5 Step Guide to Online Advertising for Car Dealerships

Do you feel in control of your dealership’s advertising strategy? 

If you’re relying on third-party listing sites to market your inventory, it probably seems like they’re calling the shots instead of you. That’s because these sites aren’t just trying to help dealerships — they are trying to help themselves. 

Third-party marketplaces are in a battle for customer loyalty against dealerships. Their strategy is to turn your vehicles into commodities, where price is the only thing that matters. Even worse, they pit dealerships against each other, allowing other dealers to advertise directly on your listing page.

And somehow, they keep getting more expensive — even while delivering fewer results.

For today’s dealers, success means selling cars quickly while still earning a high gross per copy. Online advertising is critical to moving inventory, but relying on third-party sites is a recipe for going broke. 

So how can dealerships ditch third-parties and take back control of their online marketing? By cutting out the middleman and running direct digital advertising.

Direct Digital Advertising for Dealerships

Direct digital advertising is when you run online ads that attract customers to your dealership’s website instead of a third-party marketplace. It may sound daunting at first, but with a little research, any dealer can run their own ad campaigns like a pro. 

Here are just a few benefits of running your own advertising:

  • You control the customer relationship. 
  • Customers visit your website directly 
  • It’s less expensive and more effective (if you do it right!)

Ready to get started? Here are five steps you’ll need to take to get your direct digital ad strategy off the ground.

How to Run Direct Digital Ads for Your Dealership

1. Set up your advertising accounts

facebook ads manager dashboard

Unlike third-party listing sites, digital advertising platforms allow you to target your ideal audience for a lot cheaper. The most popular channels are social media, search engines, and display networks.

Get started by setting up new ad accounts for your dealership. We recommend using these platforms:

  • Social: Facebook (automatically includes Instagram)
  • Search: Google Adwords and Bing Ads 
  • Display: Google Display Network

Display ads are those banner and sidebar advertisements you see on websites around the internet. You may notice the same ads following you around — especially if you clicked on one. It may seem creepy at first, but studies show that customers appreciate these ads, as long as they are relevant to their lives. 

Next, let’s talk about vehicles to advertise. 


2. Select vehicles to advertise

vehicles on a dealership showroom floor

Don’t worry about creating ads for every vehicle on your lot. Focus your advertising on high-value vehicles that aren’t getting the web traffic they need. 

Not sure which are the highest-value vehicles in your inventory? Use real-time market data provided by a market-intelligence tool like Vincue to identify them.


3. Create your advertisement

customized car dealership ads

None of us are born copywriters — that’s alright. When creating your ad, just make sure you’re including:

  • A catchy headline
  • Vehicle description 
  • Photos
  • Eye-catching superlatives (e.g., “New arrival!”, or “Great deal!”)

Make sure your ads are linked directly to the Vehicle Display Page and not your homepage. You don’t want to make it harder for customers to buy the vehicle they clicked on!


4. Pick your audience

happy family at a car dealership

Now it’s time to set up ad targeting. Ad targeting is the process of defining who will see your ad, when they will see it, and where it will be displayed. Here are some tips to help narrow your audience down and make your ad spend go further:

  • For social: Advertise to customers in your local market area, people who have liked your dealership page, and people who fit the demographics of your best customers (e.g., 35-45; Income over $75,000; Families)
  • For search: Use specific keywords that customers in your area would use to find your inventory (i.e., “used Dodge Ram Kansas City”)
  • For Display Networks: Retarget customers who have already visited your website. This is called ‘retargeting.’ Most networks also provide targeting suggestions that you can implement in your campaign. 

Your advertising tool of choice — whether it’s Facebook, Bing Ads, or Google Display Network — will offer tutorials to walk you though ad targeting. Make sure to do your research before spending too much money. 

Ideally, you want to target customers in your area who are actively looking for vehicles in your inventory. Tools like Vincue can help you identify and target these local buyers. 


5. Run your advertisement

car dealer handing over the keys

You’re ready to launch your ad! Keep these tips in mind when you’re starting out:

  • Start with $150 per vehicle. Depending on how well (or not) these ads perform, you can adjust their budget accordingly.
  • Don’t forget to take advertising costs into account when calculating your retail price. Don’t give up your gross margin just to sell your vehicle.
  • A/B testing is an effective way to make sure your ads are generating high-quality leads. It allows you to quickly and cheaply identify which ads are effective, and which aren’t, so that you’re only paying for optimal results. 

It will take time to learn what works best for your dealership. In the beginning, do NOT just “set it and forget it.” Pay attention and make adjustments when necessary to dial in your advertising strategy.


Or… Skip These Steps and Use AdCue

adcue automated automotive advertising


If you are interested in “setting and forgetting”, try Adcue’s managed advertising campaigns. 

Adcue helps identify vehicles in your inventory that could use a boost, along with the features that will make them stand out online. It automatically generates ads for you using this information along with photos and eye-catching details. 

Not only does Adcue make ad creation automatic,  it uses the Google Ad Network and your dealership’s inventory data to target the ideal audience — customers in your area who are actively searching for vehicles you have in stock. It then utilizes Display and Social Media advertising to serve them customized ads wherever they are on the web. 

Learn More About AdCue

Take back control of your online advertising

Taking on direct digital advertising can be intimidating at first. But remember: you’re not alone!

We help dealerships maintain their edge in an industry that gets more competitive by the day. Our tools give dealers a fighting chance, no matter how small or big. That’s why we created AdCue.

It’s time to take back control of your online advertising. However you decide to tackle it, make the right choice for your dealership by leaving the third-parties behind. 



Tips, Tricks, & Best Practices for Running a Modern Dealership

Bob Ruth Ford & Vincue Featured on Cover with AutoSuccess Magazine

How Bob Ruth Ford Embraced Digital Transformation with Vincue™ The internet continues to have an incredible impact on our industry and traditional strategies for sourcing and selling vehicles cannot compete for the attention of digital consumers. For a dealership to survive and then thrive, they need to employ new strategies based on hard data and

Read More »

Guide to Facebook Advertising for Dealerships

Thinking about investing in traditional marketing channels? Think again. Traditional channels like TV and radio are continuing to price themselves out of dealers’ reach. The same goes for third-party listing sites that charge a fortune without delivering real leads. Fortunately, it’s never been easier for dealers to run their own digital advertising. Digital advertising isn’t just

Read More »

How to Beat the Competition in a Seller’s Market

It’s a seller’s market right now. That’s pretty incredible when you consider all we’ve been through in 2020. But dealers shouldn’t celebrate just yet. After all, more demand means more competition — and widespread inventory shortages are making it tough to fight back. So how can dealerships outmaneuver competitors and take advantage of this seller’s market? By

Read More »

How Automotive Marketing Has Changed in 2020 and Beyond

The shift towards digital retail has been happening for years and 2020 has only accelerated that trend. 2 out of 3 car buyers are now more likely to skip dealerships and buy directly online. And according to Google, searches for “dealerships near me” dropped over 20% earlier this year. But none of this is cause for alarm —

Read More »

Top 6 Dealership Software Tools to Sell More Cars

Dealers’ toolkits used to be a lot simpler. Salespeople relied on a couple of major pricing books, industry experience, and maybe a few common sales strategies. How times have changed. Modern technology has turned dealerships of every size into complex operations. On top of that, online competition is forcing dealers to use new digital tools

Read More »