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Automotive Internet Sales and Google’s ZMOT for Car Dealerships

By now, nearly everyone has heard of ZMOT and how it might possibly be relevant for the automotive industry. In case you haven’t, ZMOT stands for “Zero Moment of Truth,” a concept developed by Google. It states that today, decisions on brand selection are happening before a consumer arrives at a store to make a purchasing decision. This also applies to how consumers shop for a car. This might not sound like anything new; we have all heard from NADA, JD Power & Associates, Cobalt, Autotrader and the OEMs that almost everyone goes online before they step into the dealership.

Personally, I’ve been immersed in Automotive Internet Sales for more than 13 years. So, the fact that people are going online first isn’t a huge revelation — it is what it is. However, what has evolved is what is happening and why. People are finding out about a product or business (whether they know the URL or not). To be specific, more than 72 percent of all transactions start online, from one-dollar transactions to jet engines. The first place people go to is search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.), or they may something on TV, radio, see something on a billboard or in a newspaper, magazine or hear about a product from a friend. In any event, they wind up on search engines relatively quickly. People believe that they will get the “real deal” on what they are looking for. “If it is on Google, it must be real,” they think.

So, the consumer will do the initial research on the product or service online. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are accessing the Internet from a home computer or laptop. They can be accessing the information through their mobile device like an iPhone or Android. The next logical step for the prospect is to validate that information even further. Prospects can (and do) go to a myriad of review sites such as Google Places, Dealer Online Reputation, Yelp, Merchant Circle, Edmunds Dealer Reviews and Reviews, just to name a few. The consumer wants to make sure that they do not waste their time with bad choices. They have access to too much information for them to have to deal with headaches. Take for example a couple choosing where to go eat out for their once a week “date night.” If you only had one time a week you were going out with your spouse because you have three kids, a puppy, a career, etc., try to imagine how someone will feel when they are spending $20,000, $30,000, $40,000 or more. That is why 80 percent of consumers say that peer reviews influence their buying decisions. An automotive purchase is usually the second most expensive thing the average human being will ever buy in their lifetime, next to a home. But there is another variable: social media. Consumers will also go to their social networks and ask their “friends and followers” thoughts, opinions on products or services before they ever go to the store or the dealership.

I am going to focus on online reputation for the rest of this article, and the next article I will dive deeper into the other parts of automotive ZMOT strategy.

Dealerships need to make it mandatory to collect client reviews and testimonials from both sales and service. It is not enough to simply “suggest” to your team to try to get a review or testimonial. You need to make it part of the standard operating procedure. You might want to create incentives for your team, for example:

• Whoever gets the most reviews wins a reward (gift card or cash, etc.)

• Whoever gets the most video testimonials wins a reward


You can create a mini-survey (maybe three to four questions) at delivery (mandatory). For example:


1. How would you rate your experience at the dealership from 1 to 5 (5 being the highest)?

2. Did I (sales consultant) exceed your expectations? If so, how?

3. What did you like (or appreciate) the most in this experience in purchasing this vehicle?

4. Would you recommend me and this dealership to everyone / anyone?

You should then have at the bottom of the survey a legal disclaimer (have an attorney draw up a simple disclaimer) that says that they (the customer) give you full permission to post (or use) this (review/testimonial) anyway and anywhere you want. By doing this, you can repost or repurpose all of these reviews to all of the relevant reputation sites like:

• Google places

* Local Business Rater

* Dealer Online Reputation

• Merchant circle

• Yelp

• Edmunds reviews

• City Search

• Yellow Pages

• A review blog you’ve created yourself

It is TRUE that some review sites are IP Address specific and do NOT allow a client to post a review at the dealership, Here is the reality... there are a LOT of ways around that. 

*** Please understand what I am saying here... I am NOT advocating using fake reviews or irrelevant reviews. I am saying ONLY to use REAL reviews that REAL clients give you and give you permission to use. 

Try to image if every salesperson and service writer made 100-percent attempts to collect testimonials both in text as well as video, and you posted (syndicated) them to all of the relevant places online. In a short matter of time, you will be able to dominate the search engines with a ton of positive reviews.

