The Importance of Car Dealership Digital Marketing

Written By Carol Marshall

First things first: What is digital marketing?

Digital marketing covers your overall online presence. This includes your website, social media accounts, email marketing, mobile devices, and smart fridge — you get the picture.

Wherever you can place ads to engage your potential customers online: that’s digital marketing. But, we're going to get more specific and talk about the importance of car dealership digital marketing.

Here are some examples of digital marketing:

Have you ever scrolled through your Facebook feed and noticed ads that target your previous online behavior? Maybe you’re sitting on the couch and you receive an email offer for an oil change discount. Maybe you’re on Google looking for car dealerships closest to you. You might notice the top search result is a sponsored ad for one of many car dealerships in your surrounding area.

These are all aspects of a digital marketing strategy, and their goal is to drive potential clients to purchase various automotive services through these digital marketing efforts.

Let’s talk about SEO.

What is SEO? This acronym stands for Search Engine Optimization.

SEO refers to how your car dealership will appear in a search engine like Google and what it takes to rank highly on the Google SERP.

Is your car dealership visible to the appropriate audience? Will your automotive website appear at the top of the ever-changing Google search results page, or will it be on page four of the search query? (Which is basically No Man's Land. No one gets to page four on search engines!)

SEO is critical.

Take a look at this data offered by Backlinko: They analyzed 5 million Google search results and found that:

“The #1 organic result is 10x more likely to receive a click compared to a page in the #10 spot” (Source)

That’s right – if your car dealership’s website isn’t ranking #1 when potential car buyers are searching for your dealership, you could be losing out on more than 10x the traffic or online visibility you could be receiving.

Slackers don’t win in the automotive industry, so don’t slack on your SEO!

How Are Automotive Digital Marketing Strategies for Car Dealerships Different from Traditional Sales?

  • Wider reach and audience.
  • You can talk to multiple people at a time yet leverage specific targeting.
  • Data helps you get to know your shoppers.
  • Your customers can help you advertise more on digital platforms.

First, consider why your customers show up at your car dealership.

They show up in significant part to your marketing department’s efforts to reach your target audience of car shoppers. Do you know who handles your advertising? Are your marketing efforts reaching the right consumers for your dealerships? Do you have the data? Maybe the answers to these questions are specifically crucial to your role inside the car dealership, or perhaps they are entirely irrelevant.

However, the main goal still stays true: Bringing potential buyers into your dealership, regardless of sales or service, with effective digital marketing strategies. You want your consumers to work directly with you in the car buying process.

If the goal is to increase sales, increase cars serviced, or you’re looking for trades to fill your lot, you need digital marketing strategies, and you need optimal digital marketing strategies that keep consumers interested.

Digital Marketing and Traditional Sales Principles Overlap

If you’re not used to thinking about digital marketing but are used to thinking of traditional methods, there is some good news: They fundamentally overlap.

That’s because the overall principles are similar:

  • Having a concise message
  • Branding that fits your dealership
  • Reaching the right audience
  • Focusing on bringing your customers through the door, attracted by the car buying experience.

The difference is the device in which your ads reach your customers and clients.

There is one other beautiful difference between digital marketing and traditional sales:

The fact that your consumers will be advertising your dealership through forms of digital marketing for you.

Your consumers will likely be leaving your lot, with plans to upload a photo or video to Facebook/Instagram of their newly purchased vehicle.

If your team assists that consumer through their buying process comfortably, they are sure to spread your dealership’s hospitality through their social or the traditional method – word of mouth. Satisfied customers can be some of the best leads you can ask for.

Why Car Dealership Digital Marketing is Important

So, why car dealership digital marketing? Let's take a look to the future.

The further we move to the future, the more integrated we become with technology. Specifically, speaking of the younger generations growing up with these technologies early on (Gen Z & Gen Alpha).

Statistically speaking, from 2015 to 2016, Americans were using their mobile phones 5 hours per day, and there was a 69% increase in app usage (Source) (Source 2). Americans are spending almost as much time as they work a day on their smartphone, and that was 5-6 years ago! In 2015, 59.4% of Americans had a smartphone.

In 2021 that percentage boosted to 72.7% (source). Why waste your marketing efforts sending snail mail when your automotive digital marketing can reach consumers directly in the palms of their hands?

Digital marketing for automotive has never been more critical, but with every industry, you must keep in mind that everyone has a similar playing field when it comes to digital marketing. The competition in your exact zip code can target the same customers as you. That tidbit should always be in the back of your mind when creating content or thinking about future campaigns.

