There have been several studies in the automotive industry that have conclusively answered this question with hard data and compelling reasons why it is the way it is. Unfortunately, these "conclusive" studies often point in opposite directions and always seem to be conducted by companies that lean in one direction or the other.
Which is better for search PPC, banner ads, and other forms of advertising? Should you point your ads to take prospects directly into vehicle details pages or search results pages or should you send visitors to landing pages with messaging first? The reason that the studies seem to take the same data and yield different conclusions is based on two things: intent of the company doing the study and ways through which the data is collected and analyzed.
Our perspective on the issue adds a third factor that has helped us to come to our own conclusion for clients: visitor intent. The beauty of modern digital advertising is that it allows us to make determinations about website visitors before they even click based upon their source, keywords, and past activity. The key to all of this is following Google's lead based upon their ultimate data set for automotive.
Last year, Google started making the shift from "visits and unique visitors" to "sessions and users". This wasn't just a cosmetic change nor was it the only thing they've been changing. They understand that intent is much more easily defined once you parse out the data correctly. They realize that at different stages in the research and buying cycle, car shoppers will be searching for different things and expecting different results to appeal to their real-time needs.
We went into some detail about this concept in a blog post but for now, let's look at the basic concepts to see if we can answer the straightforward question of inventory versus landing pages.
While I would hate to make it sound as if Google is revising the zero moment of truth concept, there is a great deal of shifting happening in their mentality towards what really works for driving the sale in the automotive industry. Whether it's a new reality or an old reality that's just now being recognized doesn't matter. What's important is that they see the shift.
To break it down, let's look at direct examples. If someone does a search for "best family sedans" they are likely in consideration mode. They're at the top of the funnel. In fact, they might not even be certain whether or not they're currently in the market. They're exploring. This would be a bad time to send them into inventory. Instead, they should be given a very specific and useful message to help them but that also has the opportunity to push them further down in the funnel. Think of these people like service customers waiting for their cars by walking the lot. Most of them are just passing time, but everyone has a story about the vehicle in service that turned into a trade in before it ever left the shop. It happens and these visitors need the proper messaging. Sending them to inventory would be like leaving a service customer to walk the lot on their own.
Let's look at another search. If someone types in "new Hyundai Sonata in High Point" then they have a different intent. They could be in the middle of the funnel. They might be at the bottom of the funnel. In this situation, one message might be designed to lead them to a landing page with information about current specials and sales while giving them an easy button to take them to inventory. Another message could be about the cars directly with a straight path to the Sonata VDPs. In this situation, both options are viable and testing of both will yield the proper path for each individual dealership.
Final keyword: "2015 Ford Focus for sale in Indianapolis". If you have a nice selection, send them straight to the SRP. They know what they want, they know where they want it, and they're ready to look at cars in stock.
All three examples present different users with specific messages. More importantly, they present the same users with different messaging and destinations as they work their way down the funnel. It's a win-win methodology that serves the customers' needs and the dealership's needs simultaneously.
The different perspectives can point to one side or the other. It's within the data to make the determination based upon intent. Which is a better destination, inventory or landing pages? Our answer is, "Yes."