Brands' keyword strategy: Stay in your lane

Allies divvy up search terms to avoid bid wars

In this image, the Detroit Honda Dealers Association tries to conquest Ford Fusion shoppers through Google AdWords.
Google search strategy
Here are tips for dealers developing search campaigns.
  • Extend your message. Use ad extensions such as call-to-text, which allows consumers to text a salesperson from a search ad. Price extension shows vehicle price within a search ad.
  • Target, target, target. Make sure the targeted keywords reflect the consumers you want to attract and what they might be searching for. Too many keywords brings the wrong customers.
  • Geotarget your ads. Set the correct locations in Google AdWords to avoid wasting money by showing ads to consumers too far away from your dealership or those in areas where your dealership saturates the market.
  • Target specific times of day for ads to show online.
  • Get negative. Negative keywords tell Google AdWords which words or phrases you don't want your ad to show up for. This allows you to further filter the message. Some campaigns can see large chunks of traffic and budget eaten up by irrelevant searches.
  • Always test. If you create a search campaign, you can create a 2nd one with different settings — geo location, message, time of day, etc. Testing different variables will yield valuable insight into your customers and the quality of each campaign.
Source: Dominion Dealer Solutions

Automakers are attempting to bring a sense of order to the competitive and potentially chaotic world of search engine marketing.

The crux of the problem is the way Google gets paid for the ads that pop up when a user enters a search phrase, say, "Honda Accord." Every such search triggers an instantaneous behind-the-scenes online auction among advertisers that determines the order in which the sponsored results are displayed for that search term.

But if retailers and brands don't coordinate their search terms and bids, that online auction can spiral into a bidding war among allies, where brands smother their own dealers and knock them from the coveted top ad positions. Meanwhile, neighborhood dealers selling the same brands could find themselves bidding on the same keywords within the Google AdWords auction and driving up costs for each other.

Auto brands believe they've found a way to combat these inefficient practices. Automakers such as Honda and Hyundai have formed digital "swim lanes" within the Google search pool that attempt to keep the brands, dealer associations at the Tier 2 level and stores that operate locally in the Tier 3 space from going after the same keywords.

Brands say this strategy, which they hone constantly, can help their ad dollars go further.

Honda has been using the "swim lane" technique with its Tier 2 dealer ad associations for about three years. Before implementing the strategy, the brand and its associations noticed that they were bidding for the same terms and pushing up the prices every time they did it.

This had to change. So Honda told the associations they could still bid for certain terms, but it advised them to go after the second ad positions instead while Honda gunned for the first spots. Google's search format allows up to four ads to appear above its organic listings.

Dealers weren't enthused about the new approach.

Rossick: Dealers got on board.

"It wasn't well-received," Susie Rossick, Honda's assistant vice president of marketing, told Automotive News, adding: "The dealers thought we were telling them what to do. Once they embraced it, and they realized we weren't asking them not to bid at all, but not to bid for our position, they got on board."

Honda credits this method for reining in "bid inflation" and keeping the cost-per-click flat on the ads. 

While some automakers would rather keep third-party shopping sites out of the search ad sweepstakes and push them off the front page, Hyundai views them as useful agents. 

Even if a consumer bypasses a dealer search ad in favor of a shopping site's listing, Hyundai sees opportunity there. The consumer may not be on a dealer site at the moment, but he or she still is researching Hyundai vehicles and moving down the funnel. 

Hyundai buys those third-party leads later on anyway, said Dean Evans, chief marketing officer of Hyundai Motor America.

Evans: Attract new customers.

Evans said the brand coordinates the swim lane at the Tier 3 level with its primary dealership website providers, Dealer.com and CDK Global. It works with another provider for Tier 1 efforts. 

If a consumer searches for "Sonata Los Angeles," for instance, Hyundai will let local dealers and third-party sites go after them. A search such as "Hyundai Sonata" would fall into the manufacturer's swim lane. 

Evans says Google search is a prime platform to scoop customers from rival brands. 

"The Tier 1 role is to drive more in-market, non-Hyundai buyers into our websites with paid search," Evans told Automotive News. "It's a very tactical way we use paid search." 

He added, "We don't expect dealers to be spending money to steal a Hyundai customer that already has a propensity to buy from Dealer A or Dealer B. We would rather have all three of us paying money in a coordinated effort to bring over a Honda Accord prospect."

Google search strategy
Here are tips for dealers developing search campaigns.
  • Extend your message. Use ad extensions such as call-to-text, which allows consumers to text a salesperson from a search ad. Price extension shows vehicle price within a search ad.
  • Target, target, target. Make sure the targeted keywords reflect the consumers you want to attract and what they might be searching for. Too many keywords brings the wrong customers.
  • Geotarget your ads. Set the correct locations in Google AdWords to avoid wasting money by showing ads to consumers too far away from your dealership or those in areas where your dealership saturates the market.
  • Target specific times of day for ads to show online.
  • Get negative. Negative keywords tell Google AdWords which words or phrases you don't want your ad to show up for. This allows you to further filter the message. Some campaigns can see large chunks of traffic and budget eaten up by irrelevant searches.
  • Always test. If you create a search campaign, you can create a 2nd one with different settings — geo location, message, time of day, etc. Testing different variables will yield valuable insight into your customers and the quality of each campaign.
Source: Dominion Dealer Solutions
You can reach Vince Bond Jr. at vbond@crain.com -- Follow Vince on Twitter: @VinceBond86

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