Today’s customers are very different than customers of the recent past. They are no longer headed to dealerships to find out the information they need. They’re spending all of their time (or at least most of it) searching for vehicles online and making their decisions before they even consider heading to a dealership.
You have to adjust your marketing to meet the demands of shoppers and the marketing industry.
If you fall behind on any of these trends, you will give your competition the opportunity to advance.
Shoppers are visiting fewer and fewer dealers before purchasing a vehicle and, if you’re not one of the 1.4 dealerships the average shopper visits, you’re out of luck.
You need to be the first dealership they visit so that you can hopefully be the last… and it all starts online.
1. You Need to Start with Google
As a dealer, you’ve probably heard of Google’s “Micro-Moments”.
They are defined as “times when car shoppers turn to digital to help select the perfect vehicle for their needs”.
These micro-moments reveal where shoppers are, what they’re searching for, and what answers they need in order to purchase or lease a vehicle. It’s valuable information that you can’t afford to ignore.
That said, these moments don’t exactly lay out a plan for attack. They inform, but they don’t explain.
So, the question we must answer is: What must we do to speak to shoppers throughout their vehicle shopping journey – and how can Google help?
Here’s What the Data Tells Us
I don’t need to tell you how important it is to be digitally present. The data is everywhere.
Ninety-five percent of vehicle buyers use digital as a source of information. Ninety-five percent!
Sixty percent of all automotive searches come from a mobile device and some of the top mobile searches are related to dealerships.
More than 40 percent of shoppers who watched a video about cars or trucks visited a dealer as a result.
Don’t forget the service department. Nearly 25 percent of all automotive searches are related to parts, service, and maintenance.
There’s the data – it can’t be ignored!
The reason Google can help with this is that they are the number one website in the world and they have over 60 percent more market share than any other search engine.
Unfortunately, dealers must find the connection between digital micro-moments and the physical world. If we’re able to reach shoppers digitally, then we need to know they will move physically – onto our lots.
Here’s What That Means for You
The first step is to make sure that your marketing dollars are being optimized. Google recommends that your digital marketing budget fall somewhere between 45 and 75 percent of your overall marketing budget.
The reasoning behind this is simple. The data shows that vehicle shoppers are online and they’re making their decisions there – long before they visit your dealership. They’re only visiting 1-2 dealerships before purchasing a vehicle because they’ve done most of their decisions digitally.
They’re more informed than ever before and if your dealership isn’t present and helpful during their vehicle shopping journey, they will be less likely to purchase from you.
Put your money where the people are. If you do this, you’ll build a foundation online that the rest of your marketing can rely on.
Here’s What Really Matters
As I stated before, 60 percent of all automotive searches come from a mobile device. If you’re not creating your marketing to be mobile-friendly, then you will lose potential buyers simply by not providing information through a consumer-friendly experience.
Want to know how your website will hold up to the mobile experience? One of the first steps is to test your mobile speed. More than half of mobile visits are abandoned if pages take longer than three seconds to load. Thankfully, Google’s got a tool for that. Your second step is to do what you need to do in order to improve your speed goal. This simple step could drastically increase your overall leads and conversions!
Thirdly, you’ll want to make sure everything – from website to social – is optimized for the mobile experience. . Google says that designing your website for mobile means focusing on simple, clear navigation that connects people to what they’re looking for. This means any deals, contact info, or forms should be easily seen, clicked, and/or filled out from a mobile device. And, any buttons/text should be sized appropriately so your fingers can easily navigate everything on your site! If your mobile visitors can’t do this, they will leave.
Here’s What the People Want
Shoppers today expect your marketing to be personal – they expect you to use their data to give them a better shopping experience!
They demand more. They’re ready and waiting for your marketing to provide them with relevant information throughout their vehicle shopping experience. They want you to utilize data to provide them with the most up-to-date and helpful information across every marketing channel.
If your targeted customers are able to find valuable information about your dealership’s inventory and incentives, no matter how they choose to engage with you, they’ll learn why your dealership is superior to others before they even walk into your showroom.
By using Google Adwords’ Ad Preview and Diagnosis Tool you can learn to think like a shopper and ensure that your messaging will better answer their searches! That way, if they search for a vehicle or dealership, you’ll be able to provide an advertisement that answers their exact request.
VIN-Specific Remarketing and Dynamic Remarketing are also great tools for a personalized touch – These tools can literally display the latest vehicle a shopper has viewed. If they look at a vehicle on your website, you can follow them around the internet with that exact vehicle. If they were interested enough to view it, they might appreciate the reminder and choose to return to that vehicle’s detail page via your remarketing ad.
