There is no denying consumers are using online resources to educate themselves before ever setting foot on the dealership lot. In fact, nine out of ten consumers begin the process of purchasing a car through internet research, with 47% of these queries coming via mobile devices.
Auto industry leaders are taking notice of these developments, and they are responding with new online strategies aimed at providing consumers with a more streamlined and personalized car-buying experience. Ford is one manufacturer betting the digital approach is going to have a big payoff for its dealers. In January, it introduced a program to allow for co-op on these types of marketing campaigns, with the goal of making it a much more attractive option to add to the dealer’s existing marketing efforts. Now, Ford is mandating their dealers spend 25 percent of their marketing dollars on digital media to be eligible for the reimbursement – and this summer, that number will double to 50 percent.
The question is no longer whether or not your dealership has an online presence, but more importantly, whether or not you are maximizing your spend in an ever-changing and increasingly complex digital landscape.
The first step in maximizing your online visibility is to appear in the top few results in any search. Studies have shown that two out of three visitors to a dealer website get there from searching Google. If you want to be the main source of information for consumers in your area, you need to ensure you are seen early and often in every search. Your listing, and ultimately how much you pay for that listing, is ranked by your relevance to the search by a consumer. On average, your competitors are only ranking 5 out of 10 on Google’s relevancy scoreboard. Moving your relevancy score from a 5 to a 6 decreases your cost per click (CPC) by 16% and moving your score to a 10 actually saves you 50% on CPC, notes a recent Hubspot study. Every move you make to become more relevant saves you money while moving you closer to the top of the search results.
How do you become more relevant? If someone is looking for a 4-door Honda Accord, you should advertise a 4-door Honda Accord and have information about a 4-door Honda Accord on your landing page. Do this with every search, and your relevancy score moves from a 5 to a 10 in no time. Seems simple enough, and your internet manager can master this keyword concept quickly when you are advertising for your own make and models. Building relevant landing pages for all makes and models in your inventory, however, can be a more daunting task.
One of the biggest headaches is having a used vehicle make and model on your lot that is not your major brand. Almost every Chevrolet dealership is going to have relevant information related to a consumer search for a Chevrolet Tahoe. The question is how you Win the Click™ if you are a Chevrolet dealership with a used Toyota Corolla on your lot. To make matters more complicated, your Chevrolet dealership likely has a competing Toyota dealership, who certifies all their used Toyotas, just down the street. You are trying to out-market a competitor who regularly has these vehicles on their lot, is always paying for this brand in digital advertising and is using the manufacturer’s certification to make their vehicle “more valuable.”
One company, aiming not only to certify your other makes and models but also automating the relevance process for you, is Motor Trend Certified driven by EasyCare and offered through Dealer Performance Group. They have partnered with PureCars to automate your advertisements and customize your landing pages, even for those other makes and models on your lot. Their automated system makes your ads the most relevant for all searches related to any vehicle in your inventory, without any extra work for your internet managers.
Sound too good to be true? Ricart Automotive, the largest Certified Pre-Owned Dealership in the US, and a proud Motor Trend Certified dealer, believes in the process. “The Motor Trend program, coupled with our marketing strategy, helped us increase our used-vehicle sales 47 percent in the first six months of 2013, to 3,372 units and growing,” says Rick Ricart, General Manager. Being relevant, in the face of competition, ensures your dealership top ranking in the digital search list, making the most of your internet dollars.
The driving force in growing research activity from mobile and tablet devices is the fact that they offer on-the-go and real time information. A 2013 Google auto purchase study showed that consumers are using their smartphones beyond just calling their local dealership to see if the latest S-Class has hit the lot. These savvy shoppers are using their mobile phones to request quotes, book test drive appointments, inquire about financing options, and search consumer reviews, just to name a few. And 44% are searching the vehicle on their mobile device while on your lot. Design your site with mobile in mind while increasing your relevance, and you’ll be at the top of that list when they’re shopping vehicles on your competitor’s lot.
Have more car buying education and car buying experience available online. Items like pre-qualification, financing terms and options, negotiating trade-in values, what is certified pre-owned and why it matters can make a huge difference in a consumer’s experience. Do it in video, and you win even more. Google shows 61% of auto purchasers visited a dealership after viewing an auto video online.
Many consumers, especially younger ones, are comfortable learning, exploring and doing these purchasing activities online, even if they are subject to approval upon arriving at the dealership. Having credit checks and financing terms, such as interest rates and trade-in values, readily available through your finance department gives you the opportunity to serve and build a relationship with the customer even before they visit your dealership. But it also means that when they arrive, they are more relaxed and comfortable, making for a better experience. CSI scores will be higher, and those customers will be more likely to recommend the dealership to their friends and family, as well as return the next time they need a new vehicle.
Guidelines to Get You Started
Almost all dealerships are headed down the digital path, but there’s plenty of room for differentiation. Put your dealership ahead of the rest by being relevant, being mobile and being digital.
A few guidelines to remember:
- Keep information relevant and have a good navigation system. When designing your site, make it mobile, responsive and user friendly. Use drop down menus, check boxes, and pre-populated fields whenever possible so that your mobile visitors can navigate and input information easily rather than having to complete long forms.
- If you have an analytics system in place, such as Google Analytics, create a separate profile for your mobile website. This will help you track your mobile traffic independently, which will help you understand how your visitors behave differently on your mobile website as compared to the desktop website.
- Always make sure you are sending people to the most relevant or specific page of your site. If someone is searching for “Ford Fusion” and you happen to sell it, be sure to send that person to the “Ford Fusion” page, not your home page.
- Automate these digital processes wherever possible. Automation matches your current inventory to your current digital ad spend. This will keep your relevancy scores high.
By supplementing your current digital marketing strategies with these practices, you can greatly improve your ability to reach and engage your consumer base so they are able to find you first, find your relevant information on-the-go, and begin their purchasing process online so they feel relaxed by the time they meet you face to face. How’s that for customer service?