Car Dealers: Marketing ideas to win the moments that matter

Last updated Jul 12, 2021

Reading time: 14 minutes

Influence of mobile on car buyer journey

“One in four car purchasers turns to mobile every day to research vehicles.” (1)

More mobile users than ever before are researching vehicles on the go, at work, and from the couch – right on their smartphones.

During this online research phase, prospects experience several “micro-moments” – mini moments in the buying cycle – that are important for every car dealership to understand.
According to Google, these “micro-moments” include:

  1. ‘Which car is the best’ moment
  2. ‘Is it right for me’ moment
  3. ‘Can I afford it’ moment
  4. ‘Where should I buy it’ moment
  5. ‘Am I getting a deal’ moment

If you want to adapt to the evolving car buyer’s journey, then these eight steps will prove a valuable resource.

#1. Understand The Five Micro-Moments of the Car Buyer Consumer

i. The “Which Car is the Best?” Moment

Six out of 10 car shoppers enter the market unsure of which car to buy. Stacy began her car-buying journey by focusing on family-friendliness and safety, which led her to consider several brands and models.

ii. The “Is It Right for Me?” Moment

As shoppers begin weighing practical considerations (like seating capacity and the number of airbags, for instance), they start to develop a checklist of important features that best fit their needs. Stacy’s checklist included fitting three car seats and a sliding middle row.

iii. The “Can I Afford It?” Moment

As shoppers narrow their options down, cost consideration comes into play. Stacy explored pricing and payment options that were right for her, including price points under $30,000; consideration of leasing vs. buying; lease exchange programs; and the trade-in value of her current SUV.

iv. The “Where Should I Buy It?” Moment

Though much of the car-buying process has transitioned to an online experience, the dealership visit remains a crucial step for many car buyers. Search interest for “car dealerships near me” has doubled in the past year. In Stacy’s case, she considered local inventory, deals and specials, when exploring nearby dealerships.

v. The “Am I Getting a Deal?” Moment

Though many “Am I getting a deal?” moments take place at the dealership, Stacy spent time researching deals both on and off the lot. She researched lease money factors, read about how she might forgo a dealer altogether, and actual crowdsourced prices paid for different brands and models so she could show up prepared.

What Will Your Focus Be?

For the most part, car dealerships focus on the “Where should I buy it?” and “Am I getting a deal?” moments – choosing to concentrate on reaching consumers with messages based around cost and value.

What Google’s study has uncovered is an opportunity to help the car buyer at earlier stages of their buying journey. The advantage of this is establishing a sense of goodwill and trust – giving you a much better chance of securing sales when the consumer finally reaches the “Where should I buy it?” and “Am I getting a deal?” moments.

It’s vital that you understand as much as possible about the buying journey and how it applies to your dealership and target audience. The buyer journey should drive your strategy for interacting with car buyers at each stage, what tactics you’ll use, and how to nurture your audience from one moment to the next.

If you’re unsure where to start, we’ve put together some best practices for improving your dealership’s online presence that will help you meet car buyer objectives throughout each step of their journey.

#2. Know Your Audience

If you’ve done your research, you will have nailed-down your audience personas, and hopefully, this will include what they want from your website.

You should not underestimate this fact. You will not achieve your objectives until your customers reach theirs.

Online quizzes and an analysis of your site’s analytics will play critical roles in understanding your customers’ wants and needs.

Google Analytics is a great place to begin identifying how users are behaving on your site and get a closer look at what they’re after and what steps they’re taking to get there.

The second most crucial step is to get feedback from your visitors while they browse. You can do this with on-site surveys.

As noted earlier, smartphones will play a massive role in your ability to influence potential car buyers.

If you ignore the experience of your mobile visitors, not only will you be discouraging potential car buyers from browsing your site and visiting your showroom, but you’ll also hurt your ability to perform well in Google search.

#3. Get Your Website Up to Speed

Another crucial element in delivering an optimal website experience is your website’s speed. With the emergence of smartphones and the ability to browse from anywhere, users have become incredibly impatient when browsing online.

Did you know: 42% of your website visitors will likely abandon it if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. Test how fast your website is!

Like mobile experience, page speed is another Google ranking factor. So if you want to attract potential buyers in Google search, you should include speed as one of your key website objectives.

Speed auto website

The Ford Australia home page could be faster.

Here are some general tips for improving your website:
– Pictures are great visual aids, but won’t be enough to capture your audience’s interest. You want online video. Video consumption is skyrocketing and will be a great asset in your ability to influence potential car buyers.

– Make sure you provide sufficient contact information. Some dealers make it incredibly difficult to contact them, which doesn’t give a great impression of customer service. If you can’t offer more than just a contact form, then commit to answer it in a short time frame and stick to it.

