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How Google’s Website Ranking Factors Rank OEM Websites (vs Independents)

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How Do You Measure Up?  PART 1 Google measures everything, from your website’s Page Speed Score, to your SEO or Best Practices Score. Why? Because from Google’s point of view, all of your website data feeds their algorithm’s ability to rank you relative to your competitors.   Since understanding and manipulating data is the key to success online, it would serve you well to know important ranking factors that Google uses to rank you.   Let’s look at Google’s website ranking factors, and what each means: Page Speed Score - Refers to how quickly a user is able to see and interact with content on your website. Speed Index Score - Is based on the average time it takes for visible parts of the page to be displayed.  SEO Score - A calculation of the user-facing and technical aspects of a website. Accessibility Score - A technical review, or accessibility audit , of how well users can access content and navigate a website. Best Practices Score - Based on an audit that checks common web development mistakes. How We Rank Dealer Websites We wrote a tool called SurgeRecon that we use to measure individual dealers against their competitors for a whole range of KPIs (besides just Google ranking factors), but since I don’t know you or your dealership, we’re going to have fun and rank OEMs against each other (since our tool can do that too). If, after reading this, you want an evaluation, contact me here or call me at 954.507.6468. Average Page Speed Score A page speed score refers to how quickly a user can see and interact with content. There is a lot that goes into this calculation, but that explanation is close enough for simplicity’s sake. As you may guess, mobile site speed is a LOT more important than desktop speed ,since most people browse by phone. Over 80% of average car shoppers typically use their phones, while those in the Hispanic community are typically above 90%.   A couple of weeks ago, we ran a SurgeRecon mobile site speed report for over 35,000 dealers and then divided the list based on OEM franchises vs Independents. Remember: These are Google’s numbers, not ours. The results are not good, to put it mildly..   Looking at the table below, you can see that GM had the worst speed score at 15.6 while Independents walked away with the best score.  Admittedly, this list does not include all OEMs since we took the liberty to remove those OEMs who had a very small footprint. That said, when you look at the results, you see some winners and losers (with Bentley as the top performing OEM and GM with the lowest score).   It’s not all bad news though. The average OEM speed has improved since a year ago. Last year, the average site speed for OEM sites was around 13.   Average Speed Score: Franchises vs Indies It’s interesting to note that Independent dealers are the fastest of the bunch. The average speed for OEMs is 25 , while the speed for Independents is twice as good at 51.3 ! What’s causing this difference? Why is Google’s algorithm seeing Independent sites as loading twice as fast on mobile devices? If we had the time, we would have run a third party review to see all the stuff that is probably clogging up site speed, but since we’ve run such reports before, we can say that third party code is usually the cause of speed issues along with other load speed clogging items such as sliders. We’ve also seen that Independents don’t use as many third party tools (particularly OEM-mandated tracking and analytics tools), thus have improved performance. The bigger question is what can be done to minimize third party tools on sites, especially when we know that the more you have, the slower the load speed. But I’ll leave that to another discussion in the future. Average Speed Index Score Google’s Speed Index Score measures how fast the contents of a page are visually displayed. Based on data from Google, as page load time goes from 1 second to 6 seconds, the probability of a bounce increases over 100%. Jump to 10 seconds, and you’re looking at 123%. I wrote a whole article about this a few years ago with David Kane and Tom Kline, and the data is as relevant today as it was then. Look at the graph below, we can see that OEM mobile websites take about twice as long to load as Independent sites. Not good. Despite the poor performance, however, there is good news in that load times have improved since we wrote our article 2 years ago. The average speed index at that time was over 13 seconds. There’s hope… Average Technical SEO Score All in all, the average technical SEO score is quite good for both groups. For Independents, the average score was 87.4 , while for OEMs, the average score was 85.4 .   Who was highest and who was lowest? Volvo happily pulled a score of 96.1 . That’s quite respectable. BMW, on the other hand, scored an 82.1 .   It is not hard to find out what might be undermining your SEO score. Usually, you’ll find a myriad of small adjustments which can correct any performance issues. You can probably get this information from your provider, or if you read the next paragraph, you’ll find out what you can do on your own. 😉 The Final Word - Part 1 You can’t ignore Google no matter how much you might want to do so. Google plays an outsized role in our world so we must work within their rules as well as the rules of simple reality, especially when it comes to device performance for our websites. The data above shows us some website performance winners and losers, but it should also give us hope because we can identify what is hurting load times (for PageSpeed and Index Scores) and SEO performance. We have that data and you can too if you use simple Google tools such as PageSpeed Insights (or contact us for help). With all that said, there is more to the story.  Look forward to it here: Part 2 will be out next week!
