Is Your Automotive Marketing Strategy Failing You?

Will your automotive marketing strategy help this woman find your dealership on her laptop?

As marketing professionals, we spend an inestimable amount of time weathering the slippery slope of automotive marketing philosophies and the expectations that are tied to them. Bridging the gap between the way things used to be, and the changing steps to success isn’t entirely unlike the risks of the old west. We’re all just doing our best to carve out our own destiny and provide a brighter future for those depending on us. 

Sure, there’s a lingering relevance to traditional marketing. And, no matter how many times experts have declared such platforms dead, television & radio spots, print ads and signage continue to deliver a respectable ROI and improve overall visibility. But, assuming that you’re already well aware of their inherent limitations, the reasons why such avenues should only account for a small portion of your overall spend is best left to a separate conversation. Because we’re not here to explain why digital marketing is what provides forward motion for any business, we’re here to explain why your dealership might already be falling behind. 

The Car Search

The search for any vehicle begins online. A prospective buyer initiates a search, be it for a specific vehicle or simply ‘dealerships near me’. What you may not realize is that the results might currently be out of your hands. You may not realize just how easily you’re losing business without even trying. 

Simply put, the all-seeing eye of Google tells us the average car-buyer visits a total of two dealerships during their search for a new vehicle. And since those dealerships are usually located as part of a keyword search, it’s imperative that your SERP rankings are high for all pertinent inquiries. 

As most of you know all too well, there are complexities inherent to automotive Marketing. From the tandem offering of both new and used models, to OEM restrictions placed upon the marketing of each, right down to the nuances of your dealership’s operational footprint, most dealerships have a lot of balls in the air. How is it possible for a singular online presence to juggle all of them without allowing any to fall?

This is where the expertise of a committed and reliable digital marketing partner comes into play. While it’s conceivable that a dealership could build their own in-house team to fulfill such a role, it would be quite a burden to do so. First off, it would require the hiring of multiple professionals, experts in web development, design, technical & content-based SEO, research, writing, editing, web publishing, social media, reputation management and multimedia production (among others). And if the idea of that kind of overhead doesn’t already cripple your in-house aspirations, well, it’s likely that most hires with those skill sets would still need to be retrained in order to traverse the rigors of the automotive landscape. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way… A trusted partner, skilled in automotive marketing, SEO and overarching digital campaigns understands both the perils and pitfalls that must be navigated. And it goes without saying that a ‘one-stop shop’, employing all of the skilled professionals listed above, and scaled for economy, minimizes the burden placed upon your bottom-line. It’s something our clients have come to love, enjoying the quality and attentiveness of a concierge service provider, without the stress of day-to-day management. While this blog isn’t meant to serve as self-aggrandizing testimonial to our own services, we’d be pretty substandard digital marketers if we failed to convey the benefits of digital automotive marketing. That said, let’s dial in a bit, and explore some of the important considerations that drive that point home. 

The All-Seeing Eye of Google

A great eye, lidless, wreathed in flame; it was said that few could endure its terrible gaze. Okay, fine…that was a description of the Eye of Sauron paraphrased from The Lord of the Rings but it serves as an ideal allegory for what Google has become.

Always watching, always listening (if you don’t believe us, check your smartphone and Alexa settings) and ever-present, Google has evolved from a simple user-fed search engine to an all-encompassing facilitator of knowledge. And while it sees and hears all, it lends favor to those who play loyally by the rules it sets forth. In other words, do right by Google and it will do right by you. Fail to do so, and face the consequences. 

It was recently estimated that 3.5 billion Google searches are performed every day, with that number growing by 10% every year. In fact, Google lays claims to a staggering 90% of all online searches. They have indexed hundreds of billions of web pages, so it goes without saying that only a relative few of those are owned by your dealership. 

So, if the average Google search session consists of 1-4 keywords, and lasts just under a minute with the user favoring the top three rankings, how confident are you that your online presence is configured to place you among those rankings? There’s more to it than you think. Keyword stuffing is the stuff of rank amateurs from ten years back, and Google can spot anyone foolish enough to try it, or any other outdated strategies. Google, and their algorithms are in a state of continual evolution, and thus a reputable SEO company must evolve in kind…and to do so effectively, we must always know (and adhere to) the rules laid out. And it all starts with GMB.

