Last year, over 80,000,000 vehicles were sold globally (an all time high). Online, where 67% of the buyer’s journey now occurs, there are nearly a million searches for “cars for sale” each month – and that’s just one small piece of the end of the car buyer’s consumer’s journey.
With a market opportunity of that magnitude comes fierce automotive SEO competition – in the US alone, there are about 18,000 franchise auto dealers. So how are auto dealerships managing their web presences? How do they compete for visibility online?
You might be surprised — automotive SEO has arguably caught on more slowly than in other industries. To understand why, we spoke with Brian Pasch, an author, public speaker, and the Founder and CEO of PCG Consulting – services dedicated to Web Presence Management and in the automotive space.
Car-buying behavior has changed in the last few years. Customers used to visit 6 or 7 dealerships but now they only visit 1 or 2 in person. Why is that?
Brian Pasch (BP): The bottom line is that, with so much information online, consumers are contacting fewer dealerships with identical information. In the past, they would have to call, submit a form, or stop in.
Now consumers are stealthier; they are more confident, and they have more ways to validate information. That’s why dealer’s websites now need to be rich with information, and transparent about their prices and offerings.
“Now consumers are stealthier; they are more confident, and they have more ways to validate information.”
There’s arguably some backwards thinking in the auto industry when it comes to digital and automotive SEO. What’s your take on what holds them back?
BP: A major problem in the auto industry is a lack of the “consideration phase” content (in the buyer’s journey).
So let’s just say a consumer sees offline content and they think, “Hey, this new Lexus model looks sexy,” and they want to compare that Lexus model to a Mercedes. They want to see the difference in pricing, fuel efficiency, models, and so on.
Car buyers may not actually find that on a dealership website. They’ll turn to companies like Edmunds, AutoTrader, or Cars.com, and the dealerships completely miss this automotive SEO opportunity – the whole middle section of the buyer’s journey — to engage customers when they’re not sure what to buy.
How do you communicate the value of earned media VS the often quicker payoff of paid campaigns?
BP: Auto dealership marketers understand the annuity concept – that earned media and automotive SEO accrues exponentially over time. I think one thing that’s less understood is the power of differentiation that earned media offers.
If you’re, say, a Toyota dealership in Miami, you’re competing with dozens of other Toyota dealers in the area. Those competitors have identical website platforms and inventory.
You can’t change what cars you sell. What you can do is add content to match what consumers are searching for. You can add video to your pages. You can improve the mobile friendliness and readability of your content. You can create better engagement than your competitors with web presence management.
Auto dealerships generally work with local managers – who maybe aren’t digitally savvy and depend on face-to-face selling. How do you communicate the value of earned media to them?
BP: It’s all about education. We encourage auto dealership managers to take online Web Presence Management courses tailored to online automotive SEO and earned media strategies. Once they understand how to create a better landing page or video marketing campaign, they realize how easy it is to make an impact on their bottom line. It’s tough to sell something that they can’t visualize, so you have to show them.
Dealerships tend to rely on a template-based automotive SEO content strategy. Do you think that’s problematic?
BP: In and of themselves, templates are not a bad tactic for content marketing. The problem is they could be pushing out the exact same content across 5,000 websites. If it’s the quickest way to list a new car model, that’s fine. But they have to take an additional step to be creative and generate good, custom content targeted through keyword research.
“…Templates are not a bad tactic for content marketing. The problem is they could be pushing out the exact same content across 5,000 websites.”
A template strategy can curb this creativity, and that’s a major weakness. You have to think outside the box as well.
Do auto dealerships benefit from persona marketing and targeting their content to the buyer’s journey? Is content mapping a part of that core strategy?
BP: Yes! Content mapping is so important in this vertical because dealers don’t realize that they’re missing that whole consumer journey. Basically, they’re there when somebody decides, “I want to buy a Toyota Camry.” They can provide the price and the address to go pick it up.
But they’re not really helping a customer along the journey based on different lifestyle choices.
Maybe the shopper is someone who is family-oriented or safety-oriented or fuel economy-oriented. Without content mapped to personas along the buyer’s journey, they’re just not helping them navigate. They’re leaving a major part of their business open for these advertising sites like Edmunds and Cars.com – sites that are probably also advertising their competitors.
How do you measure the success of a dealership’s web presence?
BP: At PCG, we create custom reporting on our own dashboard. We use Conductor Searchlight to compare local competitors, map our content, track page one rankings, and mine YouTube for keyword data. We track any custom content we create for entries to specific pages, phone calls generated, and leads.
We’re very keen on showing dealers that organic content pages bring in new customers, and that these consumers were engaged with the dealer’s site.
What are the best-in-class dealerships doing online? What’s the hallmark of a top tier automotive SEO strategy?
BP: The best dealers in the business are investing in original content. Video is huge. Video, which is very prevalent in other industries, is still under-utilized in the auto industry.
But we have a visual product, a vehicle. We have intense competition. We have standardization of websites across manufacturers. So video is one earned media strategy that the best dealers are using to differentiate themselves. I would say probably under 10% of the dealers in the country are doing that.
What’s the biggest untapped growth opportunity for auto dealerships in automotive SEO and earned media?
BP: Fixed operations, which we called service, is so wide open. Service is one of the most profitable areas of their business, yet they’re letting Meineke and Midas and Jiffy Lube and Pep Boys just eat their lunch for service online.
Creating content around services is a wide-open playing field. There’s not much competition there, yet. So even a little bit of effort in automotive SEO and content creation around services would go a long way.