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What You Can Do Today: Digital Advertising Strategies for Right Now

Mar 20th 2020

We recently hosted a webinar with Google to discuss digital advertising strategies during times of uncertainty, as well as newly developed strategies and recommendations in the Google Dealer Guidebook 2.0 and advertising tactics that auto dealerships can leverage today.

Review the data, insights, and best practices shared below, or fill out this form to download the webinar now:

What We’re Seeing

Google Analytics: Website Traffic Over Time

We analyzed website traffic from more than 700 Google Analytics properties to compare week-over-week traffic from February 29-March 8 against March 9-17. In this analysis we found that overall user traffic has decreased by 3.0% for auto dealerships. However, it’s important to note that social,display, and email traffic are up significantly during this time. Our assumption is that this is due to the large number of users who are seeking information about COVID-19 through social media, email, and other news-related sites.

We’ve been closely monitoring paid search traffic over the past few weeks and in our most recent data pull found that paid search user traffic had only decreased by 0.7% over the previous period.

Website traffic from Google Analytics

Google Trends: Common Vehicle Searches

To understand how search behavior may be changing, we also reviewed common vehicle search terms from Google Trends. Google Trends measures the relative search interest of keywords over a set period of time. The data shown below is not a reflection of actual search volume, but search interest over the past month. You can see that there was a slight decline in search interest just after March 7th, but we have seen it start to increase again over the past few days. Our assumption is that people were preparing for or responding to social distancing requirements during March 9th-15th, but are now coming back online to search for the products and services they are in-market to buy. Even during times of uncertainty, people continue to use the internet to research and plan for future purchases.

Vehicle search terms from Google Trends

What Does This Mean for Auto Dealerships?

There’s not a simple answer to explain how every business should react. There are a few ways to navigate the digital landscape and market your dealership during these unprecedented times. Start by determining who your company is and how you want to respond. During an economic downturn, companies often fall into three camps. Some choose to be conservative and “batten down the hatches” as they wait for the storm to pass. Others behave more moderately, making very few changes and choosing only to react based on external factors such as a government-mandated policy. And lastly, some companies choose to be aggressive and aim to increase sales and market share by dominating their market and beating out the competition. Knowing how you want to direct your business will help dictate the strategy that’s best.

Regardless of where your company falls on this spectrum, if you’re running digital advertising campaigns we recommend separating your demand-based campaigns from push advertising efforts. Depending on your approach, you may want to focus your marketing dollars on demand-based advertising during this time.

Demand-Based vs. Push Advertising

Digital advertising can be segmented into two categories: demand-based and push advertising. Search advertising is demand-based, because ads are served to users who are actively using search engines like Google and Bing to search for the products and services that you are advertising. Search ads that are running today are showing to people who are in-market, ready-to-buy, and searching for low-funnel keywords. It’s a given that people may spend less and venture out less during the coronavirus outbreak; however, there will still be people online shopping and expressing interest in buying during this time. Demand-based advertising can help maintain your lead gen efforts by bringing valuable shoppers to your website as users research their next vehicle during times of social distancing or sheltering in place. 

Display, social, and video are examples of push advertising. Targeting for these efforts can range from low-funnel to high-funnel. Low-funnel efforts include tactics like remarketing and in-market audience targeting. High-funnel efforts include tactics like managed placements, affinity, and demographic targeting. Push advertising can help your lead gen efforts today, through remarketing and in-market ads, and also boost your brand awareness for the future through managed placements, affinity, and demographic ads. Depending on your approach during this time, you may want to adjust your strategy to focus solely on low-funnel efforts such as remarketing and in-market audiences.

Digital Marketing Tactics For Car Dealers Today

Digital Advertising

  • Meet search demand. We are closely monitoring search volume and website traffic, and seeing the same numbers as earlier in the month. Ensure that your advertising campaigns are focused on matching the search demand that’s still in your market.
  • Leverage all OEM incentives. New incentives are popping up every day. Make sure your ad copy for both text and display campaigns features the latest incentives from your OEM.
  • Adjust your budget or strategy. Audit your strategy regularly to make sure it aligns with your business’s approach during this time. If needed, reallocate funds from push advertising to demand-based advertising. Narrow your focus to low-funnel searches. Or, make a push to increase impression share


  • Continue ongoing optimization. SEO strategy isn’t being affected today. We recommend continuing to optimize your website for relevant local searches through onsite optimization, landing page development, and offsite factors.
  • Update your Google My Business profile. Now more than ever it’s important to keep customers up-to-date if business operations changes. Adjust your hours, contact information, and business description as needed. Consider Google Posts to provide real-time updates that are accessible in search results.


  • Make sure your digital showroom is dialed. Customers will be shopping on your website instead of in your showroom. Make sure your online inventory is up-to-date and that everything is functioning correctly and looks as you’d expect it to.
  • Leverage video. A number of dealers are uploading video walk-arounds of their inventory to provide customers with an in-person experience. Use your smartphone to shoot quick videos and consider adding them to YouTube and your VDPs. This will allow shoppers to get up close and personal with specific inventory while staying at home.
  • Make your homepage a hub for new information. If you have new incentives or updates for customers, add them to your dealership’s homepage immediately.
  • Ensure your contact information is accurate. Now is not the time to miss a call. Call your sales and service lines yourself to ensure that customers are being greeted and routed correctly. Ensure that you have the proper people and forwarding in place to answer incoming calls. 
  • Test your forms. Test ALL of the forms on your website. In our work with auto dealers, we see on average 10-30% of leads not making it into a dealer’s CRM. There’s potential for online activity to spike in the coming weeks, so it’s essential that forms are routing properly and leads are making it into your pipeline.


  • Get creative. Some dealers are now starting to test digital retailing and deliver a newly purchased vehicle to the customer’s front door. If this is feasible, consider exploring this as an option at your dealership. 
  • Be transparent. Are you taking extra precautions to ensure cleanliness at your dealership? Put customers at ease and make it easy for them to review and understand the safety measures you have in place by sharing them online or via email.
  • Get the visibility you need. You have Google Analytics installed on your website, but how often do you log in to review the data? You’re probably used to walking out on your showroom floor to get a pulse on sales activity each day. During this transition from in-person to online, lean on website analytics and user-level tracking to get the same understanding with daily insights into your digital traffic and lead activity.
  • Don’t neglect technology. When your customers are online and not in your showroom, who are your active leads? Now more than ever, it’s important to use technology to understand who your active leads are and who to call today. 

We’re Here to Help

To help you stay on top of the latest data and trends during this period of time, we wanted to share available resources from Google & Adpearance that we’ll continue to update:


  • Resource HubWe created a resource library with key insights to help inform your decision making. We're going to continue to share data and recommendations to help dealers make the best decisions for their business. Let us know if there are specific questions you have or topics you’d like us to cover.
  • Free Digital Analysis: We’ll do a deep dive into your online presence to share strategic recommendations and best practices specific to your dealership.


  • Google Small Business Hub: Resources to help small businesses manage uncertainty, including tips for communicating with customers, communicating with employees, and working remotely.
  • Google Trends Coronavirus Hub: Live insights into how the world is searching for updates during the coronavirus outbreak.
  • Google Company Announcement: Insight into how Google is responding and helping during this time. 

If you have any questions about your business or digital marketing during the coronavirus outbreak, contact your Digital Advertising Strategist or reach out directly. We will continue sharing data and updates, and partner hard to help dealerships succeed. 

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