NEW ORLEANS: Inventory search is significantly more cost-effective and more likely to recruit real shoppers than search engine optimisation, at least in the US auto industry, according to new research.

LotLinx, a direct-linking technology platform, conducted a study among 55 nationally representative dealerships, comparing Google AdWords' campaigns against a strategy that linked inventory results on over 100 leading auto vertical search sites.

It found that while Google AdWords drove more visitors, in terms of clicks per dealership (736 vs. 489), inventory syndication at shopping search sites drove more shoppers (489 vs. 233), where a shopper was defined as someone navigating to a dealership site via a specific inventory listing, or someone going on to view a vehicle detail page (VDP) at the dealer's site.

Len Short, founder of LotLinx noted that dealerships continued to spend billions of dollars on search engine marketing, despite the profound changes in consumer behaviour and the shopping funnel over the past decade.

He claimed that inventory search was now the leading online auto shopping activity."Dealerships may still be refining their AdWords strategy," he said, "but this new research clearly shows that they also need to aggressively expose their inventory outside general search, concentrating on shopping search platforms where 85% of car shoppers find the inventory that leads to a lot visit."

The survey found that all visitors delivered via inventory postings at auto vertical sites could be identified as real shoppers, more than three times the rate of visitors from AdWords, where two thirds of ad-clicks resulted in a "bounce", or non-shopping activity, such as seeking service or contact information. These shoppers were also more likely to be new customers (94% vs 81%).

A narrow focus on cost-per-click metrics, said LotLinx, was obscuring the need to look at new metrics that should be added to all AdWords and digital marketing performance.

In particular, it highlighted two measures where its research showed major differences: cost per shopper was 19 times more expensive using Google ($73 vs. $3.95), while cost per VDP view was six times more expensive ($18.55 vs. $3.17).

General search still had a role to play in the early part of the shopping journey, however, as the research indicated buyers relied on Google at the 'discovery' stage up to six months before actual purchase.

Separately, researchers Frost & Sullivan expected that by 2020, 60-70% of new car sales leads were likely to be generated by a digital platform, whether websites, mobile sites, social media or apps.

Data sourced from PR Newswire; additional content by Warc staff