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Leveraging Google to Grow Your Dealership This Year

By Ryan Leschel  | Mar 4, 2021

We sat down with a Senior Automotive Strategist named Tony Carroll who works over at a little company you may have heard of called Google.

We had the chance to chat with Tony on our podcast, The Walk Around, about what he has been seeing dealers do to drive growth through Google and more importantly, where they have been falling short.

The current landscape in respect to digital efforts among dealers has fluctuated over the past couple of years.

While many dealers have their eyes set on the future by leveraging search engine marketing through Google, YouTube, and other digital platforms, many more are still using traditional methods.

Surprisingly, these traditional methods (think: print ads, mail ads, etc.) are still working to some degree for dealers and it’s what they have come to rely on.

That could become a problem as time ticks on.

Customers are showing a bigger interest in digital retail options than ever before (a trend known industry wide), and with dealers looking to make every dollar work for them, it may be time for a shift and change in the game plan.

Download Now: The Ultimate Guide to Dealership Growth in 2021 [Free eBook]


Renewed Effort Around E-commerce: Culture Change & Embracing Technology

Like anything worthwhile, change can be hard work.

Whether it's changing a customer’s opinion about a product or shifting the mind state and culture of an organization, it’s not easy!

But with change comes opportunities and changing the way you look at digital efforts is no different.

More times than not, the shift of focus to E-commerce requires a cultural change at some level. If you see the light, great! But if there are those in your business who want to keep things the same, show them why adopting a digital first mind state can pay huge dividends down the road.

There is an obvious move towards stronger E-commerce initiatives among dealers for many reasons. One of them being that when you have a good E-commerce presence, you can measure a lot more effectively and make every ad dollar work for you in ways traditional ads cannot.

With digital, you can watch the customer journey where it began, whether that be in search advertising, native ads, or just website traffic. You can watch the potential customer as they come to your site, and then see how they perform an action that turns into a store visit or even become a conversion online that turns into a car purchase.

In the E-commerce ecosystem the customer journey becomes so critical because it lets the dealer distribute resources to where they are getting the best bang for their buck.

Think of it this way...

Imagine a print ad company is selling you a direct mail campaign. They say something like:

“We would like to offer you a 30k piece mail drop with OEM approved creative + incentive message. This drop will only target customers who are in the market for your product. But wait, if any of those mailers don’t get opened from their mailbox, we won’t charge you for those mailers. In fact, if they only open part of the mailer and throw it away after reading the first few lines, we also won’t charge you for those mailers...”

You would probably jump at the opportunity, right?!

Well, YouTube has an advertising product that works exactly like that. Many dealers just aren’t familiar with this or how to leverage it to drive business. That’s where Google can help.

Making the Shift: Benefits Behind Leveraging Search

As a dealer, the need to pay much more attention to media dollars and focus on ROI is increasing. There is a good chance what you are getting back may not be as great as you initially thought.

Where is the best dollar spent? How can you measure its impact? Both great questions that you’ve probably asked yourself or your team at some point.

This is why Google is such an important channel because of the correlation between sales and search interest experienced on the platform.

If you index those two numbers (search interest and the annual SAAR), it's about a 1:1 correlation between new car search interest vs new car registrations.

Let’s look at some other stats behind why search is so impactful for people in the market and the dealers who want to target them.

  • 81% of purchasers spend up to 3 months doing research online*
  • 63% discover their purchasing dealership online*
  • 69% of shoppers will ONLY interact with your mobile site*
  • 88% of purchasers are still searching just 3 days before purchase. Search is the #1 last step before visiting a dealership*

*According to a recent study by Google

All the above are huge reasons to take a hard look at search as something that you need to start implementing.

For some dealers that’s just not on their radar despite the upside and success of search. That strategy may work for now, but the train is leaving the station and surviving off the old ways won't cut it as the craving for digital experiences increases among consumers.

Getting Involved and Measuring Success 

So, at this point, you understand the need for a shift in how dealerships approach ad spend. Understandably, there can be a level of uncertainty with trying something new that breaks tradition.

That shouldn’t stop you. Here are some simple things you can do as a dealer to knock down anxiety about becoming more efficient at searchIt all starts with educating yourself on the tools.

It takes more than just having a “search” person who does the work for you. Read up on it and know the ins and outs of the process and technology.

  • Be engaged
  • Learn the ins and outs
  • Then reach out to an expert

Google provides guidebooks and information that can equip you to learn about spending media dollars the right way.