Customer match allows you to do even more.13 With customer match you can target your customers directly with marketing that you specifically want them to see. It’s highly personalized and extremely valuable to dealers. You can utilize this capability through paid search, Gmail, and YouTube ads.
Or, you can gain new customers via YouTube or Gmail by targeting lookalike or similar audiences with personalized ads.
With these tools, you can consistently adjust your messaging to reach in-market shoppers, whether they’re customers or not, based on their online activities and what they’re more likely to respond to.
Here’s What Google Analytics Can Do
How do you track leads?
Google Analytics is your guide to understanding your audience, their actions, and their journey to your site and interactions with it – like top pages. This, in turn, helps you understand how to market to your target audience better and even build out more custom audiences!
By linking Google Analytics and AdWords, you’ll have a better understanding of how to serve ads online that your audience will see, appreciate, and click – which will help you increase your website traffic and (ultimately) sell more cars.
Here’s What That Will Do for you
Like I said before, none of this is worthwhile unless it ultimately leads shoppers to your showroom. There must be a connection!
The automotive industry is continually growing, evolving, and advancing technologically and we must stay on top of the latest trends in order to reach our target audience before the competition. This is what the data shows. The connection here is that, at this point, vehicle shoppers must visit your dealership in order to test drive and purchase a vehicle on your lot. While they may begin their journey online, your presence there will ultimately lead to their presence in your showroom.
They might start with a Google search, but a few ads, a YouTube video, and a successful mobile experience on your site could be the difference between whether they choose your dealership or the one across the street.
This is how Google can help you sell more cars. By being there and being useful in the shopper’s buying journey, you’ll be able to move with them during this process and into their post-purchase experience. Google’s marketing tools can allow you to retain your existing customers and gain new ones again, and again, and again.
2. You Need to Use Ad Extensions
Google Ad extensions are game-changing. There are very few, if any, true guarantees that a digital marketer can make regarding performance metrics — but I can definitively state, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that if you utilize ad extensions appropriately, you will see remarkable improvement. Not maybe. Not hopefully. You will see improvement in your digital advertising efforts.
Want to know the best part? They have no additional cost.
Here’s What Ad Extensions Are
Ad Extensions are additional features, links, or enhancements included in conjunction with a paid search or display ad. Google first unveiled this industry-leading feature with Ad sitelinks in November of 2009. Sitelinks are additional deep links that are shown below an ad and direct users to relevant parts of a website. Today, there are 10 incredibly powerful ad extensions available to all advertisers, and several in Beta exclusive only to Google Partners.
Here’s What Ad Extensions Can Do in Advertising
Advertising is defined as “to call the public’s attention to your business, usually for the purpose of selling products or services, through the various forms of media.” And to expand upon that, it is also important to understand the purpose of advertising:
- Make customers aware of your product or service
- Convince customers that your company’s product or service is right for their needs
- Create a desire for your product or service
- Enhance the image of your company
- Announce new products or services
- Reinforce salespeople’s messages
- Makes customers take the next step (ask for more information, request a sample, place an order, and so on)
- Draw customers to your business
Ad Extensions are so powerful because they are purposely designed to improve your digital advertising. They can help you accomplish all your goals: driving more traffic and qualified leads, generating more phone calls, and ultimately improving your efforts across the board.
Here’s What Ad Extensions Can Do for Your Dealership
With nearly a dozen active Ad Extensions available, and several others in beta, it is crucial to have a fundamental understanding of the capabilities available at your fingertips. Let’s examine the different Ad Extensions and how you can use them to generate more traffic and more leads at your dealership.
1. You can display more landing pages
Since 2009, sitelink extensions have been the extension of choice for digital marketers. The ability to display up to four additional landing pages meant that five unique pages could be featured in one ad. Google reported that on average the clickthrough rate was 30% higher for ads with sitelinks than those without! Also, in February of 2012, Google introduced enhanced ad sitelinks. This enhancement added two description lines below each sitelink, essentially turning one ad into five! One case study found that enhanced sitelinks had 47.5% more clicks, and 39.7% more conversions when compared to similar non-upgraded sitelinks.
But, how should you most effectively utilize the sitelink extension?
Well for starters, get them implemented ASAP. If you are already utilizing them, kudos to you. If you are not, time to jump on the bandwagon. Ideally, you will create sitelinks for the top pages of your website that you would like to drive traffic towards, excluding the ad landing page. Top pages may include: highest priority models, new inventory, used inventory, contact page, service, specials, etc. Below each of the pages, two lines of description text should be added that highlight your respective value-added propositions. Include the most relevant, user-friendly information possible.
