Industry Trends

Ultimate Guide to Car Dealership Digital Marketing

Although most people prefer to buy vehicles in person at a dealership, it’s safe to say that almost everyone searches online first before deciding to come in and take a look or go for a test drive. If your website is not marketed, not optimized and performing its best, you are losing out on sales – and lots of them. 

Digital marketing for car dealerships is of the utmost importance if you want to be competitive in today’s digital world. In this guide, we will go over what digital marketing is, how you can use it to attract more web traffic, how you can convert that web traffic into qualified leads, and much more. 

Ultimate Guide to Car Dealership Digital Marketing

What is digital marketing for car dealerships? 

Digital marketing is a broad term that refers to any strategy used online to attract people to your website with the ultimate goal of getting them to come into your dealership, schedule a test drive, and ultimately purchase a vehicle. 

There are many different ways to do this, and utilizing any of them will give you a competitive advantage. The most successful car dealerships use all of the digital marketing strategies that we will cover in this guide. 

Attract Traffic & Prospects 

Before we go over the various ways to attract more web traffic to your dealerships’ site, it’s essential to understand why this is important. 

To put it simply, 95% of all car sales start with an online search. This means that if your website isn’t performing well and is not being found by people looking for vehicles on Google, you are losing 95% of your potential opportunities. 

The good news is that we’re about to go over everything you need to know so that you can get your website ranking on Google. When people search for a new or used vehicle online, they will discover your site and come into your dealership instead of one of your many competitors who likely already know what we’re about to cover. 

There are six main strategies used to attract new traffic to your website, and all of them have to do with digital advertising in one way or another. Let’s look at each one in detail to fully understand what these strategies are, how they work, why they work, and most importantly, how you can implement these methods today to take your revenue to the next level. 

Digital Advertising

Digital advertising as a whole comprises many different methodologies, including Google search, display ads, Facebook ads, retargeting methods, search engine optimization, and URL inclusion. If all of these terms sound foreign to you, don’t worry, we will cover them right now. 

  • Google Search 

Google search results are the primary and most important way to attract new customers to your automotive dealership’s website. When people search on Google for new or used vehicles in their local area, Google returns a number of results in the form of links to web pages. It determines which web pages to display based on several factors, but keywords and paid advertising are the two most important factors.

When somebody enters a search term, Google will search the entire internet in a few milliseconds to find websites containing the term that was searched for. It then returns what it believes to be the most relevant web pages as search results. By having a blog on your website that contains industry-specific keywords, you can rank higher on Google for those search terms. This is what’s known as organic traffic, and it’s the preferred form of web traffic. 

The other option is what’s known as inorganic or paid traffic. Paid traffic is exactly what it sounds like: when you pay Google to display your website for given keywords. Although paid traffic is very effective, it’s also costly. If you can naturally include relevant keywords on your website, you’ll be able to save a lot of money while still attracting plenty of new traffic to your site. 

A sub-component of Google search that’s also important to understand and optimize is your Google My Business listing. One of our favorite consultants for discussing this topic is George Nenni with Generations Digital. More about this topic in a future article.

  • Display Ads

Display ads are the ads you see visually when you visit a website. For example, if somebody goes onto a website looking for car reviews, then they might see an ad with a picture of that car saying something like “save 15% on X, Y, or Z vehicle,” or “The lowest financing rates on such and such model vehicle guaranteed.” When people click on those ads, they are redirected to a website. The trick is to make sure that it’s your website. 

  • Facebook Ads 

Facebook is still the largest social media site in the world, and by leveraging Facebook ads, you can attract a ton of new visitors to your website. Facebook ads are similar to display ads, but instead of being displayed on random websites, Facebook ads appear, as you might expect, on Facebook. 

Facebook ads used to be relatively cost-effective, but these days the prices are a bit loftier. That said, it may very well be worth the investment for Facebook ads, specifically in your local area. This is where your target demographic is searching, and you always want to have a presence where your desired audience is looking. 

