There are a lot of car dealership marketing strategies out there but search marketing – a.k.a. paid search, pay-per-click, and SEM – is one of the best. Here’s why search marketing fits the car buyer’s journey like a pair of Italian driving gloves, is perfect for a competitive industry like car sales, and is an approach you can adapt to fit your goals, budget, and market. 


The car buyer’s journey begins with a search engine. 

Google reports that six-in-ten car buyers don’t know what vehicle they want to buy when start researching their next car. Our own research tells us that a third of buyers aged 18-54 kick off their research on Google, Bing, or another search engine, and that the buying process begins as early as five months out for seventy-two percent of car shoppers. What does this mean for your automotie digital marketing strategy? 

The big implication of this is that you want to invest in being found on the search page, ideally through a combination of good local SEO and search marketing. Can you do the job with SEO alone? Possibly, but keep in mind that… 


Search marketing is ideal for crowded markets. 

If you’re a dealership in a big, competitive market like Dallas-Fort Worth, Chicago, or L.A., search marketing can be a game changer for car dealership marketing. 

Let’s do an experiment. Go to Google and type a car make and the closest big city in the search bar. Press enter and look at the results page. If need be, try different cities until you get a handful of search ads at the top. 

The author, who lives on the beautiful Near Southside of Fort Worth did this. The search term he used was “Honda Fort Worth.” 

The first organic hit was for dealership called Honda of Fort Worth, which makes perfect sense. Below that, he got hits for a couple of big Honda dealerships in the nearby suburbs of North Richland Hills and Burleson, as well as a hit for a dealership all the way in Lewisville. 

Obviously, these are not the only places in Fort Worth where you can go to buy a Civic. That’s why search marketing comes in handy. In addition to the organic results, the author got four search ads at the top of the results page. They were for:  

  • A bilingual (English and Spanish) Honda dealership on the north side of Fort Worth. 

  • A Honda dealership in Weatherford, Texas; a town that’s forty minutes west of the author’s house. 

  • A Honda dealership in nearby Arlington, Texas. 

  • A Chevrolet dealership on the west side of Fort Worth, a mere fifteen minutes from home. 

If you’re in Fort Worth and in the market for a Honda, any of these dealerships would be a valid option.  None of them showed up on the first page of organic Google results. 

If you’re one of the tens of thousands of Fort Worth residents who speak Spanish as a primary language, then the search ad that welcomed you with “En Honda Te Ayudamos®” might be more appealing than anything that came up in the organic results. It’s worth noting that the author lives and works in a neighborhood with a decent number of Spanish-speaking households, and his neighborhood is adjacent to one with a lot of Spanish-speaking households. The author isn’t of Hispanic or Latinx descent, but sending a PPC ad in Spanish is a smart bet for his part of town. 


Optimization is key. 

If you are ready to take the plunge, it’s important to have the right automotive PPC strategy and tools in place.  

Google has some basic tips:  think like a customer when you create your list, select specific keywords to target specific customers, select general keywords to reach more people, group similar keywords into ad groups, and consider close variants. There are also resources on how to conduct competitive keyword analysis – a useful talent when you’re competing with a city of car lots. 

Car dealerships may face unique problems when trying to build their own search marketing campaigns. One problem is that a lot of dealerships serve a broad cross-section of the public and will, as Google points out, want to use general keywords. If multiple dealerships with similar inventories are slugging it out over keywords like “Honda Fort Worth,” the advantage goes to the dealership who wants to spend the most.  

Another problem is that a great keyword strategy takes the local market into account. Market A might have a lot of brand-focused car shoppers who search for makes and models like Honda, Ford, or Camaro. Market B might have a high number of shoppers who focus on features, and use search terms like 4×4 or hybrid. Also, customers may use different keywords for the same user intent – Market A may Google “cars with safety features” whereas Market B may Google “cars with backup cams.” Many of these differences will be invisible to the naked eye, but since you’re paying for specific keywords and phrases why not pick the most profitable ones? 

There’s a better way than sitting down with a pen and a thesaurus and coming up with a list of keywords, and that way is called machine learning. With machine learning an artificial intelligence, or AI, bids on keywords for you. As the campaign progresses the AI learns when, where, and how often certain keywords get results, and strategically bids on these keywords based on your goals. AI allows you to do two things.  

First, it lets you put a budget cap on your campaign – the AI does as much as possible with the amount of money you want to allocate, rather than trying to show your ad on every single search.  

Second, it improves your chances of hitting the right touchpoints in the car buyer’s journey. A car buyer could easily do more than a hundred searches related to their next purchase, and a local dealer ad won’t be relevant to all of these. Machine learning does the heavy lifting for you. 

If you’re interested in seeing what search marketing can do for you, LOCALiQ AUTOMOTIVE has an award-winning search marketing solution that uses machine learning and covers 98% of the places people search. We’re also Google Premier Partners. We know our stuff and are standing by to help.  


Contact us to find out more about our complete automotive marketing solutions. 


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