How to Implement an Effective Search Engine Marketing Strategy

December 7th, 2022 by

Search Engine Marketing. Search Advertising. Paid Search. Dig Ad. PPC. Whatever you call it — placing online advertisements in search engine results has been a strategy embraced by car dealers for about as long as there have been search engines to place ads on.

That said, because search engine advertising has been a tried and true tactic in a holistic digital marketing strategy, it can come with a false sense of security that it “just works” all on its own. Unfortunately that’s not true in today’s digital environment. In fact, if you’re not actively monitoring and adjusting your campaigns, you could end up wasting an extraordinary amount of your budget on unoptimized or poorly targeted campaigns.

Also, if you’ve only been focused on Google Ads all these years, you’re missing out on reaching a significant, local, in-market car shopping audience that uses other search engines to find their next vehicle and dealer to buy from (more on that below).

A great example of what can happen when you’re not actively inspecting your SEM campaigns was revealed by Brian Pasch back in 2021 when he dropped a comprehensive report exposing that stunningly few sales opportunities were being generated from the massive amounts of money car dealers are investing in their search engine marketing efforts.

The biggest revelation was that, after analyzing 1 million phone calls which originated from call extensions on sales-focused Google Search Ads, only 12.8% of those hard conversions turned out to be actual sales opportunities — with the vast majority going to dealerships’ service or parts departments.

Considering that the report estimates that nearly 93% of all Google Ads budgets are paid for by variable operations (sales), and not fixed operations (service & parts), you can see how uncovering this data would have an unnerving impact on car dealers. 


At Dealer Inspire we take a lot of pride in our ability to maximize ROI for dealers on search — we started out as a search marketing agency after all — and it’s something we take pride in to this day. Our team and tech are known for effectively turning our dealers’ investments in sales campaigns into sales opportunities. In fact, our results were totally flipped from the report with 88% of the engagement on our new and used sales campaigns leading to new and used sales actions.

This isn’t about bragging rights though. Brian’s report was, as usual, a really insightful and important look at how dealer budgets are being wasted by poor digital marketing execution — and whether you’re with us or not, we want to help you execute the most effective search engine marketing strategy possible.

So let’s break down why these wasteful campaigns exist, how you can fix them, and then how you can expand your search presence beyond Google’s walled garden.


There’s a lot to unpack here. We’re going to stay high-level and talk about the broad keyword targeting that burns through budgets, but there are many variables throughout the journey that add up — from ongoing campaign optimization, to the relevancy and quality of the ads themselves, to the landing page experience, to your website’s engagement tracking, to your “conversion” reporting, and then back to the beginning as those “conversions” feed back into your optimization.

Bottomline: you need a partner that:

  • Handles your campaigns with love and care
  • Has the technology to target ready-to-buy shoppers
  • Can ensure seamless experiences and attribution from your ads to your website
  • Can transparently report on the real-world outcomes of your investment.

Let’s get into the specifics.


So what does a wasteful search ad look like? It probably looks like the one below.

On the surface, this ad seems pretty legit, right? That’s because it is. It’s not the ad itself that’s the problem here. When you dive deeper into the campaign, you’ll see that this dealer is bidding on the very broad term Hyundai Dealer Near Me. Now, don’t get me wrong, that’s a keyword you’d want coverage for if you can meet the following conditions:

  1. You’re already maximizing your paid search budget for low-funnel, ready-to-buy keywords
  2. Your Fixed Operations department is helping cover the budget for that campaign. 

Because you don’t know the intent behind a broad search like that, you need to understand that the searcher could be looking to buy a car, but they’re just as likely to have a service related question.

With over half of the calls from the ads in these broad “dealer near me” campaigns going to service, running a 100% sales focused ad, powered only by the budget of your sales department, reduces your ROI by taking away valuable sales opportunities from your sales team.

You obviously want to be present in the SERP for broad queries like {OEM} Dealer {City} or {OEM} Dealer Near Me, but unless you can afford to pay for all those searches forever, the top of the funnel is where you want to rely on strong SEO and Local SEO services to earn those clicks for free.

