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How to Implement an Effective Search Engine Marketing Strategy

Search Engine Marketing. Search Advertising. Paid Search. Dig Ad. PPC. Whatever you call it — placing online advertisements in search engine results has been a strategy embraced by car dealers for about as long as there have been search engines to place ads on.

That said, because search engine advertising has been a tried and true tactic in a holistic digital marketing strategy, it can come with a false sense of security that it “just works” all on its own. Unfortunately that’s not true in today’s digital environment. In fact, if you’re not actively monitoring and adjusting your campaigns, you could end up wasting an extraordinary amount of your budget on unoptimized or poorly targeted campaigns.

Also, if you’ve only been focused on Google Ads all these years, you’re missing out on reaching a significant, local, in-market car shopping audience that uses other search engines to find their next vehicle and dealer to buy from (more on that below).

A great example of what can happen when you’re not actively inspecting your SEM campaigns was revealed by Brian Pasch back in 2021 when he dropped a comprehensive report exposing that stunningly few sales opportunities were being generated from the massive amounts of money car dealers are investing in their search engine marketing efforts.

The biggest revelation was that, after analyzing 1 million phone calls which originated from call extensions on sales-focused Google Search Ads, only 12.8% of those hard conversions turned out to be actual sales opportunities — with the vast majority going to dealerships’ service or parts departments.

Considering that the report estimates that nearly 93% of all Google Ads budgets are paid for by variable operations (sales), and not fixed operations (service & parts), you can see how uncovering this data would have an unnerving impact on car dealers. 

HOW DOES DEALER INSPIRE COMPARE?

At Dealer Inspire we take a lot of pride in our ability to maximize ROI for dealers on search — we started out as a search marketing agency after all — and it’s something we take pride in to this day. Our team and tech are known for effectively turning our dealers’ investments in sales campaigns into sales opportunities. In fact, our results were totally flipped from the report with 88% of the engagement on our new and used sales campaigns leading to new and used sales actions.

This isn’t about bragging rights though. Brian’s report was, as usual, a really insightful and important look at how dealer budgets are being wasted by poor digital marketing execution — and whether you’re with us or not, we want to help you execute the most effective search engine marketing strategy possible.

So let’s break down why these wasteful campaigns exist, how you can fix them, and then how you can expand your search presence beyond Google’s walled garden.

WHAT AGENCIES ARE DOING WRONG

There’s a lot to unpack here. We’re going to stay high-level and talk about the broad keyword targeting that burns through budgets, but there are many variables throughout the journey that add up — from ongoing campaign optimization, to the relevancy and quality of the ads themselves, to the landing page experience, to your website’s engagement tracking, to your “conversion” reporting, and then back to the beginning as those “conversions” feed back into your optimization.

Bottomline: you need a partner that:

  • Handles your campaigns with love and care
  • Has the technology to target ready-to-buy shoppers
  • Can ensure seamless experiences and attribution from your ads to your website
  • Can transparently report on the real-world outcomes of your investment.

Let’s get into the specifics.

GOING BROAD IS BURNING BUDGETS

So what does a wasteful search ad look like? It probably looks like the one below.


On the surface, this ad seems pretty legit, right? That’s because it is. It’s not the ad itself that’s the problem here. When you dive deeper into the campaign, you’ll see that this dealer is bidding on the very broad term Hyundai Dealer Near Me. Now, don’t get me wrong, that’s a keyword you’d want coverage for if you can meet the following conditions:

  1. You’re already maximizing your paid search budget for low-funnel, ready-to-buy keywords
  2. Your Fixed Operations department is helping cover the budget for that campaign. 

Because you don’t know the intent behind a broad search like that, you need to understand that the searcher could be looking to buy a car, but they’re just as likely to have a service related question.

With over half of the calls from the ads in these broad “dealer near me” campaigns going to service, running a 100% sales focused ad, powered only by the budget of your sales department, reduces your ROI by taking away valuable sales opportunities from your sales team.

You obviously want to be present in the SERP for broad queries like {OEM} Dealer {City} or {OEM} Dealer Near Me, but unless you can afford to pay for all those searches forever, the top of the funnel is where you want to rely on strong SEO and Local SEO services to earn those clicks for free.

