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Auto Industry Braces for Major Shifts in Search Marketing

Social media and video will affect auto search strategy, digital marketing

For automakers, paid and organic search drive leads, promote dealership foot traffic and ultimately sell vehicles, according to a new eMarketer report, “Automotive Search Trends: Industry Preps for Dramatic Shifts in 2013.” These tactics are provable and consistent. But new digital tactics are becoming more important to the auto industry, as digital marketing matures.

To best capture the auto market, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and dealers in the US built a sophisticated search marketing system to help fine-tune tactics and measure success across the auto industry.

An H1 2012 survey of US auto dealerships conducted by Dataium for Cars.com found that 55% of respondents’ digital ad spending went to paid search engine marketing (SEM).

Why is search so influential? Users flock to search engines to organize the large amount of information most buyers need to make a purchase decision.

US search users are especially attractive for brands because they tend to search most when they are in the market to buy. And during this time, they might reconsider make and model. Only 20% of new-car shoppers in the US buy the brand they first searched for, according to Google data.

In the past, OEM brand sites—often developed with major digital agencies, strong media support, and cutting edge SEM and search engine optimization (SEO)—attracted more attention in search results than dealerships.

These days, however, the tables have turned. Sophistication of US dealer sites, in conjunction with the search result benefits of being a local business, has pushed dealership sites into direct competition for influence over US car shoppers.

According to an August 2012 survey conducted by Google, Compete, TNS Global and R.L. Polk & Co., 74% of US new-vehicle buyers surveyed used dealership websites, via desktop, mobile phone or tablet, during the buying process.

Despite the love affair with lower-funnel lead generation, US auto industry players admit search in the auto segment will change rapidly in 2013, with video search, social media, reviews and mobile developments adding to the complexity of a search campaign.

And while dealerships in the US appear to be wrangling control of search thanks to US consumer demand and preference, leadership on emerging trends is still likely to come from OEMs and related agencies.

For example, 58% of new-car buyers visited a dealership as a result of watching video content, according to a 2012 study by NADA. It would be difficult for a local dealership to coordinate SEO, SEM and the various social media placements of a video asset.


The full report, “Automotive Search Trends: Industry Preps for Dramatic Shifts in 2013” also answers these key questions:

  • Will mobile change how OEMs and US dealers invest in search?
  • Can US dealers keep up with the needs of mobile and social without OEM interference?
  • Will US consumer interest in dealer sites continue to grow?

This report is available to eMarketer corporate subscription clients only. eMarketer clients, log in and view the report now.


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