The old saying, “If you want it done right, do it yourself,” applies to many things. But can you do it alone when it comes to search engine marketing? If you are ready to drive more traffic to your website but are concerned about the complexity of the ever-changing search engine marketing game, now may be time to consider a partner who specializes in local search management.

If you want to drive incremental traffic to your dealership’s website, search engine marketing is an excellent option. As we discussed in the June DealerADvantage, more than 55 percent of respondents to a Cars.com DealerPoll, said their advertising plans now include search engine marketing (i.e., paid search) and search engine optimization. In last month’s follow-up DealerPoll, we learned that few dealerships manage search engine marketing programs on their own. Only one out of five responding dealers said they manage their keyword searches independently, while approximately 30 percent use an external agency to oversee the work.

Dedicating a person on your payroll to oversee this initiative may be an acceptable approach, but is it the best approach? Before you initiate a campaign yourself, consider the following: Is this project really in the scope of my staff’s expertise? Do I have an individual who can master the industry and technical knowledge necessary to manage a keyword portfolio that often includes more than 2,000 terms? Can this person be put to better use selling cars or more effectively directing other marketing campaigns?

Given the complexity of search and the ever-changing rules of the game, working with an outside vendor vs. an in-house resource promises better and more cost-effective results. Before choosing a partner, the first steps to getting your dealership to the top of the search results begin with doing your research and asking the right questions.

The top three questions to ask a prospective vendor:

1. How do you create keyword portfolios?
To enable companies to receive prominent positions on their results pages, search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and MSN allow advertisers to bid on keywords. The methodology for keyword bidding used by your search management partner must take into account your business objectives and budget. Experienced partners will work closely with you to build a keyword strategy specific to your dealerships needs. While nearly any vendor can drive a volume of leads through keyword purchases, find out what steps your vendor will take to establish a keyword portfolio that delivers the highest quality traffic and sustains your budget.

For example, at CPC Logic, Cars.com’s dealer search engine marketing division, the company’s technology features a keyword-generating tool that discovers thousands of keywords relevant to the client’s brands and products. To select the most effective keywords for a campaign, CPC Logic utilizes sophisticated conversion tracking, coupled with its vast database of historical click data. To maximize the number of leads generated from the dealer’s budget, bids are based on the keywords’ propensity to convert to leads.

It is also important to understand if your partner can adhere to the unique and ever-evolving bidding and ranking processes each search engine company uses. Since the engines do not publish these processes, a fair amount of experience and experimentation are required to mount and to maintain an effective campaign. Choosing a partner with sound methodology and relationships with the search engine companies can help you stay ahead of these changes.

2. Do you use your own technology?
Each of the major search engine operators allows advertisers to automate a number of paid search processes (e.g., keyword bidding and lead tracking) by designing software that connects to their back-end systems. While licensed software often proves just as successful, it may not be as flexible. As search engine companies change their criteria, a search engine marketing company that develops its own code for these applications can quickly respond to these updates and build out the necessary tools.

3. Do you assign an account manager to my program?
Search engine marketing and search engine optimization projects require ongoing “care and feeding” to deliver consistent results. While bidding for paid searches can be automated, changes to the keyword portfolio itself, as well as refinements to website content and the underlying architecture for search engine optimization, remain manual processes. Working with an experienced account manager ensures that appropriate maintenance and modifications are made on a timely basis. Following the wrong protocols could cause your site to drop from a position on the first results page to the 15th, for example, or be banned altogether.

With tens of millions of websites competing for attention on the Internet, you want to be sure car shoppers find your domain vs. that of a competitor. Just as your dealership probably works with an outside supplier to design, host and maintain your website, you need specialized skills and established best practices to stand out from the pack.