With a holistic SEO Strategy in play, you can achieve top rankings in Google’s Local Map Pack and Organic Rankings, giving you the highest level of visibility possible for applicable queries without running ads. The more you invest in your organic presence, the more efficient you can be over the long-term.

WE HAVE THE ANTIDOTE FOR WASTED GOOGLE AD SPEND

So you’re probably wondering, when it comes to paid search advertising, what is Dealer Inspire doing different from everyone else? Well, it really comes down to the fact that our tech and team are able to dynamically focus on really low-funnel searches that indicate a shopper is ready to buy, and then match them with vin-specific vehicles in your inventory, in real time.

We’re so dialed in with the intent behind what a searcher is trying to accomplish with their query, that there’s very little room to mistakenly have a conversion result in anything other than a sales opportunity or engagement. 

“Sales campaigns should be optimized for your cost per sales opportunity (CSO). So wait at the bottom of the funnel for shoppers that are just about to buy a vehicle that you have in stock, and then pounce. Our tech makes that snap decision in real-time. ”

Cara Garvey, Director, Media Enablement @ Dealer Inspire

SEARCH SMARTER THAN GOOGLE WITH INVENTORY SEARCH ADS ON CARS.COM

Look, Google is smart. But it’s not that smart. It can only provide answers to questions that users specifically ask. It can’t read your mind…at least not yet (and hopefully never). Meaning, if a consumer searches for a Ford Dealer Near Me, Google can’t tell you if that searcher’s intent is sales or service related. But it can serve the searcher a dealer’s available ad and entice that person to tap to call. Again, as we just stated above, this is why there’s so much wasted search advertising spend in auto.

The real opportunity to expand your search presence lies outside of Google. We know that when consumers visit Cars.com, they’re searching to buy a vehicle, not to service one. Because Dealer Inspire is part of the Cars.com family, when you choose us as your digital advertising partner, we’re able to expand your dealership’s search presence beyond Google to showcase your relevant inventory as the first result for Cars.com shoppers who are searching to buy your make and model.

With Inventory Search Ads, not only will you be displaying your most relevant VINs at the top of the search results, but you’ll also be accessing a local, in-market audience of car shoppers that are twice as more likely to buy1 than all other audiences. Plus, when a Cars.com shopper clicks or taps on your inventory search ad, they’ll be taken directly to your VDP on your website.

Combine that with the knowledge that almost half of the shoppers on Cars.com plan to buy within the next 30 days2, and you have the most powerful way to get more bang for your search bucks. How much bang can you expect? Early adopters of Inventory Search Ads on Cars.com, like our partners at Fred Martin Nissan, have experienced impressive results that have yielded a significantly lower cost per click and cost per lead compared to their Google Ads campaigns.

Inventory Search Ads & Google SEM vehicle campaign data 11/15/22 – 11/30/22

In addition, it’s worth stating that in the previously mentioned report regarding wasted Google Ad spend, Brian Pasch provides comprehensive and in-depth coverage detailing how a third party marketplace like Cars.com is going to consist of an audience that is ready, and more likely to buy, than those who are using Google search — so why not make that connection?

START WINNING SALES OPPORTUNITIES

Dealer Inspire is your trusted partner for implementing a search strategy that maximizes your ROI. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you improve your search campaigns, reduce wasted spend, and connect with more local, in-market shoppers — please drop us a line. We’d love to connect with you!

1. Inventory Search Ads Data 11/15-11/30. DI Google SEM data 8/27/22-9/25/22 

2. 47.5% of Cars.com shoppers plan to buy within the next 30 days. Cars.com Consumer Metrics Survey Q3 2022


Brittany Meyer
Brittany Meyer is a Sr. Manager of Digital Advertising at Dealer Inspire. In her tenure with DI, she has crafted unique digital strategies for dealer groups across much of North America. Fueled by her conversations with dealers, she has a secret obsession with inventory analytics and the power of data integrations. Like really obsessed - don’t get her started unless you have a few hours!

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