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Google My Business

A businessman in front of a chalk board with one arrow pulling ahead of the others to show automotive marketing authority

To ensure visibility, a dealership must understand that a properly configured Google My Business (or GMB) needs to rest at the core of your online presence. Now, we know that some of you might be rolling your eyes back in your heads while uttering some variant of “No sh*t, Sherlock” under your breath, but you might be surprised. 

It’s been estimated that, while countless industries have restricted themselves around best practices for digital marketing, the automotive industry as a whole lags behind by roughly five years. Thus, the first step for many dealerships looking to wrangle control of their own destiny is to claim and verify their respective GMB’s. The effective equivalent of introducing yourself to Google and (for the old-schoolers out there) handing them your business card, a GMB quite literally places you on the map. Imperative for local SEO purposes, it’s the first step of empowering a Ford Dealership in Bethesda, Maryland to pop up when someone searches “Ford Dealership Bethesda MD”. Considering that 28.88% of online searches result in a visit within 48 hours, can you really afford not to have that kind of visibility. 

But, specifically in regard to dealerships, GMB’s are also used to deliver traffic to each door included within your operational footprint. A family of dealerships, for example, must be easily distinguishable from one another; and your sales floor must be distinguishable from that of your service center. Failure to acknowledge this, and build your online presence accordingly, severely damages your ability to appear in local searches and hampers users’ ability to find you the way Google intends.

With that in mind, are you delineating the distinct properties that exist within your operations as a whole? Are you making them easily searchable and locatable by those seeking your services? Allow us to make it easy to answer that question…if you’re not showing up in Google’s Local 3-Pack for any applicable search, you’re not doing enough.

The Elephant in the Room

Making yourself visible to Google is only one part of the puzzle; after all, it still needs to like what it sees. And let’s be honest, it’s entirely possible that your website is horrible. Organization, functionality, navigability (and yes, design) all count towards the creation of an ideal user experience. To put it bluntly, if your website sucks, no-one will spend any time on it; and if no-one spends any time on your website, Google knows and determines that your website (and your dealership as a whole) is not a reliable resource. 

In the eyes of Google, the three pillars of SEO are as follows: Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E.A.T.). We’ll talk more about each of those in a bit, but let’s get back to your lackluster website, why it’s likely that you’re stuck with it, and what you can do about it. 

As we mentioned earlier, the automotive industry has been lapped several times by other lucrative industries. The nearly-obsolete state of most websites and CRMs are perfect examples of how the majority of technologies found within the industry are out-of-date. Restrictions imposed by the OEM’s as to which web vendors a dealership can use limits the ability of those dealerships to remain competitive within the digital realm. When it comes to choosing the right vendor – one who offers both OEM compliance and the advantage of a competitive product – it’s important to first recognize that there aren’t many. It’s also important to accept that it would be easy for a less-aware dealership to buy into the promises of a flawed service provider. 

And in that regard, yes, we know the players that are worth having on your team. Part of the expertise that we offer is an analysis of your current vendor, their platform and your overall presence to determine if you have the right fit. To date, we haven’t encountered a single client who does, or one whose results can’t be improved with a handful of strategic alterations. 

Establishing Your Expertise

The first pillar of SEO is Expertise. When discussing Expertise in this context, its interpretation is largely the same as it would be when used casually. In other words, it’s about being recognized as skilled and knowledgable, and a valuable resource to anyone in need of your skillset or services. In terms of the automotive industry, a dealership known for online expertise might curate well-informed, well-researched content in order to better inform the general consumer. Albeit a dated reference, it’s not unlike the movie ‘Field of Dreams’…more specifically, that famous line, “If you build it, they will come”. It may not happen overnight, but in the world of local SEO it’s important to have high-quality content framed within an enticing and user-centric site. With time and exposure, more prospective buyers or those in need of automotive service will seek you out. This helps to establish your level of perceived ‘expertise’.   

Asserting Authoritativeness

The next pillar of SEO is Authoritativeness, which can be broken down into two primary contexts. First, Page Authority, which anticipates how well a web page will perform among SERP rankings. The second is Domain Authority, which correlates all data generated by a domain/site in order to establish its popularity. These, combined with the frequency and strength of linking to the aforementioned content, help Google to determine whether or not a dealership is considered to be an authority to consumers in need of guidance.  

