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How car dealers can hook customers online

By Sarah Tooze

Ten years ago, consumers made several visits to a dealership before buying a car. Now they tend to make just one.


Dealers that get Google strategy wrong ‘disadvantaged’
Original content is becoming more important than links
25% of shoppers will watch at least an hour of video

“The consumer journey starts online and their mind is pretty much made up before they visit the dealership,” said Tim Smith, commercial director at GForces.

Dealers need to think about how to get consumers onto their website and how to keep them there. As Jim Murray-Jones, general manager of News UK Automotive, which operates Sun Motors and Sunday Times Driving, points out: “There’s always another information source one click away.”

Most consumers will come to a dealer’s website via a search engine, whether from ‘natural’ or paid-for search.

“Search is dominated by Google,” said Smith. “Dealers that don’t get their Google strategy right will be at a woeful disadvantage. ”Dealers need to consider both pay per click (PPC) – essentially a sponsored link – and ‘natural’ links (SEO).

“SEO could potentially double your visitors,” said Irina Annells, marketing manager at Auto Trader. “But it depends on what you do and how much effort you put in.”

PPC works best if you need quick results. For example, if you’re launching a website or a special offer.

If you’re using PPC to promote a finance offer, make sure the numbers are included. “If you’ve got a £500 manufacturer discount and 3% APR, put that in the text in your Google Adwords campaign,” said Smith.

It’s also essential that the sponsored link points to relevant content and doesn’t require another click-through.

PPC can be used for conquest, but tread carefully. “A Toyota dealer could decide to target Honda buyers,” said Nick King, market research director at Auto Trader. “If someone was searching for ‘Honda CR-V Brixton’, for example, you could buy those words so when the consumer searches for it they get directed to a Toyota page. But Google doesn’t like that, it’s not advisable.”

Also consider the cost, said Murray-Jones: “It may be the most expensive words that convert best.”

Natural search is based on several factors, such as how many links you have and how many sites link to you, the age of your site and your website architecture.


Google is clamping down on link farms

However, natural search is going through a big change. It used to be robotic – the most amount of mentions – now it’s about intelligent search, according to Smith.

“Google is clamping down on link farms and excessive link building,” he said. “The real win now is a website’s content.”

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