The Rise in Consumer Streaming Services: New Vehicle Shopping Trends Align

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The theme of this series of articles is one of disruption within and affecting the automotive business. This article is intended to explore the intersection between evolving new vehicle shopping behavior, changes in video consumption, and new challenges local dealerships face as they move into and through the next stage of pandemic recovery. While dealerships have been enjoying the tailwinds of a ‘sellers’ market for the last 18 months largely due to pent up demand of the covid pandemic, recent political and economic trends and corresponding consumer sentiment threaten to soften demand across many sectors including automotive retail.  As dealerships look to increase their marketing to customers, how has the landscape changed post-pandemic?  With new car inventories remaining scarce and customers becoming increasingly comfortable transacting more of the shopping process on-line, there is a decreasing propensity for a customer to choose a particular store based solely on factors like location and inventory. Without the traditional drivers customers will choose their dealership using other criteria. While this could be as simple as name recognition or your stores’ location, factors such as trust, competency, ease of transaction and connection to the community become increasingly relevant. Most importantly, your point of difference needs to be communicated early in the shopping process, as opposed to when a customer arrives on your doorstep.  Nothing has the power to tell this message more strongly than video and simultaneous to the changes that have taken place in the automotive space, there have been equally dynamic changes occurring in the ways that dealers can deliver video. This brings us to our second disruption. Video consumption patterns and technologies changed dramatically during the pandemic. Beyond YouTube, facebook, or video on your website, streaming video (or OTT) is replacing the traditional engine of branding and driving demand once commanded by broadcast advertising and (before that) newspaper and print media.   The pandemic rapidly accelerated the growth of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ and a host of others.. A couple of quick stats; Nearly 30% of US consumers cut the cord in 2021.  Nearly all Americans aged 25-34 access TV content through the internet; 78% of people watch online videos every week, and 55% view online videos every day. As of 2022, an average person is predicted to spend 100 minutes per day watching online services. 72% of customers said they would rather learn about a product or service by way of video Viewers retain 95% of a message when they watch it in a video, compared to 10% when reading it in the text ( Insivia ) Streaming video advertising offers many unique advantages over traditional television and alternative video delivery methods. Unlike traditional television, streamed ads are not able to be easily skipped thru or scrolled past, with a view thru rate approaching 99%. This means they offer a level of engagement not seen since the days before the channel changer was invented. Contrast this to a short form product like you tube where 95% of people click skip the moment they can. Or facebook where users scroll through the content quickly. Streaming advertising allows you to not only target your ads to precise demographics and geography, but to exactly target your desired customers choosing from thousands of data points related to customer behavior.  To put it simply, you target the customer, not the channel. You can play service messages to consumers that already own your type of vehicle, or target in -market shoppers for your brand, a competing brand, or other criteria related to where the car shopper is in the decision funnel and the recent actions they have displayed on-line. New developments not only make it possible to target viewers to the household IP address but also to the actual device ID where they are viewing the content. This means you can target mom and dad in the living room, while skipping the kids in their bedrooms. There are new ways to track the effectiveness of the content and the subsequent actions that viewers take. For example you can track how many customers visited your website within five days of being exposed to an ad impression, and what actions or conversions occurred at that visit.  Streaming advertising (sometimes referred to by ad sellers as OTT which stands for content delivered ’On Top of (traditional) Television’ services) is sold in a variety of ways, by a multitude of vendors. Within the ‘streaming’ subset; ads can be delivered on Connected TVs (the big screen on your wall), or via tablets, laptops, desktop and cell phones. The segments can be further divided by such criteria as ‘full episode programs’ (traditional TV shows), short form clips, pre-roll, mid-roll and more. I recommend working with someone who has access to the full inventory of products and can impartially recommend the best solution for your needs and market. As an example, the products we offer work from 6,000+ data points and we test and modify campaigns regularly to produce the right balance of completed views and website clicks.  Conclusion: the pandemic has brought many changes in our lives and the way that customers are choosing to do business with their local dealership. The growth of streaming video by consumers coupled with the advance targeting, delivery tools, more precise tracking and attribution provides a powerful new tool for dealerships to reach and engage this new breed of customers.