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Once you’ve established yourself as an authority, players within other facets of the industry are likely to link their content to yours, citing you as a trusted authority. This kind of third-party validation conveys to Google that you are creating content that others find relevant to their own and, in a wider sense, the traffic enjoyed on either end of a link help to show Google that you’re ‘in touch’ with current search trending. 

Matters of Trust

Using social media to help your automotive marketing. A hand selecting silhouettes from a web

All of this factors into Google’s assessment of Trustworthiness, which is the third and final pillar of SEO. A dealership who simply regurgitates their own inventory as online bait in the hopes of hooking a prospective buyer does nothing to differentiate themselves from their competition. But a dealership that creates well-researched, informative content – relevant to prospective buyers – asserts themselves as a trustworthy resource whose page might prove helpful in an online search. Thus, not only have you made yourself visible to the all-seeing eye of Google, but you’ve potentially won its favor…at least for now. 

Never Stop Moving

Here’s some food for thought: it’s estimated that Google changes their search algorithm 600+ times a year. It doesn’t take a math prodigy to figure out that equates to once or twice per day! 

This serves to emphasize the simple fact that improving search engine optimization is a constant and cumulative process. It never rests. It never stops. And before you can even realize that you might have the right combination of factors in play, the game has already changed. And while some changes might be major algorithmic updates, the majority are subtle, nuanced and about as hush/hush as you can get. Bottom-line, it’s imperative to have the right people on your side to ensure that you achieve, and maintain, optimal SERP positions. But there’s more to the ideal automotive marketing partner than just SEO. 

Social Media Marketing

Having drawn some attention to some of the inherent limitations placed upon some dealerships by their OEM, let’s shift our attention to some of the wide-open spaces where dealerships are allowed to roam free; namely Social Media. 

Do you realize that 53% of businesses (large and small) utilize social media advertising as part of their marketing strategy? But part of the reason why the automotive industry is trailing other industries in the realm of digital marketing is their relatively modest willingness to do so. This means that the majority of dealerships are likely to be part of that other 47%, a number which is only likely to dwindle lower with each passing year. It makes us wonder why a dealership wouldn’t want to embrace social media ASAP, setting themselves apart as quickly as possible. 

We quite like the fact that many OEM’s have yet to hobble the power of social with restrictive compliance regulations. In fact, what regulations currently exist are fairly minimal, fairly non-invasive and there doesn’t seem to be any writing on the wall that it’s going to change any time soon.

Of course, each and every dealership is beholden to the respective laws of their state (what they can and can’t advertise, disclaimer compliance, etc) and the Terms of Use dictated by the social media platform itself, but still — that’s a decent amount of wiggle room, and it really only applies to the advertising side of social media use. 

You’d have to be living under a rock not to recognize the role social media plays in today’s world. The modern equivalent of word-of-mouth marketing, it’s imperative that a dealership controls its social media presence, in addition to its overall presence online. 3.48 billion people utilize social media (a 9% jump from last year alone) and every business (dealership or otherwise) has the choice to be part of that conversation or accept the potential loss of revenue or hits to reputation resulting from their absence. 

Embracing Your SEO Potential

We’ve talked about making your dealership visible. We’ve discussed the need to make it an engaging, and credible resource. We’ve specified the ways that you can carve a distinctive path to success, unencumbered by your local competition. 

Ultimately, SEO (and most elements of digital automotive marketing) could be described as relatively unregulated space. A dealership’s success, or potential for success, are limited primarily by their desire, effort and willingness to remain fluid in order to yield the best results in an ever-changing landscape. But it also comes down to a dealership’s choice of partner, and that partner’s ability to achieve success. 

Assuming that a dealership is amenable to those expectations and paired with the proper professionals, the possibilities are endless. A successful SEO strategy is based around the curation of superior content, making it inherently compliant to OEM regulation. In other words, with the right guidance, you’re rewriting the rule book by burning the old one. And as long as we recognize and respect Google’s authority as the ultimate law around ‘these here parts’ it really is the ‘wild, wild west’ – ready for the taking. 

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