CommentaryJul 9th, 2013

Dealer Marketing: Future Success Starts with Internet Marketing


As the internet has grown over the last decades from simple static websites that were little more than online brochures to become an integral part of everyday life, it has created new ways for dealers to communicate with their current customers and find new ones. Today, we have social media, online video, chat, search marketing, retargeting, and a host of other ways to market and communicate with customers online, which can be both a blessing and a burden.

With so many options it can be hard to determine which method or methods will bring customers into your showroom. What makes it even more difficult is that what works best is determined not only by technology, but by the specific situation of your dealership. A big-city dealership fighting for customers on their city’s Auto Row has different marketing needs than a rural dealership in a sparsely populated area.

What works best for a specific dealership must ultimately be determined by education, experience, experimentation, and data. To help you get started on the education side of that equation, we spoke to several experts in auto dealership online marketing. They were Glenn Pasch CEO of PCG Digital Marketing, Lori Jones senior marketing manager for ReachLocal, and Duncan Scarry senior director and general manager of Haystak Digital Marketing. We asked them a range of questions about the current state of online marketing, what dealers can do to take advantage of new technologies, and how to avoid mistakes. Their answers may be different, but every dealership is different, so take a look at what they had to say and let us know your thoughts on our forum:

What is the best type of online marketing for dealers to reach local customers (SEM, banner ads, pre-roll video, social media marketing, etc.)? Why?

Glenn Pasch: All of the above. All of these tools are effective for different reasons. SEM helps conquer keywords that you may not be coming up for in organic search. It is also a quicker way to drive traffic to your site. Banner ads give you the ability to follow your customers around the web with your messages. Video without a doubt is one of the most effective, because it can help a consumer understand who you are as a dealership in a way that text or banners cannot.

Lori Jones: It’s important to have an integrated approach to your online and digital marketing strategy to appeal to the prospective car buyer throughout their buying process. Google research1 shows that 57 percent of new car shoppers are in the market for two months or more. With this in mind, dealers should understand the types of information consumers might seek out in the buying process and how to best support that process. Additionally, there are multiple buyer use cases you should be appealing to at any given time.

While research shows that 63 percent of new car buyers have an initial brand in mind before they start researching, impulse buyers can be a dealer’s best prospect. Therefore, it’s critical to make sure you are taking advantage of search engine advertising (PPC) at the critical moments when they search for a specific brand or dealer. Investing in search engine advertising in order to be top of mind can have a significant impact on the first dealership they visit and or call. For the informed buyer, PPC can also work well throughout the research process to showcase available inventory and reinforce local dealerships. In fact, inventory keywords have proven to be an effective tactic in acquiring customers closer to making a purchase decision.

More importantly, taking advantage of Google ad extensions such as location, click-to-call and sitelinks can make the critical difference in conversion rates. With Google enhanced campaigns, there is a feature that can increase bid rates on keywords when the searcher is closer to the dealer’s location.

However, for the buyer who generally starts researching three to four months before a purchase, the use of social media, content marketing, and blogging can be extremely helpful to increase both your organic search rank for certain terms and help prospects discover your dealership. This is the time when a buyer is most open and attuned to content, so it’s important that what they see about you online is abundant and positive. Buyers are surfing car review sites, OEM sites, auto blog sites and potentially following automotive news and related content more closely.


Duncan Scarry: In reality, there's no 'best' online medium for dealers. To be really successful, it's about alchemy. Using the right blend of online media is the number one initiative. All of the different online media options have different purposes and benefits.

We really like to rely on a meat and potatoes approach. Doing five or six things really well is much more effective than doing many with less effort. Search engine optimization is your first priority, followed by the large portals like After that, a strong foundation of search engine marketing is key. Layering on retargeting, display, and social display rounds out the mix. If you were to utilize that combination, you wouldn't have to touch another single digital medium.

What types of social media marketing is most effective for dealers to reach consumers?

LJ: First it’s important to be proactive and claim and optimize pages on the top social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+. These sites rank well for SEO so having a presence can help when consumers are searching online for your brands or the dealer name. Plus, with people spending so much time on social media, marketing to them there is an effective way to drive engagement and word of mouth.

