Improving the path to purchase through manufacturer-dealer Search coordination

My core intention for this post is to improve and develop the overall customer experience of a new car purchase. Having worked in Paid advertising for almost 10 years, six of those directly with automotive clients, I have witnessed the evolution of both Paid advertising and the car buying journey.

Technological advancements and the rise of mobile have changed car buyers’ path to purchase beyond all recognition. Today’s consumers will engage with a growing number of touch points (Google –, and at the same time expectation for a seamless digital experience is mounting.

In conjunction, there’s huge appetite from customers to buy vehicles online (Accenture – and efforts to close the purchase through eCommerce style platforms are a growing trend.

The problem, however, is the purchase path is being overlooked. OEMs and their retail network still work in silos, failing to deliver cohesively on customer expectations. Marketing activity from each tier is often run in conflict, causing many points of friction and buyer frustration. Shoppers are treated separately by OEMs and dealers, disrupting journey flow and failing to satisfy their needs. Overlooking the customer experience and behaviour means important buyer signals are not capitalised on.

In my opinion there needs to be more intelligence shared, so that a more holistic view of the buyer can be gained. Understanding the buyer in this way will help deliver a more robust and relevant message, consequently moving prospects down the funnel more efficiently. Refining the customer journey is not only imperative to delivering on expectation but will also create new customer confidence and improve ROI.

The great thing about digital is that it presents the perfect opportunity to connect OEMs and dealers, enabling to implement a universal strategy which recognizes these concerns.

For this post I will focus primarily on how search and remarketing could be more coordinated. These are not the only channels that need considering but are the cornerstone from which broader paid strategies can be supported.


In my experience new car Paid activities prove to be the biggest cause for contention between tiers.

Search is fundamental for both manufacturers and dealers. It is the most influential channel, according to auto-shoppers (eMarketer, “Auto Industry Braces for Major Shifts in Search Marketing”, April 2013), and a key driver for leads. It’s imperative both parties have strong and considered ‘always-on’ activity, but the campaign and keyword structures need to differentiate in order to complement the buyer evolution. A frictionless purchase experience is the ultimate goal.

Not only this, a more co-operative search policy achieves parity between tiers, reflects distinct roles and responsibilities and helps avoid ‘cross-pollination’. This ensures the shopper is treated appropriately at every stage of their purchase decision.

Another benefit of this integrated approach is the avoidance of bid inflation. This has been a hot topic the past few years, and is high on most OEM agendas. And with good reason – my company GForces has recorded a consecutive year-on-year increase to Search CPC and an overall 45% rise from £0.49 in 2012 to £0.71 in 2017.


Not so long ago Google publicised 5 Auto Shopping Moments (Google – OEMs and dealers should own. Applying search principals to these, below are my thoughts on certain key moments.

  • Which-car-is-best & Is-it-right-for-me moments

Six out of 10 car shoppers enter the market unsure which car to buy (Automotive Shopper Path to Purchase, Millward Brown Digital and Polk, September 2015). This creates a massive conquest opportunity and enables manufacturers a significant chance to become a considered brand. It’s during this research phase that manufacturers need to build awareness and win the battle on searches such as ‘top suvs’ or ‘best family car’. Is-it-right-for-me moments start to shift consumer intent toward assessing vehicle safety features, available technology and optional extras. Typical keywords here are ‘manufacturer model’, ‘model spec’ or ‘model’. Manufacturers are best equipped to serve both sets of queries, due to the rich information and video/image assets on their site. Not only this, manufacturers have enhanced digital assets such as brochure downloads and car configurators, both hugely valuable when trying to convince a consumer to consider their brand and vehicles.

A common mistake here, is dealers often saturate the market in an attempt to increase offer awareness and leads. However, it’s fair to say most are unequipped and usually operating on a restrained budget. It’s a moment too early for a dealer to step in and it should be the manufacturer’s responsibility to facilitate these keywords. From a dealer’s perspective, I would love to see funds reinvested into a more informed and well connected remarketing strategy, something I will cover later.

