1. How Automotive Shoppers use Search Engines

  2. Paid Search for Automotive Dealers

  3. Difference between Paid Search and Organic Search

  4. Best Way to get in front of Vehicle Shoppers

  5. Why Google

  6. Google Ads for Automotive Paid Search

  7. Setting up your Campaign

  8. Google Ad Rank

  9. Google Ad Targeting and Keywords for the Modern Automotive Dealer

  10. Google Ad Campaign Structure

  11. Ad Extensions for Automotive Dealers

  12. Do-It-Yourself vs Agency (or Partner)

  13. Summary 

There are 98,000 Google Searches Every Second 

Pretty incredible right? And the fun part about this, as soon I you read that number, it's already higher. Check out this link to see where it is when you read this sentence. For context, 5-years ago, that number was 48,000. 

Search represents the highest form of intent, and there's absolutely no better place to start than creating a solid search strategy. It’s important to make sure that Paid Search is a part of your overall automotive marketing strategy. 


98,000 Google Searches Every Second

How Automotive Shoppers Use Search Engines

We’ve all used a search engine by now. And rely on them throughout the day. There are three different kinds of ways that people use search engines: Do (Action queries), Know (Searching for information), and Go (Specific destination). Let’s take a quick look at each of them. 

1. Do Action Queries

This usually geared toward transactional content. These are very high quality, end of buying cycle queries. The searcher knows what they want to find, and they have real buying intent if they can find something which closely matches their query. In a search and content strategy, you want to make sure that these pages are prioritized in order to make increase the likelihood of generating visits via these searches.

What Car Should I Buy Google Search

2. Know Queries

Searching for Information. If there’s a targeted audience of potential customers who are looking to find quick and easy answers to provide knowledge, make sure you can help them. It might not lead to a sale but hopefully it’s enough to get their attention and maybe even capture their contact details via a newsletter mailing list or blog subscription. That way, if you can provide something of value for them, when that time comes for them to make a relevant purchase, there’s much more chance they’ll remember you.

What New Car Should I Buy Google Search


3. Go Queries

They’ve been to your website before. They remember your brand name and now they want to go back. So they search for it. It can be very easy to safely assume you’ve got all of your branded queries all wrapped up. After all it’s your brand, why would Google rank anything else above this. You might be right, but don’t just assume this.

Ford Dealer Near Me Search Example


Search Marketing or Automotive Dealers

Search marketing is usually broken into two different buckets: 1. Paid Search and 2. Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Check out our ultimate guide to SEO here. We are going to focus on Paid Search specifically in this guide.

You may have heard it called PPC (Pay Per Click), or CPC (Cost-Per-Click). It’s all the same stuff. It basically leverages an online advertising platform used to direct targeted traffic to websites through a Search network. 

You can pay every time someone clicks on your ad. Essentially, it’s a way of buying visits to your site, rather than attempting to “earn” those visits organically. It allows dealers to bid for ad placement in a search engine's search results when someone searches on a keyword that is related to their business offering. For example, if we bid on the keyword “Ford Dealer Near Me” our ad might show up in the very top spot on the Google results page.

Every time our ad is clicked, sending a visitor to our website, we have to pay the search engine a small price for the click. When search marketing is working correctly, the price is trivial, because the visit is worth more than what you pay for it. In other words, if you pay $3 for a click, but the click results in a $300 sale, then that’s clearly worth it. 

The most common search networks are Google Adwords, Bing (MSN, Yahoo). You only pay when someone clicks on your ad and your budget determines the amount of targeted clicks to your dealer’s website. 

Difference Between Paid Search and Organic

Paid Search Results
Generally, paid search ads will show up at the top and sometimes bottom of a search results page. Their descriptions are short and often include a call to action and will have the word AD beside them. 

Organic Search Results
These are listings on search engine results pages due to complex algorithms that your site must follow. You’ve probably heard these as “natural” listings at some point in the time. But these are usually the results that show up after the first 2 to 3 paid search results on a search results page. 