#4. Improve Your Visibility In Search

Because consumers often turn to search engines to find information, Google plays a significant role in the car buying journey.

In the example found in the article mentioned earlier, the car buyer made 139 different Google searches over a three-month period before making a final purchase decision.

Google and other search engines play a pivotal role in the initial “Which car is best for me?” moment.

Traditionally, the manufacturer fulfils this information gap for the buyer. This is supported by statistics uncovered by Google’s study citing “manufacturer interactions” as being the most significant touchpoint throughout the buyer journey.

However, there is an opportunity for the local car dealership in this instance. As part of your content marketing strategy, you could publish content with the aim of buyers finding it in search engines, that assists them through each step of all five micro-moments.

Again, this is an opportunity to be the first dealership to establish trust with the car buyer by getting on their radar at step one of the buying process. Once you develop trust, it becomes easy to nurture them right through to step five and eliminate your competitors.

The common search objectives for auto dealers are to be present when the car buyer is at the “Where should I buy it?” and “Am I getting a deal?” stages.

Local search results for car dealer

This space is highly competitive, so you need to be on your game.

SEO vs. Paid Advertising

There are two general approaches: Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) or Search Engine Advertising (Google Adwords).

Search Engine Optimisation is the valuable practice of executing a strategy with the objective of performing better in search results. This means not only ranking higher and driving more traffic but sending better quality traffic. This is a more sustainable approach to better visibility in search engines, i.e. you can stop paying your SEO agency today, and you’ll still be ranking tomorrow.

Within SEO, it’s also worth noting the different tactics involved with Local SEO. This will be extremely important when the buyer goes through the “Where should I buy it?” stage.

Searches might include ‘Mazda Dealer Melbourne’, and in these situations, Google will return the “local pack.” You will have seen this many times with a map and three or so listings.

But further to that, Google’s recent research indicates that being visible in the early research phases will also have a significant impact on visits to your showroom.

“Our study shows that consumers in their early research moments, such as which-car-is-best or is-it-right for me moments, are signalling intent to visit a dealership within a week.” (3)

Website Audit: Want to check how well your dealer website is optimised for a nominated keyword? Use our FREE SEO Audit Tool.

Google Adwords and Bing Advertising offer amongst the most valuable advertising options available for car dealers. Where SEO can take a lot of work and not be guaranteed, search advertising guarantees you a position within the search results and provides the flexibility to change strategy at the click of a few buttons. The big plus with Google Adwords, for instance, is the fact that the better your ads are, the less you pay.

The recommended approach is to use both tactics to ensure you have an optimal presence within search results. For instance, when you first begin your SEO journey, you’ll have a broad range of identified keywords that are important for your business that you just can’t organically rank for in the top three results. So Adwords is an excellent opportunity to fill in the gaps and make sure your dealership is visible.

NOTE: The general consensus is that 66% of clicks come from the top three results. If you’re not there, then you should be considering paid ad placements.

Drive more customers from Google. Read how in “Local SEO for Car Dealers“.


#5. Ignite Your Social Media Marketing

What role does social media play in the car buying journey?

Facebook and Car Buyers

Image Credit:

Using Google’s insights into one car buyer’s journey, social media’s role was centred around YouTube and watching videos.

This is an excellent opportunity to create your own dealership channel and produce videos to attract potential buyers via the platform.

Understand the opportunity, however. Manufacturers use TVC-type videos and have huge budgets. So don’t try and compete with them. Put yourself in the mind of the buyer while they’re doing early research and produce your own videos answering any initial questions they might have. Involve past customers, staff with any particular authority, and even influencers in the industry.

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat can also be used to make your brand more visible. Get creative!


Facebook is a good place to start, as many dealers already have. But approach Facebook as you would with any other social platform: identify your objectives, test execution and measure success.

If you want it to be an acquisition platform, then be prepared to create an advertising budget, which can be highly effective given the fantastic targeting options available.

If you do decide to advertise on Facebook, you’ll need to understand that advertising on the platform is nothing like traditional advertising.

You need to steer clear of sales-oriented messages and keep them engaging. For example, use the content you’re producing to get their attention and generate clicks, and encourage them to opt-in to your offer (e.g. “Download our Ultimate Guide to Family SUVs”).

This way, you can get their attention with a value proposition that ultimately secures you an email address for subsequent lead nurturing.

As far as posting to your Facebook page goes, don’t ignore this critical piece of advice: measure the engagement levels of your posts. If you continue posting with no regard for understanding the engagement level, you’ll start losing your organic reach.

What’s organic reach?

Organic reach is the number of people who see your posts when you publish. For example, you have 5,000 “likes” on your page, but only 150 people on average see your posts. That’s only 3% reach, which is about average these days.

Facebook is telling you that your content is not engaging enough, so they’re not delivering it to more of your “likes” (people who follow your page). Continue down this path and your posts can quickly become irrelevant unless you choose to add budget to each one of your posts.