Everyone is advertising at all times.

Understanding that your competitors have the same advantage as you should allow you to think of ways to utilize digital marketing to connect with your customers in a genuine way. There’s a difference between serving ads on social platforms, posting content that requires engagement, and connecting with potential car buyers.

Now, let’s discuss important parts of digital marketing strategies.

What Are Must-Have Automotive Digital Marketing Strategies for Car Dealerships?

  • Optimize for SEO

Car dealerships need to understand the importance of SEO (search engine optimization) to compete for their local customers. This should be the fundamental start to your digital marketing strategy. You should already know your target audience for your OEM. Use this to your advantage. Drive more traffic to your site using SEO properly!

  • Optimize for local SEO

Create location-specific content. First, think about the interests of your local audience. Optimize your reach by being specific about your location in your content. Maybe you hold a sales event that’s partnered with a professional sports team from your city.

Using specifics from your local area should improve your local SEO results. Car dealerships in every county are looking for ways to optimize their sites. If you slack, they will take over your search results, aiming for first. You already know this, but there is no shortage of car dealerships in your area.

Connect with your local potential car buyers with this vital part of automotive digital marketing!

  • Build a website

You can’t survive in the automotive industry today without a website; your website needs to display your cars correctly. Your website needs to be easily searchable in search engines by utilizing proper SEO for each page, and your customers should be able to navigate your website easily.

Your website should be generating leads in all departments. If it’s not, re-evaluate why.

  • Send an email newsletter

Are you utilizing your customer’s contact information to connect with them through email properly? You should be sending pertinent information to your customers via email – whether it’s a service coupon, a new car sale event, or even a customer appreciation email.

This somewhat overlaps with traditional marketing efforts in automotive. Auto dealers utilize email newsletters often already. Make sure yours stands out – especially in the subject line. Your customers keep the doors open. They are important. Treat them as such.

  • Start blogging

Blogging will help consumers find your dealership’s website when you utilize proper SEO inside of your blogs! This should drive more traffic to your website, again, if you use good SEO. Auto dealerships around the United States are blogging, and you need to be too! Start today. Create blogs that keep people interested in your automotive site.

  • Create listings in online directories

Creating listings is another important way to drive buyers and increase visibility. However, think of ways to utilize these directories to connect with your car buyers. Your competition has the same access to these directories. What will you do differently to get noticed?

NOTE: This is from personal experience working with automotive dealers, do NOT put lower car prices on your listings just to get engagement, you will receive unpleasant customers, and in the long term, it will ruin your business’s reputation. I’ve seen too many dealerships put the down payment as the “price,” which upset customers.

  • Adopt content marketing

Content marketing? You’re reading content marketing right now! Dealers need to create content for all their platforms consistently, and the content needs to make sense. The content should be focused on your consumers and why they should do business with you. Then, utilize analytics to review your content’s PPC (Pay Per Click) data to find what works!

  • Text

At the beginning of this article, I shared statistics on Americans and their cell phone usage increasing year over year. Today, this should be a no-brainer – if your customers have opted into your text marketing, you should be utilizing this form of digital marketing. However, with text marketing – do not overdo it. Only send important campaigns through texting, so your consumers don’t opt out! You want to generate leads, not annoyed customers. Have a lot of used cars that you need shoppers to purchase to clean up the lot? Send a text campaign.

  • Graphics

Your branding can’t be complete without clean and crisp graphics. The imagery on your social media accounts should match your website and be cohesive with your aesthetic. The graphics on your car listing photos should all follow the same format. Even the images on your rear license plate covers and video walkarounds should be consistent. Make sure your dealership’s brand is everywhere! The automotive industry has tons of players. What do you have to offer? Stand out!

  • Videos

Are you utilizing videos in your service department and sending them to your customers for service updates? Are you creating videos for a new car on your lot for video campaigns? There are multiple ways to utilize videos. Make sure you’re doing it with a clear and clean quality. Don’t skip on the quality, and your campaigns must be clean.

An often-overlooked part of digital advertising and car dealership marketing strategies is that of online reviews, and how your car dealership handles them. These days, potential buyers have comically easy access to online reviews, and people are more keen than ever to leave feedback. They take to social media platforms, leaving negative and positive reviews. Keep in mind though, that negative reviews are valuable feedback opportunities and can be a good way to get visibility on your willingness to help your customers and improve.

Why Do Car Dealerships Need to Market Online?

