Car Shoppers Change What They Are 'Googling'

While it’s a given that the pandemic has prompted increased online vs. in-person car shopping, it has also changed search behavior.

The top Google keywords and phrases that were being searched for in August according to PureCars are deferred payments, financial incentives, automotive loan support, buy and test drive from/at home, home delivery, buy online and touchless/contactless buying.

“Before the virus, searches for these were very low volume and did not warrant much paid search spend,” said Jeremy Anspach, chief executive officer of PureCars, which tracks digital advertising trends for auto dealers and the industry. “Current day, these are extremely important to auto intenders and are continuing to increase in search volume.”

COVID-19 has also changed the way dealers operate, including creating innovative ways to acquire used inventory. One major group hired a “used car acquisition specialist” whose sole responsibility is to mine the current customer base for trades and provide instant cash offers for desirable cars over the phone.

On the advertising side, dealers are showcasing their strongest trade-In incentives, sometimes offering up to $1,500 over Kelley Blue Book value. They are also doubling down on merchandising efforts via data-intensive tools, which provides the customer a comprehensive report of all the value-adds and reconditioning work that has been completed on a car. 

Despite a continued overall slowdown in sales, Anspach cautions that automotive marketers should resist the urge to pull back fully on advertising and marketing. 

“Instead of pausing or postponing your digital advertising campaigns, the best (and proven from downturns and recessions past) approach is to continue to advertise, but reduce and/or reallocate budget using data to drive those decisions,” Anspach tells DriveTime. “Continuing to advertise during a downturn will keep you visible to your customers and community, oftentimes when your competitors are not. And the resulting lower CPCs will ensure your ad dollars go further during that time.”

Ultimately, automakers and their dealers need to treat every day like the last day of the month.

“The hustle is real,” he says. “What else can you do to make the numbers by the end of each day and week vs. the final monthly push? This is no time to rest on your laurels; embrace agility.”

Staying digitally visible in a seemingly slow market pays off. 

“Dealers who understood this [early in the pandemic] and kept advertising, even when their showrooms were closed, weathered the initial months better than those who did not,”  Anspach says. “Closely watch the market and be flexible to reallocate spend to capture the greatest demand for the lowest cost. But whatever you do, don’t stop advertising.”

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