9 Clouds Automotive Marketing Blog

Where automotive meets digital marketing.


The Best Free Digital Marketing Tools for Auto Dealers

For auto dealerships, it’s no longer a question of if it’s time to use digital marketing, but rather how.

Dealership marketing managers get offers from third-party vendors every day. While it is possible to piece together a digital marketing plan with those vendor solutions, it’s an expensive and confusing route.

We think any dealership marketing manager feeling pressure to adopt digital platforms needs to first understand the value behind the online service and then decide how to allocate those precious marketing dollars.

Today, we’ll walk you through the value of inbound marketing for auto dealerships, the free tools you can use to attract, convert, and engage your leads, and the best all-in-one paid service available.

Why Inbound Marketing Works

We all know traditional marketing methods aren't interactive. TV and print advertisements speak to potential buyers, but they don't give them any way to engage.

Inbound marketing, though, aims to educate leads through relationship building. We find it cultivates a trust you just won’t achieve through mass mailings and TV ads. And ultimately, it’s how people prefer to be marketed to.

Inbound marketing takes on many shapes and sizes — including eBooks, emails, Tweets, and texts — and all of those pieces work together to draw a customer’s attention to your brand. The content created builds up your dealership as an industry leader, someone your customers can trust.

Now think about your dealership. Does it have a reputation as a trustworthy establishment in your community? If you can’t honestly answer yes, it might be time to pull back on print ads and start an inbound marketing approach.

How Inbound Marketing Works

At its core, inbound marketing is really simple.

It starts with attracting strangers to your brand using tactics like improved SEO, compelling blog content, and snappy social media posts. Those strangers turn into visitors, whom you can convert into leads with forms and landing pages offering valuable content (like an eBook for millennial car buyers, for instance).

Those valuable content pieces turn leads into customers, and as you stay in communication with them, offering service specials and lease reminders, your customers turn into promoters for your brand.


The catch with inbound marketing is that it happens over time. There’s no instant gratification, and there’s no in-your-face sales pitch.

This can be a hard sell for automative marketing managers, especially when there’s an extra 50 trucks on the lot that need to get sold yesterday. But it’s important to remember that inbound marketing is an investment in your dealership’s future.

Those 16-year-olds on Instagram today will be shopping for their first car before you know it. If you start making an impression now, you can be the dealership at the top of their mind in the not-so-distant future.

We can’t predict what lies ahead for the auto market, but I bet you a million dollars it will be online. Now is the time to start building a trustworthy and innovative digital brand for your dealership. It’s essential to your business’s future success.

Simply put, inbound marketing allows you to get the information buyers want in the right places at the right time. No one can deny that’s what every dealership wants to do.

Now, let’s find out how to make it happen.

Attract Customers with Digital Tools

We understand the attraction to outbound marketing, where you use those traditional methods like print ads to push your dealership’s message far and wide.

It would be nice if marketing managers could simply design a mailer, send it out to thousands of customers, and watch every one of them rush through the door, as eager to buy as a crowd of Black Friday shoppers.

But that’s not how it works.

Today, most purchases start online. Google processes more than 40,000 searches every second. So when you think about attracting new leads, you’ve got to start where most people are searching.

Optimize Your SEO

The key to getting your dealership at the top of those search results is search engine optimization (SEO).

Ultimately, your entire website should be optimized. This means creating unique page titles and meta descriptions, improving the structure of your URLs, and writing quality text. But if you only have time to optimize certain pages, the place to start is your dealership’s vehicle detail pages (VDPs).

Google uses a complicated search algorithm to determine which websites make it to the top of a search results page. In simple terms, the search engine puts the most useful pages the top of the results. Google wants to offer the best solution for a user’s search. Optimization, then, is the process of making each page the most practical answer to a search query.

This may sound like a daunting task, but it’s something you can start to do on your own. Here are three tips for auto dealers starting SEO optimization on their VDPs:

  1. Photos: Oh, we know the temptation of stock photos. It’s so easy to find a generic picture and use it for every similar model at your dealership, but this is a huge mistake. Buying a car is a very personal investment, and people look at the details. All of the details. You don’t need a professional photographer on staff — smartphones take better photos than a lot of digital cameras these days — but you should go through the car, bumper-to-bumper, and snap some photos.
  2. Keywords: SEO and keywords go hand in hand. To boost the credibility of your VDP in search results, include thoughtfully-placed and relevant keywords on the page. That means more than your body copy, but also places like page titles, URLs and image alt text. Struggling to find the right keywords for your site? Turn to Google’s free Keyword Planner. You can enter topics into the planner to see how many times every month people in your area search for specific terms. A higher search volume means more readers are interested in a keyword, which means it’s likely a good word for you to incorporate on your website. A caveat that the higher search volume will also mean higher competition, so take your time and find the right keywords for your dealership.
  3. Text: Your text is another place to get specific. Just like we don’t recommend generic photos, we don’t recommend using generic copy on your VPDs. Highlight the details of each car to show how it differs from another model. Because you spend all day working with cars, it can be easy to forget what features make each car special, but those are the little things that sell. Don’t leave anything out on your VPDs — we're talking awards, ratings, safety features, special offers, testimonials, and plenty of calls-to-action.

SEO won’t just make search engines happy. All those additional details on your site will improve your standing with customers, too, so the extra work you put in to optimization will pay off twofold.

Generate Creative Content

Optimizing your VDPs lets you make the most of the content already on your dealership’s website. If you want to attract more customers, though, you should start creating new content.

That’s where blogging comes in.

We recently wrote extensive guides on starting a business blog and promoting that blog content. Those are excellent resources to read through before setting up a blog.