With a holistic SEO Strategy in play, you can achieve top rankings in Google’s Local Map Pack and Organic Rankings, giving you the highest level of visibility possible for applicable queries without running ads. The more you invest in your organic presence, the more efficient you can be over the long-term.


So you’re probably wondering, when it comes to paid search advertising, what is Dealer Inspire doing different from everyone else? Well, it really comes down to the fact that our tech and team are able to dynamically focus on really low-funnel searches that indicate a shopper is ready to buy, and then match them with vin-specific vehicles in your inventory, in real time.

We’re so dialed in with the intent behind what a searcher is trying to accomplish with their query, that there’s very little room to mistakenly have a conversion result in anything other than a sales opportunity or engagement. 

“Sales campaigns should be optimized for your cost per sales opportunity (CSO). So wait at the bottom of the funnel for shoppers that are just about to buy a vehicle that you have in stock, and then pounce. Our tech makes that snap decision in real-time. ”

Cara Garvey, Director, Media Enablement @ Dealer Inspire

Our tech can even make instant strategic bidding decisions based on factors like how long a specific vehicle has been in your inventory to efficiently accelerate your turn rate.


Look, Google is smart. But it’s not that smart. It can only provide answers to questions that users specifically ask. It can’t read your mind…at least not yet (and hopefully never). Meaning, if a consumer searches for a Ford Dealer Near Me, Google can’t tell you if that searcher’s intent is sales or service related. But it can serve the searcher a dealer’s available ad and entice that person to tap to call. Again, as we just stated above, this is why there’s so much wasted search advertising spend in auto.

The real opportunity to expand your search presence lies outside of Google. We know that when consumers visit, they’re searching to buy a vehicle, not to service one. Because Dealer Inspire is part of the family, when you choose us as your digital advertising partner, we’re able to expand your dealership’s search presence beyond Google to showcase your relevant inventory as the first result for shoppers who are searching to buy your make and model.

With Inventory Search Ads, not only will you be displaying your most relevant VINs at the top of the search results, but you’ll also be accessing a local, in-market audience of car shoppers that are twice as more likely to buy1 than all other audiences. Plus, when a shopper clicks or taps on your inventory search ad, they’ll be taken directly to your VDP on your website.

Combine that with the knowledge that almost half of the shoppers on plan to buy within the next 30 days2, and you have the most powerful way to get more bang for your search bucks. How much bang can you expect? Early adopters of Inventory Search Ads on, like our partners at Fred Martin Nissan, have experienced impressive results that have yielded a significantly lower cost per click and cost per lead compared to their Google Ads campaigns.

Inventory Search Ads & Google SEM vehicle campaign data 11/15/22 – 11/30/22

In addition, it’s worth stating that in the previously mentioned report regarding wasted Google Ad spend, Brian Pasch provides comprehensive and in-depth coverage detailing how a third party marketplace like is going to consist of an audience that is ready, and more likely to buy, than those who are using Google search — so why not make that connection?


Dealer Inspire is your trusted partner for implementing a search strategy that maximizes your ROI. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you improve your search campaigns, reduce wasted spend, and connect with more local, in-market shoppers — please drop us a line. We’d love to connect with you!

1. Inventory Search Ads Data 11/15-11/30. DI Google SEM data 8/27/22-9/25/22 

2. 47.5% of shoppers plan to buy within the next 30 days. Consumer Metrics Survey Q3 2022


March 11th, 2021 by

A wave of new digital privacy rules for tracking personal data have been making headlines as privacy concerns reach an all-time high. Google and Apple both recently announced key changes regarding the use of consumer information on their platforms — impacting both how data is collected and how it can be used in targeting digital ads. 

Advertisers everywhere are wondering “How will the changes impact my campaigns?”, and “Will I be able to reach in-market shoppers effectively?”

We’ve been carefully watching and preparing for these policy changes, and we’ve got a game plan to help you navigate the new rules of engagement. We did a whole webinar about it! You can stream it for free to get the strategies, tips, and even a few tools to help you stay on target and make the most of every digital shopper.

With the proper optimizations to your campaign targeting and website, we can make sure you are prepared to face the new era in ad targeting. We have 5 simple strategies to see you through. 


