LAS VEGAS – Digital marketing’s “dirtiest lie” is that the last click deserves full credit for an Internet-enabled sale, says Rand Fishkin, an expert in search-engine effectiveness.  

“This is madness,” he says of total marketing recognition bestowed on the screen click that ultimately results in a shopper submitting a sales lead for a product such as a vehicle.

In fact, all sorts of influences come into play during the car-buying process, including offline TV spots and newspaper ads that direct shoppers to auto maker, dealer and third-party automotive websites.

In that context, giving primary credit to the last marketing influencer along the way is like giving a medal only to the anchor in a relay race.

More than 80% of car buyers at some point go online to do things such as research models, look at inventory, compare prices and read reviews on social-media websites. Assorted selling forces are at work across various channels throughout the purchase process.

“You have to look at who is coming to your site for the first time and who made what visits prior to a (sales) conversion,” Fishkin says of tracking consumer shopping behavior.

He is a young entrepreneur who heads a search-engine optimization software firm and has written books on SEO. He wears faded blue jeans and bright-yellow shoes during a DrivingSales Executive Summit presentation here.

“I don’t usually speak to folks as professional as you,” Fishkin tells the conference audience of dealers, marketers and others.

He discusses the “art and science” of SEO, a term for how businesses try to enhance their chances of appearing high on search-engine results and drive online traffic to certain websites.

That is done through both unpaid and paid efforts. The former, called “organic search,” consists of creative use of content and keywords that grab a search engine’s attention. The latter includes purchasing ad space and keywords from Google, Yahoo, Bing and other search websites.

For instance, a car shopper typing in “Chevy Chicago” will get search results predominantly displaying highlighted links to dealers who pay for such positioning.

Marketers constantly try to figure out how to get best search results. But SEO comes with imponderables. “A perfect formula for SEO doesn’t exist,” Fishkin says. He offers tips for getting the most of SEO.

“Build an amazing brand and show it online,” he says. “In SEO, we don’t usually think of creating a brand narrative, but we should. People buy from brands they know, like and trust. SEO tends to ignore that.”

Relevant and creative content is important, especially on social-network websites. “Develop a content strategy that will attract customers and people who may influence them,” Fishkin says. “Be relevant to anyone who interacts with your customers. That’s right, go for influencers of someone buying a car, not just the buyer.”

He’s awed by the gigantic growth of Google, noting it is up to about 3 billion searches a day.

Some users type in concise search words. But many others write long explanations for what they are looking for. “Google says one in five search descriptions per day has never been used before,” Fishkin says. “We’re unique snowflakes.”

Marketers aren’t told by Google which paid-for keywords and terms are most effective in driving website traffic, he says. “Google says it is a privacy issue, but it’s not. It’s a proprietary issue.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com