Ilana Shabtay

Director of Marketing | AutoLeadStar

Ilana is an expert in sales, digital marketing, and business development. She is constantly thinking about how to perfect conversion funnels to build brand awareness. As Director of Marketing, Ilana works to engage audiences and expand market share. She contributes thought leadership for tech companies in and out of the automotive industry including Dealer Refresh, Dealer Marketing, and for the DrivingSales community blog.
Google Ad Extensions 101 For Dealers

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Ad extensions are dynamic add-ons to Google ads that expand the information you can show in any given ad.  They are usually more eye-catching than the ad text itself, leading to more click activity. While the strategy behind your ad campaigns is complex, the basics of ad extensions are just as important to understand and implement into your dealership’s marketing. Here’s the breakdown of the ad extensions your dealership should be adding to search ads to maintain a good presence online.  Price Extensions  Price extensions allow you to add vehicle pricing underneath the ad so serious shoppers can consider their options right there in their search window.  When setting up price extensions, it’s critical to set up a real-time integration so that your ads reflect the current pricing on your website.  If you set up something more manual, the ads will not reflect price and inventory changes and this  can lead to a lot of confused and frustrated customers.  Callout Extensions  Callout extensions allow for dealerships to add special promotions or unique offers that stick out below the ad information.  It’s a great chance for your dealership to differentiate themselves from the competition and try to lure in new customers.  For example, dealerships can point out things like price matching, trade-ins, and warranties.  Location Extensions  Location extensions make it super easy for shoppers to see where your store is on the map and how far it is from their current location.  The location extension is also clickable, leading the shopper directly to Google Maps.  As we already know, shoppers have little patience so any shortcut to finding you is a win for your dealership.  Call Extensions Call extensions are super instrumental in driving more leads to your dealership because it’s a click-to-call feature that makes it easy for shoppers to find your phone number without even going to the website. There is a lot of flexibility in the call extensions to support your business model, like turning on the call extension only during your opening hours or turning this on or off for mobile/desktop depending on your goals.  Google also helps you set up tracking for call leads when you implement call extensions, so you can make sure you’re tracking inbound leads/calls directly from ads differently than other clicks.  Sitelink Extensions As mentioned before, the more shortcuts for your shoppers, the better the shopping experience.  Sitelink extensions allow you to link directly to certain pages within your website to get your shoppers familiar with your brand and your inventory. It also means eager shoppers that know exactly what they want to see can get to the page quicker.  Dealerships should consider setting up sitelinks to their top inventory and incentives pages, trade-in options, and profit centers (like service) to drive the most relevant traffic directly to the pages linked.  Image Extensions Image extensions allow you to complement your ad text with rich visuals. This can really enrich a dynamic search ad by bringing a shopper’s attention to the images you upload along with the description and headlines. While your dealership does have to comply with Google’s  size and dimension  best practices, it’s a pretty easy addition to search ads that can bring more attention to your ads.  Consider this your go-to list for all things Google ad extensions. Whether you manage this in-house or through an agency, it’s important your dealership understands the implications of ad extension strategies and implements best practices to drive the most qualified leads to your website.  Happy advertising! 
The Not-So-Hidden Gold Mine That Could Increase Dealership Revenue Instantly