Visual Showing Paid Search Ads and Organic Search Listings


Best Way to Get in Front of Vehicle Shoppers

Of course, this is a matter of opinion, but paid search is one of the best ways to get in front of vehicle shoppers. It gives you fast and me asurable results and can see results instantly. You can also learn which ads are converting and driving leads into your dealership, and which ones aren’t. You can also get further insights with Google Analytics so that you can learn more about the customer’s behavior. 

You have much more control with paid search compared to SEO and you can easily monitor, analyze and make changes to your campaign. Also, you can accurately target your customers ensuring that your ads are primarily seen by the most appropriate audience since you get to choose the exact keywords, geography, and time of day. 

Why Google?

Since Google has such a dominant market share, most dealerships start with Google paid search and after they have reached certain search goals (impression share mainly or share of voice), they will often consider adding Microsoft Ads (what used to be called Bing). But we’re going to spend our time talking about Google Ads.

Graph showing Search Engine Market Share

Google Ads Logo

Anatomy of a Google Paid Search Ad


Google Ads for Automotive Paid Search

Google Ads is made up of mainly the search network, display network, and video (YouTube) network. We’ll focus on the search network here. Check out our other guides for display and video. 

Google paid search ads are short, text ads that are displayed when someone is actively searching for your dealership using certain keywords that are relative to your automotive dealership, your dealership’s specific brands, or the other services that you provide at your dealership. 

The steps to create a Google Paid Search ad are quite simple. And someone at your dealership or dealership group will be doing this, or likely you have a digital marketing partner or vendor that does this on your behalf. The steps are as follows and we plan to cover this at a fairly high level. There are a lot of good resources and platforms that specialize in this area. 


Setting Up Your Google Campaign


1. Create your campaign

2. Research and enter relevant keywords related to your products or services

3. Place a bid on each keyword

4. Write short ads that Google will show on their search results page 

5. A user comes across your ad by searching for one of your keywords.

6. They click on your ad, and depending on your bid, you will pay a certain amount for that click. 

7. That click takes them to a destination URL of some sort. Often a vehicle detail page, a specific landing page, or some other destination on your website. 

Automotive Digital Marketing

As you read more about Search Marketing for Automotive Dealers, make that you've the Foundations Guide along with all the other supporting tactics like Email Marketing, Social Media Marketing, and Display. 


How Does Google Bidding Work? 

Again, you likely will have someone that handles this on your behalf so this may go into too much detail of how Google Paid Search works. But we’re including this here so that you can dig in as much as you like to fully understand how this important marketing tactic works and how it can help support the overall marketing strategy for your dealership. For more on overall marketing strategy, check out our Ultimate Guide to Automotive Digital Marketing Fundamentals. 

First step is to choose your budget. Figure out how much you want to spend each month for your paid search campaign. That monthly budget will be spent evenly throughout the month. Once your budget is set, enter the Google Ads auction and place maximum bids on selected keywords. Your competitors, your site’s quality score, and how high you want to rank will all factor into your bidding price

Once your campaign starts, analyze your adwords campaign and analytics data to help determine which keywords and which ads are performing best with what specific geographic target area. Be able to analyze how your website is converting website traffic into completed forms (i.e., your coveted lead). Adjust your campaign and web page to improve results. Conceptually, it’s that simple.

Google Ad Rank

Once you enter the Google auction, Google determines your rank by looking at 2 factors: your maximum bid and your quality score.  

Ad Rank Formula

How is your Google quality score determined? It’s determined by a number of different factors. 


Google Quality Score Factors

And has the following impact on how much you are going to pay (CPC) for each click on your paid search ad. 

Google Quality Score

Google Quality Score

How does Google determine what you pay?

