Car Dealers: Your Ultimate Guide to Online Marketing
Reading time: 14 minutes
“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 in order to take advantage of.
According to Google, these “micro moments” include:
- ‘Which car is the best’ moment
- ‘Is it right for me’ moment
- ‘Can I afford it’ moment
- ‘Where should I buy it’ moment
- ‘Am I getting a deal’ moment
Google took these “moments” a step further by analysing one car buyer’s journey in their report: The Car-Buying Process: One Consumer’s 900+ Digital Interactions.
The illustration below highlights the process the buyer (Stacy) went through and a few of the 900+ opportunities dealerships have to engage with potential car buyers.
The Five Micro-Moments of the Car Buyer Consumer
1. 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.
2. The “Is It Right for Me?” Moment
As shoppers begin weighing practical considerations (like seating capacity and 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.
3. 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.
4. 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. In fact, 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.
5. 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 crowdsourced actual 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 important that you understand as much as possible about the buying journey and how it applies to your dealership and target audience. This includes 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.
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.
The importance of this fact should not be underestimated. You will not achieve your objectives until your customers achieve theirs.
This sounds simple enough but you need to know what they think of your site, what they want from it, and how you can deliver.
Online surveys 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 important step is to get feedback from your visitors while they browse. This can be done with the help of on-site surveys.
TIP: Check out Hotjar, one of our favourite tools for getting deeper insights into user behaviour. It’s got tons of cool features like heat maps and recordings, and even allows you to create user surveys.
As noted earlier, smartphones will play a huge role in your ability to positively 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.
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.
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 positively 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 make a commitment to answer it in a short time frame and stick to it.
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 fulfills 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 trust is established, it becomes easy to nurture them right through to step five and completely eliminate your competitors.
The typical 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.
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 signaling intent to visit a dealership within a week.” (3)
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 large range of identified keywords that are important for your business that you simply can’t organically rank for in the top three results. So Adwords is a great opportunity to fill in the gaps and make sure your dealeship 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.
Ignite Your Social Media Marketing
What role does social media play in the car buying journey?
Using Google’s insights into one car buyer’s journey, social media’s role was centred around YouTube and watching videos.
This is a great 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 very large 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 early 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 amazing 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 won’t get the engagement you’re after with sales-oriented messages, so think about a low-entry level message instead. 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.
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 create a Similar Audience as Facebook matches the keycharacteristics of your database with a broader audience.
Another good option is the ‘Click to Messenger’ ad option. 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).
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 a great opportunity to generate promotion for vehicle leasing and other business services.
Although it may not appear relevant to a dealership, Twitter is another popular social media tool that you may find useful.
The customer service opportunities can’t be ignored: someone tweets you to see if you have a particular vehicle in stock and you share the information they’re looking for; you can tweet a customer when it’s time for a service or time to pick up their vehicle; and you could also use the platform to promote a sales event.
Hone Your Content Marketing Strategy
The process of purchasing a new or used vehicle can be a long one. A great deal of research is involved before making a decision on a vehicle, so it’s worth identifying how you can help the consumer with 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 important 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 content they’ll find is written content. 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 educating them in a helpful manner 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.
If they consume video and Google’s study confirms this, produce videos, too. 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)
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.
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.
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 in a respectful manner. 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’s difficult people out there, so if it’s one bad review in 100 then it won’t have a lot of impact.
If you’re struggling to get any sort of 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 with something that wasn’t promised during the sales discussions.
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.
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?
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 are delivered to your prospects with 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 good 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 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.
(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 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 Clarity.fm.