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Should Car Dealers Use Google Adwords?

I strongly believe in the long term ROI of SEO and the great “annuity” it offers car dealers to deliver low cost consumer direct leads year after year. I’m an advocate for organic search marketing but I’m often asked where Google Adwords (SEM) fits into my digital marketing strategy..automotive seo adwords

If I were asked to choose between SEO or SEM, I would choose SEO because of the long term benefits it offers and its higher ROI.  I’m also well aware that many General Managers are confused about what SEO really means so they often take the easy route and go with SEM

Despite my efforts to educate the car dealers on how to change the face of automotive digital marketing with some very simple SEO techniques, there are few early adopters. 

Frustrating? Yes.  Hopeless. No. There are many car dealers who have become believers in what PCG can offer with our SEO microsites and Google compliant automotive inventory modules

It’s All About Balance

That said, effective automotive lead generation strategies are not just about SEO.

I’m not about to drink the SEO “Kool-Aid” and tell dealers that PPC is a waste of time. Google Adwords is an important “tool” when used properly and car dealers should not avoid Adwords because of a perception that it is costly or has a lower ROI than SEO. Like many things in life, it is how the tool is used that makes it good or bad.

Consumer behavior dictates much of why PPC needs to be a part of car dealer marketing budgets. For this example, let’s see what a consumer may type into Google when looking for a Honda Civic in New Jersey.

When you look at data from Google searches, consumers are typing in search phrases WITHOUT a geo-locator. (state, county or town). They are typing in very short phrases like:

  • “Honda”
  • “Honda Civic”
  • “Honda Civic Prices”
  •  “Honda Civic Reviews”

Since these are national phrases, the third party lead collection sites like, Yahoo Autos and come up on Google page one. These third party lead collectors are optimized for every year make and model, unlike car dealer sites. They also have tremendous traffic which further supports their rankings.

Every day these third party lead collectors capture local buyer leads and sell them to dealers. The only practical short term way to get in front of consumers for broad phrases, without any geo-targets, is PPC. So, you can decide to buy leads or you can attempt to capture the local leads yourself.

It would take a significant investment in time and money to show on organically on Google page one for the search phrase “Honda Civic”. There are no Honda dealers shown in the first two pages (20 listings) of Google for that phrase. You will see all the major lead collector sites on those first two pages.

There are exceptions. I was able to get national Google Page 1 ranking for “Infiniti G37 Convertible” and “Infiniti G37” searches, but it would be very hard to get on Google page one for “Infiniti G35” or “Infiniti dealer”.

Google Adwords campaigns have a geo-based advertising radius so that if you decide to buy broad words, you can limit the radius to a practical driving area for potential buyers. If I only want to target Monmouth County residents,
because my dealership is in that county, I can advertise to local car shoppers typing in the phrase “Honda Civic” or “Honda Civic Prices”.

This is not to say that PPC works for all dealers and marketing strategies. Dealers have to evaluate the costs and ROI for all lead sources; SEO and SEM. They need to compare the conversion rates for “broad search” leads versus long-tail searches like “Monmouth County Honda dealer”. If both methods are profitable and sell cars, both should be continued.

SEO should have a better ROI but you cannot capture all of potential buyers via SEO. You have to have more than one tool in the chest. There is a limit at what SEO can do in any one month. Doubling a SEO budget in any given month does not significantly change the lead flow in the same month.

Since dealers are often rewarded on monthly or quarterly goals, SEM may be needed to hit short term sales targets. Also, if a car dealer is trying to boost extended warranty sales PPC is very effective since consumers normally just type
“Infiniti warranty” or “Infiniti extended warranty” into Google.

We can create a microsite to attract organic car warranty leads. We did that successfully with and it is ranked #2 in the USA for that phrase. My client also gets highly qualified leads from buying a few selected warranty keywords in Google Adwords. So, in this case, the balance of SEO and SEM is generating a steady flow of warranty leads.

In summary, car dealers need both SEO and SEM to effectively compete on the  Internet to catch the eye of local car shoppers. The PCG Digital Marketing has effective strategies to help car dealers implement competitive SEO campaigns as well as structure effective Google Adwords campaigns.

Call us to discuss your needs: 732-450-8200 or email