Buffkin also is a big believer in the power of online videos. Of the top five organic positions that Beaman held in the search of "2012 Ford Focus SE Nashville," three were videos that the dealership's Web manager, Dealer.com, shot so Beaman could put them up on YouTube.
Another plus for Google placement are consumer reviews, said Matt Haiken, dealer principal and general manager of Prestige Volvo in East Hanover, N.J., outside New York. Reviews are part of the criteria Google uses for ranking dealership sites.
About nine months ago Google annoyed dealers by saying it would no longer allow reviews not gathered on Google to be shown on Google Places, the maplike business directory that shows up on Google search pages.
Overnight, Prestige Volvo lost 400 consumer reviews garnered on other sites such as Dealerrater.com and Yelp, Haiken said. But rather than sulk, Prestige began rebuilding its review base by identifying all customers with a Gmail account and encouraging them to submit a review. Gmail is a Google product.
Prestige is back up to 48 reviews on its Google Places page, with nearly a top five-star overall rating, Haiken said.
Google is critical to Prestige, since the dealership switched all its marketing dollars five years ago to digital media from traditional media, Haiken said. Prestige is one of the top-selling Volvo dealers in the nation, selling 757 new and 270 used vehicles in 2011.
Haiken said he consistently buys ads on Google to expand his reach. He said he spends about 10 percent of his digital marketing budget on Google. Prestige Volvo's total monthly digital marketing budget exceeds $10,000.
Fighting for business in crowded suburban New York makes ad buying a necessity, Haiken said.
He said: "Face it. If every customer is online these days, then every customer is an Internet customer."