In the past few years, you may have noticed that your auto dealership marketing has reached a fevered pace. As competition for the used car shopper and that next sale grows in intensity, many dealers still continue to find value in traditional advertising such as radio spots, newspaper ads, and TV commercials. However, today’s market means you face new pressures to master the online marketplace and create the perfect digital journey for potential customers.
An overwhelming majority of today’s car shoppers start their search online. Most shoppers visit a dealership’s website before making any other contact, and they gather information to help them comparison shop, find the best deals and even make dealers across a wide geographical area compete for their business. What’s even more amazing is that even the “ups” that may have once been taken for granted are shopping competitors on their mobile phones while on the lot.
The first suggestion, and a clear best practice, is to have at least one person on your team who has clear responsibility for the online marketing and sales efforts. It is challenging to develop a consistent online strategy and deliver consistent service if this is done by committee or by just having whomever is “free” manage your online efforts.
Not All Web Traffic Is Good Web Traffic
While there are many ways to drive traffic to your dealership’s website, not all are worth your time or investment. A particular challenge you are likely to face as an auto dealer is the need to attract high-quality traffic to your site. Your team will want to increase the number of unique visitors to your site, but you’ll want to make sure as your online traffic grows that you’re still delivering the highest quality shoppers possible to your lot—turning online shoppers into on-the-lot buyers.
A key to gauging and maintaining the quality of your dealership’s web traffic, and avoiding the kind of visitor traffic we have come to call “empty calories,” make sure your team measures the volume of Vehicle Detail Page (VDP) views and compares it to emails and calls generated from the traffic that you’re driving. Your dealership will want to avoid investing your digital marketing budget to drive “Looky-Loos” to your website: They are as big a challenge online as they are on your lot.
You want to ensure that customers who click on your paid search ads receive the most relevant inventory search results and that your advertising budget targets customers who are most likely to engage with your site, visit your lot, and ultimately purchase a vehicle.
The Need for the Right Inventory
The number-one factor in the success of any used vehicle department is inventory on the lot. There are many tools available to help dealers analyze sales trends and compare them to vehicles in your inventory. These tools help you at the highest levels to evaluate the makes and models sold, the price range and margins of cars and trucks sold, and recommend inventory that is right for your market.
With the basics covered, you’ll want to turn your attention to your paid search strategy to target your most profitable inventories. Your adjusted bid strategies should aim to increase the number of vehicle detail pages that customers view, ultimately leading to an increase in lead volume for your dealership and visitors to your lot.
When a customer is farther down-funnel in the car shopping process, they are less likely to just search for a make and model, such as a “Mazda 6” or “Jeep Cherokee.” Often, searches include car features, model years, colors, locations and much more. This consumer behavior has a significant impact on your vehicle acquisition strategy.
Our experience suggests it is far better for your dealership to have more of any given make and model vehicle than it is to have a variety of makes and models. For example, if your dealership has four Toyota Camrys in inventory, it may be far better from a search perspective to acquire another Toyota Camry than it might be to buy a single Honda Accord. When it comes to search, especially for shoppers closer to purchase, consumers already know the make and model they want. Shoppers are more interested in seeing the options and features available on their vehicles of interest in your inventory.
If you’ve added this strategy to your acquisition process, you can consider using Dynamic Search Ads to capture the numerous long-tail search queries down-funnel shoppers use when searching for a used car. Optimize campaigns to leverage as much as possible for makes, models and years. The more you have in inventory, the more aggressively you want to run the ads. Your dealership can shift your digital marketing spend toward your vehicles with higher inventories. Dynamic Search Ads pick up on all the features, colors, and option terms and provide users with the most relevant dealer inventory.
Additionally, data from this strategy can help identify higher volume consumer search activity for vehicles that may have low inventory. This data is a clear signal for your acquisition and sales team that there is demand for that vehicle type.
This strategy should allow dealers to use their inventory data to increase the efficiency of your ad spend and meet your campaign objectives. Focusing your ad spend on searchers who are more likely to convert into a sale at the dealership, rather than spending ad dollars on customers who would have a poor user experience and be unable to convert due to a lack of inventory.
The Truth About Location and Search Radius
Your dealership may be tempted, especially given the ability of consumers to search for vehicles across a very broad search radius, to invest in paid search and marketing efforts across a vast geography. While it is true some shoppers are willing to drive more than 100 miles to buy the car they want; data suggests that the average distance consumers will travel to buy a car is far less. In fact, if it takes someone more than 20 minutes to reach a dealership location, the likelihood of them becoming a customer is 100x lower.
Taking it one step further, leveraging your inventory allows the ad copy to be tailored to the customer to show the exact number of 2014 Nissan Versa available at your dealership in your market area. This tactic allows marketing dollars to be spent more efficiently by bidding more on areas with specific vehicles available and suppress spend in areas where a particular vehicle is unavailable.
You may also want to consider adding a geo-fenced ad strategy to your mix. This highly targeted approach, even with a higher CPM, will probably perform better given the right message than mass-reach advertising.
Trust Is Important – Make Sure You’re Managing Your Online Reputation
Let’s face it, car dealership and sales professionals still labor under an unfortunate stereotype a shopper may have in their mind. Your dealership and your sales team are nothing like this, and you have to make sure your online reputation lets people know who you are.
Today online consumers evaluate what it’s like to work with dealerships based on comments from previous customers. They find these reviews and ratings when they search on Google, Facebook, Yelp, CARFAX and other vehicle listing sites. Star ratings stand out in search results so much they’ll create an impression before anyone even visits your website.
Every time you treat a customer well you want to make sure you get credit; it helps your marketing. Your dealership should have a visible and consistent effort to capture these positive customer experiences and get them online. If someone searches on for your dealership by name, they’ll see these reviews.
You will also want to monitor your reviews across the top vehicle listing and search platforms. This activity should be part of your marketing manager and general manager’s job. Make sure you’re responding to reviews posted online, paying particular attention to the negative ones. Make sure your explaining your side of the story and, if possible, offer to rectify the situation for your customer. Many consumers will change their review when they see your response and fell that you value their opinion. However, don’t obsess over every lousy review. You’ll never satisfy everyone. If your overall review profile is weak, it’s time to call a team meeting. Every member of the team has a role to play in making sure your dealership has an excellent reputation.
Author: Mario Schiappacasse
Mario Schiappacasse is the head of digital display for Jellyfish. He is responsible for strategy and results for our US clients, including some of the largest automotive brands. He has over a decade experience in the digital marketing arena and a long track record of building innovative solutions for clients. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland.