With digital advertising expected to overtake its TV counterpart by 2017, search has grown to occupy nearly half of marketers’ digital budgets. For Auto brands, search plays an especially vital role, accounting for most desktop site traffic. However, L2’s Cannibalizing Search report finds that brand sites regularly fall behind third-party counterparts in both organic and paid search.

In organic search, Auto brands regularly fail to break into the top 10 first-page results for 194 generic auto-related terms. During the period tracked, the best-performing Auto site, Toyota.com, only appeared in the organic first-page results for 4% of searches. In contrast, Edmunds.com appeared on the first page for 56% of searches – demonstrating how third-party sites for news, reviews and used car listings are beating brands at their own game.

Auto search

Many brands seek to counter that loss by investing in paid search. However, bidding on highly competitive search terms can be a costly endeavor. Chevrolet, which has the greatest visibility of all Auto brands in the study, spends an estimated $870,000 per month on more than 8,000 branded and non-branded keywords – and still falls behind third-party sites.  KBB.com and Edmunds.com each appear in 20% of paid results, while Chevrolet only appears in 14%.

To gain dominance against these third-party counterparts, Auto brands must employ more aggressive SEO strategies. Rather than rely on brand terms to drive their organic search performance, the study suggests that brands work on optimizing non-brand term performance, such as by adding rich alt-text and metadata to images and video transcripts.

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