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Study Evaluates Dealer Online Advertising Mix

September 14, 2012

CHICAGO — Automotive dealerships may have opportunities to invest more effectively in digital media, according to Dataium LLC, an aggregator of online auto shopper behavior. Commissioned by Cars.com, Dataium’s study found inefficiencies between dealerships’ digital marketing mix and the quantity and quality of traffic to their websites.

“Dealers’ websites are one of the primary ways they connect with potential customers, and when they see the bulk of traffic to their sites coming from search engines, it makes sense that they would drive more of their marketing dollars into paid search,” said Jason Ezell, president of Dataium LLC. “Because our study was able to look beyond direct referral traffic, however, we found that the majority of search engine traffic comes as a result of a consumer typing a variation of the dealership name into the search field. In other words, consumers are forming impressions earlier in the process, likely via other forms of media — search engines are often the taxi taking them to the place they’ve already decided they want to go.”

The study, conducted between January and June, measured the activity of more than 20 million automotive shoppers per month on Dataium’s network and focused on evaluating the direct and indirect value of the two primary dealer advertising investments — paid search engine marketing and automotive marketplaces.

The study’s findings included:

  • Role of automotive marketplaces: In its analysis of both direct and indirect traffic, Dataium found that consumers who visited Cars.com were 70 percent more likely than those who had not visited the site to click on a map, review directions or look for business hours on dealership websites — key “walk-in indicators” reflecting purchase intent. Shoppers who visited Cars.com were also 10 times more likely to submit a lead on a dealership site and did so within 48 hours on average — four times faster than the eight days averaged by consumers who had not visited the auto marketplace’s website. Overall, Cars.com was in the browser profiles of users submitting 36 percent of the email form leads received via websites of Cars.com dealers — whether the shopper was referred to the dealership website directly from Cars.com or visited the dealership website in a separate session.
  • Inefficiencies in paid SEM spend: Despite an average of 55 percent of dealerships’ online advertising budgets being devoted to paid search engine marketing, just 6 percent of dealership website traffic on average is referred by paid search keywords. Furthermore, less than 1 percent of this traffic resulted in email form leads submitted on dealership websites.
  • Value of “upstream” media: Nearly 80 percent of direct referrals from search engines during the study were driven by keywords that were a variation on the dealership name, representing traffic a dealership would theoretically receive via high rankings in organic search results regardless of the level of paid SEM spend. In addition, this search activity suggests that these shoppers had been familiarized with the dealership prior to their visit to the search engine — by what Dataium calls “upstream” media in its report.

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