes!

Not Just Acura

In addition to Acura, look for similar restrictions coming from Honda in the coming days.  This is going to be a very lively discussion because dealers who fail to comply will face CMA punishment.

What do you have to say about this new direction in the auto industry?

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Brian

Brian Pasch, CEO

PCG Consulting

732.672.2356

Google