When Google rolled out its new Personal Ad Policy in October, the auto industry was naturally concerned. Under the new guidelines developed to improve equal access to housing, employment, and credit opportunities —certain ads could no longer be targeted or excluded based on gender, age, parental status, marital status, or ZIP Code.

This means any ads that contain finance offers in the ad headline or copy, and any ads with a landing page that references finance/payment options or directly link to a credit application (every page on your website, since it is usually in the menu), can no longer be targeted by ZIP Code. Talk about a curveball for automotive dealers who frequently use zip codes for precision targeting and to meet OEM requirements. 

Even if you can’t target by zip code, there are some ways you can continue to target shoppers without over-extending your reach.

  • Utilize Google’s Locations Report: This report will still allow access to performance metrics based on ZIP Codes, even when not directly targeting them.
  • Directly Target Cities/Towns: Before switching to radius targeting, try directly targeting the city/town of your dealership, as well as any of the surrounding cities that you would have previously targeted. If you utilize Google’s Locations Report to see which ZIP Codes are performing best, you can use that data on a website like Open Data Soft, which will match ZIP Codes to the city they represent for a quicker transition.
  • Plot Your Sales Data: If you are a Dealer Inspire client, we can plot your DMS data on a map to visualize which areas around your dealership generate the most sales. This can help you identify the cities, as well as optimize your target radius size, allowing you to dial in your targeting where you’re most likely to make the biggest impact.

Now that we have a few months of data under our belt, we know these alternative targeting strategies WORK. In the 90 days since Google updated their personal advertising policy, our clients on average actually saw increases in their campaign performance. Impressions increased by 7.8%, clicks went up 1.23%, and the conversion rate was up 1.56%.


Without the precision targeting of ZIP Codes, it makes even more sense to leverage a combination of first and third-party audience data to augment your targeting efforts and prioritize your bid strategy.

We have exclusive access to’s high-quality audience data, so once those shoppers perform a Google search, we prioritize their bids because we know they are more likely to convert.

We also partner with OEMs who feed us in-market audience data from their Tier 1 websites, which we bid up on, knowing they are likely already decided on brand/model and ready to buy soon. For example, take a look at the incredible results we’ve been able to earn for our Ford clients using FordDirect’s pure audience data.


Your dealership’s first-party data is one of the best sources to improve search performance. When layered into campaigns, your own audiences can significantly improve performance and efficiency. 

Email Matchback Audiences

While adjusting your targeting for customer acquisition, it’s also super important to remember to place a premium on your current customers by leveraging your CRM/DMS data to stay in front of them when they turn to search, whether for service, a lease renewal, or a trade-in / upgrade campaign. Layering in these matchbacks has a huge impact on results for our clients, with a 16% decrease in cost per click, and a whopping 171% increase in click-through rate.

Website Remarketing Audiences

Using your website audience data, we can implement a smarter targeting strategy and tailor ad copy to unique audiences more effectively. When we segment the audience, we can bid up on your past site visitors and show more aggressive offers as these potential customers are more likely to convert since they are already familiar with your brand.

Dynamic Inventory Advertising

You can also set-up your digital advertising to make smart decisions at scale by leveraging data from your own inventory feed. Using Dealer Inspire’s FUEL: Search & Display™, your ads and bidding strategies can be automatically optimized in milliseconds by matching your exact VINs with the right shoppers looking for them.

Even if your geo-targeting isn’t as tight as before the update, you can increase ROI by serving your audience hyper-relevant, dynamic ads tailored to their search query. 


Apple is getting ready to roll out data tracking opt-ins with iOS 14.5, and a war is brewing with Facebook as they are likely to be negatively impacted by the changes. 

With iOS 14.5, Apple is taking a giant step toward data transparency by introducing their App Tracking Transparency Framework. iOS device users will have to explicitly opt-in to having their online activity tracked for each app they use on their iPhone or iPad before opening the app. Facebook argues this will worsen the user’s advertising experience, and limit the ability for small businesses to reach and generate new customers.

Facebook will begin prompting users to opt-in at the same moment Apple gives them the option to opt-out.