So what do you do?

Understand your Facebook audience. Use Facebook Insights for this and ask questions. Identify what common interests they have. Understand why they liked your page and what posts they hope to receive. Find the right volume of posts each week and times that get you greater organic reach. Test different forms of posts: video, images, polls, questions, statements, etc.

Online video is a big winner on Facebook at the moment and if you’re going to share a video, upload it to Facebook – don’t just share a YouTube video. You will get more organic reach by doing this.

TIP: If you’re looking at advertising on Facebook, understand the wealth of options. If you have an email database, then you might want to create a Custom Audience to target. Expand this database and build a Similar Audience as Facebook matches the key characteristics of your database with a broader audience.

Another good advertising option is the ‘Click to Messenger’. Learn about a case study in the U.S. where the pilot campaign, which spanned several months, reached more than 100,000 people and was able to generate roughly 50 sales per month (purchases and new leases).

Facebook also offers car dealerships with the opportunity to list on Facebook’s Marketplace. This is a huge advantage to get your listings in front of your Facebook audience and allowing you to tailor messages. It will also give the consumer the opportunity to contact the dealership directly via Facebook Messenger.

UPDATE: Now you can drive automotive inventory ads to a mobile-optimised shopping experience on Facebook. Here’s what Facebook had to say “When a shopper clicks on an auto dealer’s ad, they’ll land on a dynamic Vehicle Detail Page (VDP) on Facebook that’s created using information from the dealer’s auto catalog. From this VDP, shoppers can research vehicles, discover additional inventory and connect directly with dealers via Facebook Messenger, lead form, phone call or by visiting a dealership in person.”



LinkedIn is loosely described as the professional version of Facebook. Fewer members, but a more specific purpose.

Create a company profile for your dealership and optimise the listing with services and detailed descriptions, and keep it up-to-date with promotions. Actively using the listing in a professional environment is an excellent opportunity to generate publicity for vehicle leasing and other business services.

Check this link out: LinkedIn Proves Ripe Platform for Auto Brands, With Members 2X More Likely to Buy [INFOGRAPHIC]


Although it may not appear relevant to a dealership, Twitter is another popular social media tool that you may find useful.

Customer service opportunities are aplenty. For example, someone tweets you to see if you have a particular vehicle in stock and you share the information they’re looking for, or you can tweet a customer when it’s time for a service or time to pick up their vehicle.

#6. Hone Your Content Marketing Strategy

The process of purchasing a new or used vehicle can be a long one. Before deciding on a vehicle, a buyer will conduct a great deal of research, so it’s worth identifying how you can help them in this process.

Be sure to read ‘The Car-Buying Process: One Consumer’s 900+ Digital Interactions‘ for help understanding the type of information car buyers are looking for.

With a better sense of the buying journey and what information the buyer is searching for, you can come up with some great ideas for how you can inject your dealership into their experience.

If you can be of help and value to the buyer, you’ll establish a sense of goodwill, putting you in an advantageous position when the buyer reaches the profitable “Where should I buy it?” moment.

The type of content will depend on your audience and the moments you want to influence.
The critical thing to note is understanding where they’re searching and what types of content they’re consuming.

If they’re searching Google, then the majority of the content they’ll find is in written form. You want to be visible during this process, so provide plenty of helpful written content on your site.

But be mindful, prospects won’t be ready to read sales-oriented pages during those early moments in the buying journey. Focus on effectively educating them by creating blog posts written by knowledgeable staff within your organisation.

This doesn’t mean your top sales staff, but more along the lines of your head mechanic or other employees with specialised knowledge that will hold a level of trust with your audience.

You can also bring in previous customers to give their feedback on different vehicles, for instance, or identify influencers in the industry and collaborate with them to produce or promote your content.

Google’s study confirms they consume video, so allocate budget to produce your own videos. You can then embed them on your website and attract users from search engines, which will improve site experience. Also, be sure to upload them to your YouTube channel for additional exposure.

[Stat] No matter the source, data shows these early research moments are increasingly influenced by video. In fact, of people who used YouTube while buying a car, 69% were influenced by it—more than TV, newspapers or magazines. (2)

Here’s further evidence of the power of online video with research published by Google (May 2019).

Online video influencing car buying

But the content marketing process doesn’t stop at production.

Think about how you’ll convert on each piece of content. If it’s a blog post, how are you converting? What is a conversion in this instance?

Let’s revisit how you can nurture the buyer through each micro-moment.

In many instances, the conversion will be acquiring an email address. This is generally best achieved by offering a content upgrade. For example, if you’ve created a post comparing three of the leading family cars you sell, offer readers a more in-depth ebook with even more feedback on the benefits of each of the vehicles for families.

