VW tests live chat on Google paid search ads
Volkswagen of America is experimenting with live chat on its Google paid search ads in an effort to increase the number of leads it generates from the popular search engine.
In Google ads that ran nationally for one week during July, VW displayed a live chat button that allowed viewers to pose questions about vehicles, financing, dealers and other issues.
The test is a first for VW and a first for Google in the auto sector.
VW wants to learn whether live chat helped "drive leads and differentiate VW ads from other OEMs, resellers and competitors on the landscape," VW Brand Media Manager Jennifer Clayton wrote in an e-mail. But she added that it is too early to know whether the chat was popular with online shoppers who clicked on the ads.
Clayton wrote that VW wants to know whether the chat option coaxed more shoppers to open the Google ads and helped connect them quicker with VW customer service representatives.
Paid search at Google involves buying key words and phrases that enable ads to show up in the shaded top portion of the first search page, or in a shaded box on the side of the page.
Because of Google's dominance among search engines, those locations are seen as highly valuable. Advertisers pay Google only when a shopper clicks on the ad and is taken to the advertiser's Web site. A Google spokeswoman confirmed the pilot with VW but declined to comment.
Live chat is catching on among automakers and dealers. VW has offered live chat on its corporate Web site since April 2011, Clayton said. About 20 percent of dealerships use the service, said Todd Smith, CEO of ActivEngage, the Orlando company that handles VW's chat service and has 2,600 dealership customers nationally.
Smith said that about 1.5 percent of visitors to dealership Web sites that offer a chat option use the service to communicate with the store. While that's a small percentage, ActivEngage call center representatives who chat with shoppers are able to get leads or contact information from three of every four users, he said.
ActivEngage has 165 representatives at centers in Orlando and Las Vegas. They interact with customers who click on a button or a bubble that appears on a carmaker or dealership Web site.
In June, VW had 4,300 unique chat visitors on its corporate Web site seeking information on such matters as roadside assistance, credit contact information and customer service, Clayton said. But the carmaker does not try to get vehicle sales leads from those visitors, she said.
According to Dataium, a Nashville consultancy, Google is responsible for two of every three online visitors to dealership Web sites.
Brian Pasch, CEO of PCG Digital Marketing, a consultancy in Eatontown, N.J., said many dealers are devoting too little of their ad budgets to Google, given its local and global reach.
After the VW pilot, Smith said he hopes Google will permit the chat function for paid search ads bought by dealers as well as auto manufacturers.
Google also has a pilot program under way in California that allows select dealers to list vehicle inventory on Google for sales leads.
You can reach David Barkholz at firstname.lastname@example.org. -- Follow David on and