Google's power as the search engine of choice for vehicle shoppers has taken a challenging turn for dealers.
Good Web site content used to be enough for dealers to make sure their stores came up on the crucial first page of a Google search.
Not anymore. In October, Google added Google Places pages for dealers and other businesses. The Places pages, which appear on the first search page along with a map with red pins, prominently display consumer reviews and star ratings.
That has put much more power in the hands of consumers to shape the marketing messages -- good and bad -- of the businesses they patronize, said Jared Hamilton, CEO of DrivingSales.com., an online training and social-networking site for dealers.
"Statistically, 90 percent of car buyers research their purchases online and 80 percent use a search engine during the process," Hamilton said. "What Google is doing makes managing online reputation that much more critical."
Google's U.S. Web search share was 65 percent in February, according to comScore Inc., a digital marketing data company in Reston, Va.
Embracing this new world -- in which word-of-mouth has gone from sharing opinions with a few neighbors and friends to influencing potentially millions on the Internet -- has benefited a Mercedes-Benz store in the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta.