How to Find and Convert More Car Buyers with Digital Marketing

Most consumers today head to the internet to research their next car and the dealerships they will visit, and savvy dealerships have an online presence to connect with these consumers such as a website and a few social media sites.

For modern car shoppers, your online presence will be their first interaction with your dealership, which ultimately could be the deciding factor as to whether or not they choose to visit your lot which means your first impression needs to be a good one.

While you may have the basics in place, there are several key digital areas you need to focus on to make your online presence and brand reputation shine.

How Car Shoppers Shop Online

The time consumers spend online researching their next vehicle is growing.  In 2015, the average time consumers spent researching on digital channels was 12.5 hours (Autotrader). They visit approximately 9 sites, with the largest percentage being third-party sites. The internet is by far the #1 source for both new car and used car buyers with 75% of new car buyers using the internet, and 77% of used car buyers using the internet.

According to Google stats, 82% of car buyers are in the market for three months or less and use seven or eight digital sources on average.

car shopping online channels

Three of the top five ad formats which prompted research into a potential car purchase are digital.

car shopping online ads

How Automotive Brands Can Appeal to Online Shoppers

With consumers using a variety of online sources, dealerships must focus on having a consistent presence across different sites.  However, with so many different sites from which to choose and limited time and resources to devote, dealerships (as in all industries) are often challenged to figure out where to concentrate online resources. 

Twitter, Facebook, social ads, mobile ads, websites, third-party review sites, YouTube, search engines, online magazines, and so on are part of the digital ecosystem, so the question then becomes which ones to prioritize?

car shopping online

According to research by, “While all of these sources have a certain degree of influence, consumers do not use them equally. Consumers have trained themselves to curate information and educate themselves before making all types of purchases, and shopping for a car is no different. The majority of consumers won’t visit a dealership without first conducting a significant amount of research, and they won’t take one source as gospel.”

On average, shoppers are influenced by six to seven different information sources with at least three of these being online.  The top online sources of influence include:

  • 50% – independent research sites
  • 49% – search engines
  • 46% – manufacturer websites
  • 42% – automotive dealership websites
automotive digital marketing

Image Source: Insights

Dealerships should clearly focus on optimizing SEO strategies and having a strong presence on third party sites. The goal of course is to drive consumers to your website to ultimately get them onto your lot.  Your website must provide an exceptional experience and encourage consumers to engage with you.

Some key factors to keep in mind include having mobile-optimized design; interactive content such as video, walk-arounds, and online calculators; prominently displayed customer reviews; and highly visible contact information and online inquiry forms.

Engage on Social and Mobile to Attract Younger Car Shoppers

As more millennials come to age and are in a better financial situation, this younger generation represents a lucrative opportunity for dealerships. Millennial car shoppers are the ones most likely to buy a vehicle in the next 12 months, according to a study from

On average, millennials spend more than 17.6 hours shopping for cars online before heading into a dealership (CDK Global). As with other generations, the top sources they use for research are third-party ratings and review sites, which ranked number one with 82% of those surveyed. Dealer websites are still important to this generation with 62% stating that they visit a dealer site as a source of information, as compared to only 38% who visit original equipment manufacturer (OEM) websites.

There are many mixed reviews on whether social channels provide value in the car buying process for this generation. In fact a survey by found that, “78% of millennials in the study said their attitude toward a car brand would not change if the brand had a social networking presence.”  Other studies claim that Facebook or other social platforms bring results and lead to new sales.

Regardless of whether social helps drive new sales, these platforms should not be ignored.  Social media is an exceptional channel in which to engage with your audience and ultimately build brand loyalty, which in turns leads to referrals (very important among millennials) and repeat business.  Use your social sites to showcase your dealership’s personal side by posting pictures of your staff or inventory, running contests, showcasing specials, posting videos, and responding to customer inquiries.

millennial car marketing

Remember that this generation is a mobile one with 51% of millennials using mobile devices to shop for a car.  In addition to optimizing your websites for mobile, it is imperative that each piece of online content also be designed for mobile users, such as emails, landing pages, and videos.

Convert Online Leads to Offline Sales

A great online customer experience will ultimately convert online interest to a dealer visit.  Although some studies indicate that an ever-increasing number of consumers would consider purchasing a car online, the dealership certainly isn’t going away anytime soon. 

Consumers want to touch and feel and experience the test drive. Getting consumers to this point all happens online and the competition is extremely fierce to get a consumer to visit your lot.  1 in 5 shoppers visit just ONE showroom and 1 in 4 visit only two.

Automotive Prospect Data

With consumers visiting fewer lots and few channels in which to engage consumers directly, dealerships must focus on building trust at all points of interaction along the online journey. When you get that coveted visit, the digital journey is still not over.

According to research by and Placed Inc., 63% of shoppers report using their mobile device at a dealer lot.  Independent research sites are consumers’ most-used source of information on the lot. They are checking out prices and reading online reviews. 

Be sure to provide the same exceptional experience on the lot as off the lot. Dealerships who focus on the entire end-to-end customer journey will convert more leads into new sales, from initial research to consumer purchase.

Download our Automotive Marketing Success Kit for more great tips and strategies on how to target and acquire today’s car shoppers.

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