  • Retargeting 

Retargeting means to reach out to people who have already purchased something from you in the past. These can be people who have already purchased a vehicle at your dealership, or they can be people who have come in for detailing, servicing, or auto repairs. In any event, the idea is to reach out to these people with an offer either by text or email. 

You don’t necessarily need to try and sell these people a new vehicle, especially if they have already purchased a vehicle from your dealership recently. Reach out to them with an offer for maintenance or aftermarket upgrades. You might be able to earn additional revenue that you missed during the initial sale of the vehicle. 

  • Search Engine Optimization 

We have already touched on keywords and why they are essential when you want to show up in Google search results. Search engine optimization, or SEO, as it’s more commonly called, is the art of making sure that when Google scans your site, it finds those keywords and identifies your site as relevant for specific terms. 

There are many different ways of optimizing your website for SEO. The best way by far is by including relevant industry-specific keywords so that when people search, Google knows that those people are looking for you. If you don’t have a blog on your website, then set one up immediately. By posting articles, such as the one you’re reading now, you can include a ton of keywords that you otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to post on your site. 

  • Incorporate website URL in all marketing 

The final form of digital advertising isn’t really a method, but it’s more of a tip. You want to make sure that wherever you advertise online, whether it be on Google, Facebook, or otherwise, that you are including a link to your website. Your web address, otherwise known as a URL, is one of the best places to include industry-specific keywords, so be sure that you always feature your URL prominently in any digital advertising campaigns you undertake. 

Convert Website Traffic to Leads 

Getting web traffic to your site is important, but of course, it’s only half the battle. You still need to convert those visitors into qualified leads and ultimately into paying customers. Once they show up on your website, how do you get them to take the desired action, such as scheduling a test drive? 

Trade-in Tools like TradePending’s Trade 

Converting web traffic into qualified leads used to mean spending thousands of dollars on UI/UX design, but thanks to modern web tools such as TradePending’s Trade, that’s thankfully no longer the case. If you don’t know what Trade is, it’s the number one website conversion tool for the automotive industry. With Trade, you can quickly increase your website ROI by up to 400%, and it’s well worth checking out the platform. 

Online chat  

Despite how far automated and AI web tools have come, they will never be as good at making sales as a real human being. These days there are a ton of easily installable widgets that allow you to integrate live chat functions into your existing website. When someone visits your site, you can chat with them in real-time, answer their questions, and schedule an appointment for them to come down to the dealership, check out the vehicle, take a test drive, and much more. Two of our favorite chat providers specific to the automotive industry include MessageNow by CarNow and Gubagoo.

The best car dealership websites all feature a live chat function, and yours definitely should too. If your site is built on a content management system (CMS) such as WordPress, then installing a live chat widget can be accomplished with one or two clicks of the mouse, but if, on the other hand, your site was hand-coded, then you’ll need to insert a snippet of code into your sites PHP file to accomplish this. Inserting the code for a live chat feature isn’t difficult, but because it involves manipulating the code of your site, it might be best to spend the $100 or $200 for a web developer to do it for you. 

Other call-to-actions like Get a Quote, Schedule a Test Drive 

The best way to convert leads online is by including what’s known as a call-to-action (CTA) button on your website. Common CTAs in the automotive industry include things like “Get a quote” or “Schedule a test drive.” When somebody clicks on one of those buttons, they will be redirected to a web form on your site that allows them to book an appointment, get a quote, or do whatever else you want them to. 

Like with live chat, you are setting up a CTA button which is easily accomplished with a CMS but requires a little bit of coding if your site is built on custom HTML code. In either case, it’s well worth the few hundred dollars for a professional web developer to take care of this for you. In addition, the first time you sell a vehicle through your CTA, you’ll make back whatever you spent for the developer and much more on top of that. 