Connected Television Represents A Great Disruptive Opportunity for Dealers

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It is estimated that 39% of adults are watching video on a CTV device on a daily basis. This is up from 31% back in 2019 according to  data  from Leichtman Research Group (LRG)1. This represents a large audience with spending power and the desire to shop for a vehicle. As a result, dealerships are taking a closer look at the connected television medium because of who is viewing CTV, as well as how often, not just the overall households.  The increase in CTV also represents a disruptive leveling of the playing field for advertisers who historically have purchased traditional TV, and those who could not previously afford it due to budget constraints or efficiency concerns.  The programmatic targeting capabilities of CTV allows for large advertisers to buy more efficiently through diversification of their media mix and better data fidelity in their audience reach. It also allows smaller or more niche advertisers an opportunity to advertise in front of larger audiences on television without the high cost and ad waste associated with traditional media buys. Creating greater efficiencies The decision for auto retailers and their advertising agency partners to consider CTV is less about re-allocating digital media budgets to video, which most dealers already execute through programmatic and social video campaigns.  Furthermore, dealers should not entirely abandon their traditional media buys and budgets, either. However, in many cases those dealers that begin to explore a reallocation of portions of their traditional media investments over to CTV see significant improvement in the performance of their overall media mix and experience a positive impact on their cost per unit sold and serviced.  Increases in target markets The first CTV benefit is scale, where dealers can leverage large programming opportunities and access across major recognizable logos that has strong coverage across networks and devices. Secondly, dealers and their partners in CTV are continuously working to understand the market penetration they are gaining or losing, and have access to unique data technology to ensure campaigns are on par with the reach of top cable providers. These partners also offer dealers access to digital media purchase technology that leverages a Demand Side Platform (DSP), which is software that allows media buyers to buy each impression based on whether the viewer meets their audience parameters. They can also help ensure ad content is not played along side or in tandem with violence or other sensitive subjects that would be detrimental to a dealer’s overall brand values. Driving greater bottom-line results While all of this sounds promising, results are what matters. One mid-size regional dealer in Florida recently tested an Amazon DSP against other traditional media platforms and ran a two-week CTV campaign, directed to in-market shoppers on FireTV, within their store’s PMA. Their campaign measured correlative metrics holistically against all digital media channels including search, fixed ops, social, sales, and ROs. The dealer saw significant gains in performance across every measured metric when looking both at period-over-period and month-over-month. Furthermore, to test the fidelity of the data, they also measured key metrics when the campaign was terminated and saw almost a 15% decline in impressions and clicks in search, coupled with a distinct drop in shopper engagement on the website. This included a +57% increase in sales, +17% increase in closed ROs, and a +16% month-over-month increase in dealership revenue, according to data from PureCars. Dealers are naturally hesitant to jump into the CTV pool all at once. However, with the results from this dealer’s trial along with the ongoing growth of the CTV category, this disruptive platform will continue to grow as a viable alternative providing a competitive edge to those dealers that explore their options early on.   1:  https://www.leichtmanresearch.com/39-of-adults-watch-video-via-a-connected-tv-device-daily/
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Dealer Websites: When Gaming Google Hurts

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It’s been nearly 6 years since “Dieselgate” broke and Volkswagen was busted by the EPA for gaming their diesel car emissions tests. When the vehicle emissions were tested, the vehicle software adjusted the emissions to be “clean”, when in reality they were anything but. The result of this scandal ranged from lawsuits to government fines. The lesson, aside from the various ethics debates we could have over beer, was that gaming the EPA might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but when they got caught it cost Volkswagen its reputation and a carload of money. “Gaming” Google” But what if I told you that I can show you that at least 3 website vendors are gaming Google in a similar fashion. Is this a victimless act or does it potentially cause problems for dealers? What’s the game? It’s simple: Some vendors serve up an amended version of their website when Google’s tools evaluate the website’s performance. While you’re seeing a fully functioning website, Google “sees” a bare-bones fraction of the real thing. The result is that Google thinks that the site is extremely fast, when the truth is something else. How’d We Get Here? I imagine that you are now wondering how we discovered the “game”. It’s pretty straightforward. Part of the work that we have been doing for the last 21 years is creating performance optimized websites for dealers. This means that we have a lot of experience building websites that work as well as