Dealers may have thought Google Ad Words was all they needed to master to play in local search. But a monkey wrench has been thrown into that thinking.

Now, Google Mobile Indexing (GMI) essentially guides mobile search to the closest option.

For example, search Chevy, and the closest Chevy dealers would pop up on your phone’s “3-pack” screen of local businesses. Note that I said closest and not “best,” “largest” or “highest-rated.”

This opens an issue in which large regional dealers could suddenly get out-marketed by smaller dealerships in some geographic areas. Most large dealership principals would have an issue with this fact, and they should. Larger stores often pull buyer traffic from 60 to 100 miles (96 to 160 km) away.

Some marketing experts say GMI will make mobile shopping better for the consumer. Others say this is simply Google taking away something marketers got for free only to come back and “upsell” advertisers later.

GMI assumes something about being “local” that does not apply to many industries. After all, do you personally choose companies to do business with simply because they are close to your home or place of business?

Examples of GMI beneficiaries could be Chinese food take-outs and dry cleaners. But businesses selling large big-ticket products such as car dealerships are set up to lose out.

So what to do?

First, if you haven’t already, adopt a mobile-first approach in all your marketing. This includes broadcast. Use your TV creative and media tactics that promote mobile use. Buff up your mobile searching with tools such as  geofencing and pre-roll with video shot in distant towns (where you could first be losing presence because of GMI).

Second, buy the competition’s keywords. Yes Google allows this and someone may already be buying your key words right now.

Third, test-search your dealership when you are at or near it. Then retest when you are across town. See if Google already rolled this out in your city. (It will not share launch details.)

I’ve heard several large names in the car business lamenting that they never even see their own advertising and that going “all digital” was a tactical error they need to fix in 2018.

If you want a forecast, I predict this situation will lead auto dealers back to using more local broadcast television to shore up lost exposure regionally. I agree when dealers say they need to do a better job visually promoting their mobile search as a first step.

One thing is for sure: Nothing is ever stable and predictable in digital advertising and marketing.

Adam Armbruster is a senior partner in the business-growth firm Eckstein, Summers, Armbruster & Company located in Red Bank, NJ. He can be reached at 941-928-7192.