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A customer for life goes a long way in automotive. It’s not just the vehicle purchase, it’s everything that comes with it: maintenance, service, add-ons, renewals, and, of course, referrals.   But it’s hard to scale personalized campaigns to past customers and to leads that ghosted. The messaging is different, the approach is sensitive, and the timing has to be perfect. There are also several factors that come into play like the last website visit, VDP views, and lease/finance renewal.  While no human can physically scale this kind of personalization, this is just another application of machine learning that could turn your CRM into a money-making machine. Think about it: if your CRM has 10,000 non-active leads, and you can reawaken even as little as 10%, you're looking at 1,000 new customers for life. It’s really pure gold waiting to be discovered.  It’s all about the audiences  The first step in making sure you’re investing in the right technology to turn more of your CRM into revenue opportunities is the audience game. You want to make sure your dealership isn’t bucketing opportunities into irrelevant audiences, like lease renewal for someone who has more than a year remaining, or service for someone who just came in. The demanded-- and expected-- hyper-personalization starts with the right segmentation, so you need to be optimizing audiences like people who recently visited VDPs, cash renewals, and cold “non-buyers” (leads that converted over 8 months ago and did not buy a car from you).  Make it dynamic  Once you have the right machines in place to identify and segment appropriate audiences, you need to make sure your email templates and SMS marketing have dynamic templates and merge tags. No one wants to receive an email without their first name or pre-filled forms. If you’re sending the email, you should know who they are!  But it goes even further than this- as you send traffic from an email blast to a specific landing page, your dealership can have dynamic videos and forms already embedded on the landing page to maintain that 1:1 conversation with your prospect. Once someone clicks on a hyperlink from your email, you will know how to identify them and greet them when they land on your website, keeping the transition and user experience extremely smooth. You can also personalize things like vehicles of interest or relevant services with dynamic templates.  Don’t forget connectivity  Even if your dealership invests in the best technology for mining your CRM, real-time machine learning can’t possibly function at its best without connected data. Make sure your dealership’s website data and ad activity is connected and communicating with the CRM so you have a full picture of the prospect’s digital footprint. While CRM information is critical, it has to be coupled with shopper activity in order to make the most of every opportunity and turn more (dead) leads into sales. When data is connected it also provides you with the most updated version of your customer’s story, bringing you one step closer to conversion.   There are a lot of pieces to pull together when thinking about personalized lead nurture at a scale that can convert more of your database into business. And while no human can possibly do this, your dealership should consider AI-powered technologies that can learn your audiences, segment, and target shoppers with just the right message on and off the site. Your data and your customer base could be the gold mine you’ve been looking for, so don’t miss out. 
RIP Facebook Marketplace for Dealers?

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Facebook Marketplace underwent some changes in September and no longer lists vehicles from partner catalog feeds. This includes the entire marketplace experience: homepage, search function, etc.  There is a lot of debate on how this will affect the industry. But before we get into the juice, let’s clarify how dealers can still reach buyers on Facebook, even with this change. Create vehicle listings from the “inventory” tab on your dealership/business page Dealers still have the option to upload their inventory from their personal business pages (instead of having this also aggregated in Marketplace). While this is still a free option, the click rate on the inventory tab on business pages is quite low, so it’s critical to monitor this. It will be interesting to see if click rate and engagement rate will increase as Marketplace becomes more lean with inventory after this change.  Create AIA ( Automotive Inventory Ads )  AIA gives dealers the ability to upload an entire catalog of vehicles to Facebook so that the Facebook pixel can then target the best shoppers with the right inventory at the right time. The upload process is similar to the one disconnected with Marketplace, where you can send a feed automatically to Facebook. While this is not a free option, it’s an efficient way to get your vehicle listings seen by in-market shoppers (including placements on Marketplace among other placements on Facebook).  Manually create listings in Marketplace  This option does allow for dealerships to continue to showcase inventory (certified pre-owned only) on Marketplace, but since it’s manual the dealership would have to upload every/all relevant listings with all associated information. This is extremely time consuming, and for some, probably not worth the hassle.  So, what’s the field predicting with this change?   Some think it really won’t matter since AIA is the same idea, just paid, and will include ads on Facebook Marketplace when relevant. This is probably true for larger dealerships and/or Franchise dealers who have the means to do this through AIA.  Others think this will be a beneficial change for small and independent dealers since they usually entered manually anyway. Now, these smaller dealerships will also increase visibility since the larger franchises won’t have the capacity to upload manually. Cutting the competition and the noise can skyrocket results for these dealerships.  Lastly, some predict it will be similar to Craiglist’s change a few years back where they also eliminated the overwhelming amount of organic posts and in turn, helped shoppers find what they are looking for faster with a cleaner user interface.  What happens next? Like any big change in automotive, it’s going to be critical to watch trends for the next few months-- understand if this change was good or bad for your business. Do you have fewer leads? Do you have more qualified leads? Is your marketing team being more productive on other channels? Did your predictions for the change match reality? These are all important questions to tackle as we go into October and November and learn as an industry.  *This article was inspired by a forum thread in Dealer Refresh . 
No Inventory? No Problem. Marketing Tips From the Field for Your Dealership’s Success

