Unlocking the key to words that make the phone ring

Car dealers and manufacturers spend a significant amount of their PPC budget on place based keywords. Is this worthwhile and what are the appropriate keywords to bid on? In this article we analyse a car dealer’s keyword data to show how geographic-based keywords drive phone calls.


Car dealers spend a significant amount of their PPC budget on keywords that they think are relevant to customers who might be searching for their dealership.

Following Google’s decision to remove keyword data from natural search, it has become much more difficult to understand what keywords customers use in natural search.

Fortunately this data hasn’t completely disappeared. Using Mediahawk’s dynamic number solution we can still provide keyword data from other search engines (Yahoo, Bing, etc.) and also occasionally Google. This data shows the combination of words that drive traffic and make the phone ring.


Sinclair Group is a car retailer that is over 75 years old. They have 22 dealerships representing Audi, Mercedes, SEAT, Skoda, Smart and Volkswagen across the major towns of South Wales such as Cardiff, Swansea and Bridgend. The Sinclair Group have been using Mediahawk’s call tracking for over five years to help them with their marketing and operational effectiveness.

Sinclair use Mediahawk’s dynamic numbers on their website to understand what user behaviour makes their phone ring. This article takes Sinclair’s keyword data to show (in percentage terms) what the most popular keywords are that drive telephone response and visits.

  • When looking at the keywords, we analysed the data based on the following categories:
  • Whether a manufacturer’s brand was used in the search term
  • Whether Sinclair’s brand was in a search term
  • Whether a town name was in a search term
  • Whether a particular vehicle model or the term ‘used’ featured in a search term
  • Other – all the other search categories were bought together

The results

The data was analysed to see which keywords and phrases generated the most phone calls. Finally the most popular key phrases were analysed to compare how many visits they generated and whether these led onto phone calls.

Most popular keywords to drive phone calls

Most popular keywords bar graph.

Not surprisingly the most popular keyword to generate phone calls was the manufacturer’s brand. This was used in over 80% of all phrases – and 50% of the time it was the first word used in a search. Interestingly, the use of a town name (i.e. Swansea) was almost as popular within a key phrase. The Sinclair Group are well known within South Wales, with a strong heritage and brands, so it’s not surprising that their name was used within 40% of the keyword phrases – with 30% of searches featuring their name as the first keyword.

Most popular phrase combinations to drive phone calls

Most popular search combinations pie chart.

Here we looked at the most popular phrase combination that drives phone calls. The bulk of these came from a combination of the manufacturer, town or Sinclair’s name. The most popular was manufacturer and town (i.e. ‘Mercedes Cardiff’) at 38% followed by Sinclair, manufacturer and town (i.e. ‘Sinclair Mercedes Cardiff’ at 15%.)

Over 50% of all phone calls are generated by these two keyword combinations. The top five phrases represent nearly 75% of all keyword combinations for generating calls (See graph above).

Top keywords for driving visits compared to phone calls

Top keywords bar graph.

This graph looks at the likelihood of a key phrase converting into a phone call. It can be seen that, in aggregate, some keywords generate lots of traffic (such as ‘used Mercedes’) but this does not translate into a call.

The keyword that is most efficient at converting traffic into calls is manufacturer followed by town – e.g. ‘Mercedes Cardiff’.

Although not shown, long tail words that deep link are also extremely effective at converting traffic. If a visitor uses keywords based on a specific vehicle (e.g. ‘VW Passat 140 tdi‘) this will have a very high conversion rate.

The importance of spelling

Where manufacturers have names that are difficult to spell or have slang terms such as shortening Mercedes to Merc or Volkswagen to VW then these need to be taken into account when reviewing keyword strategy. Looking at the terms Mercedes and Volkswagen, we noted the following:

How VW was written in key words (percentage)

VW keywords pie chart.

How Mercedes was written (percentage)

Mercedes keywords pie chart.

It’s interesting to see that, despite Volkswagen spending millions on their name and forcing their dealers never to use the term “VW”, consumers think differently. 58% of searches were for ‘VW’, while ‘Volkswagen’ was only used in 35% of searches.

A surprising number of people misspelt Mercedes (14%) but only 4% shortened the term to ‘Merc’. When they did this, it was always with another word attached (i.e. ‘Sinclair Merc’ or ‘Cardiff Merc’).


Using Mediahawk’s dynamic numbers, Sinclair have the ability to really understand the customer journey and what natural keywords are most effective at driving traffic and conversions. This can then allow them to be more focused on their SEO and PPC strategy, so that they can:

  1. Reduce their bids on manufacturers brand, town, retail brand where they dominate this phrase on natural search and Google Business listings.
  2. Bid against misspelt keywords if they do not dominate the natural search position.
  3. Capture the high converting long tail key phrases by deep linking to relevant pages within their website.

About the author - Harry Bott

Harry Bott, Director at Mediahawk, has over 20 years of experience helping marketers generate a better response from their marketing. He has enabled businesses to improve their conversion rates through his consultative approach and deep understanding across various sectors, including automotive and care homes.

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