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As the impact of COVID-19 and social distancing sends shockwaves through the economy, auto dealers need practical strategies to implement now that will help them find opportunities despite their current headwinds.

Whether your dealership is open and selling, you’re mainly open for service, or you’re closed entirely, there are always data-driven tactics you can implement to respond to your local market and OEM initiatives.

We asked the Netsertive Automotive team what they're seeing and hearing. Here are a few of their responses.

Melissa Kagan
Senior Regional sales manager
"Data doesn't lie. People are still searching and converting. Dealers who pivot based on new data trends while holding their brand presence in their market will come out on top."
Michael Bozek
Senior Regional sales manager
"I have one client that sold 20 units in the first week of April 2020. They are typically a 40-unit-a-month store. People will buy if they're able to and the deal is right."
Alex Brees
Senior Client Success Specialist
"Most dealers I have spoken with recently are bullish about the situation. Customers seem to have really taken to the in-home delivery offering, which is very positive and opens the door for future growth."
Richelle O'Donnell
Regional sales manager
"Dealers want to ensure they are getting the most from their budgets. I'm having a lot of conversations about negative keyword strategies to eliminate irrelevant traffic and deliver the highest intent shoppers possible."

With the right tactics in mind you can build your pipeline and set the scene for a stellar comeback as social distancing ends. Here’s what your dealership can do right now no matter where your local regulations fall on the “stay at home” spectrum.

Keep scrolling, or jump to the section that applies to your situation:


Scenario: You're Open and Can Sell Cars

If your dealership is still open and able to sell cars, then there are a lot of incentives and local trends to take advantage of. While search traffic is down around 25% in most markets, there are still plenty of interested shoppers in need of an immediate purchase or looking for deals. When a customer sets up a virtual consultation or walks into your dealership now, it means they’re serious and ready to buy. They wouldn’t have left their house otherwise. 

People still need to buy cars right now: your job is to use digital channels to let them know that you’re open and willing to do whatever it takes to help them. 

When it comes to your marketing strategy, there are a number of ways to drive new sales during the pandemic.

You're Open and Can Sell Cars

Play 1: Retarget Your Previous Visitors

Retargeting is your opportunity to reach the local shoppers that have engaged with you in the past. In-market shoppers who were once ready to buy a car from your dealership have likely moved back up the funnel—shifting them from "ready to purchase" up to the “consideration” phase.

They’re still interested in buying a car, but they're not sure if the time and your location is right for them. Craft engaging display ads featuring your best deals or specials to retarget previous website visitors across multiple channels such as Google and Facebook. Buyers are likely spending their time on a number of different places online. Be sure to include video, social media, and search in your marketing efforts.

By shifting your marketing strategy to favor retargeting, you can remind valuable potential customers about your business for months to come.

You're Open and Can Sell Cars

Play 2: Double Down on Financing Keywords

In our Netsertive platform data, we’ve found that financing keywords and ad copy that included messages about financing resulted in a 30% higher click-through rate. We’ve also seen twice as many searches for finance and financing terms in March 2020 compared to February 2020.

During the last week of March 2020, we saw a 50% increase in "car deals" searches in the United States when compared to the same time period in 2019. Over the last three weeks, we’ve seen anywhere from a 23% to 40% increase over the average search volume for search terms relating to “car deals.”

When writing your ad copy, be sure that you’re touching on the things your buyers care about most: that you’re open, still selling cars, offering virtual appointments, and have incredible specials for them to choose from.

You're Open and Can Sell Cars

Play 3: Use Negative Keywords to Improve ROI

Maximize your ad spend by carefully selecting negative keywords to exclude. If you're a Netsertive customer, our platform has thousands of negative keywords that automatically improve traffic quality to your site. That means you won’t show up for queries like "Barbie Jeeps" that aren’t actually indicating buyer intent. While this is a great practice year-round, it’s essential right now because it will help keep your budget as efficient and cost-effective as possible.

  • “Private owner”
  • “Honda civic won’t start”
  • “Jobs”
  • “Corporate office”
  • “Salary”

Additionally, don’t exclude “COVID-19” or “coronavirus.” Many buyers are actually using these terms to search for deals and specials related to this period of social distancing.