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The automotive industry is consumed with the inventory shortage-- while gross is higher than ever, dealerships are finding it hard to strategize marketing without the usual suspects on the lot. That being said, it’s still critical that your dealership maintain a hefty strategy so that you don’t lose your brand recognition; this could lead to giving your competitors a potential customer for life that could have been yours.  Below is a roundup of the latest tips from the field to make sure your dealership is staying at the cutting edge: Brand Campaigns While inventory may be low, you can still maintain a good reputation for your dealership. Shoppers looking for their next vehicle don’t only prioritize the make/model they’re interested in, but also the shopping experience- starting online. If your dealership brand can provide a superb experience-- answering promptly and locking in the customer before they look elsewhere-- your marketing will see high ROI during this tumultuous time.  Make sure your brand campaigns are also answering current events. During COVID, this was all about hygiene and sanitization. Now, focus on how you have the right process for getting the vehicle of their dreams to each and every customer with the best customer service. Advertise Pre-order Options Your dealership is not the only dealership with low inventory, so marketing inventory which is not released or in stock will keep your dealership competitive and give you the chance to lock in customers for life that may look elsewhere if they don’t have this option with your store.  Dealerships that advertise future inventory support brand goals, engage and conquest new shoppers, as well as continue to see high quality conversion rates on their websites.  Finetune Your SEO   SEO is an efficient way to keep your dealership on the map without spending too much money. Find the high-search keywords in your market and include them in your vehicle descriptions, promotions, and blog posts. If your dealership doesn’t have a blog, now is the time to invest in one -- especially if you’ve cut back on other marketing resources. Blog posts are excellent resources for shoppers (the more descriptive, the better). Pro tip: take a high-volume search term and use that as the basis of your blog post. This way you won’t only be answering questions that people are actually searching, but you’ll probably have priority for showing up first on Google.  Work the Service Drive   We all know the importance of the F&I profit center. But while people are sticking to leases longer, or can’t yet find the car of their dreams with inventory shortages, service is more important than ever. Make sure your dealership is advertising all service options in descriptive ad campaigns. Double-check that you’ve properly set up your service center on Google my Business so you can be easily found, and separately for those interested in service rather than sales. Lastly, set up an easy-to-use service booking calendar on your website so it’s a seamless experience for shoppers.  Trade In/Trade Up Scoring inventory is gold right now, so make sure you’ve perfected your trade in campaigns. Make sure shoppers know they can trade in their cars without buying new ones. Shoppers are also interested in comparing trade in prices, so your dealership should have a seamless infrastructure for providing trade in values, at the most competitive prices. If you haven’t already, you can also train your service staff to focus on trade in upsells right from the service lane.  We already know that pausing marketing right now can hurt your dealership brand and ROI. With these expert tips, your dealership can now focus the marketing strategy to fit today’s climate and continue to bring in new customers for life.  *Isaac Hertzberg from Napleton Cadillac and Kyle Mountsier from Nelson Mazda were interviewed to help with this article
The Automotive Website Tragedy Still Exists and Frankly, I’m Shocked

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We’re halfway through 2021 and we’re still seeing website tragedies in automotive. And yes, it really is a tragedy. When a dealership spends that much money for a solid website, competitive traffic, and SEO maintenance, you’d expect the website to be optimized for conversions and leads. If you want your website to attract most modern-day shoppers, there is some work to be done in the industry because, without this gem, dealerships can’t showcase their inventory, incentives, and dealership culture to the avid online shopper.  So let’s dissect some of the common mistakes that we are still seeing today and how you can fix them.  Overlapping CTAs One of the most common website tragedies is when CTAs (call-to-actions/buttons) overlap with each other. CTAs are your moment to shine, dealers! So if you’re crowding the button with bad UX (user experience), your expensive traffic is never going to convert into a lead-- and not just because of the aesthetic, but because it’s actually impossible to click the CTA underneath when something is blocking it.  This is a must clean-up situation so you can optimize for the most leads. Where can you start? Probably with consolidating on-site vendors so you can avoid these CSS mistakes, but if you insist on keeping separate vendors, I’d certainly recommend connecting the vendors to coordinate online real estate.  Stuck/Cutoff Overlays Dealership websites often have multiple pop-up overlays, including chat, that simultaneously interrupt a shopper's browsing experience. But what’s worse is that often the overlay is cut off, usually because it’s not optimized for every screen and every device. As you can imagine, not seeing the full engagement can lead to some frustrated online buyers.   To avoid this, dealers need to work with quality (not quantity) website optimization partners and ensure proper QA on every device. With our screen-obsessed generation, you never know if your next buyer will be searching for their vehicle on a tablet, iphone, or computer, but rest assured, they’ll expect the perfect user experience wherever they are.  Dead Specials Pages When consumers click on your specials page, they’re expecting gold-- how can they get the best deal and are you the store that’s going to give it to them? If your specials page doesn’t display any incentives, you’re losing an opportunity. Your dealership should be investing in technology that scans multiple data sources, in real-time, so you can pull any incentive opportunity for your dealership at any time. This way, your dealership doesn’t just rely on OEM incentives resulting in some dead days in the beginning of the month.  Lack of Transparency  Even if your store is not a one-price store, you can still show basic price transparency on your website and leave room for negotiation later. In this example, the sale price isn’t even listed which pushes away the modern shopper looking to understand ballpark prices before committing to a conversion online. Use transparency to attract all kinds of shoppers, but especially the experienced online shoppers.  While it’s important to look into all the new digital marketing solutions out there to build healthy streams of traffic, this is a reminder not to leave your website behind. Your website is your home base-- your lead magnet-- to represent your dealership and bring in more business in a world where 92% of shoppers will start their journey online. Let’s make it easy for them! 
Dealership Inventory Crisis: Marketing Lessons From the COVID-19 Crisis

