It's time for automotive dealers to see Google clearly for what it is: a multibillion-dollar digital phone book.
By the time a consumer is conducting a search for your dealership by name, they have likely already decided what car they are buying and where they are going to buy it. They are no longer in discovery search mode -- they have likely moved into recovery search mode.
Search authority John Battelle is credited with popularizing discovery and recovery search in his book about Google, The Search, and the terms remain useful for understanding how people use Google to find your dealership:
Last year, eMarketer reported that 49% of local U.S. dealers’ digital spend is with paid search. Yet when our dealer customers listen to inbound phone calls that originated from branded paid search terms, they realize that close to 90 percent of these “leads” are not leads at all – they are recovery searches for post-influence service.
Phone Book Traffic Doesn’t Drive Purchase Influence (or Leads)
The traffic that paid search is driving for the majority dealers is essentially serving the same purpose as the phone book did for local businesses years ago – it’s providing basic name, address, phone number, and hours of operation information. These searches are not influencing consumers’ purchase decisions on what car to buy and whether or not to buy from your dealership. Yet, paid search resellers have flooded the industry selling branded terms on Google as the ultimate direct response medium, which has over-inflated the value of paid search and, in turn, the percentage of spend against paid search across a typical dealer’s digital marketing mix. (And it doesn’t help that Google Analytics is set up by default to provide last-click attribution, which in the case of recovery search is most often – you guessed it -- Google.)
Look (and Listen) Beyond the Last Click
By the time consumers are looking for your dealership by name, they have already decided to buy from your dealership -- they are using Google as a phone book. Listen to the phone calls that you are receiving from branded paid search and you will find what many of our customers have found: that 90 percent of these calls are service customers asking if their car is ready for pickup.
Establish The Right Search Media Mix
Google paid search resellers and agencies love to sell branded terms as they perform the best in terms of last-click conversion. What dealers must understand is that they don’t need to buy their way into branded phone book recovery searches on Google – they can earn their way into them, through local SEO (and managing your Google My Business profile). If your paid search campaign is currently heavy on branded search terms consider day-parting during high service pick up and drop off hours to optimize spend.
Don’t over-invest in a branding dream and get phone book results with Google recovery search. Save your digital dollars for discovery opportunities in the places consumers are actually seeking information to determine what car to buy and where to buy it. By looking beyond the last click and actively managing your local SEO efforts to drive your “phone book” listing on Google, you will earn your way to being found in the moments of recovery search when Google comes calling.