The automobile sales industry is one of the few to have benefited during COVID. There was a significant dip as the public held tight onto their wallets at the onset of the pandemic, but as soon as they realized they were in it for the long haul, behavior changed rapidly. Restrictions on mass transportation such as transit and air-travel drove purchases. Used cars in particular became a hot commodity. On average, unit sales increased over 100% year over year from 2020, and increased by 16% on the two-year (pre-pandemic) comparable. But even new vehicle sales picked up steam as stimulus cheques came rolling in and the economy began to rebound.
This new demand has been accompanied by a shift in the way people make their purchases. Like with most hard goods in 2021, vehicle sales have gone digital, and experts state that it will stay this way. CNBC reports that dealers are revealing unprecedented increases through this medium. Large operators have noted a tripling of online sales, while even small dealerships report that about 80% of sales begin online.
The challenge, however, is that the automobile sellers have traditionally been slow to adopt technology in marketing. On-the-lot sales have been the staple ever since the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association (CADA) was established in 1941, but even purists admit that parking on laurels won’t fuel the industry any longer. As consumer behavior has changed, so must dealerships.
“In the past decade, car dealers have haltingly, begrudgingly embraced changes in the retail landscape brought on by the internet. And that slow play would have continued but for a fat little microorganism that traveled the globe earlier this year and disrupted everything. The COVID-19 shutdowns […] forced dealers to do something they’d been putting off: embrace technology and put buyers first.” (Car & Driver)
Across North America, dealerships are investing millions in new digital sales tools and strategies. Those who do not, will be left in the dust. If you want to fast track sales and beat the competition today and over the years ahead, follow our user-manual below.
Digital Marketing Tips for Automobile Dealerships Who Want to Sell More Vehicles Online
I. Bring Your Website in for a Tune-Up
Before you can rev your new digital marketing engine, have an expert look under the hood of your website. Consumer experience is at the forefront of all dealership website upgrades. For one, Google demands it. Their summer of 2021 Page Experience algorithm update will effectively penalize auto dealerships who do not modernize their websites to account for the following:
- Page loading performance
- Visual stability
- Smartphone responsiveness
- Safe browsing (including HTTPS)
- Inclusion or absence of interstitials (i.e. pop-ups)
The concern, is that auto dealerships are notorious for violating some, or all of the above. To market inventory, your website has been overloaded with excessively large images of vehicles and downloadable e-brochures. Chat windows may disrupt visitor access to the homepage, and pop-ups to market new promotions may obstruct the content visitors (and Google bots) really want to see. The in-your-face tactics that work in outdoor signage, on TV, and on-the-lot, do not translate to the digital space.
In some cases, failure to adhere to user experience can get your dealership in hot water with Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal. This may occur if it can be proven that your site does not abide by the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) which we have laid out here.
It’s important to note that the violations above are very rarely the fault of individual dealerships. You and your peers have been been using boilerplate code and templates recommended by manufacturers and franchisors for the last decade. To break these outdated chains, review our guide for what you need to tune-up on your website today. By mitigating risk, you will also be in a position to rank better on Google Search and increase conversion rates.
II. Treat Your Website Like a Proper eCommerce Site
With the proven increase in online sales and deliveries for automobiles, dealerships must now look to their websites as eCommerce tools, and subsequently adopt an eCommerce marketing model. The above-detailed website upgrade is a great place to start, but there is more to consider. View our 5 essential steps to smarter digital marketing for eCommerce which can can apply to your dealership website.
III. Rev-Up for Rave Reviews
Over 90% of consumers read reviews before making a purchase. But the implications of this are two-fold for your industry. Not only are buyers reading reviews about the automobiles themselves, they are doing so specifically for dealerships. They compare one dealership to another as they compare a Toyota RAV4 to a Honda CRV. DealerRater reports that that 70% of buyers believe that online dealership reviews are either a “very” or “extremely” important part of their research process. Consumer-driven research that uncovers positive online reviews is over 5-times more likely to convert to a lead for dealers. That said, reviews must be honest, which means that to gain trust, negative reviews (and your response to them) must be equally visible.
