One of the smartest guys in the automotive marketing world, Eric Miltsch, wrote, “You don’t need to hire an SEO professional, you need to hire a team of marketing professionals who also understand data science, shopping psychology and user intent” under the heading  Standalone SEO Gets Assassinated in his outstanding piece, “4 Predictions in 2016 for Car Dealerships”.

I’m curious; did SEO ever help dealers sell cars?

I know, I know, a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money has been devoted to automotive SEO, but my question was serious; did SEO ever help sell a substantial number of cars? Here’s the problem; shopping for a car is what marketing professors call a high-involvement purchase.

Here’s a definition, “High-involvement purchases include those involving high expenditure or personal risk – for example buying a house, a car or making investments.”  High-involvement purchases almost always involve extended problem solving and extensive research. The 18+ sources discussed in ZMOT, Winning the Zero Moment of Truth is a great example of the extensive research that consumers undertake when they are looking to make a high-involvement purchase. Auto marketing folks hoped, dreamed really, that they could short-circuit the research by ranking high enough for this or that keyword on Google. The fervent hope was that they could control shopper behavior and, in effect, make the purchase lower involvement.

Of course ZMOT argued just the opposite; that the Internet was making consumer behavior more like shopping for a car even when consumers were shopping for less expensive, less consequential, products.

Was that ever a realistic hope? 

When I’m in a new town, I don’t Google “restaurants”; I tend to use Yelp or TripAdvisor – simply because I’ve learned from experience that those two sites will come up at the top of a Google search anyway (and I have the apps installed on my phone already). I then conduct some quick research and then make a decision. And this is a much lower involvement decision than the ones stemming from shopping for a car.

I’m not arguing against all SEO at all. You want to show up for your own name. You want to show up for ‘Chevy dealer in my town’. Basic SEO should have already accomplished those things for you. But would that have helped you sell a car?

And I understand the dream;

  • A customer thinks about buying a car
  • They perform a simple Google search
  • They click on your dealership
  • They buy a car

All in a few easy steps.  And again I ask, was this ever realistic?

Join this discussion and click to read all the comments.