  • Can-I-afford-it

During this critical moment, shoppers have refined their vehicle choices and are now using purchase cost, warranty, maintenance cost and fuel efficiency to narrow their selection. Deal, offer and discount related search queries are all investigated alongside the varying finance options: PCP, PCH and HP. Good example of search queries include – ‘model deals’, ‘new model finance’ and ‘offers on model’.

Manufacturers need to allow the retail network to capitalise on the opportunities generated by upper funnel efforts. The retail capabilities at this juncture allows for improved financial models that a manufacturer has yet to offer – for instance, their ability to work with a multitude of finance suppliers and the relationship this has with the consumers search intent. Accordingly, dealers tend to have superior widgets or site areas which serve the buyer intentions better at this point, two examples being p/ex valuations and specific offer areas on site.

Coincidentally, this moment usually reveals manufacturer attempts to capture further shoppers. However, for the reasons above, this is not a cost-effective use of budget. A more astute re-allocation of budget could increase branding efforts during the early purchase moments.

  • Where-should-I-buy-it

A Google study from last year (Google UK Internal Data, Auto CB 2016) cited dealer websites as the most valued and used resource at this stage. Top buyer considerations here are price, location of dealership, opening hours, vehicle availability at location, directions and contact info. Not surprisingly, it’s the dealers’ full responsibility to own this moment too.

A mobile-centric strategy and website compatibility are integral for dealers. Keywords focused around geography are imperious for dealers, and mobiles are the dominant device to carry out searches such as ‘model location’, ‘manufacturer location’ and ‘local manufacturer’. In general, these location related terms not only provide the main search volume for dealers, they also have by far the best ROI in any account I have seen. Dealers need to dominate their local territory and provide a worthy device experience. This moment and its related keywords should be the foundation for all dealer accounts.

Significantly, I feel as though key metrics are overlooked here. Most dealers usually insist a campaign objective is to drive footfall but many do not measure this effectively. Far too often I encounter only standard web or call interactions as part of performance measurement. Perhaps we need reminding what the buyer behaviour indicates here? There is real value in tracking ‘driving direction’, ‘get location details’ or ‘show nearby locations’, even if these are categorised as ‘soft’ leads.

A final thought; it’s important the manufacturer owns, oversees and implements this policy. However, they should work constructively with their network and ensure dealer objectives are also considered. Too often OEMs impose guidelines but the dealers’ concerns are ignored causing irritation. Proving fair opportunity amongst the network should also be a top priority. Improved communication and increased transparency will improve the overall relationship and help both work more decisively together.


In my opinion this channel is the most exciting prospect for improving how manufacturers and dealers work together. The concept should be to leverage manufacturer data through tier 2 & 3 initiatives – something I believe is achievable whilst abiding by existing privacy regulations.

Sharing main site data and volume with its retail network will allow for improved re-engagement at a local level. In turn, this develops the purchase path for a buyer and reduces the possibility of conflict between all parties.

Integrating all tiers through a comprehensive strategy enables the ability to share vital data between manufacturer-dealer. This helps to overcome a problem most dealers encounter when remarketing, having a meaning full data size to remarket with. Not only this, evolving remarketing in this way helps move the buyer down funnel, assisting their needs and helping aid their final decision.

There are many possible scenarios a customer journey might be influenced through remarketing, and interconnecting tiers ensures a better delivery at important decision stages. If the customer experience is the principal goal then performance will naturally improve.

In summary, digital has transformed a new car purchase. The influence it has on a buyer’s decision is growing. OEMs and dealers have acknowledged this by making great efforts to improve the on-site experience and bring the entire buying cycle online. However, I don’t believe the path to purchase has been challenged in the same way. A truly joined-up strategy will be reflective of the consumer behaviour and act upon crucial buying signals. Consequently buyers will be assured by their experience and confidence purchasing online will increase.

Future expectancy for online car buying is exciting, and I for one look forward to helping the industry meet demands.