Facebook is the most popular social media site, with well over one billion users [worldwide]. In fact, the average smartphone owner spends 33 minutes a day on Facebook, according to research from IDC. Therefore, it’s important to create a strategy to post consistent, keyword-optimized, and shareable content on that site. Our advice is to master one specific platform, such as Facebook before adding another to the list.

Research shows that pictures and videos tend to have the most engagement, so look for opportunities to showcase unique photos of your inventory and create videos like a road test, a tour of your showroom floor, or a guide to a new make or model. Since many dealerships tend to be involved in community events and host events at their dealerships, be sure to include these in your event calendar on Facebook for easy discovery, and take photos and videos during the event itself that you can showcase on your page.

From an SEO perspective, developing and publishing a blog regularly can have a big impact on helping consumers discover content they are searching for during their buying process. You can create blogs on topics such as car safety information, fuel efficiency ratings, and even special OEM incentives. Additionally, by sharing OEM-related news of new makes and models available, you can bring the out-of-market car buyers potentially in-market.

The beauty of Twitter is it’s much more conversational with its short messages. The ease of having multiple conversations with multiple users. Because the life of a Tweet is short, it’s OK to post multiple times a day. Twitter also lets you post short links to content such as videos, blog posts, and more to help spread the word about your content. The ability to search Twitter offers a unique opportunity to discover specific content posted by potential buyers.

Furthermore, Twitter’s “discover” functionality lets you search for keywords, hashtags and @-mentions so you can respond to people who are either talking directly to you or about a topic related to your industry. For instance a search for an OEM brand in your local market can reveal a potential prospect to engage. Armed with that data, you may invite them to contact you, stop by the dealership or even share a unique make/model that may appeal to them.

Next up is Pinterest and Instagram. At the heart of both of these sites are images. If your internet marketing team has a skill for taking great photos, here is an opportunity to showcase these for easy discovery by social media users thereby increasing brand awareness.

DS: I really think the jury's still out on social — it's not that it can't be or won't be effective, it's that it's a little immature right now. Facebook has all the resources of scale and targeting, but right now they're focused more on creating a good user experience than an advertising product. Given time, Facebook advertising is going to make a big splash in the digital media space.

GP: This [social media] has become much more that just posting on different platforms. With Facebook advertising, promoted posts, and sponsored stories, this now gives you the ability to grow your audience in ways you could not before. You are able to target audiences more effectively using audience profiles and for dealers, the Polk Data being combined into Facebook gives you an advantage to show the right ad to the right consumer in your market. The new Google Wildfire platform is an exciting tool to manage all of your social marketing from one platform including analytics to monitor your success. PCG is pleased to be the first automotive agency to offer this tool.

What types of mobile marketing have been the most successful for car dealers?

DS: Mobile search engine marketing is really where the customers are at. Mobile display hasn't been that effective for our dealers, but we're still experimenting. Now, Google has moved to Enhanced campaigns which lumps desktop and mobile into a single campaign. It's really a big mistake for them to go this route; they've really taken the control out of the hands of the advertiser.

GP: Two answers. First paid search designed for mobile is driving a lot of traffic. Having the click to call button added now gives dealers not only the number of clicks to monitor, but demonstrates how many calls are generated by paid search. Secondly, having the correct mobile site is so important. I still see dealers with no mobile sites or a poor excuse for a mobile site. They are losing opportunities when people search and their mobile site fails them.

LJ: First, a mobile optimized website with clear contact information and inventory search can make a big difference into turning a browser into a buyer. By ensuring mobile usability is considered in the design, you can potentially reduce the bounce rate on your website when viewed from a mobile device. Mobile websites should contain actionable information that aligns with mobile user intent. Contact information such as a phone number, physical address, and the OEM brands carried are critical.

Second, recognize that many buyers will be performing searches from their mobile phones while out and about. Not only should you claim and optimize your Google+Local pages and key directories like Yelp, you should also consider using Google AdWords’ mobile ad extensions such as click-to-call, location, and sitelinks. Again, look into Google enhanced campaigns that can dynamically increase bid rates on keywords when the searcher is closer to the dealer’s location.