If you need a starting point, it’s always good to bring your team into the fold and set some objectives.

We asked Tony Carroll if he were to step in the shoes of a dealer, what would be the first thing he asks his organization when adopting a digital search focus?

If I'm a dealer, the first thing I would ask is how are we measuring success?”

Years ago, you'd focus on impression share (how many times your ad showed up when someone searched for you)As a dealer, if you have 100% impression share on your ads but your sales went down you are not going to a happy camper. The point is that focusing on metrics that don’t really matter wont paint the right picture for you and can translate to money left on the table.

You need to measure things that matter. Things like:

  • Business outcomes
  • Store visits – something Google can provide.
  • Phone calls – how many people called your store from ads?
  • Click for directions – someone is expressing intent and wants to get to your store (this is measurable by Google & Google Maps) even if it's just a drive by.
  • Other lower funnel / high value actions that matter to your business
  • Get away from more static media metrics like cost per click and impression share. When it comes to retail those are not things you should focus on

Search can be low hanging fruit for most dealers. Ask your team how your search accounts are structured and get as involved as you can.

Check out the Dealer Google Guidebook 2.0 for more information on how you can get started.

Opportunities with YouTube

There are massive opportunities around video and YouTube.

Here is Tony’s take:

“Let’s take another hypothetical. Let’s assume 5 friends watch Monday Night Football. While these 5 friends all like football, they have different wants and needs when it comes to mobility. With traditional TV, these 5 friends will all see the same advertisement. However, these same 5 friends may visit YouTube to watch the same NFL highlights, yet receive very different ads based on their wants and needs. One may be looking for a safe SUV after the birth of a child, while the other may be looking for a pick up truck for his contractor job. The other 3 may not even be in the market!   

What’s also attractive about YouTube for dealers is that your marketing dollars are measurable. Yet for the most part, dealers today are not leveraging this great resource to work smart with their ad dollars. Most dealers did not grow up in the space and it may feel foreign to them. As a result, YouTube is at the top of the list of resources that dealers just aren't using.”

So, to summarize, the advantages of leveraging YouTube are that everything is measurable!

When you go to market with YouTube and search, both platforms will provide transparency into your ad dollars which allows you to focus on profitability and what is driving business outcomes to your dealership.

The biggest takeaway is that it gives dealers the possibility of seeing what is working and what is not working.

Action Items:
How to Start Marketing Your Dealership on Google

Step 1: Get the right people on the bus. You owe it to yourself to hire a trusted partner who is an expert in that space and has a direct line to Google. Someone who is fully up to speed on changes within search and knows how to operate within the platforms.

Step 2: You must educate yourself on the digital platforms you want to use and identify how you are going to measure success.

You can go to Google and tell them what matters to you. Whether it be getting more people to your store or even discussing budget and desired outcomes, they can and will help.

It can be a conversation like this: “Here’s my budget, Google I need you optimize, through machine learning, everything I'm doing in my campaigns and I want you to drive as many of these actions as possible through that budget.” Find out what works.

Step 3: Asking yourself “What does a great car dealership YouTube ad look like? As a customer, what would I want to read in Google ad copy?”

Google and YouTube work hard to see what creative works and which doesn't. The human element is huge here.

Have someone's face in the ad. Maybe it's your best salesperson, maybe it's someone who is bi-lingual if you are in a space where multiple languages are spoken. Market to your shoppers and try to get away from the dealership/store. Use someone's driveway or a car going down the road instead.

Last but certainly not least, you want to talk about a call to action and pricing. People want to know the pricing and if they don’t, there is a chance they are not in market. Also consider this, if you aren't discussing pricing with them, they are getting that information from someone else. Be transparent and honest, it will help big time once they decide to buy.


Tony left us with one more perspective that really made sense.

"When it comes to getting your message to the right person at the right time, think about the power of intent and consider this: what's more important? Knowing the customer's household income; how many cars are in their driveway, their average car payment? OR- knowing that they search for a Toyota Corolla 3 times in the last 24 hours?"

If you weren't on the boat earlier, you should be now.

Looking for more ways to get the most bang for your buck and grow your dealership in 2021?

Be sure to grab a copy of our Ultimate Guide to Dealership Growth in 2021. It’s jammed pack with valuable tips, strategies, and insights like this.

The Ultimate Guide to Dealership Growth in 2021

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