possible for dealers given the constraints sometimes imposed by OEMs, and the myriad of third party apps and code embedded on websites. As our work evolved, we started using Google’s algorithm as a benchmark for success through its Google Lighthouse Chrome extension and its Google PageSpeed Insights tool (they both basically do the same thing, but GPSI is easier to use). How did we do this? A couple of years ago we built a tool called SurgeRecon that, among other things, evaluates website performance for a range of factors. For the purposes of our conversation here, the analysis gives us information on mobile page speed and SEO, two things that are critical to website success for a dealer. This data, drawn from Google Lighthouse or GPSI, can identify the probable causes of a slow website thus giving you a checklist for potential success. Time to Test and Validate We decided to test Google’s recommendations over a year ago on a bunch of our dealer websites and the data was compelling.   When we compared the performance of these Google optimized websites to their unfixed earlier versions of a year before, we discovered significant improvements: Page speeds had been cut in half to about 3.8 seconds Sessions had increased and their average duration had improved by 27 seconds Bounces had significantly decreased And, most importantly, organic leads had increased by an average of over 30/month  This data tells us that Google’s recommendations work. Therefore, ignoring Google’s evaluation, or gaming it so that one’s mobile speed appears better than it really is, risks lost opportunities for the dealer. ( Follow this link to read our full post about our work on this subject written by me with David Kain and Tom Kline , both industry heavyweights.) What Your Customer Sees vs What Google Sees Let’s now take a look at what “gaming” looks like. We’ll start with a simple Google Lighthouse analysis of a buy here/pay here dealer (seen below).   Check out those stats!!! This dealer’s mobile website is rated 100/100 ( #1 ) for performance. That’s incredible, but it is just too good to be true. If you look at #2 below, you see that the “largest contentful paint” (when the site is ready for interaction) is 6.6 seconds. Not good. But when you look at #3 , you see that the reported time is only .8 seconds. Oops. Those are the reported numbers. What you might ask now is what do the actual “websites” look like? For the dealer website that we’re showing here, here is a comparison between “What you see” and “What Google sees” when the website gets tested by Google. This difference is massive. The gamed version on the right lacks images and third party apps and code that can slow down load time. In order to serve up the abbreviated site on the right, the website code does something called “user agent sniffing”. In this case, it identified that Google Lighthouse was testing the site, and then served up a different batch of code. It might be a mistake or intentional. You decide. But remember: The most important lesson here is that the mobile website does not take .8 of a second to load before it is usable; it actually takes over 6 seconds. This is important because according to a Forrester study (from over 10 years ago), 40% of consumers won’t wait more than 3 seconds for a web page to load before abandoning the site. Add on more seconds, and even more people abandon the site. Get to 10 seconds, and many won’t ever return. So What Can You Do? Test with Google PageSpeed Insights Testing with Google is very easy. All you have to do is follow this link , enter your dealer website’s URL, and select the “ANALYZE” button.   Don’t be surprised if the results are poor, say 30/100 or lower for your mobile page speed (how long your mobile website takes to download to a mobile device). That’s very common, and even high when you look at the industry average of 13/100 (from a test we did with over 10,000 dealer websites).   However, if your results seem really good, say 80 or higher, then getting a second opinion is advised. To do this, you can download another extension called User Agent Switcher for Chrome and add it to Chrome.     Once loaded, find the extension, click your right mouse button on the extension, select Options, and then add this information to the User-Agent list: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64) AppleWebKit/537.36(KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/61.0.3116.0 Safari/537.36 Chrome-Lighthouse . Once done, save the item, open the extension, and then load your website.   Of course, if you want to skip the work to set up User Agent Switcher, then just use our free SurgeDective app . It just takes a few seconds to test. Hopefully, when you run your test, the website will look like your existing site. If it doesn’t, has less content, or is just a bunch of text, then you have a problem. You should talk with your vendor to see what’s going on or contact us for help. Where Do We Go From Here? Testing your website every quarter is a good idea. Websites can collect code and other things that slow down its performance over time. Getting the test done lets you know how well your site is working, or if it has problems, it tells you that you better get your vendor on the line to do some improvements.   To encourage improvements, you can request that your vendor run the GPSI test, and then discuss the results with you. Or, if you find out that your vendor appears to be gaming Google, then you can have them use our SurgeDective tool, and Google PageSpeed Insights, to make improvements. Whatever you do, paying attention to your site speed is critical. Every second above 3 seconds can cost you a customer. And that means potentially lost money for you.