Exit-intent pop-up 

The following strategy is to include what’s known as an exit-intent pop-up. This is a feature that will automatically populate a live chat, pop-up window, or other similar function when a person goes to leave your website. The goal is to retain the customer and resolve any concerns they might have before they leave your website in search of a competitor. Installing an exit intent pop-up is done the same way as installing a CTA or live chat. Your best bet is to hire a web developer for one day and tell them to install a live chat, a few CTA’s, and an exit intent pop-up feature. By incorporating all three into your website, you will dramatically increase your website’s ROI and convert many more visitors into qualified leads, and paying customers. 

Build trust with online customer reviews 

You can have the best website in the world, but if people don’t trust you as a reputable dealership, then it’s unlikely that they will buy from you. The best way to build trust is to have good reviews online, and that’s not something you should leave up to chance. There are a few different ways to display good reviews online. 

Reach out to customers via email after they have made a purchase requesting a review from them, and if they have had a good experience, then most of your reviews should be positive. Address the negative concerns with honesty and transparency, resolving them to the best of your ability.

In any event, social proof is essential in this day and age. Determine which way you’d like to go about it and then implement a review system so that you can build trust with your audience and encourage them to buy from you instead of a competitor. 

Build Leads Database & Nurture 

Keep in mind that most people will not commit to buying a vehicle on their first visit to your website. It will probably take several interactions with them before they commit to anything, and so it’s important to build up a list or database of leads and then follow up with them routinely. The best way to routinely engage with your leads is by email marketing. 

Ongoing email marketing to past sales and leads that didn’t buy

Email marketing is alive and well in 2021 and will continue to be an effective strategy for engaging with web leads for many years to come. People check their email inboxes often throughout the day – their eyes are there, and so you should be present there too. That said, there is a fine line between politely and persuasively following up with leads, and harassing them. Let’s go into more detail about how and how not to market to your leads via email. 

How to engage with leads by email the right way

When someone visits your website and gives you their email address, you have everything you need to convert them into a paying customer, but you need to pay careful attention to how you go about that. The trick is to contact them with an offer that they perceive as having a high value. This might be a discount, added incentive, free service, or something else. As long as the customer views your offer as having value, then there’s a good chance that they will re-engage with you and become a paying customer. 

Whatever you do, don’t spam them with emails, or you will instantly be marked as spam and never hear from the customer again. Shortly after they visit your dealership, one or two follow-up emails should be enough to get them to re-engage and take the desired action. If you don’t get any response from them in that time, then maybe send an offer or follow-up email again once every two weeks. The last thing you want to do is annoy them, so don’t be in their inbox ten times a day. Simply let them know that you have a great offer for them and then leave the ball in their court. 

How not to engage with leads by email

How many times have you opened your email inbox only to find a slew of messages from some annoying company harassing you into returning to their website? In most cases, what do you do? You mark them as spam and block them, right? If not, then you definitely should. In most cases, this type of email spam contains offers that have a very low value, if any at all. So don’t be that company. Instead, offer something with actual value to the customer and leave it up to them to decide if they want to engage with you. 

The best email marketing platform for car dealerships

Without a doubt, the best and simplest email marketing tool for car dealerships is MailChimp. Mailchimp allows you to easily engage with leads and convert them into customers by sending out web-optimized emails that are personalized for them, and best of all, it doesn’t cost a lot of money. If you aren’t using MailChimp for your current email marketing campaigns, then you are missing out on a ton of revenue, so be sure to check them out today to learn more about everything they have to offer your dealership. 

Make things personal

The best tip we can give you when it comes to re-engaging with leads is to ensure that your email marketing correspondence is personalized for them. It may seem easier to simply create one email marketing template and send that same email out to everyone, but the problem is that people can see right through this type of spam and will almost certainly ignore you if you employ this tactic. 

Instead, reach out to them manually after your initial contact with them, and include things in the email such as what you talked about, answers to any questions they may have had, and of course, a personalized offer that you know will be of value to them. By making things personal, you will convert more leads into paying customers and avoid ending up in the dreaded spam folder. 