AdRank plays a huge role in determining the actual cost-per-click that your competitors pay when someone clicks on their ads. You pay the minimum amount you can pay for the position you win if your ad is clicked on. Notice how Advertiser 1 pays less for their higher ranking, due to their high quality score

Google Keyword Price

Google Keyword Auction Example


Google Ad Targeting for the Automotive Dealer

When it comes to Google paid search, the primary way to target people is through the specific keywords that they enter into their Google search. We’ll get into that in a minute. But you can also apply that keyword targeting to specific geographic areas that are relevant to the location of your dealership. Things like: Country, Province, Cities, Zip Codes, and / or Specific Neighborhoods 

Google Keywords for Automotive Dealers

When it comes to which keywords to use, a good place to start is looking at which keywords are driving traffic to your website. You can see this in Google Analytics. Then see which of those keywords are actually converting traffic on your website. Start there. 

Negative Keywords
Also, remove irrelevant search terms that could waste clicks by using negative keywords. Recalls are always a good place to start so that you aren’t showing up when people are searching for recalls for a specific brand. You don’t want to show up for those types of searches. 

Time Placement
Choose what time and days your ads are shown. Or allocate your budgets accordingly on busier days or day parts. This is specifically related to your service center. Maybe your service bays are full in the morning but ghost town in the afternoon. You can daypart your search campaign to only show up say from 2pm - 6pm for your service specific campaign. 

You can choose whether or not you would like your ads to be shown on computers, tablets, or mobile devices 

Google Ad Structure

Now, comes the rather dry section. But want to walk through basic building blocks of a Google Paid Search campaign. We’ll cover the basics of building out an awesome Google Ads account structure in five parts:

  • The Campaign Level
  • The Ad Group Level
  • Keyword Selection
  • Ad Copy
  • Ad Extensions

Here's the basic structure for Google Ads

Google Ad Account Structure. Campaign Level

Let's walk through each level so that you can better understand what each one does and doesn't do. 

Google Campaign Level

Screen Shot 2021-12-14 at 2.30.54 PM

First, you need to lay a solid foundation for the rest of your account. So we'll start with campaign type. Ask yourself, what is your advertising goal? Most businesses will want to start with a search campaign. If you’re trying to generate awareness for a completely new dealership, then display campaigns are a great option. You can also create multiple campaign types to satisfy multiple goals.

When those decisions are made, it’s time to consider your campaign settings:

  • Location Targeting
  • Language Targeting - Any language customers speak
  • Bid Strategy - Automatic vs. Manual
  • Budget

Budget. Where to start? First, you need to know how Google spends your money. Your monthly budget is your daily budget x 30.4. So, start with a monthly budget and work backwards (divide by 30.4). Consider: Based on your estimated CPC (cost per click), how many clicks per day can your budget support? Here’s a solid link to check out on setting your budget. It's well worth the read. 

Google Ad Group Level 

Screen Shot 2021-12-14 at 2.33.51 PM

Next up, is the Ad Group Level. Here you can: 

  • Create the structure within each campaign
  • Are organized by theme
  • Control keyword / ad association

Golden Ratios of Ad Groups

How big should an ad group be? Here are some guidelines to follow when determining the size of your ad groups:

  • Max of 7-10 ad groups per campaign
  • Max of ~20 keywords per ad group
  • 2-3 ads per ad group

Of course, there will be exceptions to these rules, but for most dealers, these are solid guidelines to make sure your ad groups don’t get bloated and difficult to manage.

Google Keyword Selection

Google Campaign Structure. Ad Group Level

Don’t rely on your instincts here – use keyword tools to do your keyword research so you’ll know for sure that you’re bidding on keywords with enough search volume. Google Ads Keyword Planner is available within your Google Ads account, and you can also use free keyword tools or third-party paid options. Also, as mentioned, Google Analytics is a good place to start because those keywords are specific to your dealership. 