zero click searcg
Zero-Click Search Is Important, but Web Clicks Have Not Gone Away

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There has been an increase in discussion of late (blog posts, conference sessions, etc.) talking about the Zero-Click search trend related to Google My Business, and the impact it is going to have on your business. For those of you not in the loop on this, Zero-Click searches are those where a consumer conducts a search on Google (or other search engine but really, almost all searches go to Google) and then never clicks through to any website.  Sometimes this is not a bad thing.  Consumers conduct a search to find a phone number and if they click to call, that counts as a zero-click search. They might also be checking your business hours or your reviews, and again, they can get that information right from your Google my Business page with no need to visit your website.  The concern though is, that as Google adds more content to the GMB pages, such as Products, and Cars for Sale, will your GMB page (or pages, assuming you have at least one for Sales, one for Service) essentially steal traffic that would have otherwise gone to your website? It is a justified concern, at least enough so that you should be optimizing your Google My Business pages as consumers spend more time there, but have web clicks really disappeared? Re-strategizing I propose that people still visit the dealer website prior to purchase even if they start their process on Google My Business, and that web clicks are, for the most part, alive and well. To check my theory, I actually looked at 100 dealers and the interactions from their GMB page, specifically, how are web clicks trending compared to Click to Call, and Direction Requests. (on a side note, 100 dealers out of approximately 18,000 is a 90% confidence level with a 8% margin of error.) Seasonality and the variance in demand over the last year make the numbers challenging to compare, so more research is needed, over a longer period of time to truly determine a trend, but here is what we can see today: Comparing 100 dealers, between 2nd quarter 2021 vs 3rd Quarter, 2020, we see that Phone Calls are up 9.2 % and Direction Requests are up 13.4%, so if Zero Click is impacting how consumers engage, we would expect the Web Clicks number to have decreased, or at least see a lower increase than the other interactions. However, Web Clicks actually fall in the middle with an 11% increase during the same period. This would lead us to believe that the Zero-Click trend has not impacted auto dealers' web clicks, at least as of yet. Even looking at the chart above, we see Web Clicks growing steadily along with other interactions. Why do we care so much about Zero-Click? You always want to have a deep understanding of how consumers buy your products, this includes: how long is the buying process? What triggers start the process? And where do they start their research? What is critical to understand is at what point consumers are making a decision on which vehicle they intend to purchase and from which dealer. If you understand this, it can tell you when you need to be in front of the consumer with marketing messages so you are included as one of the purchase options. Once consumers have decided, at least on the model they want, we want to know where they go to find the relevant information they need to decide where to buy. That is where the Zero-Click conversation comes into play.  Will they go to your website to get the information they need? Third-party websites? Or as the Zero-Click trend would suggest, Google My Business. Wherever the consumers spend their time researching to make a decision, is where you what to invest your time and marketing resources. Google does dominate in consumer searches, but what we see from is the data above is they have not abandoned dealer websites as of yet. 
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Reputation is Everything. Hispanic Car Buying Preferences Survey Review

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In my first article on Hispanic Car Buying Preferences , I gave a broad overview of our 2020 and 2021 surveys. For this article, I will focus on dealer and brand reputation. As you know, your dealership’s reputation is worth its weight in gold, especially on the Internet where negative reviews can cost you money. But reputation isn’t just about a review that lauds praises or trumpets condemnation; it is also about how customers feel about your business or the vehicles that you sell.   For our last two Hispanic Car Buyer surveys, we asked a series of questions that sought to surface the Hispanic community’s feelings about a range of topics, some of which are laser-focused on brand and dealership reputations, while others look at tangential, but related, issues such as how a respondent would feel if they were marketed to in Spanish. The results are telling… Your Reputation US Hispanics, like everyone else, see a dealer’s reputation as very important to their car buying decision. In 2021, when we asked respondents, “When you buy a car, truck, or SUV, which of these things do you consider?”, we found that dealer reputation was the most important thing to the community, even ahead of the response “Dealer advertised in Spanish”. If you combine these two questions - a strong positive reputation and advertising in Spanish - you will see the roots for a strong argument why you should direct your dealership towards building a good reputation with your local Hispanic community while marketing to them in Spanish (or a mixture of Spanish and English).  Other general market data supports our results. A quick Google search can find a number of surveys that show that a company’s reputation is an important concern in the buying process. For example, according to one survey , 75% of US Hispanics said that they are more likely to think favorably of a brand or purchase their products, if the brand makes an effort to include elements of their culture in their advertisements. And more importantly, 80% stay loyal to a brand when they find one that they like. Although this data doesn’t directly relate to car buying, it’s not intellectually dangerous to assume that this same logic applies to dealerships. Meet Your Next Hispanic Customer Referral Traffic Referral traffic is a powerful thing. A well-developed referral program can be quite profitable as many dealerships know all too well. In our experience, we’ve found that many Hispanics will refer customers when they’ve been treated well.   The data vigorously supports our anecdotal information. According to our 2021 survey, 79% of all respondents said that they are moderately to extremely likely to refer a customer to a dealer who speaks Spanish.  Sales and Service So what happens when we market in Spanish for car sales and service? Pretty much the same thing. When asked if they would visit a car dealer who advertises in Spanish to buy or service a car, just under 75% chose moderately likely or higher.   And, even more interestingly, 43% said that they would travel further if a dealership advertised to them in Spanish. Throw in the “Not Sure” respondents and the number jumps to 69%. This should make you go “Hmmmm.” if you aren’t already marketing to your local Hispanic community. With that said, our 2021 data quite interestingly contrasts with 2020’s results. According to last year’s survey, only 55% of the respondents replied that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a dealership who advertises to them in Spanish. This discrepancy could be due to the nature of the two samples and will require further research. For example, if last year’s study was weighted heavily in favor of multi-generational US Hispanics, rather than foreign born Hispanics, then marketing in a culturally sensitive way makes more sense than just in Spanish. This supposition is born out by other data. Check out this 2013 MSNBC video illustrating this point.  Most Valued Auto Brands for US Hispanics If building a good reputation and selling to U.S. Hispanics in Spanish makes members of the community more likely to buy from your dealership or refer a friend, then what happens when manufacturers spend time marketing and building a reputation with the community? Not surprisingly, what you see is what you would expect. In both last and this year’s survey we found that the brands that had a reputation for reaching out to the community in Spanish are the same brands that are viewed positively by the respondents. Below are the results when respondents were asked to choice rank their favorite brands. Were there any differences between the two years in terms of who is on top? Yes. For 2021, Ford edged into third place pushing Chevrolet into the #4 slot.   What the most significant lesson learned from this data is that Toyota’s Hispanic-focused marketing continues to produce great results. Our data just echoes what other surveys have found before: Toyota holds a solid lead because it has invested in creating a good reputation and relationship with US Hispanics.   Final Comments Your reputation requires investment and good planning. Those dealerships that work hard to create a good reputation with their customers reap the rewards in terms of better sales and better long-term growth prospects. Creating a good reputation with your local Hispanic community is more than just the act of advertising in Spanish and responding to reviews, it is found in understanding your local culture and marketing accordingly. Do you know which holidays are important to your local community? Do you understand how to flavor your Spanish advertising so that it uses words that resonate culturally? It is these things that we have to think about when creating a marketing plan that works with US Hispanics. The investment is worth it with a market that will continue to grow and mature in the coming years.