String's Automotive Marketing Blog

Money Talks: Tracking ROI for Car Dealers with Google Analytics

Posted by Matthew Kolodziej

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Oct 20, 2013 11:58:00 PM


Google Analytics clarifies your attribution and ROI picture – but not without a little legwork. Learn how car dealers can leverage GA to see the direct impact of digital channels on their bottom line.


The lure of Google Analytics is that it promises to answer a question as old as the web: what’s the return on my digital investment? 

While getting a perfect answer remains elusive, GA casts light into the black box that is digital marketing and brings you a more complete ROI picture. There is a catch, however: it takes commitment on the part of you and your vendors.

Attribution Begins with Configuring Goals

Google Analytics is an incredibly flexible tool, which is why it’s both powerful and complex. Getting the most out of it can be a painstaking process, but one that’s worth the effort.

Out of the box, Google Analytics provides basic web stats: your traffic sources, which pages were viewed, which devices shoppers used to view your site, and the cities they arrived from. Not a bad start, but one essential element is missing: conversions. Until you create goals in GA to define the conversions that you want to track, measuring the performance of your digital channels will be very difficult.

To create a goal, click the Admin tab on the top right of the Google Analytics navbar. Once there, look for the Goals flag on the right. Click that, and then click the create a goal button. 


From here, it gets a little more complicated. You will want to check with your website provider to learn: 

  • Is a user taken to a thank-you page after submitting a form? What is the URL of that page?

  • Is my website platform able to track mobile clicks-to-call in Google Analytics?

  • What is the URL of my hours and directions page?

With those answers, you can set up goal completions within GA and unlock the conversions tab. What’s more, you can add dollar values to those conversions to unlock metrics like per visit goal value to tell you much each visit is worth across your digital channels. 

To determine what kind of dollar values you should apply to your form submissions, look at the average closing rate for your email leads. If 10% of those leads convert to sales, then multiply that by the average gross that you hold on new and used vehicles. For example, if you make an average of $1,000 on every new vehicle sold, then a good place to start would be a goal value of $100 for email leads on new vehicles to $100 ($1,000 x 10%).

Calculating_Goal_Value_in_Google_Analytics          Open a dialog with your team about goal values. When determining goal values for conversions like mobile clicks to call and visits to your directions page, consult with your team and come to an agreement on what makes sense.

For more help and quick walkthroughs on configuring goals for different website providers, look out for a future series of blog posts focused on conversions in Google Analytics.

Tagging Is Essential

Just like with conversions, Google Analytics is not set up to track all of a car dealer’s digital marketing out of the box. GA relies on tracking tags attached to links to your site to know which campaigns, and, in some cases, which sources, are sending you visitors.

Without tracking tags, Google Analytics will be unable to accurately identify the following:

  • Paid search - Until you link your AdWords and Analytics accounts and tag your Bing/Yahoo ad links, GA will see all search traffic as organic

  • SEO - Since your paid search traffic is mixed with organic, it’s impossible to assess the performance of your SEO

  • Display advertising - Display ads come through as standard referral traffic, making it difficult to separate it from other sources

  • Email marketing - Email visitors will arrive as direct or referral visitors, rather than through an email campaign

  • Social - Similar to display, social visitors come through as referrals, making separation of different social campaigns difficult

Talk with your vendors about Google Analytics. Make sure they know you would like to use GA to track the traffic they send your site. All PPC vendors will know what it means to link AdWords and Analytics, and they will know how to tag Bing/Yahoo ads using Google’s URL builder. Your email marketing provider will know how to use the URL builder as well.


Attribution Custom Report

Now that you’ve set up goal conversions and tagged traffic to separate it properly, you can begin building custom reports that speak directly to the return on every digital channel you invest in.


The attribution report shown above provides a good snapshot of your online marketing funnel. Moving from left to right, we go from filling the funnel (unique visitors and percent new visits) to retaining those shoppers (bounce rate) to converting them and seeing that impact on your bottom line (goal conversion rate, goal value, and per visit goal vaue.)

We start at a high level, breaking your traffic into broad segments: organic, paid, referrals, direct, email, etc. From there, you can click into any of those segments to see the details within it, drilling in all the way down to the landing page level for a particular source or campaign.

To apply this report to any of your own Google Analytics profiles, make sure that you are logged into a Google Account that has Analytics access, click the link below, and pick the profile you’d like to use:

When looking at this report, start thinking about questions like:

  • Are bounce rates high for certain traffic sources or campaigns? Look at landing pages to determine if you’re driving shoppers to the wrong place.

  • Which of my channels is driving the highest percentage of new visits? Is that accompanied by a high bounce rate, or are those new shoppers finding what they’re after?

  • Once goal value data begins to appear in the report, compare the total goal value each channel generates with the per visit goal value. Do you notice any large discrepancies? Is one channel driving a large amount of money, but taking a huge amount of traffic to do it? Look for your most efficient channels.

Custom Dashboard for GM

Think of dashboards as a way to present higher-level data in a visual way. Custom reports are perfect for an interactive deep dive, but dashboards are better suited for PDF emails you automate and send out to decision makers.


The custom dashboard above features four widgets that provide a general manager or owner with a good overview of how a dealer website is performing month-to-month. 

The first widget shows the approximate value generated by the entire website, and the next is a high-level breakdown of which digital channels are driving the most revenue. The third and fourth widgets outline which new and used vehicles are grabbing the most attention, along with which are generating the most value. So, in the example below, used Grand Cherokees and Wranglers are driving a lot of pageviews, but not many conversions compared used Chryslers:

Top_Used_Vehicles_Widget_in_Google_Analytics          Another factor to keep in mind before applying this dashboard to your own Analytics profile is that you will need to work with your website provider to determine what the page parameters are to narrow this widget to only displaying new or used VDPs. Look out for future posts outlining how to set up VDP parameters for different website providers.

Also, without goal values set to your conversions, this dashboard will provide little value, so be sure to peg a dollar amount to all of your goals. Click the link below to set this dashboard to any Google Analytics profile:

Now that you have a custom report and dashboard to start with, you can begin tweaking them to better suit your own analysis, or, better yet, start creating your own!

If you’re having any trouble getting the sample report and dashboard configured, drop us a comment below, and we’ll do our best to help.

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Topics: auto dealer analytics, google analytics