Since 81% of American’s think the risks of sharing their data outweighs the benefits of personalized advertising, we expect an overwhelming majority of consumers to opt-out. Either way,  you don’t need to get caught up in the fight. Much like the targeting changes we recommend for Google, a few easy modifications to your social media targeting strategy can keep you right where you want to be: front and center with potential customers. 


All the same audiences and strategies that boost your search performance can be applied to your social targeting: leveraging pure in-market audiences, your own audience data, and dynamic inventory ads is a powerful combination that will position you to reach your targets. In fact, combining those three elements is increasing our dealers’ CTR by 144.6% and decreasing CPC by 50%.

So let’s focus on the unique ways we can take your social advertising to the next level without sacrificing performance from Apple’s new policy.

Oracle In-Market Data

Through a unique partnership with Oracle, our team can target highly custom in-market audiences on Facebook. These are extraordinarily granular audiences we can use to pinpoint highly specific potential customers from various sources. We can do some pretty amazing things to target owners and leasers of particular makes and models, in-market behavior for particular makes and models, and even auto parts and service buyers. 

For example, you could target consumers who currently drive a Honda Accord and are coming up on the end of their lease, and show them an exclusive offer to upgrade their ride to the 2021 model. That kind of relevancy and personalization can make a huge difference to your campaign performance.

Quorum Foot Traffic Data

We also partner with Quorum, which tracks mobile IDs to the dealership lot and enables sophisticated store visit reporting as well as high-intent Facebook audiences.

For example, you could target shoppers that have visited the CarMax up the road and conquest them with a social message that says “Don’t Pay the Max”, highlighting all the benefits of shopping local with your team. This kind of precision targeting has already proved to increase conversion rate by 2X.

So, even if an iPhone user opts out of  Facebook activity tracking, third-party data relationships provide an avenue to target custom audiences. And while we’ve yet to see the impacts of the Ad Tracking Transparency Framework, we’re confident we can help clients find solutions, just as we did when Google rolled out its changes. 

Together, these two exclusive data partnerships can make a big difference vs. the standard Facebook targeting capabilities that come out of the box, especially with the incoming impact of iOS 14.5.


Just because the landscape has changed doesn’t mean you need to settle for decreased campaign performance, less traffic, and fewer leads. We’ve proven that with the right attention to detail, careful campaign monitoring, and the right strategies to target and convert shoppers, you can continue attracting and engaging car buyers. Let’s discuss how Dealer Inspire can help you target the right shoppers on the right platforms, no matter what gets thrown our way. 

Let’s Talk Strategy

5 New Year’s Resolutions Dealers Need To Win 2021

January 5th, 2021 by

While most people slow down and unwind a little during the second half of December in anticipation of the upcoming holiday season, car dealers work harder than ever to close as many deals as possible before the big ball drops to ring in the new year.

So that means right about now you’re hopefully finally catching your breath and reflecting on how your dealership dealt with the challenges that 2020 presented, and how your business can grow in 2021.

If 2020 was good for anything, it showed us that your digital platform is your most valuable asset and taught us a lot about the good digital habits that are helping dealers win in this changing landscape. If we can all take what we learned and really commit to those habits year-round, we can take dealer ROI to the next level in 2021 while future-proofing the dealership experience for years to come.

So without any further ado, here are some New Year’s Resolutions that’ll help your dealership win 2021!


In the past two decades, we’ve looked to our websites to just generate leads so your team could then reach out and set appointments after they’re gone. But with customers now expecting and sometimes needing to complete more of the car buying process remotely, 2020 proved your website needs to be so much more to make the most of every opportunity.

Your website truly needs to be a digital dealership, where shoppers can quickly find vehicles, get their questions answered, and connect with friendly experts on your team who can start guiding them down the Road To The Sale to purchase, just like in-store.

That starts with having the right messaging (with live video) and digital retailing solutions that work seamlessly with your website experience — as well as the right commitment to using those tools — but assuming you already have those, let’s resolve to making sure shoppers can easily find them.