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It’s obvious that fluctuations in inventory are going to dominate the automotive narrative for the rest of 2021. And while it seems like we’ve just overcome the challenges that COVID-19 brought to the automotive industry, we’re slapped in the face with another big one: the infamous inventory shortage. So let’s not forget some of the lessons we learned as an industry when it comes to marketing during a crisis so that your dealership can stay resilient during this crisis as well.  Stay flexible  When COVID-19 first hit and the government shutdown orders went into effect, it took time for most dealerships to update their marketing messaging across all channels. For some dealerships, “Come on in for a test drive” was still their main message on their websites and in their ads, making it completely irrelevant to shoppers at the time.  Dealerships that had the infrastructure to be flexible and dynamic in their marketing strategy during the pandemic were not only able to turn around their messaging quickly, but they were successful in seeing results - even during a crisis - since they didn’t rigidly define things like messaging and budget. Dealerships that pre-allocated budget to Facebook and to Google were less resilient during COVID-19 because it took them longer to realize the shift in consumer behavior from search to social while at home. Dealers that had automated marketing budgets-- fluid budgets that self-allocate based on where the best opportunities are in real-time - were seeing much better results since the learning curve was faster and more efficient.  When we think about this as it applies to the inventory shortage, it’s important to understand that the market is unpredictable, but one thing is certain: dealerships need to be where their shoppers are in order to not miss an opportunity. Even during this tumultuous time, shoppers are still looking for their next car, and most likely at a higher gross, so make sure your marketing strategy is flexible to change in real-time and react fast. As soon as inventory turns, or comes in, your dealership’s marketing strategy should be ready to go and in sync with your dealership’s goals.   Reassess marketing (don’t pause)  While our gut instinct may be to pause marketing spend during any crisis, we learned during COVID that there are long-term risks to this . Firstly, you want to keep your brand awareness high. Even during tough times, people need to service their cars and renew their leases, so making sure those shoppers choose your store over a competitor is crucial. Dealers should be focused on gaining and retaining customers for life; cutting all marketing spend will restrict your dealership from doing this successfully.  That being said, difficult times present an opportunity to really assess ROI and productivity. So while pausing may put your dealership at a disadvantage, this is the perfect time to do a deep dive on your data and make sure your marketing ROI is high, so that you can still be the dealership of choice for shoppers during any crisis.  Do whatever it takes to bring shoppers to your dealership  During COVID-19, dealerships scrambled to implement a digital retail solution in order to stay relevant for their customers. Even if most consumers weren’t actually transacting 100% online, the software gave shoppers the opportunity to cut time in store and start the process online. This was a way for dealers to attract customers and stay relevant during the pandemic.  Similarly now, dealerships still need to do whatever it takes to get shoppers into their doors. So even with low inventory levels, dealerships should consider advertising inventory that’s on backorder and not yet in stock. This helps your dealership gain customers for life before they go to competitors. Focusing on trade-in acquisition campaigns or investing in a strategy to move more stuck/aged vehicles can also help your dealership market to customers while aligning with business goals to get more inventory and sell lot rot at the highest potential gross.  Do whatever it takes to bring people to your dealership during this time, no matter what the crisis. And usually, this involves a pretty efficient marketing strategy.