If search engine visibility alone were a leading indicator of sales, the Big Three Detroit automakers would still be on top. Last month iCrossing released the findings of its Vertical Visibility Index: Automotive, its first study analyzing the paid and natural search visibility leaders amongst automotive OEMs in the U.S., and revealed:
- at the OEM level, Ford Motor Company has the largest natural visibility share of market with 22%. They are followed by General Motors Corporation (17%) and Chrysler LLC (15%);
- at the brand level, Ford has the highest visibility for a brand with 18% of the natural search visibility market share, followed by Chrysler (12%). (See the Natural Search Visibility Share of Market – Brand Level pie chart above right; Ford’s share is depicted in teal, Chrysler is in green.)
Should the Big Three Detroit automobile manufacturers have been quicker to align their offerings away from the super-size me SUV habits of yesteryear? I would have to agree. Though I may be a biased Englishman, one unavoidable fact is that the automotive industry is feeling the squeeze on sales. The combined effect of the credit crunch and the astronomical rise in the price of oil has had a definitive snowball effect on consumer behavior. This shift is all the more apparent in the U.S., where shoppers’ consideration sets are shifting toward smaller cars and hybrids, and are pushing droves of prospects away from full-size pickup trucks and SUVs and toward more fuel-efficient alternatives, including crossovers. It would seem that the U.S. market has suddenly opened up to a wider range of vehicle types; something European and Asian markets have been catering to for years.
So where does a significant shift in behavior, combined with signs of recession, leave marketing in the automotive vertical? One piece of that puzzle lies in effective search marketing, such as tapping into consumer shopping behavior at multiple points within the purchase-consideration cycle with clearly articulated content that aligns with the intent expressed in their search queries.
Too many automotive OEMs are not getting into conversations with consumers performing searches during the multiple stages of the consideration process. This leaves ample room for publishers, classified listings and third-party sites, such as Motor Trend, Auto Trader and Edmunds, to acquire and respond in that conversation, potentially presenting an experience that may not be in an OEM’s favor early in the process. This situation, as you may have guessed, can have a snowball effect on later conversion as shoppers define their initial consideration sets.
Natural Search Optimization (or Search Engine Optimization) is an ongoing process that evaluates searcher intent and demand in order to develop quality, keyword-focused content. Achieving visibility in search is not the end of the journey; engaging experiences and well-defined conversion goals at all stages are necessities that have to be balanced with SEO forethought. Automotive OEMs make widespread use of Flash in developing experiences, which implemented conscientiously (using AA|RF’s SOFA approach, for example) can lead to a harmonious world where natural search referrals lead to engaging content that, working in tandem, contribute to improved conversion.
But let’s take a step back and consider conversion more broadly. In a vehicle shopper’s consideration cycle, conversion points exist at a multitude of stages before a decision is reached: in researching needs, whether looking for a seven-passenger car that will fit up to five kids, a car that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg at the gas pump, or a car with serious curb appeal; determining budget; comparing vehicle features and other decision-making steps. Obviously this is not an exhaustive set of motivations, and online is not the sole determinant of offline conversion, but each of these are prime areas upon which OEMs can and should make their mark.
Attracting and influencing visitors with rich experiences and relevant content produce micro-conversions at all stages, which helps in reaching that final conversion — or repeat conversion — goal. And where better than search engine marketing, both natural and paid, to reach consumers at every stage? They are intrinsically demand-based, efficient and optimizable mediums just waiting to be leveraged for an effective digital marketing campaign.
- Vertical Visibility Index: Automotive; iCrossing, 07.30.08