As dealers added new solutions in 2020, websites have put on a lot of excess weight with buttons and widgets that get in the way of guiding shoppers down clear paths — wasting opportunities on shoppers who give up trying to find instant, easy answers to their questions like “can I afford it?”. This excess weight is something that happens to all of us, especially around the holiday sales events, but now is the perfect time to reevaluate your website experience to foster a healthy conversion rate in 2021.

Not all buttons have the same value for you or the customer, so funnel your traffic to the buttons that are more likely to drive sales (not just form-fills). For example, a shopper who quickly filled out an [Unlock Extra Savings] form to see how it affected the price (someone will be in touch to tell them later) is not as valuable as the shopper who clicked [Explore Payment Options] and instantly personalized their payment, valued their trade, saved an account on your website, and started to add accessories and insurance products — so send more shoppers that way. 

By taking a deeper look to discover website design mistakes like too many conflicting CTAs, or disconnected shopping experiences that are causing your customers to bounce instead of convert, you can make a serious impact in your business KPIs without spending more advertising dollars to acquire more traffic.


Once you have shoppers clicking the right buttons to start the buying process on your website — make sure your team is there to help them! These engaged shoppers exploring payment options online are just as valuable as the opportunities that physically walk into your store, so it’s important to staff your digital showroom and build the habits that will continue and close those deals that start online.

Instead of creating a dead-end to their online experience and forcing them to come in for an appointment to learn more, you have the tools to keep up the momentum and guide them closer (or all the way) to purchase online. Of course many customers will still want to visit the dealership before signing, but the further you can get them into the process online, the more likely they are to follow through and stick with your dealership. They may have submitted leads with other websites, but you’re clearly positioned to win if they’re actively working a personalized deal with you.

Whether they’re on your website in the moment or just left, watch how easily (and instantly) you can pull online shoppers back into the buying process by simply texting the kind of personalized question or recommendation you would offer in the showroom.

No matter what digital retailing solution you have, it needs to be backed up by your dealership’s people and processes, so now is the perfect time to re-acquaint your salespeople and BDC agents with your tech stack to ensure they understand how they can quickly close more deals like these, more efficiently.

The days of “just get ’em in” are officially over. In 2021, resolve to stop saying “just get ’em in” and instead say “let’s go Online to the Sale!“. You’ll have happier customers, and a happier team.


By the end of 2020, something else that became clear was that targeting audiences in your Digital Advertising campaigns was about to get a tad trickier than before.

With Google updating their Personal Advertising Policies restricting your ability to target specific zip codes, combined with the impact of COVID-19 on your business — it’s critical that you reevaluate not just how you’re spending your budget — but on what platforms, and which geographical areas you’re targeting.

The first thing you can do is reassess which areas your dealership did the most business in last year, so you can ensure you have optimal coverage with your paid search campaigns. You don’t want to start the new year by overspending in geographical areas that are no longer providing a sales ROI due to shifts in consumer behavior, and underspending in areas that have historically proven to lead to sales.

The easiest way to do this is to use your CRM or DMS customer data to plot your sales on a map to visually highlight your highest converting areas. You can then use that visualization to work with your Dig Ad provider to adjust your targeting as needed to maximize your spend.

Another recommendation is to use that data from your CRM or DMS to add a customer match layer to your audience targeting on your Google and Facebook ads that’ll help ensure you’re staying in front of all your sales and service customers when searching or surfing. Keeping your dealer’s brand top of mind is going to be more critical than ever in 2021.

You’ll also want to consider how to maximize the reach in your defined geo-targets by diversifying the platforms that you’re advertising on besides Google. For example dealers who have been advertising on Microsoft Bing have seen a 36% higher Impression Share and a 77% higher Click-Thru Rate compared to their same ad campaigns on Google.

Lastly, 2021 will officially usher in the era of true in-market audience targeting with highly valuable first party data. It’s critical that you understand what audience data you’re using to power your advertising, because it can be the difference between guessing and knowing that you’re targeting people who actually want to buy a car.

For example, powered by’s 25 million monthly active shoppers, FUEL: In-Market Video has a 100% pure in-market audience, so you know every penny spent is getting in front of local shoppers who are looking for a new vehicle in the short term. Watch the difference that made for Julie Chisum’s advertising ROI at Toyota of Cedar Park!