2. Shoppers can easily contact your dealership
Phones are akin to umbilical cords for a dealership. They are a critical means of day-to-day operations. Luckily, the Click-to-Call feature first appeared in paid search ads with location extensions, back in January 2010. Today, they are available separately and known as call extensions, which include robust capabilities such as ad scheduling, conversion tracking, and call-only campaigns.
It is estimated that there are currently over 2.32 billion smartphone users worldwide. Coupled with the fact that mobile traffic is on the rise, it has never been more critical for advertisers to have an online mobile presence. Call extensions can be scheduled around your business hours. You also have the ability to display unique numbers for individual campaigns, so you could have one for sales and another for service. By tying in the conversion tracking, you can also keep track of which keywords and ads are generating the most phone leads.
3. You can feature a specific product or service
The structured snippet extension was released in August of 2015. These ad extensions were designed to highlight a specific aspect of a product or service. One extremely successful story came from Vodafone, which saw clickthrough rates increase up to 100%!
Structured snippets have many beneficial implications for dealerships. Let’s assume that you have a Toyota dealership. You could use a snippet listing your top models: Corolla, Camry, Avalon, Tacoma, etc. Or you could use a snippet to promote a specific class of vehicles. Additionally, you could utilize structured snippets to promote offered services, whether seasonal or year-round.
4. Shoppers can immediately get directions to your dealership
In today’s digital-centric society, paper maps have become a thought of the past. The go-to method generally involves asking Siri, Cortana, or similar voice search driven technology, or by performing a quick Google search. Location extensions have been around for a while now, but as local search continues to climb at an explosive rate, their importance has grown in parallel.13 These extensions are shown below a paid search ad, and include information pulled from a linked Google My Business page. Information includes store hours along with an address, and the ability to click on the ad to get directions to the business from your current location.
In order to get location extensions displaying, you will first need to have a Google My Business page. Creating a page is free and it will allow your dealership to have additional online exposure. Once the page has been created, you can link it up with a Google AdWords account. From there the extensions can be enabled at the account or campaign level. By analyzing your AdWords data, you will be able to see which campaigns are driving the most customers into your dealership. Additionally, one of the added benefits of having a Google My Business page is location data, including heat maps of geographic searches, and customer engagement metrics in relation to time and days of the week.
5. You can list your competitive advantages
Every dealership has something special that sets them apart from the competition. Commonly, these are referred to as competitive advantages. Callouts, first introduced in September of 2014, allow advertisers to include additional text that highlights specific information about products or services. These extensions are so powerful, because not only do they expand the size of your search ad, but also because you can include up to ten different call-outs, of which up to four will be displayed at any given time.
Auto dealerships should utilize callout extensions to highlight value-added incentives that make your dealership unique. Are you family-owned and operated? Call it out. Been around for 50 years? Call that out. Maybe you want to get more specific at the make or model level. Let’s suppose that you have a campaign that is promoting a Ford Escape. You could include callouts that highlight specific features that separate Escapes from other comparable models, such as a Rear-view camera, LED tail lamps, 2.5L Engine, etc. Callouts can be utilized in so many variations, so it’s important that your strategy resonates accordingly.
6. Shoppers can direct message your dealership
The message extension, released in October of 2016, was inevitable in a day and age dominated by people with their noses buried in their smartphones. Not only is smartphone usage on the rise, but a Nielson study found that smartphones hold consumers’ attention nearly twice the time as television. Additionally, another study found that 75% of Millennials preferred texting compared to talking on their phones.
Any dealership should seriously consider implementing message extensions as part of their mobile strategy. You will need to use a phone number that can actively receive texts, so no call-routing or 800 numbers. Ideally, you would use a sales manager for any new, used, or pre-owned related inquiries, and a service manager for any service-related inquiries.
With these extensions, you can pre-populate a text message, so all a user must do is click on your ad, and then click send from their mobile device. It’s important to remember that speed and convenience are crucial here. Users will anticipate a quick response and will expect to continue the communication via text. Having responsive customer service will allow you to nurture these customers and most importantly schedule their in-house appointments, without any verbal communication needed.
Here’s What Ad Extensions Cost
So, I know what you are probably thinking, “you’re telling me that I can use all these amazing features, without paying anything extra? Without increasing my ad spend? I can get more traffic and more leads, by just implementing a few small changes?”