While digesting the post, the reader is being primed to want even more information and will likely hand over their email address in return for it. Now you have a potential car buyer ready to be nurtured throughout their journey.

This is where marketing automation may very well be your biggest asset.

OK, so you’ve identified your audience, created content for them, and even created a content upgrade to help you convert. But what if your content isn’t getting traffic or making an influence that warrants the effort?

Content promotion deserves more time and resources than the production of the content, itself. More often than not, it gets very little.

Here are a few ideas you can use for promoting your content:
– Advertise it on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.
– Identify websites that car buyers consult and see if you can get your content re-published or use it as sponsored content.
– Consider using content suggestion engines like OutBrain to have it promoted to specific audiences.

#7. Maintain and Grow Your Online Reputation

When you have potential car buyers searching online every day, you need to know what information they’re finding about your dealership.

Online reviews auto dealer

Winter & Taylor Holden in Geelong has a compelling online reputation.

If they’ve found information about your dealership or staff, is it positive? If it’s negative, what should you do?

If they’re not finding any information about your dealership, then what can you do to make sure they do? Because good or bad, they will find information about your competitors.

The key is to make sure every interaction with a car buyer, pre- or post-sale, should be treated with the utmost importance because people love writing about their experiences – bad experiences even more so. The thing is, you don’t know whether the person on the other end of the phone is an influential blogger or not.

If you do receive bad feedback online, then respond respectfully. You will be judged by your response, or lack thereof, as much as the initial complaint.

Combating bad feedback is also a matter of weighing it against positive reviews. We all know there are difficult people out there, so if it’s one bad review in 100, then it won’t have a lot of impacts.

If you’re struggling to get any reputation online, then you need to get creative. Invest resources into delighting customers and exceeding their expectations. They expect a specific level of service, so if that’s all you’re providing, then they have nothing to encourage them to spend the time to review you.

Send them handwritten “thank you” cards, give them a freebie when they purchase or provide them more than was promised during the sales discussions.

Get creative!

This is a great way to get an online review process setup. Understand when your car buyer will be the most satisfied with your service and send them an email. Ask them nicely to leave an online review, as you’ll want to request reviews to your Google listing and a couple of other key review platforms.

#8. Master Marketing Automation and Scale Your Lead Generation

If you’re successfully interacting with potential car buyers in the early moments and you’re able to acquire their email address, you have a terrific opportunity to nurture them through to final purchase.

But first, consider this important quote from Forbes:
“Marketing automation is one of the most valuable tools the modern-day marketer can employ and yet it’s been adopted by less than 10% of companies.”

How can we apply marketing automation to car dealerships?

marketing automation journey

This is an example of an automated journey with AutopilotHQ.

Let’s say you’ve got visitors reading your article on the best three family vehicles you sell. This is information targeting car buyers during the early moments in their journey – or as Google puts it, “Which car is the best?” and “Is it right for me?”

From this post, you’ll begin attracting email addresses, but what should you do with them? They haven’t gone immediately from step one to step five, so herein lies the process of nurturing.

With marketing automation, you can create a workflow of emails that deliver to your prospects various information and objectives, strategically structured to send them the information they want and need, as they work their decision-making all the way through to “Am I getting a deal?”

With strong SEO, advertising and content marketing strategies in place and a system for converting leads and gathering reviews, your dealership is sure to see impressive sales growth!


(i) Google and MarketShare conducted Marketing Mix Modelling in Australia for five medium SUV brands* to reveal how various marketing channels impact revenue. To learn what they discovered download ‘Maximising Medium SUV Revenue: Australian Marketers Shift to Digital‘.

(ii)Google has also released a report identifying the latest trends and how they impact car purchasing behaviour. Find out what they are and what you should know by downloading ‘‘What These 3 Auto Trends Mean For Brands’‘.

(iii) To determine the effectiveness of its Search ads in bringing people to its dealerships, Honda Australia turned to Google’s store visit conversions tool. Read the report ‘Honda Australia Discovers What Drives Customers to Dealerships With Store Visit Conversions‘.

(iv) For Australian car dealerships, download the whitepaper by CarSales and IPSOS titled ‘The Journey to Vehicle Ownership‘. It suggests that the journey has been trimmed from 4.3 months to 2.7 months in just four years.

(5) More reading for Australian dealerships with Google’s latest research paper titled ‘The path to purchase for new car buyers: Why Aussie brands and OEMs need a digital-first strategy

(1) Automotive Shopper Path to Purchase, Millward Brown Digital and Polk, September 2015
(2) TNS Media Consumption Report
(3) Winning the Moments Before the Dealership

Quentin Aisbett

Quentin Aisbett

Quentin Aisbett is the strategist at OnQ Marketing. He has a specific focus on local and mobile SEO, content strategy, and marketing automation. Blogging all the time, tweeting even more so. Pick his brain on