Measure & Optimize

Digital marketing isn’t just something you can set and forget. It’s a living, breathing part of your business that needs to be monitored constantly so that you can adjust, adapt, and improve your marketing efforts so as to make the most of your web marketing investment, generate the highest possible ROI, and make as much money as you possibly can. 

When you look  at what’s working, what isn’t, and why, you’ll be able to dial in your strategy and remain competitive. There are many different ways to monitor and measure the performance of your website – let’s go over them now. 

Review which traffic sources convert

First and foremost, you need to know where your web traffic is coming from. Suppose you spend $1000 a month on Google ads, $1000 a month on Facebook ads, and $1000 a month for blog content to generate organic traffic. Let’s say you are getting 5000 visitors a month from Google ads and convert 50 people into leads, 300 visitors a month from Facebook and convert 30 into leads, and 2000 visitors from your blog that create 10 leads.  In this example, both Facebook and Google convert web traffic to leads at 10%, so it makes sense to continue advertising with both, even though the cost per lead is different across the two channels. The blog, which remains free, should also be continued. The next level is understanding which of your lead sources results in sales.

Knowing where your traffic comes from allows you to focus your efforts and direct your marketing budget towards the things that are generating revenue while at the same time cutting those strategies that aren’t performing well. 

Look at what people are doing on your website

The next step is to look at what people are doing on your website. Various tools will allow you to do this, and each of them has multiple pros and cons, but in general, web traffic analysis is vital and is something you should be looking at every month, if not every week. The most widely used tool for website analytics is Google Analytics. A next-level tool that shows heatmaps of how visitors interact with your site is Hotjar.

Once you know how people are behaving on your website, optimize and refine your site’s design to make it more efficient and more effective. You’ll be able to retain more of your traffic and convert more people into paying customers. 

Measure the performance of your marketing campaigns

As we mentioned, monitoring what’s working and what’s not is the key to success with digital marketing. However, just because a particular platform isn’t getting you a ton of traffic doesn’t necessarily mean that the site doesn’t work or is bad. It could just be the case that your current campaign on that site isn’t optimized correctly. 

Before scrapping a platform altogether, get in touch with them to see what’s going on. It could be the case that your ad isn’t set to your local area or doesn’t contain the right keywords. Whatever the case may be, there is a good chance that with a small adjustment or two, you can get your campaign working in your favor. 

Spend more money on the ads that work best 

If you’ve analyzed the data and adjusted your campaigns, but you still aren’t seeing any improvement, then it’s time to cut your losses and re-invest your digital marketing budget on the platforms that are actually generating traffic for your site and attracting qualified leads to your dealership. 

Now it may well be the case that you get more traffic at certain times of the year than at other times. You probably won’t get as many visitors to your website during the holiday season because people simply have other financial obligations at that time of year. 

If you find that a certain platform isn’t performing its best all of a sudden, then don’t be too quick to scrap it. Instead consider why this might be  the case. If it happens to be a matter of timing, then just have patience and understand that this is a normal part of doing business, that’s to be expected year in and year out. 

Always be researching keyword trends

We have already touched on the importance of keywords a few times in this guide, but the importance of including trending industry-specific search terms on your website cannot be overstated. If you want your website to perform its very best and generate the highest possible amount of revenue for your dealership, then you need to be researching keywords frequently and adjusting your web content accordingly. 

A few different web platforms do an excellent job at providing keyword analysis, and you should be taking advantage of at least one of them routinely. Some of the best keyword research tools include:

Be sure to compare each of the above keyword research tools to find the one that works best for you and your budget, and then don’t hesitate to pull the trigger on signing up for an account with one of them. The money you spend on keyword research will pay off and will make a huge difference in terms of the amount of qualified traffic you get to your website. 


Digital marketing is critical when it comes to attracting paying customers to your car dealership. By leveraging the power of digital advertising, investing in lead conversion tools, following up with qualified leads, and monitoring your website’s performance, you will be able to tap into the 95% of customers who start their search for a new or used vehicle online. This will give you a sustainable competitive advantage and more revenue for your dealership. .