The Online Impact of Toyota’s Recalls to Date

In late January, Toyota US announced it would recall about 2.3million vehicles over defective accelerator pedals and floor mats.  Unless you live under a rock, you’ve heard about this recall not only because it’s been all over the news, but because you or someone you know owns a Toyota that is affected.  They are, after all, among the world’s largest auto manufacturers.

Compete investigated the extent to which the recall has impacted consumer online behavior.   First we looked at overall traffic to Toyota.com, assuming that was one of the first places people turned to for more information.  Traffic to Toyota.com nearly doubled from the week of January 17 to the week of January 24 (when the news was released), reaching a period high of over 1.2million unique visitors.

Next, we looked at the volume of searches on relevant terms across the major search engines. Specifically, we quantified the volume of all searches that contained "Toyota" or the name of an affected Toyota model AND the word "recall."Â  That includes the simple "Toyota recall" but also derivatives of that, such as "Toyota gas pedal recall," "Camry recall," "Toyota floor mat recall," etc.   Search volume peaked the same week as traffic, at nearly 600,000 searches.  The ramp-up in search volume from the week prior is one way to measure the speed at which the news has spread.

The next step was to evaluate the connection between traffic and search volume.  In the month of January, 12% of all search referred traffic to Toyota.com came from keyword searches containing the word "Recall" (not shown).   In other words, more than 1 in 10 visitors who used search before visiting Toyota.com were searching for Toyota recall information immediately before reaching the Toyota site.

Looking downstream at the ~600,000 searches performed during the week of January 24th, 110,000+ people next visited Toyota.com or Toyotanation.com.  A large share also went to news sites or news and social media sites (i.e., cnn.com, associatedcontent.com, wsj.com, facebook.com, myspace.com, gather.com).

The good news for Toyota is that they have the opportunity to directly influence the large pool of searchers that next visit Toyota.com.  This may be a strategically important damage control opportunity.  The bad news is that the majority (80%) do not visit a Toyota site next, which puts Toyota less in control of its own destiny and more at the mercy of the internet in general.

To understand the magnitude of this issue (now and its ultimate shelf-life) automakers need to track both search and site visits and overlap.  In addition, the analysis could be augmented to include behavior beyond referrals (i.e. visits across sites, days and sessions).  The next step would be to include an assessment of the impact on overall demand and cross-shopping.  The combination of these is among the best ways to gauge the true magnitude of the impact, Toyota’s ability to manage, and the length and size of opportunities for rivals.

About JackieODowd:
Jackie is a marketing consultant for Compete with over 10 years client service and consulting experience in automotive, travel and youth marketing. Jackie holds a Master’s from Northwestern University in Integrated Marketing Communications and has been part of the Compete team for longer than she can remember. When she isn’t writing for Compete, Jackie spends her time running around after her kids, sampling organic wines and pondering life’s questions like…’can I throw this away without anyone noticing?’ You can connect with Jackie on LinkedIn or Twitter.