But without reading those, you should know that any auto dealership can benefit from the value of a blog. Not only will it improve your SEO rank, it will help you build a reputation as a leader in your community. A blog doesn’t have to just be information about vehicles and maintenance — it can also include job postings, community activities, and service specials.

Before you write a blog post, run your potential topic through Google Keyword Planner to get the best variation of the term you’re considering.

Screen-Shot-2015-10-07-at-8.46.01-AM-253x300You can then take that keyword to a free tool like BuzzSumo. That site allows you to see how many social media shares different blog posts get. This helps you determine if there’s a demand for the topic you’re thinking about sharing with your customers.

If your Web hosting service doesn’t offer a blog tool, WordPress is a great place to start your own. It’s a powerful platform that can even be adjusted to match your own website with a little help from your developer.

You can also modify the function of your WordPress pages with many free plugins (some of which we’ll dig into later in this post), which makes the platform more than just a blog hosting tool. For a small- to medium-sized dealership, WordPress can act as a functional lead generation tool.

Share on Social Media

Once you’ve created all that quality content, you need to share it with the world. Or at least your community. And you need to do it on social media.

Some dealerships operate a Facebook page and maybe a Twitter account, but few go beyond those platforms.

This is a huge mistake.

If you’re not using social media to promote your car dealership, you’re missing out. Remember how we talked about cultivating a relationship with future buyers? Those people are on social media. I’ll bet you my second million on that.

If you personally are uncomfortable with using social media, there’s someone at your dealership who can help. Nearly two-thirds of Americans are now smartphone owners, and it only takes a minute to pull out a phone, shoot a video, and post it on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest all at once.

No matter who you assign the task of social media management for your dealership, make sure they have the tools for success. Hootsuite is a free social media management tool that lets you consolidate accounts into one dashboard. This makes it easy to see replies and messages, schedule updates, and follow other social media accounts.

Every feature of every car on your lot is social media fodder. And there’s a lot of power behind those free social media platforms. Use it to create a community around your social brands and improve your standing with Google.

Get used to that: it always comes back to Google.

Convert Visitors with Digital Tools

Your website is optimized, you’re churning out informative blog content, and your social media community is engaged. Time to sit back and watch the leads roll in, right?

Inbound marketing isn’t quite that easy. But I promise, all the best things in life (and business) take a little work.

Now that your website is driving traffic, you need to convert those visitors into leads. Inbound won’t let you down, though. We’ve got tools for that.

Focus on Forms

There’s a brand-new service we’re really excited about — especially for auto dealerships.

Leadin is a free WordPress CRM and lead-tracking plugin that lets you know who is on your site and what they’re doing. It gives you insight into the social networks a lead came from and automatically pulls public information about that person — like their location and work history — that you can use when you reach out to them.

There’s also a popup form you can use to collect email addresses and promote conversion.

Just because someone isn’t ready to buy today doesn’t mean they’re not worth your time. We’ve found that a dealership that nurtures all leads — from those just beginning to shop to the most marketing-qualified — has a lot of success.

Leadin can help you determine which content speaks to which leads — and which traffic sources convert the best.

If you’ve set up your dealership’s blog with WordPress, Leadin is very easy to integrate, and you can use landing pages built through the blog provider to convert leads. We don’t know of a better combination of services available for free to track and convert digital leads.

Nurture with Email

33633967-279x300The last step in the inbound process is maintaining relationships. This is one place companies following outbound marketing really screw up.

Because outbound marketing doesn’t encourage engagement, there’s little room for nurturing relationships after a sale. You won’t ever see a personalized TV commercial thanking Mr. Smith for buying his truck last week. But inbound marketing allows you to follow up with Mr. Smith personally — and automatically.

This takes a little more work to set up with free services, but email systems like MailChimp or Constant Contact can help your dealership keep in touch with leads. You can even sync your Leadin plugin with those mailing systems to automate messaging when a contact arrives at a certain page.

And again, these are free services for a small contact level. This is perfect for any auto marketing manager who is testing the ropes of digital marketing.

Ultimately, you need to know that mass emails to your whole database will yield mediocre results, no matter how awesome the offer. Email marketing is still vital to inbound marketing, but instead of widespread email blasts, inbound focuses on targeted messages.

We highly recommend using the tracking tools available in the email system you choose. You can get an in-depth analysis of an email’s success and use it to fine-tune future messages. You’ll know which customers aren’t responding to your campaigns, and you can revise your messaging to connect with their needs. This will also open your eyes to the value of email marketing. We promise you’ll see it.

Pick an Inclusive Solution

Free tools like WordPress, Leadin, BuzzSumoGoogle Keyword Planner and Hootsuite make it easy to test the water with digital marketing — without spending thousands on third-party resources every month.

Every dealership's marketing manager should try these products before even considering a large-scale digital marketing plan. These free tools build a necessary foundation so that you can truly appreciate the value in content marketing.

When your dealership starts to see value in these free digital tools, it’s time for a more serious approach. We believe the best product out there is HubSpot. The marketing automation software covers every level of inbound marketing, and it integrates sophisticated publishing and analytics tools with your existing website.

HubSpot is the system we use for our agency and our clients, so we’re not kidding when we tell you it works.

If you're just starting to consider digital plans for your auto dealership, spend some time learning about inbound marketing and the digital marketing tools for auto marketers available online. We've created a lot of free resources for you to learn from on your path to digital success. If you're unsure where to start, we suggest the Guide to Automotive SEO.

Get to work, but let us know if you hit a roadblock — we're happy to help!