Winning in the online showroom: Search trends for the auto industry

In 2005, the average new car buyer made five in-person visits to dealerships prior to purchase. By 2019 that number had dwindled to 1.7. What caused such a dramatic change in the auto path to purchase?

In a word: Millennials. A generation that has grown up in a digital world has now become the largest segment buying new cars. They look to search engines first to research new car purchases. With numerous options to consider, instant access to info, and limitless research resources, 59% of millennials rely on Google at every phase of the purchase journey. 

I recently attended the Strong Automotive Digital Marketing Summit at Google’s offices in Austin and gathered up a truckload of insights like these about marketing to digital natives.

The good news for the auto industry is that there are still plenty of opportunities to influence these buyers as they consider their options online. With so much information so readily available digitally, 80% of car shoppers consider and cross-shop multiple brands. In fact, they consider an average of 4-5 brands today compared to just 2-3 in 2012. This wider consideration net means the opportunity to win new buyers is bigger than ever.

Here are our search recommendations for winning in today’s competitive auto industry:

Tips for engaging the digital-native car buyer

1. Understand your competitive landscape.

With competition from numerous OEMs and aggregators; partners cannibalizing your sales; and new digital channels and tactics launching regularly, you need a view of your whole market to gain insight on your digital competition. Utilizing competitive intelligence will give you the visibility needed to understand your competitors’ movements, refine your strategy, and capture audience attention.

2. Double down on mobile.

Mobile has become the most prominently used device for auto research; 72% of auto research done on mobile, up from 6% in 2011. You’ll need to understand your search landscape at the mobile level and optimize your mobile search campaigns and ensure a smooth user experience.

3. Optimize your search strategy.

Auto buyers perform roughly 184 auto-related searches prior to purchase, and search is a strong signal of intent. Is your brand visible enough online to intercept these digital-savvy buyers as they research? Leverage search intelligence to understand what terms, categories, and brands will connect with your potential customers and on which devices and in which geographies.

The auto industry is now a digital-first marketplace. Having a competitive data-driven digital strategy is vital to winning sales in this environment. Learn more here about how Adthena helps major car brands gain a strategic advantage and pull ahead of their competition.