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.