SUMMARY: How to Understand Online Car Shopping Behavior & Sources of Traffic

There’s no ques­tion that con­sumers use search engines in the car shop­ping process, but a new white paper from AutoTrader.com sheds light on just how and when they are turn­ing to those tools — pro­vid­ing key insights about the actu­al behav­iors of online shop­pers that deal­ers and OEMs can — and should — use to reach more shop­pers and con­vert them into buy­ers.

Accord­ing to the , web ana­lyt­ics tools (which deal­ers use to ana­lyze traf­fic to their web sites) typ­i­cal­ly show only a 2 – 5% direct refer­ral rate from third-par­ty sites like AutoTrader.com and KBB.com to deal­er­ship web sites.

Addi­tion­al­ly, the white paper rein­forces a com­mon theme, which is that shop­pers are more like­ly to use search engines as a direc­to­ry.

“There is a gap between per­cep­tion and real­i­ty when it comes to the role of search in the car shop­ping process, which could be lead­ing deal­ers to over invest in search mar­ket­ing at the expense of more effec­tive sources,” said Kevin Filan, vice pres­i­dent of cus­tomer mar­ket­ing at AutoTrader.com.

Fur­ther, the white paper demon­strates that third-par­ty sites not only dri­ve a sig­nif­i­cant amount of shop­pers to deal­er web sites, but they also dri­ve a more qual­i­fied shop­per.

“The results of this analy­sis real­ly show that there is sig­nif­i­cant risk for deal­ers who assume that shop­ping activ­i­ty began from the source that pro­vid­ed a direct refer­ral to their web sites,” Filan con­tin­ued. “By hav­ing the right inven­to­ry at the right price and mer­chan­dis­ing it well, deal­ers will be able to cap­ture the atten­tion of more qual­i­fied shop­pers and have a high­er chance of con­vert­ing them into buy­ers.”

Turn Insights into Actions

So ulti­mate­ly, what does all of this mean for deal­ers? Here are three tips from the AutoTrader.com experts:

  1. Don’t assume that car-shop­ping activ­i­ty begins on search engines. Deep­er shop­ping engage­ment occurs upstream of search engines.
  2. To bet­ter under­stand which sources are dri­ving traf­fic, focus less on direct refer­rals from search engines and more on the key­words shop­pers enter into search engines to locate the deal­er­ship web­site.
  3. Focus on the key tenets of suc­cess­ful online auto­mo­tive mar­ket­ing, such as hav­ing in-demand inven­to­ry, com­pet­i­tive pric­ing and robust mer­chan­dis­ing online. For inven­to­ry, use mul­ti­ple cus­tom pho­tos (not stock), cus­tom vehi­cle com­ments and video, and don’t for­get to mer­chan­dise the deal­er­ship to high­light why shop­pers should buy from you.

, an inten­sive analy­sis from of the online behav­ior of over three mil­lion shop­pers show­ing that third-par­ty sites dri­ve a sig­nif­i­cant amount of qual­i­fied shop­pers to deal­er web­sites and that shop­pers most­ly using search engines as direc­to­ries.

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