When it comes to digital marketing, today’s busy dealers are still in search of black-and-white answers to an age-old question: How do I know if my marketing is effective?

Despite all the innovations with data and analytics, many dealers are left with no clear answer to that question. In part, this is because of the complexity of digital marketing, the advent of mobile-device use and the lack of education supplied to local dealers on how to read and interpret Google Analytics.

Google Analytics has made web and search data more accessible and useful, but dealers often are left trying to figure out what the numbers actually mean. That’s because not all data are created equal.

On top of everything dealers are responsible for on a daily basis, few of them have ample time to sharpen their measurement skills and use Google Analytics for identifying trends and measuring return on marketing investments.

The automotive industry spent more than $8.7 billion on digital advertising last year – a 17.3% increase over 2015. So it is a critical time to learn and master Google Analytics to measure value on a regular basis.

There are several mistakes dealers consistently make when trying to use Google Analytics. Setting up proper goal conversions is one of the most critical.

In doing so, differentiate the types of goals for measuring the impact of digital marketing.

Google currently offers four: destination, duration, pages/screens per session and Smart Goals (for AdWords advertisers).

Each of these serves a different purpose and can help measure varying parts of a digital marketing campaign. Measuring digital-marketing ROI starts with understanding the differences of each goal.

Ultimately, the reported outcomes delivered through goal conversions should help answer the business-related questions needed to answer on a regular basis: Is our digital marketing helping sell cars? Is it helping to sell service?

Outside of goal conversions, there are key performance indicators (KPIs) dealers should monitor and improve as a way to reach more qualified customers and increase business.

Advertising position: Search campaigns should consistently deliver tailored marketing messages in the top three positions of search results in a dealer’s local market.

How important is it to be on top? In search results, the difference between the first and second pages is massive.

Less than 10% of total users don’t even think to click beyond the first page of search results. If a dealership is not showing up in the top three positions, it’s ceding the local market to the competition.

Share of voice: Shoppers spend up to 12 hours online researching a large purchase over a period of weeks or months before buying, so being visible often (with a strong call to action) will help turn a search into a click, phone call or in-store visit.

Ideally, a dealer’s ads should be in the top three positions 70% of the time. Good share of voice means ads are appearing “above the fold” on the web page as often as possible to improve visibility and the probability of a conversion.

Advertising mix: The average consumer takes action after being exposed to marketing messages 10 to 20 times. Strive to maximize the total number of impressions possible across a range of media (e.g. search, display, mobile, video, social, etc.). The more times an ads appear in front of qualified prospects across multiple devices and channels, the more likely a dealer is to convert those people into buyers.

Changing Digital World

In 2017, measuring conversions and being able to interpret the sea of data in Google Analytics is not enough. Knowing how to apply these rich campaign insights to future digital marketing programs is the Holy Grail for marketers. Making regular changes to a campaign every month is a way to stay ahead of the competition and address changing trends.

The digital world is dynamic and what may be working one day may not work the next. Competitors, local and national market pressures, consumer influences and even a dealer’s own campaign contribute to this changing landscape.

Digital campaigns must be monitored and altered to ensure they are performing well.

Data-driven insights from similar campaigns can optimize a new one with fresh ads and tactics. These optimizations should be based on what is performing well in other markets and be tailored to a dealer’s individual business.

By tailoring the optimizations, a dealer’s unique selling proposition should be accurately reflected across ad copy, bids, placements and keywords.

Gary Galloway is Netsertive’s automotive digital marketing evangelist. He’s also an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he teaches digital marketing and communications.