Also, encourage the use of mobile phones once a prospect steps onto the car lot. Showcase your social media sites prominently with in-store signage. Additionally, consider and test usage of QR codes on Monroney stickers to aid in consumer research.

How can dealers reach more consumers with search marketing?

GP: They need to make sure they are driving the traffic to a dedicated landing page or the correct page on their website. I am still seeing traffic driven to the home page of the website which in turn frustrates consumers, because they are being given an extra step to accomplish what they wanted.

LJ: Automotive search engine advertising campaigns require intimate knowledge of brand requirements and unique consumer buying behavior to make the most impact. This requires a strategy and a plan that consists of four key components: keywords, ad groups (breaking out text ads), dynamic landing pages, and customization. Below are just a few elements to consider when implementing a search engine advertising campaign.

First, make sure to include the dealership’s actual inventory as keywords, especially when bidding on used and pre-owned terms, such as “2007 Cadillac CTS.” Also, make sure to use a negative keyword list to ensure you are receiving the most relevant searches and traffic to the website. A good rule to follow is to customize negative keywords for each ad group.

The next component in your auto campaign setup involves the use of ad groups. By breaking out text ads into model-specific ad groups, you allow the most relevant ads to show up in the search results. This also allows for easy A|B testing for manufacturer incentive updates, which typically occurs monthly.

The third component is the need to develop dynamic landing pages. This ensures the searcher will get to the most relevant page and helps to increase the dealership’s quality score. A higher quality score can help reduce the cost per click on keywords.

Lastly, customization is a multi-step process in setting up an auto campaign. The first step is determining whether targeting is an option. Some manufacturers do not allow dealerships to infringe on other dealerships’ areas of interest (AOIs). But if this isn’t an obstacle, then setting up customized targeting is important.

Customization can also include location extensions, sitelinks, and setting up the display network. Location extensions provide the address and phone number (optional) of the dealership regardless of the top position. Sitelinks, or direct links, are for the searcher to click on the most relevant page (i.e. New Inventory). The display network customizes the topics and interests to the relevant auto related sites.

Then finally in customization, developing Google enhanced campaigns will allow changing the ad bids by device type and sets bid adjustments based on the proximity of the search to the dealership.

DS: The first thing dealers need to do to reach more consumers through search marketing is throw out all of their preconceived notions of metrics. Looking at cost per conversions as a primary metric is the first mistake we see dealers make. Dealers need to start focusing on engagement metrics and impression share metrics. Once they start doing that, they'll open up a whole new world of customers to market to online.

What is the biggest aspect of internet marketing that dealers often fail to take advantage of?

LJ: Dealerships are investing large advertising budgets to drive consumers to their websites and auto lots. Why not take advantage of the latest advancements in display retargeting with search and site retargeting to keep your dealership top of mind with these prospects.

Search retargeting pinpoints buyers who have shown purchase intent by the searches they’ve performed on with automotive buying keywords. The benefits are top-of-mind brand awareness and targeting the right consumers at the right time.

Site retargeting actually identifies consumers who have recently visited a dealership’s website and exhibited a consideration to buy. As the consumer surfs the web, a display ad is shown. The benefits are more web conversions and top-of-mind with prospects.

Awareness-based display advertising is also an incredibly effective way to brand your business online to potential customers. Branding through display ads can show consumers your message as they browse the web based on their location or their interest in buying a car based on their previous site visits.

GP: Partnering with a vendor who is willing to develop a strategy. Dealers should not be expected to deliver a strategy to their vendor. Dealers need help understanding how search works, what keywords they need to be targeting and then reviewing results to make sure the money they are spending is driving results. Using the same tools as everyone else in their local market is not going to give them a competitive advantage.

DS: The biggest aspect of digital marketing that dealers are missing is the investment. Literally, 75 percent of all ad dollars still go to traditional, yet I can't find a dealer who thinks traditional is more effective. If you know that nearly every car buyer is utilizing the internet to research the car and you know that it's the most effective and efficient media, why are we still spending one out of every four advertising dollars online?

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Authored by

Michael Bowen

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