Optimizing a dealer’s digital advertising spend to generate low-funnel shoppers has been a hot topic of late. It’s no secret that dealers tend to overspend on traditional search engine marketing and classified solutions. The problem is neither strategy is ideal for delivering the kind of purchase-ready shoppers dealers are ultimately after.    

A recent study conducted by J.D. Power & Associates showed that 79% of consumers research online before setting foot on a dealership lot. The same study found that the number of dealerships consumers visit prior to making a purchase is down almost four to one in the last few years. That tells us that not only are a vast majority of consumers doing their pre-purchase homework online, they are also “destination shopping” inventory they find online. The question then becomes, how can dealers optimally reach their consumers online at the right stage of the consideration and purchase funnel?

Purchase Path
The reality is that car shopping isn’t any different than shopping for a vacation destination. During the early stages of their search, shoppers will most likely use general search engines such as Google to narrow down possible destinations. In online search parlance, this is referred to as a “discovery” search — Google’s strong suit. But once they hone in on their destination, their research progresses to review sites such as TripAdvisor. Shoppers then turn to websites like Travelocity or Kayak once they’re ready to book their vacation.

A dealership’s vehicle display page is usually a customer’s last stop when shopping online.

A dealership’s vehicle display page is usually a customer’s last stop when shopping online.

The final stop in this type of progression is called “product” or “shopping” search. It represents the sweet spot for dealerships looking to grab low-funnel, in-market buyers. See, today’s vehicle consumers follow the same predictable pattern when shopping for a vehicle online. They start with an “upper funnel” search for brand and/or model consideration, narrow that down to “mid-funnel” research on review sites, and ultimately end up on “low-funnel” vertical search sites where they find the specific inventory they are looking for before finally visiting the dealership or its vehicle display page (VDP).

So in order to get low-funnel, purchase-ready shoppers to pile up by the thousands, dealers need to place their inventory on leading vertical search sites where, according to Google Shopper Sciences, 71% of online shoppers are searching for cars. Pretty simple, right? Well, not exactly. See, one critical factor remains:  Once the dealer’s inventory is displayed on third-party sites — thus grabbing those in-market buyers — how does the dealer ensure those consumers are easily and seamlessly connected back to their dealership? The answer is deep linking.

A Better Connection
Until recently, dealerships really had only a handful of choices to effectively drive consumer traffic to their vehicle inventory pages. Unfortunately, two of the main drivers, search engine marketing and lead providers, tend to create a barrier between the online lead and the dealer’s sales process through the use of online lead forms. This results in dealerships either paying too much for high-level consumers who are likely just beginning their research, or a lead form that interrupts the path to purchase or, worse, actually blocks access to the dealer’s own website.

By connecting low-funnel buyers directly to a VDP, dealers are able to reach buyers at the right time and with the exact inventory they’re looking for. And dealers who are effective at driving shoppers to their VDPs are realizing, on average, a shopper-to-sale ratio of 23 to one. The increase in high-quality buyer interactions is also delivering a 25% increase in sales, on average, while also doubling the amount of time a shopper spends on the dealership’s website.

Online car shoppers start with an “upper funnel” search on sites like iSeeCars.

Online car shoppers start with an “upper funnel” search on sites like iSeeCars.

Internal data from the dealerships we’ve talked to also shows that a huge majority of site visitors — up to 94% generated by deep linking — are new visitors of their websites. These dealers also report upward of 51% and 64% faster turn on new and used inventory, respectively.

For the most part, dealers tell us deep linking works. The only issue holding them back is not being able to generate more VDPs. Well, after turning over a few rocks within my firm’s relationship network, we discovered a promising option for reaching and driving low-funnel shoppers to your VDPs: LotLinx, a Moraga, Calif.-based company that launched this past October to provide dealers with online vehicle search services.

Front and Center
Users of LotLinx’s ad-serving platform include major dealers groups and organizations like Lithia, AutoNation, Wyler and Prestige. The firm specializes in getting dealer inventory front and center with premium placement on more than 135 vertical search sites. It then delivers those shoppers directly to a dealer’s VDPs.

Dealers we spoke with for this article reported seeing, on average, 66% more shoppers a month using the LotLinx solution. The firm’s clients report similar results. If that weren’t enough, based on an analysis within LotLinx’s dealer network, the company is consistently delivering 2.5 times the shoppers at 65% less cost than traditional search engine marketing solutions.

Ultimately, it pays to reach the buyers at the bottom of your sales funnel by employing a deep linking strategy. That’s where the buyers are. Shouldn’t you be?  

Jeff Van Dongen is a managing partner at motormindz, a consortium of senior thought leaders assembled with the goal of finding and vetting leading-edge, disruptive solutions aimed at solving challenges that dealers face every day. Email him at [email protected]