Why Search Marketing Remains a Potent Tool for Dealers

Search is the only ad format where consumers declare an interest before they click, making it a source of strong intent data

In recent years, digital marketing headlines have been dominated by words like programmatic, social, and mobile.

Although these truly innovative areas have dominated the conversation, search marketing has remained one of the most popular and powerful digital marketing disciplines.

Just as it has for nearly two decades, search marks one of the first places that consumers kick off their purchase journey and engage with a brand, producing some of the most powerful data signals available.

Fortunately for the automotive marketer, search’s pace of innovation has hardly slowed. There are now more ways than ever to leverage this valuable data asset to deliver successful campaigns.

Search can no longer live in a silo

Search is the only ad format where consumers declare an interest before they click, which makes it a source of incredibly strong intent data. It’s easy to use search information to fuel future search campaigns and keyword bid strategies.

But a huge part of search data’s value is unlocked only when it is taken outside of the search engine. That intent data becomes a major component in building out audience segments for the brand to pursue across all channels.

A consumer who conducts a search for “SUV” and then clicks on a Chevrolet ad on the results page is not only interested in the Chevy brand, but also in SUV models. This is a strong indicator that the customer is in the market to buy a vehicle.

The marketer’s job is to take this intent signal and orchestrate it across other channels, such as display, email, and even the on-site experience for dealership- and OEM-operated brand sites, so that consumers have a dynamically customized experience that aligns with their intent.

For instance, if that same consumer visits Chevrolet.com, the first thing they see on the website should be the SUV models. If they visit a competitor’s site, the first page should be customized with information about how that automaker’s SUVs compare to others.

When it is broken out of the silo, search data can effectively power all other components of a marketing plan. Combining it with the data from other channels, especially display, creates efficiencies throughout both the marketing mix and the consumer journey.

Connecting online to offline

That consumer journey piece is important to remember when we’re talking about search marketing. After all, the majority of autos are not sold online, and they are certainly not sold directly from a paid search ad.

Digital ads are selling a showroom visit and a test drive, and this presents an opportunity to connect search intent with offline results.

I mentioned previously how search data can now be used to fuel marketing across channels. It also represents the first element needed to trace offline sales back to digital ad investment.

This requires some consideration and planning from the brand. Programs need to be implemented to anonymously track a consumer from clicking a search ad, viewing a display or video ad, visiting an OEM or dealership website, and making a showroom appointment, all the way through to a sale.

These kinds of systems aren’t pipe dreams—search and marketing platforms have progressed to the point where they can work collaboratively with brands to provide this kind of closed-loop attribution. Automakers have to make their CRM files available to you, however, to help identify consumers who take test drives and then move on to sales.

But when this offline file is merged with online data, it provides you with a clear picture of what’s working with digital campaigns.

Find ways to outsmart keyword competition

In many industries, keyword competition has become a major hurdle for marketers to reach promising prospects.

Brands are bidding on their own names, but so are competitors, as well as aggregators, review sites, and consumer guides. What had previously been an easy way to invest in search is now ripe with opposition, bringing up the cost of sale.

The solution here also relies on tying online signals to offline. In past years, innovations in remarketing lists for search audiences (RLSA) and functionality such as “similar audiences” have allowed marketers to take this intent data, then leverage it to find audiences that share similar search histories, interests, or demographics.

By using information about organic and paid search clicks, marketers can use search data to power a cross-channel, cross-device view of the consumer signals. RLSA allows an automotive marketer to bid on keywords that are normally associated with high-volume, low-quality traffic, as well as high-cost keywords that are reliably reaching in-market drivers.

When marketers combine this with audience scoring that makes use of cross-device data, they are able to avoid the increased keyword competition, and reach drivers who are both in-market and more likely to convert across channels in a much more effective manner.

Because customer journeys are not linear (shoppers can respond to any number of advertising messages, across devices and multiple sessions), the ability to track advertising exposures and stitch together the path-to-purchase helps marketers get true visibility over—and optimize—their cross-channel advertising mix.

David Ragals is the senior vice president of customer success for IgnitionOne, where he leads both the account management and professional services teams for the U.S. David’s experience in the digital marketing industry has spanned across product, technology, and services, allowing him to provide 360-degree insights on trends and strategy.

David Ragals


  1. Avatar
    Jarvee August 22, 2017

    Thanks for sharing your point of view, David.

    Connecting online and offline worlds requires high quality research. And when it’s done good, it creates a great affect.

  2. Avatar
    Copykaty August 23, 2017

    Thanks David for this wonderful piece. No digital marketer can get actionable plan without in depth research. Research is the key. I use it for my clients and I get commendable results.



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