Generally speaking, very broad terms don’t show much intent, and can have very low click-through and conversion rates, and high CPA's (cost-per-action or cost-per-acquisition)

Search Intent Examples. Good and Bad

Keyword match types are a way of defining how the keywords in your campaign can match up with the queries people search on Google. There are four keyword match types to choose from, shown below from least to most restrictive:

  • Broad match: Your ad may match to any generally related search, including synonyms. For example, if you bid with broad match on “used vehicle,” your ad might show when someone searches for “pre-owned truck.”
  • Modified broad match: This match type is a little more restrictive; your ad will only match when the search term includes words that you designate with a plus sign. However, the words can be in any order. More on this match type here.
  • Phrase match: The keyword must include the terms you’re bidding on uninterrupted and in order, but may include other terms before or after.
  • Exact match: Self-explanatory

Google Ad Copy

Google Ad Account Structure. Ad Level

Now we come to the fun part, writing your ad copy – the part of your account that most people are actually going to see. First, a reminder that we’re living in an Expanded Text Ad world. So-called ETA’s are now the default ad type, and they’re about twice as big as Google text ads used to be.

Ad Copy A/B Testing
It’s crucial to run tests on your ads so you can find the text/creative that resonates most with your audience, driving more clicks and conversions for lower costs. Specific numbers often drive clicks, but might also help you qualify your audience (weeding out people who aren’t truly in your market, for example if you offer a luxury line of vehicles).

Writing conversion-friendly ad copy
Make sure you’re setting the table for conversions. A couple of tips:

Use self-selecting ad copy – As mentioned above, including pricing info can help you reach your best audience and avoid clicks from non-buyers.

Match your call to action (CTA) to your landing page – When the same CTA appears in your ad and on your landing page, people are in the right mindset to convert before you even pay for the click.

Google Ad Extensions for the Automotive Dealer

Ad Extensions
Ad extensions are a foolproof way to make your ad more enticing – they garner high CTR’s (click-through-rates) at no added cost to you

Which extensions should I use?
There are many ad extensions available with new ones popping up all the time. Not all of them are going to be right for your account.

Here are some of our favorite extensions that we have seen work well for automotive dealerships: Sitelinks, Callout extensions, Call extensions, Location extensions, and Price Extensions (e.g., $19.95 oil change)

Google Ads. 17 Search Extensions

Online advertising is very competitive and businesses will do anything to get an edge on the competition. Especially true with PPC advertising. After all, each search results page only allows a limited number of PPC ads, so qualified clicks are valuable. Google offers advertisers a variety of ad extensions to help increase ad rank and click-through rate. Extensions effectively give you more space on the search results page if your ad qualifies. Or, as Google Ads states, “extensions create more reasons to click your ad.” Google Ads gives priority to the top ad positions when displaying extensions, positioned on the left side above all organic listings. 

It’s worth mentioning these extensions don’t cost you anything extra. They are built-in features that help you increase your visibility, click-through rate, and post-click landing page views. Therefore, any time an extension is clicked, you pay the same amount that you would if a user clicked your headline. Some extensions are clickable with hyperlinks, others are not. But they all offer a chance for your ad to be more enticing for users to click if you use them correctly.

Google Ads. 17 Search Extensions. Setting Up

Once you log into Google Ads, use the following sequence to set up extensions:

1. Select your campaign or ad group

2. Click the “Ads &  Extensions” tab on the left, the “Extensions” tab across the top, and then the large + sign to create a new extension

3. From the drop-down menu that appears, select the extension you want to create (hovering over each extension will show a brief description of what it does)

Sitelink Extensions
These extensions are clickable and it’s best to link them to specific pages thematically related to the text. For example, a pricing page, testimonials, or a free demo work very well here. Simply adding and enabling sitelinks has shown to give advertisers about an 8% uplift in CTR (click-through-rate). This may not seem like much, but when you consider that extensions improve your quality score, lower your costs, and help improve position. Why wouldn’t you use them?

Location Extensions
These are also hyperlinked and clickable, which naturally draws more attention. A location extension is listed on its own separate line – effectively increasing the entire ad’s size. Plus, on mobile they provide a link with directions to your business. A cool feature of location extensions is store visit attribution. If you have verified your dealership through Google My Business, then you will be able to connect who clicked on your paid search ad and then drove to your dealership. Oftentimes, people won’t submit a lead through your website and just show up at the store. This helps demonstrate return on your paid search spend if people show up to your dealership and buy a car or have their car serviced there. 

