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Unlocking the basics of paid search

Posted by Meg Bernazzani on August 21, 2019

It isn’t exactly news that the vast majority of car buyers do their homework online long before they head to a showroom and online marketing is, therefore, one of the best tools in a dealer’s arsenal. Get it right, and you can set out your digital stall in front of willing customers in their run up to a new purchase.

Paid search, or search engine management (SEM) as it’s commonly called, is one of the fundamental tools employed by digital marketers to get retailers’ products and services in front of the right online audience at the right time. Here, we explain what they are and how they can help you.

What is paid search?

Paid search is very much what it says on the tin: you’re buying online advertisements which appear next to specific words that users punch into a search engine. For example, if your advert focuses on the keywords ‘2016 BMW 3 Series’, then it will appear when people search for exactly that.

In broader terms, paid search refers to a specific digital marketing tactic employed by digital marketers. It’s typically used alongside other tactics, such as display advertising and what the experts describe as ‘organic’ measures to boost web traffic, such as social media, videos and search engine optimisation (SEO) – strategies to increase your website’s visibility without paying for advertising.

How can dealers use paid search to their advantage?

Paid search is a tactic that applies at every stage of the buying journey. A buyer’s searches might start off broad, but they become more focussed in tandem with the individual’s search patterns and level of intent.

Using broad keywords can help your dealership build awareness of your business among people who may be in the early stages of researching a car purchase, while long tail keywords, which we’ll cover in a later post, attract buyers who’re ready to head to a showroom. The closer the person is to buying a car, the more detailed their searches become—and the more relevant your adverts should be.

It’s not uncommon for businesses to spend the lion’s share of their digital advertising budget on paid search. In fact, dealers spend nearly 40% of their digital ad spend on paid search alone, according to eMarketer. It’s clearly a critical way of capturing buyers’ attention early in the research process and ultimately, netting customers.

Online marketing for aftersales

There’s clearly more to running a profitable retail operation than just selling cars, and online marketing can be used just as effectively to drum up interest for aftersales services. In part, it works in a similar manner to sales, as paid searches can be used to target advertising at people who are looking for, say, an annual service for a Ford Focus in Birmingham.

Putting it all together

Paid search is central to digital marketing for car dealers. We know that’s not a revelation, but it’s important to understand. Most UK dealers are not leveraging this important tool. It helps to find a partner who can provide the expertise, the technology, and the data you need to succeed.

To learn more about a managed paid search solution for your dealership, visit

Topics: CarGurus Paid Search, paid search, search engine marketing, SEM