Dramatic Change

The automotive industry has seen a dramatic change over the last couple years in the way that consumers are researching, comparing and purchasing vehicles. The arrival of websites such as Amazon Vehicles in the US and CarWow here in the UK suggest that this trend is only set to continue with such websites making old fashioned ‘brochure style’ research redundant.

Although, whilst these car aggregator type websites still rely on vast dealer networks in order to deliver the vehicle and provide aftersales support, forward thinking manufacturers are looking to revolutionise the process by eliminating the dealership middle man and selling directly to the consumer. EV giant, Tesla Motors, allows it’s users to research, spec up, obtain finance and purchase a vehicle directly from their site with the car being delivered to the end user straight from the factory.

The Micro-Moments Within The Car Buying Journey

In a 2016 study by Google & Luth Research, Google identified there to be 5 key intent driven points throughout the car buying journey, which they labelled ‘Micro-Moments’. These 5 key points make up a consumer’s thought process throughout the buying journey:

  1. Which car is best for me?
  2. Is it right for me?
  3. Can I afford it?
  4. Where should I buy it?
  5. Am I getting a good deal?

Within each micro-moment, Google recorded a number of online interactions, in some cases as many as 900 interactions across the entire process. An interaction could simply be a online search to find out the safety rating of a vehicle, the cost of running or where is their nearest manufacturer dealership.

In relation to Google’s findings, Autotrader’s 2016 report on the car buying journey states that consumers on average spend 14:44 hours online across multiple devices whilst researching and eventually purchasing a car.

This clear shift to an online car buying journey has given advertisers the opportunity to use highly targeted search and display advertising to better influence the consumer’s decisions at each micro-moment throughout the entire car buying journey.

PPC’s Role In The Initial Research Stage

In the early stages of the buying journey, AutoTrader found only 30% of consumers knew the exact make and model of the car they were going to buy. That leaves a huge group of consumers who will be researching multiple different brands, models and deciding whether they’re looking for a new or used vehicle.

Within these initial micro-moments, the consumer usually has a good understanding of their requirements from the vehicle, if they have a family then safety ratings and size will be primary factor in their research, whereas, a younger audience might be focusing more on aesthetics and performance.

This early funnel stage is key to determining the direction in which the user’s buying journey takes and what brands or models they then consider. Here, a well targeted YouTube advertising campaign could be an effective way to raise awareness of a brand or model line.

Example: A young family searching for a new SUV with a high safety rating whilst being large enough to fit 2 adults and 2-3 children. Both parents grew up in households which owned Fords, therefore, they’re likely to have inherited a strong brand loyalty to Ford and start their research there by searching terms such as ‘Ford SUV’, ‘Ford Family Cars’ or ‘Ford 7 Seater’.

Action: Implement a YouTube campaign targeted to consumers aged between 25-44 who are currently in market for a new Ford and regularly visits websites related to parenthood.

Depending on the advertiser’s objective (whether it’s to sell Fords or other brands) they can then market to the consumers with video ads detailing a vehicle’s key features a family would be looking for such as NCAP Safety rating, number of seats, storage space, number of doors and accessibility. Alternatively, the advertiser could present similar models from competitor brands as part of a conquest strategy to raise awareness of similar models.

Using Search Ads To Determine Affordability

Once a consumer has been able to narrow down a group of vehicles that meet their physical requirements, their attention is then drawn to deciding how they are going to purchase the vehicle and whether they can afford it. Depending on the consumer’s financial limitations, this point within the buying journey can drastically alter the outcome of the buying journey.

If they currently own a vehicle that they’re looking to part-exchange, then they will be keen to gain a better idea of what their vehicle is worth. Most dealership websites now have the functionality to value vehicles online therefore search ads can play a major part in driving traffic from users who’re actively looking to part exchange vehicles. The consumer is also likely to be making multiple searches comparing the advantages and disadvantages of buying via PCP, HP or personal lease.

Here the consumer isn’t looking to find the cheapest price possible (as it’s likely they’ve not decided on a specific model yet) but to get a better understanding of how their current financial situation (size of deposit, monthly payment limit, current vehicle valuation) affects what they can afford and how they will be able to purchase the vehicle. Therefore, it’s crucial the advertiser’s site has a strong content strategy in place with high quality and informative copy.

Action: Using our example from earlier, an advertiser could target similar keywords to the above searches and present the consumer with search ads encouraging the user to ‘Explore our Ford SUV Deals’. This gives the opportunity for the consumer to click through to the advertiser’s site where there should be plenty of relevant content detailing the different options to purchase a vehicle (lease, HP, PCP, cash etc) and the effect each type has on affordability.

Generate More Localised Traffic With Geographic Targeting

The consumer has narrowed down the model and spec they can afford, as well as determining how they intend to purchase the vehicle. They then need to decide where they’re going to purchase the vehicle from.

A younger demographic tends to be more inclined to travel further for the right car whereas an older demographic would usually try to find their nearest dealership via Google search, searching terms such as ‘Ford dealers near me’ ‘Ford dealer in Sevenoaks’. Once they have located their nearest dealer, their attention then turns to review sites that provides them with a good understanding of other people’s experiences with that specific dealership.

38% of all the buyers within AutoTrader’s study only visited one dealership which is where they then made a purchase.

Action: search ads targeted to a suitable radius of a dealership location can not only help the consumer to identify their nearest dealership but also gives the advertiser the opportunity to get their key messages across as to why someone should buy their next car from their dealership - This can be done by leading with dealership specific features such as ‘30-day money back guarantee’ as this helps build assurance that the consumer is likely to have a stress-free experience with them.

Driving Conversions With Display remarketing & Search Ads

Now the future buyer has decided on a specific model and specification, figured out how they intend to make the purchase and located somewhere to purchase the vehicle, the consumer’s next step is to ascertain whether they are getting a good deal on the decided upon vehicle and whether they could obtain a better deal elsewhere.

Action: Online searches at this stage will become a lot more model specific, such as: ‘New Ford Kuga Zetec’, ‘New Ford Kuga Deals’ etc. Advertisers can then meet potential buyers searches with model specific, offer led ad copy thus encouraging the buyer to click through to view further deals on the advertiser’s site.

Display remarketing ads focusing on a competitive price per month or deposit contribution scheme with a clear creative showcasing the specific model being considered can also help keep the customer engaged with the chosen brand and allow the advertiser to stay fresh in the mind of the potential customer.


There’s no doubt that the car buying journey is more complicated than ever before, with this digital age, gone are the times when a car purchase consisted of visiting a local car dealership, looking from some brochures and choosing a vehicle. Now, there are 100’s of digital touchpoints which could sway the buyer’s decision from one brand to another.

Therefore, it’s crucial to have a clear, multi-channel strategy in place ready for when someone’s making those early, initial searches, researching the types of cars available to them right through to someone nearing the end of the journey who’re actively looking to place an order.

share this article: