Selling cars is one of the most competitive businesses, with several dealerships for the same or rival manufacturers typically within close proximity to one another, each vying for attention, offering customers the best deals. Now, with the ease of access to information, consumers are also more informed about the vehicle they want, often spending quite a bit of time researching which option is right for them, even before stopping into the dealership. With that in mind, it becomes that much more important to get in front of the customer early and during the most vital portion of their decision-making process to ensure your dealership is the one they come to for their perfect car. But how do you make that happen?

Understanding the Automotive Shopper

First and foremost, we need to understand that the typical advertising tactics aren’t going to resonate with today’s auto consumers. According to Google, customers using dealers’ websites increased from 53% in 2011 to almost 80% in 2017. Again, with the quick access to information, users are turning to the internet first before making such a large purchase decision. The internet has led to today’s consumers becoming much more curious, demanding and impatient. Curiosity influences the use of specific searches to find the right vehicle for their needs, like “best family car” or the quickly growing “best vehicle for pets.” They demand to know where the closest dealership locations are to them – and they expect their mobile device to work with their location rather than adding “near me” to their search.

Once they feel they have narrowed in on a car, it may be time to test drive. However, their time is valuable, so the goal is to avoid taking the trip to the dealer lot just to look at a car only to find it doesn’t have what they truly want. These days, they can look at all aspects of a specific vehicle first before setting foot on the lot by taking a virtual test drive on YouTube, and this trend is quickly growing – there are now two times as many test drives on YouTube as there are on dealership lots.

Focus on Customer Intent

With this much action happening before ever coming through your doors, you need to get your message in front of consumers when it means the most and provides them with the most value. Currently, how do you define the success of your digital campaigns? Most dealerships offer a form for interested customers to complete and base the success on rate of completion, but only 26% of those who actually purchased a vehicle within the last six months filled out a form prior to coming in. However, there are many other metrics that can provide insight to your campaign’s performance, such as phone calls, VDP page views, the time customers spend on your site, and more.

Your campaign analytics will also provide you with more about how your customers interact with your ads as they run, and the actions they take on your site are reflected with Google Ads Conversion Tracking. Knowing what worked and what may not have will help you tailor your future campaign messages and targeting to yield even better results.

Understanding your customers is essential, but you could still be missing out if your timing is off. This is especially true with any upcoming holiday sales as potential buyers may be saving the purchase for those special prices. Pay attention to the calendar and think about when your customers are going to start researching their new vehicle. Take the 4th of July as an example. Customers typically don’t wait to research until the day of or before, but begin searching even more in the days and weeks prior to the sale, creating a plan-of-action for their upcoming purchase. To create a process for consumers that works as quickly and as seamlessly as possible, evaluate the keywords for your campaigns and what attention those bring.

Broad keywords like “2018 Dodge” or “Buick Encore review” are best when you are simply trying to generate awareness of your brand, and slightly more specific searches like “2018 Kia Optima” and “Volkswagen Golf mileage” catch those who are considering which vehicle may be right for them. While you may not want to ignore these keywords completely, putting your focus in the ready-to-buy phase is the best for those holiday timeframes as you’re capturing consumers when they are at the point of taking action. These searches will include terms regarding financing (“Nissan Altima price” or “Toyota Rav4 lease”), dealership locations (“Hyundai Elantra dealer” or “Grand Cherokee test drive”) and special deals or incentives (“GMC Sierra deals” or “Chevy Malibu offers”). Your goal is to provide customers the information they are looking for to make their digital experience with your business much more positive, leading them to make your dealership the place they decide to purchase from.

When setting up campaigns, also be sure to target your most valuable audiences. Reconnect with those who have already visited your website, whether they completed the lead form or not, through remarketing campaigns. You can also branch out to new customers by basing your targets on users with similar behaviors to those of your current customers.

Measure Your Advertising Campaign’s Impact

Most consumers are performing their research on various devices – their desktop at work, smartphone while on the go, and connected TV at home – so looking at one path-to-purchase provides only a partial view of the impact. Customers don’t simply view an ad and immediately choose to purchase a vehicle from your dealership. There are ways to specifically measure this customer journey, such as the aggressive linear model and more moderate time decay. With linear, you are tracking the journey equally across all advertising from start to finish. A time decay model focuses only on those consumers who are ready to buy. It depends on what information you would like to have to determine which model you choose.

In the past, it was virtually impossible to know who visited your store based on an ad they saw online unless you had some physical thing for them to show, like a special coupon offer. Now, Google offers the ability to actually know when a customer has been actively engaging with you online and then decides to visit your location. More advanced mapping technology has the ability to tell precisely where a person’s device is located, and with the deep learning the system has in place about the consumer and their opt-in for location history, you are able to view store visits in your analytics.

Get Your Message Out There

Now that you have a better understanding about your customers and how to reach them, it’s time to get your message out to your audience. When utilizing search, always think about how your users’ are searching and be sure to match what they’re looking for both in the ad and on the landing page. For instance, if your dealer offers Chevrolet vehicles, and someone was searching for a “2018 Chevy Silverado,” you don’t want an ad to populate for them that is for a different model, or simply links them to your homepage as opposed to your Silverado inventory.

Be sure to also include display and video, as twice as many vehicle buyers begin their research online rather than at a dealer location. Not only that, but video truly is influencing buyers’ decisions –globally, the conversions generated by YouTube ads are up 150% year over year per Google.

Don’t forget about your immensely-important local ad on Google. If you have not done so already, be sure to complete all of your pertinent business information on the listing, as well as add any extra information via ad extensions, as they will help to drive direct connections to your business. Users consider businesses with completed listings to be two times more reputable, attract 38% more location visits, and 29% more likely to lead to a purchase. They also, on average, receive seven times more clicks than incomplete or empty listings.

There is a lot that goes into getting in front of the right customers for your automotive business, but taking a step back and ensuring you cover all angles will help your business succeed. The digital landscape has transformed the business and customer relationship into more of a partnership than a transaction. When customers feel that you are working with them and understanding of how valuable their time truly is, your business will gain a new loyal customer for years to come.

To get started on a unique and powerful digital advertising campaign for your automotive dealership, contact us today.