In short, yes, you absolutely can!
There is no additional cost to use ad extensions, you simply will pay the same per click as you would have without them. However, you should expect to pay less per click. Why? It comes down to the Ad Rank, which is essentially determined in microseconds every time a user types in their search query. One of the ranking factors for ad rank is relevance, and relevance is boosted by utilizing ad extensions. Google has flat out stated that the expected impact from ad extensions and formats will factor into Ad Rank.
3. You Need to Remember Your Service Department
Whether you believe it or not, more sales and revenue opportunities exist in your service department than anywhere else in your dealership.
Dealerships across the nation are bleeding customers. They try to solve this by boosting their customer retention with customer-focused marketing and by allocating more of their budget towards conquest customers – but to no avail.
Their showrooms remain empty and their inventory, is static.
While some of this can be addressed with customer-centric marketing and an effective digital marketing strategy, some of it will not change unless these dealers begin utilizing their service department to the fullest and putting more emphasis on automotive repair.
Here’s What the Data Tells Us
This is because people aren’t buying vehicles as frequently as they used to! The length of ownership for the average vehicle owner has increased from 4.3 to 6.5 years. This means dealers are seeing shoppers less often between purchases – which leads to increased customer defection rates and less showroom traffic.
Additionally, the average age of vehicles is rising.
Google says these two facts present a big opportunity for dealers to focus on fixed ops.
Here’s What That Means for You
Because vehicle owners are keeping vehicles for a longer period of time between purchases and driving older vehicle models, the service opportunities are plentiful.
For these vehicle owners, the time between purchases is longer, but the best way to keep a customer loyal to your dealership is to keep them actively involved at your dealership. By offering vehicle owners automotive repair and service you’ll be offering them an opportunity to visit your dealership repeatedly – which will help you retain their business.
In fact, the likelihood of a customer purchasing their next vehicle at your dealership is dependent on their interactions with your service department.3
Why wouldn’t you want to push vehicle shoppers towards your dealership?!
In addition, digital marketing has made its way into the mainstream. Dealers are turning to digital marketing to boost their sales and move inventory faster and more consistently. And, though digital influences nearly 60 percent of vehicle purchases at the dealership, the digital influence is stronger when it comes to post-purchase service.
The biggest opportunity for dealers is to utilize digital marketing for their fixed ops. This combination can strengthen customer retention, bring new customers into your dealership more frequently, increase automotive repair orders and even overall revenue, and lead to more vehicle sales over time.
Here’s What Your Competition Looks Like
Unlike sales, the competition you’re working against isn’t necessarily other dealers. Most dealers are in the same boat and many have yet to include their service department in their digital marketing.
Your biggest competitors, whether you’re online or not, are third-party service centers and corner-shop mechanics.
Only 30 percent of all service visits are conducted at a dealership – and many of those visits do not occur at the dealership where the vehicle was purchased.
This is because vehicle owners have a misconceived perception of the dealership experience.
They know your mechanics have a better understanding of their vehicle, they know those mechanics/technicians are more highly qualified and knowledgeable, they know you have better parts, tools, and equipment for automotive repair, and they know they’ll be more comfortable while they wait for the service to be completed.
The issue is, they believe your service department is more expensive and less convenient.
Why would they drive across town to pay more for a vehicle service they don’t want to pay for in the first place?
This is what your digital marketing needs to address. And, while you can’t do much about the distance between your dealership and their place of residence, you can change their perceptions of your prices.
Here’s What Your Strategy Should Look Like
By serving marketing that directly addresses vehicle owners’ concerns about overcharging, you can change their perception of your dealership as a whole!
If dealerships, in general, are faulted for charging more than their service is worth, you can serve ads that directly address this misperception.
Dealers like you have an opportunity to gain more service customers by offering and promoting competitive pricing or price matching.
In addition, you can use your digital ads to send owners to landing pages that directly address their concerns and needs. If you’re able to provide advertising and information that directly appeals to them and answers their questions, you’ll have more engagement, leads, and service customers than ever before!
You Need to Be Consistent
None of these marketing strategies are short-term solutions. They’re long-term, ongoing, daily, monthly, yearly, marketing strategies that are critical if you want to stay ahead of today’s trends and reach today’s car buyers.
Because they’re spending their time online, that’s where you need to be – everywhere, every day.
As you adjust your marketing to meet the demands of shoppers and the marketing industry, you’ll see an increase in online traffic, which will lead to increased showroom traffic, which will lead to increased sales.
Remember – you need to be the first dealership they visit so that you can be the last.