You're Open and Can Sell Cars

Play 4: Update Your Google My Business Profile with Special Offers

Your Google My Business (GMB) profile is a massive opportunity to unify messaging and promote your special offers. You can add these offers in both the Posts and Products sections of your GMB profile as in the examples below.

The Posts feature of GMB is the perfect place for an eye-catching image with limited time offers.


If your GMB page contains the Product feature, you'll be able to easily highlight your deals in the product description, which will show below your GMB profile.


Know Exactly What to Say with These Equity Mining and Outbound Floor Traffic Scripts

As you're able to engage potential customers on the phone or at your dealership, these scripts from our friends at Applied Concepts will help you create demand and win the sale.


Scenario: You're Open Mainly for Service

If your dealership is open and able to service cars, there are a few effective tactics you can use to advertise your deals while converting some service customers to prospects and new car buyers.

You're Open Mainly for Service

Play 1: Engage, Convert, and Wow Your New Customers

Whether they are essential workers or someone at home that is cross an item off their to-do list, people are still actively servicing cars. You can reach potential customers online by tailoring your keyword strategy and offering incentives that make them more likely to work with you.

Customers on the fence about where to go for their service are likely going to choose an option that’s highly affordable, nearby, and offering drop-off/pick-up services.

Going above and beyond with new customers now may help you turn them into lifelong customers—ones who are likely to return for continued service even after everything returns to normal.

You're Open Mainly for Service

Play 2: Pivot to Service Search Terms to Create Appointments

Be sure that your keyword strategy is focused on the queries people are most likely to be searching for right now. Many OEMs are adjusting their campaign strategies during this time as well—for example, FCA added 100% reimbursement for service campaigns in its digital program.

Pair these fundamental search terms with models to drive leads:

  • “Tires”
  • “Oil changes”
  • “Batteries”

Additionally, if your dealership is running any special offers or promotions, be sure you name them in the ad copy.

You're Open Mainly for Service

Play 3: Convert Service Customers to Prospects

When customers do engage with you for service, give them an appraisal while they are waiting. If someone currently has a $399 a month lease, and you can can get them in a 2020 for $299 a month with no payments for 4 months, they are likely to entertain the idea. If someone has a 7% interest rate, but you can get them 0% for 84 months, that's an easier conversation than under normal circumstances. Offer them the 2020 model to take home for the afternoon, and you're likely to find yourself with a new loyal customer.


Scenario: You're Completely Closed

Even if you’re fully shut down from selling or servicing cars, you can still be proactive with your marketing strategy to help your dealership bounce back as social distancing ends and the economy strengthens. With the average car shopper being in-market for at least 3 months, now is the time to drive traffic, build your retargeting lists, and create awareness for your dealership.

You're Completely Closed

Play 1: Build Your Dealership's Brand Awareness

Now is the ideal time to build your pipeline. Once buyers are able to leave their homes and begin purchasing cars again, your dealership can be the one that is top of mind. Since social distancing began in March 2020, massive traffic surges to online channels mean more opportunities to target your market with lower bids due to increased ad inventory.

Here are three valuable channels that will still deliver results if you are closed:

  • Google Display Network: Focus on retargeting previous website visitors and attracting audiences who are in-market for cars or auto services near them.
  • YouTube: Right now, consumers are spending a lot of time on YouTube. Not only that—they’re watching a higher percentage of video ads to completion. That makes now the best time to churn out some great video advertising content. Your next customer could be watching.
  • Facebook: Facebook is ideal for your retargeting efforts because it keeps your brands top of mind even when prospective customers aren’t actively searching.

Another key tool for brand awareness is your Google My Business profile. As the below screenshot from a dealership's GMB analytics shows, a large amount of searchers will discover your dealership through OEM brand keywords.

You're Completely Closed

Play 2: Focus on Retargeting

Whether you're open or closed, now is the time to focus on previous website visitors and in-market consumers. When adjusting your keyword strategy, be sure that you’re “owning” your own dealership brand keywords.

If anyone is searching for your company name, that means they are very high intent for your dealership specifically. That’s why it’s crucial that your ads show up for these queries.

You're Completely Closed

Play 3: Drive Traffic, and Convert More of It

Continuing to drive traffic to your site and vehicle detail pages will keep your funnel warm for those that were in the consideration stage before the pandemic and also build more top of funnel interest. Google has shown that if a customer has seen your ad, in search or display, they are more likely to click your organic listing in the future.

As you’re able, take this time to asses your website’s user experience and look for opportunities to optimize. Evaluate your most important conversion pages that have high exit rates in Google analytics, and start simplifying. Can you add more calls to action? Can you make it easier to contact you? Even small percentages in performance across your site will add up to a major impact.


Frequent Questions
We're Hearing from Auto Dealers

If I pause SEM for now, can I start back when the time is right?

While the consumer pool is smaller right now, you can actually use that to your advantage. A smaller consumer pool reflects a more competitive landscape which means every time you get in front of your potential customers could set you apart from your competitors. 

Instead of pausing, consider adjusting your marketing tactics to focus on retargeting and keeping your prospects warm.

If I pause SEM for now, will it impact my organic traffic or ranking?

Organic traffic may decrease this quarter with fewer shoppers, but that should not be because you are pausing SEM. However, instead of pausing we recommend running more branding and awareness campaigns to make sure your overall site traffic remains up as search traffic has been decreasing.

Is pausing my search engine marketing a good way to trim my budget for now?

One of the best parts of PPC marketing is that you don’t pay until someone clicks you ad. People will always need cars, and even if there are more barriers to purchase at this time, consumers are still be in market and looking for the right deal.

How has consumer sentiment changed?

A lot of people have shifted from the decision stage back up to the consideration stage, and now that they are home, they have a lot more time to do research. Consumers will be coming back into the market having done their research.

How can I adjust my advertising to better appeal to my customers right now?

The public is consuming a lot of social media and video right now. They are interacting with content in ways we’ve never seen before—presenting you with an interesting new opportunity for your business. Get creative! You can create new paid social advertising that includes a little bit of humor using just your smartphone. Your customers will appreciate that you are humanizing a process that many consumers deem cumbersome.

What are most dealers choosing to do so far?

Right now, dealers are responding to this situation differently depending on their circumstances. If there are orders by that specific state to close non-essential businesses, and automotive dealers in that state are deemed “non-essential”, our dealers have been switching to primarily awareness and retargeting-based campaigns.

It varies based on the state, but we have seen a large number of dealers continue to do what they are doing but have a stronger focus on deals, offers, financing, and incentives. Many of our clients are asking our team to update their websites and Google My Business pages to accurately reflect any updated hours, social distancing practices, and specials. In times like this, it is imperative to keep your audiences well informed about what you’re doing.

Many dealers are also rethinking how they use technology, including better utilizing video-chatting software to speak with clients face-to-face. In addition, they’re using technology to display vehicles talk about their features to aid in the selling process.

How should I change my messaging during this time?

The most important thing is to let your audience know how you’re doing. Let them know if you are open! When it comes to updating your ad copy, add incentives, offers, deals, and financing terms to your ads to increase the chance of receiving more views, clicks, and traffic. If your business is offering any specials or services, make sure that’s clearly outlined in your messaging.

What other changes can I make to my operations right now?

Take this time to do an audit of your business practices and see where improvements can be added. For example, you can operationalize your phone call quality to ensure customers are getting the best service possible. When necessary, forward calls to the most responsive person’s cell phone for prompt replies.

Reassure any potential customers that you are doing everything in your power to guarantee a safe car-buying experience.

Check with your provider or manufacturer to be certain your percentages of reimbursement haven’t changed. For instance, FCA just changed their Fixed Ops campaign reimbursement to 100%, which has not been an option in the past.

What is most important right now, messaging about safety or special offers?

Both are equally important to your potential customers. Make sure you’re being as honest and transparent about your business practices as possible.

Manufacturers are getting more aggressive than ever before! Go back to your customer database and call anyone who has purchased from you within the past year. Let them know you can lower their interest rate significantly. Some folks are financing at 10-20%, so they would appreciate any improvement you can offer.

Moving Forward

There will be winners that emerge from the current uncertainty, and it will be those that pivot to their fundamental tactics to respond to shifts in online behavior while taking some calculated risks to meet consumers where they are.

Whether you're open, focusing on service, or completely closed, your digital budget can work harder for you than ever before if you pursue the right tactics.

Get in touch today to discuss your digital strategy with the Netsertive Automotive team.