As we start the new year, it’s a perfect time to rethink and refine where your dollars are going — and resolving to continuously optimize through the year.


COVID-19 brought many challenges, but in a weird silver-lining kind of way, it also helped reveal some opportunities that you have to improve the overall operations of your dealership.

If your dealership had to shut-down the sales side of your biz because of the pandemic and you were only able to operate your service business for a period of time — you probably focused on your Fixed Ops marketing in a way you haven’t in years. And as a result, there’s a good chance you had your eye on the local big box and independent service centers that are aggressively marketing to steal your market share.

Make this the year that you finally fix that leaky fixed ops marketing and resolve to build up your service department’s digital marketing to the same level as your sales department, so you can fend off these competitors and win back customers.

The first step is making sure you’re set-up to capture the local high-intent searchers who are looking for service providers like you. By having the right paid, organic, and local search strategies in place for your service department, you can show up first three times in front of these valuable customers.

Considering upwards of 70% of searchers are on mobile, that top placement is critical for capturing those valuable customers — since only the very top placements are visible without scrolling down.

To take your strategy to the next level on the SERP and beyond, check out our Fixed Ops Marketing Strategy Webinar so you can get the tips, tricks, and info you need to get up and running with a comprehensive cross-channel digital marketing strategy. This year you can optimize your dealership’s service presence to not just fend-off, but overtake, the competition (and without breaking the bank to do it).


A decade ago, review generation was all the rage because we recognized just what powerful (and free!) positive reviews could and would do for our business. However, it’s possible that over the past couple of years you may have lost sight of keeping your reviews fresh because you felt that your dealership had “enough”.

It’s understandable if your focus shifted from generating new reviews to other matters you felt were more pressing, but you really can’t ignore the fact that 97% of shoppers use reviews to choose their dealership, and 86% of shoppers don’t consider reviews over 3 months old helpful (BrightLocal Local Consumer Review Survey Dec. 2019).

Those two stats should tell you that you need to constantly be driving new, positive reviews each and every week. But it’s 2021, so don’t think you can rely on the same tactics you did a decade ago to drive new reviews, because this year it’s not just the review that will matter — it’s the actual words in the review that will give your dealership the boost it needs.

Before you start to reach out and reconnect with your customers, get up to speed on what a modern review gen strategy should look like today.


Oh good, you’re still reading! Remember way back at the beginning of this blog post when I said that your digital platform was your most valuable asset? Well, I should probably amend that statement to say it’s your digital platform AND your people that are the two most valuable assets your dealership has.

When it comes down to it, consumers often see dealerships as all being the same because many dealers tend to look the same, and say the same things. For example, I personally worked for three different dealerships that each claimed they had the largest inventory in the state — and I can assure you, for two out of those three dealers, that wasn’t the case.

If you virtually attended REFUEL 2020 then you had the opportunity to see famed entrepreneur, Jesse Itzler, tell the story of how a college marketing professor changed the trajectory of his young life by asking him one simple question during his final presentation — “what makes your brownie different from all the other brownies on the market?”.

The point Jesse goes on to make is that no matter what you do, there are thousands of other entities doing the exact same thing. So how are you going to do to stand out? How will people know that your dealership is different that all the rest?

To answer that question, we say that in 2021 you should embrace (and market) the people and processes — the customer experience — that truly make your dealership different. Don’t settle for the same old USPs that you’ve been relying on for years. Develop your your real “Why Buy” message and tell the world what it is that you and your people do and offer that no one else does, and why should that matter to car shoppers in your market.

That unique ingredient will make all your marketing efforts perform better, all year.


Everyone here at Dealer Inspire knows just how challenging 2020 was for our car dealer partners. The pandemic still isn’t over, and new challenges are going to be thrown at us along the way, but together we have everything we need to win this year.

If you would like to talk about your dealership’s overall marketing strategy for 2021, just drop us a line and we’ll schedule some quality time to talk things over.

Wishing you and your team nothing but the best in 2021 and beyond!

Let’s Talk Strategy