Review management is an intensive process. As a local dealership, management begins by ensuring that your Google My Business profile is set up to allow for Google Reviews (a major ranking factor for dealerships) and maintained with each new update. In addition, Google has delivered a related algorithm update that will help guide auto dealerships into the new online sales era. This update is called Product Reviews. View our guide to how to adapt your marketing model accordingly. While specific to products such as new and used vehicles, you can effectively apply the tactics to managing your dealership reviews too.
IV. Use Content to Fuel Customer Acquisition
Content is the engine that drives your online digital marketing campaign. Content is what makes your web pages relevant to buyers and search engines alike, In addition to the Home, About, and Contact pages, typical auto dealership website have dedicated landing pages for the following:
- New vehicles (and unique pages/urls for each vehicle)
- Used vehicles (and unique pages/urls for each vehicle)
- Parts and accessories (and unique pages/urls for each part or accessory)
- Manufacturer promotions
- Dealer specific promotions
These are the bare minimum that consumers and search engines alike expect you to have. While your dealership checks these boxes (right?) we bet that you are using manufacturer provided descriptions for all vehicles, parts, and accessories. This does nothing to give you a competitive advantage over all of the other dealerships who are also using the exact same content. Why should you care? Because Google does not like duplicate content. Their search engine prefers that you use unique content for all pages of your website. While they won’t penalize your site given that cross-pollination of automobile descriptions are an industry standard practice, they will not reward your website either. By adding unique descriptions that are relevant to your locale (i.e. “Handles great on BC highways!”) you set yourself apart from the rest in the eyes of Google, and buyers.
In addition, create content around current events that may drive sales. The health crisis of 2020-21 is an example of this in action, as the swift transition from mass transportation bolstered auto sales. Both manufacturers and dealerships that leaned into the message about personal safety (particularily to seniors) garnered interest from buyers. The same applies to other events. For example, when extreme weather is forecast dealerships should be able to pivot campaigns to market vehicles and add-ons (i.e. snow tires, Smart A/C, etc.) that can weather the literal storm. Of course, fresh content should also support product launch campaigns around exciting new vehicle releases. One especially hot topic is electric vehicles (EV). EVs can buttress an an entire content campaigN, as your dealership provides tips on how to extend battery life, where to find EV charging stations prior to road trips, and the like.
Being able to adapt content quickly to events involves the integration of a blog into your website. Many online dealerships have a “news” section, but this is typically a feed that comes from those aforementioned boilerplate service providers. The content that comes down this pipeline in often in the form of press releases from manufacturers, introducing a new model, or discussing a recent international auto show. Unlike duplicate product descriptions, this is the type of content that can have Google downgrade your website on Search. Instead of depending upon an automated newsfeed, create your own original and helpful content that is relevant to your local consumer base. Not only will it serve your SEO goals, it can be repurposed for PPC, email ,and social media campaigns.
V. Drive Awareness on the Social Media Highway
Social media will be instrumental to getting your content out there. Today’s automobile buyers also use social networks to vet and validate dealerships. It also encourages recent buyers to leave favorable Facebook Reviews, which have gained traction as a trusted consumer review resource. If you’re dealership is not updating its Facebook and Instagram profile on a weekly (minimum) basis, prospective buyers won’t consider it to be relevant when compared to those dealerships who are actively engaging them. Plus, Facebook and Instagram have introduced new features in 2021 that better allow dealerships to promote their vehicles and services. Keep up to date on all recent Instagram and Facebook business updates, right here. For good measure, here’s a little insight into what will happen to competitors who do not adapt to keep up with your new social campaign.
As mentioned, the automotive sales industry is steeped in tradition. Your internal team may excel in traditional marketing such as outdoor advertising, print, TV, and radio, but when it comes to modern strategies there is a lot of catching up to do. Unfortunately, the learning curve on the latter is a long and winding one, and you cannot afford to head in the wrong direction any longer. It’s for this reason that dealerships are turning to online marketing agencies to supplement the good work of their in-house team. Contact Strategis Consulting for a digital marketing tune-up today.