These Two Things Happened This Week in Automotive Retail

Here’s a story about two people who bought vehicles from the same dealership in the same week with different methods. Both of their stories will shed light on both the efficacy of search engine marketing, and the ruse called search engine marketing in automotive retail. Let’s get started.


I’d like to introduce you to Bill and Chris.


Bill is a 68 year old retired mechanic. Chris is a 26 year old nurse and she’s excited to be out on her own and taking on the world.


Bill wants to buy a 2017 Chevy Silverado. He’s bought many cars in his life and he’s “old school.” He buys cars the way he always has – from people. So he drives his 2012 Dodge Ram down to the local Chevy store to start his shopping. He meets a nice sales rep, takes a look at a few Silverado’s, and he determines that he’s wise enough not to take test drive. “These guys won’t get me so easily” he thinks to himself.


So off he goes and does the same sort of shopping at the other 3 Chevy stores in town. At the end of the day he’s seen what he needs to see. He’s old school so no salesreps are calling or texting him because he took their business cards and didn’t give them his number. He decided on the 2nd store that he visited – XYZ Chevy. He liked the salesrep and felt he could trust him. He’s driving home happily in his new Silverado.


As far as marketing SEM sellers analytics and attribution data – he’s essentially a ghost. They had no idea he was in the market. Didn’t see his IP address, lead, or incoming phone call anywhere. They wish there were but unfortunately no. The only people happy in this scenario is the Dealer, his sales and F&I team, and of course Bill.


Chris, decided a week ago to begin shopping. She jumps into Google and enters Chevy Volt. And unbeknownst to her the millisecond she does, she’s surrounded by a minefield of paid search ad units, surreptitiously put there by dozens of auto retail SEM sellers. In some cases by E-Commerce Directors themselves looking to take credit for their knowledge and expertise in digital marketing.


Chris starts visiting OEM sites, 3rd Party sites, and many dealership websites. According to a recent Google study – one such shopping journey had 900+ engagements. Like all shoppers smart enough to use the internet, Chris visits all the dealers in her market so she can make the best choice. It’s expediency that causes her to click any link to get her to where she wants to go. The days pass, and as she reads the news, visits her favorite websites, display banners of dealers she’s visited sit ominously at the top and right side of web sites she’s visited. Sometimes she notices them, most times she doesn’t. Like Bill, she’s got some experience of her own so she knows better than to click on any of those “annoying banner ads.”


A few days ago, she decided to see what the dealerships would be willing to offer her on a new Volt. So after looking at some reviews on her mobile phone at work, later that evening she visited 4 sites from her desktop and submitted a lead, inquiring about best price. She already knew availability from their websites. She got templated responses from all of them. One of them even had a video response of a nice woman salesrep giving her great detail about the vehicle and the great experience awaiting her at their dealership.


As she reviewed the responses all of the prices seemed similar, so she decided that she was going to visit XYZ Chevrolet (where Bill bought from). She decided if they’re at least nice, and they have the car at the price she could afford, she’d buy it today. And that’s exactly what she did.


The people happy in this scenario are plenty fold! The Dealer, his sales and F&I team, Chris… and all of those SEM sellers that charged XYZ Chevrolet and all the other Chevy dealers that Chris visited an expensive toll just to surround Chris’ every move with ad units that would show up in their cross-device, multi-channel attribution reports.


All of those SEM sellers using all of that click, lead, impression data from both of her devices and connecting the dots through the CRM tool to the DMS to mistakenly claim to the tolled dealer: “see, we had a small part in influencing Chris to make that purchase. This is why you want our SEM strategy because you can see from all of this data that our strategy works.” Of course, what they really mean is keep paying our monthly toll (I mean, invoice).


What those SEM sellers don’t know (or if they do, they don’t dare share with XYZ Chevrolet) is that they simply found a clever way to force themselves between Chris’s intention and her destination. She had little to NO CHOICE but to click on, see, re-see everything they put in her way. Not to make her experience better, or to ensure a sale for the dealer – but to capture digitally the experience she was going to go through anyway. She didn’t intend to choose a paid click over an organic click. That blue and green message in her search result page had no influence on her. An organic unit would have accomplished the same result for her and for dealers she visited. It was expediency, that’s why she clicked the link that came up to the top of her search. Simple as that. She believed if she clicked a link she’d get to where she INTENDED TO GO.


The SEM seller, they knew that too. And they see the data, but they don’t know that the data is simply a collection of events she took on her own volition. It’s data that represents correlation with intention, not causation of intention. It is a complete misunderstanding of the data that they’re looking at. What’s worse, is not only have they misinterpreted the data – but they optimize campaigns daily against the misinterpreted data. It’s like using fuel temperature data to plot a Cessna’s flight to Mars. It’s so bad, that “clueless” is an appropriate description, in a non-condescending way.


Mr. Dealer – YOU BELIEVE you’re paying for and receiving CAUSATION of intention. The Google Analytics data, the attribution data that you’re seeing is merely CORRELATION of the intentions of thousands of people in your market that are going to visit the markets’ website properties WITH OR WITHOUT PAID SEARCH AD UNITS. You are simply being charged a toll for the traffic that you’re going to get anyway.


If you want to see some interesting proof of that, copy/paste and email this question to the person(s) responsible for your paid search budget:


Hey guys,


I have a question. Can you please send me data (not anecdotes, not other dealer experiences, etc) that shows me what happens on my website properties in the absence of my paid search campaigns so I can compare actual lift?


Mr. Dealer: in marketing parlance “lift” is what you see when a marketing campaign meets the specific objective i.e. increased gross revenues, increased sales, etc. Lift analysis means comparing users who receive a campaign to a group of users who do not receive the campaign (i.e. the control group) to see which group is better off.  By the way, a control group is a neutral segment of your users that do not get any special message, which makes them a good baseline for benchmarking against. You can learn more about Lift and “Failing to Measure” incremental impact and methods to accurately measure Lift here in this article:


Mr. Dealer, if you’re at all suspicious, if your gut tells you that maybe you should take a closer, more objective look at what your Paid Search data is telling you with respect to real investment, real return, and potential waste. Reach out to us and for absolutely FREE we will walk you through a truer way to look at Paid Search spend and your actual results. In that conversation, we won’t attempt to sell you a single thing – NOTHING. Not then, nor afterwards. Our goal is simply to help you to understand the difference between correlation and causation with respect to your Paid Search spend, so that you can keep more of that spend in your bank.


Thanks for reading. Of course we welcome and encourage your feedback on this post.

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