Affiliate Location Extensions
If your products are sold through retail chains, affiliate location extensions can help you reach consumers as they’re deciding what and where to buy. This type of ad extension works by helping people find nearby stores that sell your products. How they work. Here’s how affiliate location extensions could help you win new customers on the Search Network:

1. Someone searches on Google for a product
2. Your ad shows with your affiliate location extension
3. The person sees the nearest store that sells your product, either as an address or on a map
4. On mobile, the person can tap to get directions to the store
5. The person heads right to the store and buys your product


Call Extensions
This is exactly what it sounds like. Include a number in your ad that people can click-to-call. Call extensions on mobile devices will have a phone icon for users to click-to-call. Either way, Google offers call conversion tracking in order for businesses to track their call extension data.

Message Extensions
Message extensions are ideal because many people prefer text messaging over calling. This type of extension displays on mobile devices, and only to devices capable of sending and receiving text messages. You can add Message extensions at the account, campaign, ad group, or ad level.

App Extensions
App extensions will only appear if the user is on a mobile device. The link is located below the ad’s text or to the right. Depending on your device, when you click the CTA button, it directs you to your appropriate app downloading service (App Store or Google Play). However, if your primary goal is to drive app downloads, app promotion ads (which link directly to apps exclusively) may be the better option.

Callout Extensions
These are additional descriptive text that allow you to “callout” features or services. Like previous examples, these also increase the size of your ad giving you an additional line of benefit-oriented text.

Price Extensions
Price extensions allow you to better showcase your services, products, and pricing, by linking search users directly to those sections of your site. They appear below text ads on both desktop and mobile, displaying as a set of up to 8 cards that people can view to see different options and prices. These work well for monthly new car offers (e.g., $299 / month, 0% APR for 60-months) and also service offers (e.g., $19.95 oil change). 

Promotion Extensions
Promotion extensions enable you to highlight your sales and promotions for people searching for the best offers. They appear below your ad, marked by a price tag icon, or the special occasion in bold copy. The extension also displays up to 2 lines of informational text about your promotion. When someone clicks or taps on the extension, it directs them to the special offer on your site or post-click landing page. Google Ads provides a complete list of occasions and dates that are available for promotion extensions.


Do-It-Yourself vs. Agency (or Partner)

Doing it yourself takes time. There’s a whole lot to set up and manage when it comes to paid search campaigns. If you don’t set it up properly and constantly manage it, you will get wasted clicks, lower conversions, and waste budget. To avoid that, it’s best practice to become Google Certified. It does involve hours of training, knowledge, and experience. Anyone can set up an Adwords account, but understanding the proper techniques and functions to get the best ROI requires an experienced Search Engine Analyst who is Adwords Certified 

Google is constantly updating Adwords and Analytics. Part of the job of a Search Engine Marketing Analyst is staying up-to-date with the latest changes, methods, techniques related to PPC and overall online search behavior. Sometimes it pays off to work with an agency or partner that specializes in Paid Search as they have the in-house expertise. Ultimately, the choice is yours. 



We hope that you found the Automotive Digital Marketing Paid Search Guide to be helpful. 

Advertising is likely one of your biggest expenses at the dealership level and you have to figure out how best to allocate your monthly spend so that you can hit your advertising cost per vehicle. There’s an infinite number of choices out there and it’s your job to best allocate that advertising spend. Here are a few tactics or techniques that you can use.

Here’s a list of digital marketing tactics (or techniques) that is by no means exhaustive. Seems like there are new tactics entering the marketplace every day. But these are the individual tactics that should support your overall marketing strategy. If the tactic is linked then it will send you to our Guide for that linked tactic. Let us know if you would like to see a Guide written for one of the tactics that isn't linked. We'd be happy to write one for you. 

Check out our Complete Guide to Automotive Digital Marketing

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