How to Understand the Behavior of Consumers Throughout the Purchase Path

It’s more important than ever to reach and engage with low-funnel, in-market car buyers

Nearly 90% of today’s consumers use the internet to shop for a car, spending an average of 17 hours online visiting dozens of websites during the research process.

It’s challenging for dealers to break through the digital clutter to drive serious car buyers to their websites and, ultimately, their showrooms. And with dealership visits down to roughly one from four over the past few years, it has never been more important to reach and engage with low-funnel, in-market car buyers.

Plenty of attention is paid to digital advertising spend and, in particular, search engine marketing, and there is little doubt having a search presence is critically important to a dealer’s marketing efforts. But to really optimize your efforts to drive sales, it’s important to understand the behaviors of consumers as they travel through the purchase path so that you reach and engage with them at the right place and at the right stage of consideration—and drive them to the right pages of your website for maximum conversion.

When consumers start the purchase process, they use traditional search to consider multiple makes and models. As they continue along the internet path to purchase, they narrow their choices by going to research sites.

At the critical stage of finalizing their purchase sits vertical search, such as a publisher site or vertical search engine, where consumers find the specific inventory they’re looking for before visiting a showroom. And this is where a dealer needs to be.

Just as having a vertical search presence is important, it is equally important to have targeted content to drive engagement. The best offers target content by the exact make and model of interest, plus the consumer’s geographic location, for maximum conversion.

This in-market traffic is delivered directly to the dealer’s website, typically at a much lower price point than traditional search. When it comes to increased high-quality web traffic at lower cost, you can see why paid-search solutions such as these are growing increasingly popular among dealers and agencies alike.

The entire vertical search process culminates with the dealer website visit, which makes the pages to which you drive traffic a critical consideration. Although plenty has been written about the benefits of deep-linking to a VDP page, for example, we advise against it.

Maybe a customer wants to see a range of vehicles in your pre-owned inventory, versus the black sedan to which you directed them. Instead, direct car buyers to more general areas of your website, such as a vehicle search results page where a broader range of models is featured.

And although getting increased volumes of high-quality traffic to your website is great, don’t neglect the user experience once consumers get there. Conversions depend on the tools you provide to get car buyers to stop researching and visit your dealership.

  • The following are important questions to ask when evaluating your website’s tools:
  • Do you offer a texting solution backed by a lead management system that assists with compliance?
  • Do you offer virtual showroom technology to co-browse key areas of your website with your customers?
  • Do you offer shop-by-payment tools?
  • Have you implemented instant retargeting technology? It’s important to engage with a consumer immediately versus chasing a lead.

You’ve invested thousands of dollars in your website, but it’s only as good as the traffic that lands there—and the conversion tools you offer—to turn website visits into showroom visits. After all, that’s really what it’s about.

Mindy Howe is senior director of strategic accounts for Autobytel Inc., offering the industry a full suite of high-quality lead products and advertising services, including the AutoWeb paid search solution, TextShield, SaleMove, Payment Pro, and WebLeads+. For more information, text or call (248) 842-3101, or email For more dealer training, tips, advice, and news, visit

Mindy Howe


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