I want to show you a quick example of a highline dealership that has bad online reputation. I happen to think they are an awesome store (and they are not a client). I serviced my brand-new vehicle there and I was so impressed with their service that I felt bad for their bad online reputation. On my own, as simply a customer, I shot a quick positive video review and posted it to YouTube and did the proper video optimization. Now, when you Google them, my video shows up prominently on the first page of Google (just Google “Cherry Hill Porsche”). That is just me as a client — can you image if this dealership did what I did? Their online reputation will turn around very quickly!


Here is another screen shot:

If you have any questions about this article, Google’s concept of “Zero Moment of Truth” / automotive ZMOT or how you can better equip your dealership (or individual sales consultant) to dominate with a positive online reputation, please feel free to call or e-mail me.


Sean V. Bradley is the founder and CEO of Dealer Synergy, a nationally recognized training and consulting company in the automotive industry. He can be contacted at 856-264-0564, or by e-mail at

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Recently Google created a Tsunami of change by integrating Google Places into organic search results. Dealers called me to ask what I thought these changes would have to their Automotive SEO strategies. I was not quick to answer because I think that Google is still refining their balancing act of SEO, SEM, and Google Places.

With that said, I am feeling much better about the changes that are in play. I was worried that the new Google Places integration would start at the top of organic listings which would favor websites connected to a Google Places page. From what I can see, Google is still rewarding exact match domain names and highly optimized websites before the “mosh pit” (in green) is displayed.

In the example below, a broad search phrase like “Los Angeles Dealers” produces a list of car dealers that have Google Maps, but before those listings, three company websites appear.

Los Angeles Car Dealers

In the search results shown above, you can see that an “exact match” domain with good content, links, and relevance PRECEDES the massive block of results shown in green that are enhanced by Google Places data. You can also see the other two websites that rank above the Google Places block are not slackers at all: and

Google SERP Find Exact Matches First

I’ve said this before and will repeat it again, Google always tries to present, on a search results page (SERP), the best matching assets in its database. Google, Yahoo, and Bing all weight exact matching domains very high as long as the websites have relevant content. Redirected domains that are not hosted will never appear in search results so all those parked domains you may own are not helping you. It may be time to get those parked domains on a real content publishing strategy!

Don’t Forget The Stars

When Google integrated Google Places, the normal 8-10 organic listings were changed dramatically which created a “jump ball” once again in the search marketing Olympics.

I would like to remind all car dealers that they MUST develop a comprehensive Internet Reputation Management (IRM) strategy to increase participation of their clients to posted reviews. My recommendation is that a successful dealer should have TWICE the number of positive reviews “stars” of their nearest competitor. That may be harder in years to come but all dealers should have a few HUNDRED reviews posted from authentic customers.

Testing Search Results Start To Show A Trend

From recent testing that I have done, websites hosted on great domain names may actually have an edge over local car dealer websites. Take a look at the search listed below. The websites that Google felt were best matches and NOT in Google Places were listed first. Then the local dealers were listed.

Once again, the TOP websites above the integrated and enhanced Google Places organic listings are two heavyweight contenders and Yahoo Autos. For the car industry, the bigger, more established inventory advertising websites could be getting more traffic because they are NOT in the green Google Places area and shown at the top of the page.

Miami Used Cars

This trend continues as you type in even broader searches, and you can see that websites that are EXACT matching or that have high SEO inbound links on targeted keywords, appear on Google Page One before the Google Places block. So, in essence, Automotive SEO strategies are still in tact and dealers that have EXACT matching microsites with great content are getting a boost.

The Future Automotive SEO

Since I am an advocate of Automotive Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategies, you would expect me to defend this marketing strategy but I will be the first to say that the changes with Google Places is still a dynamic event. I’ll keep you posted on what I find and make recommendations to take advantage of opportunities I see.

About the Author

Brian Pasch

Brian Pasch is the CEO of the PCG Digital Marketing and an active writer for the automotive community.

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