  • Awareness

It’s 2021, and the future ahead leads to more technology and more online cohesion within the industry. This means your automotive business needs to be front and center for your consumers online. If your consumers are searching on search engines, social media, and simple terms that should be showing your dealership, they aren’t – that’s a problem.

You need to address it with better SEO so that your brand awareness is fully functioning. Also, as a business, you need to stay aware of current trends. Using analytics to review PPC from your ads is a great way to start. Any data you can track, the better your awareness!

  • Authority

Control your dealership’s narrative! Digital marketing for auto is all about creating your brand, creating trust, and controlling the trust. A great way to keep loyalty is to make sure you’re monitoring all of your third-party review sites for your dealership.

If you’re getting negative reviews, this will create a hostile atmosphere for your dealership. You need to respond to those negative reviews, handle their inquiries, and ask them to update their review if you fixed their issue. You have the authority. Use it to build customer loyalty and satisfaction! Review sites host a large audience. Stay on top!

  • Engagement

You must engage with your potential customers to beat your competition. Your local competition will have access to the same customer base as you, so your digital marketing needs to be requesting engagement from your customers. Your posts should be inviting the audience to have conversations, send direct messages, or have a phone call.

If you’re posting ads with no thought about engaging, your ads are probably not performing. “Vehicles for purchase at a discounted rate, mention this post to your sales representative to speed up the process of finding your new vehicle! ”. Offer a reason for your customers to engage. Once again, review your PPC to find what drives engagement.

  • Referrals

Word of mouth still holds so much power in this industry, such as referrals. However, with digital marketing, the best part about our society transitioning more and more to technology in our daily lives is that your customers will utilize their social platforms to show off their cars, which in return is marketing for your dealership!

It’s a great idea to take photos with your customers after their purchase (if they agree) and ask if you can tag their personal Instagram or Facebook account in the image. This is a way to get referrals without your customers even putting forth the effort to refer others to you. Digital marketing is doing the referrals for you!

Make Your Automotive Digital Marketing More Effective

How do you measure success to know if your online marketing is effective? Are you utilizing all of the reporting dashboards and analytical data inside of your social platforms? Are you paying attention to the PPC of your ads? You need to understand what is working, what’s not – and the “why.”

A great way to start recognizing if your marketing is effective is to A-B test different ads within your social platforms. Try various posts with different cars in the photos, and maybe change the text that is inviting your customers to engage. Keep track of the start, and end dates of your ads, see which is working, and understand the “why”. It’s extremely simple to start A-B testing through social platforms, and it’s an effective way to reach car buyers!

The key to success with digital marketing is understanding your potential customers. However, before you start to take the A-B test on your social platforms, you need to make sure your social media presence is consistent across the different social platforms: Facebook, Google, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.

You need to make sure your branding is plastered all over your social platforms, and the branding should be the same for each platform, make sure you have high-quality photos, and the quality of posting is the same across all platforms for your audience.

You will need to connect with your customers, existing, or new – having unified social platforms creates a feeling of cohesion within your company, and customers recognize this. The effectiveness of your digital marketing strategy will be determined by your determination, just remember if you’re not getting the results that you want, CHANGE!

Think outside the box, and find ways to connect with your car buyers! Especially when it comes to local marketing, if you’re from the area that your dealerships are located in, you understand your clients – use that to your advantage, target specifically them, and what they are interested in.

The Need for Great Car Dealership Digital Marketing Will Always Be There

Your goal each day working inside of a dealership should be straightforward; that is, increasing your customer base and getting quality lead generation. If that’s getting more car buyers to step through the door, filling up your service bays, or trying to move additional car parts out of your parts department, you want your customers to grow and purchase.

Following good automotive digital marketing trends is going to help you achieve these goals. Just make sure that you:

  • Take the time to review the data in your analytic dashboard (PPC advertising).
  • A-B test, post material that is requiring your customers to engage.
  • Make sure your campaigns are posted to all the proper social media platforms (Facebook, Google, Instagram, Snapchat, etc).

Think outside the box, post different styles of photos, and post different types of topics that require engagement, you need to engage just as much as your customers! The world of digital marketing is ever-changing, there will be new social platforms popping up, new ways to track customer movement online, and new ways of advertising.

But don’t get overwhelmed, use the internet to find resources and data to aid any problem you have, there are always various solutions!

The automotive industry is a competitive market; you must want to win!


Ready to discover how ActivEngage helps your dealership succeed?