Shift Searches Into Sales: Use Online Vehicle Listings and Ads to Promote Your Inventory

Shift Searches Into Sales: Use Online Vehicle Listings and Ads to Promote Your Inventory

Last year, I decided that it was time to start looking for a replacement for my 2009 Honda Pilot. (I tend to hold onto vehicles for a long time, as more people are doing lately.)

With this decision, I now had to decide what I wanted in my next vehicle. So, naturally, I turned to the internet to begin my search.

I fit in with the majority of car buyers who use the internet to find their next vehicle. Think With Google says 92% of car buyers research vehicles online before they buy. And while your dealership may not care if you show up for searches like “2023 honda pilot vs 2023 subaru ascent,” you probably want to be in front of searches like “buy 2023 honda pilot near me.” 

This is where organic vehicle listings and vehicle ads on Google and Microsoft can make a difference to your dealership’s bottom line.

Online Vehicle Listings for Your Dealership

Dealerships can list their vehicles online through organic listings and using vehicle ads on Microsoft and Google. (Remember: organic = free.)

Organic Vehicle Listings on Google

Organic vehicle listings can be added to your Google Business Profile and show up when users search for vehicles for sale nearby.

These listings are managed through your Google Business Profile and connect your inventory to Google — so users see your specific inventory when they look at your profile or are searching for vehicles nearby.

They can view price, mileage, photos and other details about specific vehicles right on the search results page. Then, if they want to know more, shoppers can go to the VDP page or call your dealership directly.

And it’s not just automobiles that can be listed. Motorcycles, RVs, powersports vehicles, commercial vehicles, or any other type of vehicle with a VIN can be listed. 

The main catch here is you have to use an automated upload feed through an authorized feed provider, piping your inventory into Google Merchant Center. (We can help with that! This is why we built Cumulus.)

Organic Vehicle Listings on Microsoft

While obviously a smaller competitor in the search engine landscape (compared to Google), Microsoft has been showing up mighty in many ways with their products lately. The Microsoft Autos Marketplace is one of them.

As a dealership, you can reach searchers using Bing, MSN and Edge with your used vehicle inventory. Similarly to Vehicle Listings on Google, users can see details, images, news, videos and reviews about pre-owned vehicles matching their search criteria.

Image from: Microsoft Autos Marketplace Setup Guide

And again similar to Google, you have to set up an automated daily feed upload in Microsoft Ads to have your listings included. (Cumulus can help here, too.)

Paid Vehicle Inventory Ads

Want to target people searching for specific car makes and models and put your inventory at the top of the search results page (SERP)? Paid ads are where you should turn.

Google Vehicle Ads

A couple years ago, Google introduced Vehicle Ads (sometimes called vehicle listing ads) as a type of smart shopping campaign. Then in September 2023, Google rolled these into their Performance Max (PMax) campaign type. This is now the only way to list your inventory within ads on Google.

That being said, these ads are a great way for your dealership to stick out on a crowded SERP. They showcase your inventory and direct people to your VDP, and you only pay when someone clicks to your website. Plus, these people are lower in the buying funnel and more qualified leads when they click to your website.

We have had vehicle ads running for several of our clients before the change in September, and they’ve performed well for bringing in qualified buyers looking for specific vehicles. 

We have had vehicle ads running for several of our clients before the change in September, and we’ve rolled with the PMax change. In 2023, the campaigns generated leads and sales for dealerships at a relatively low cost per click (around 6 cents per click and 22 cents per conversion) compared to our standard automotive search campaigns (around $2.43 and $16 per conversion). 

We have some mixed feelings about PMax campaigns, but so far, the data is speaking for itself. Vehicle ads are a great way to complement and enhance your existing digital ads strategy. (Plus, with a PMax campaign, you are advertising on the display network, YouTube, Discovery and more across Google’s network of ad placements.)

As with organic vehicle listings, you need to provide a daily updated inventory feed piped into Google Merchant Center to run Vehicle Ads. And while vehicle listings allow for other types of vehicles, Vehicle Ads only allow you to upload feeds of non-commercial automotive vehicles — so no RVs, motorcycles, boats or commercial vehicles.

Microsoft Automotive Ads

Like Google’s Vehicle Ads, Microsoft’s Automotive Ads let you showcase your inventory in ads on Bing, MSN, Yahoo!, and DuckDuckGo to searchers with high buying intent, as well as in the Microsoft Audience Network (Microsoft’s version of the Google Display Network).

Image from: Microsoft Autos Blog

There are a lot of similarities between Google Vehicle Ads and Microsoft Automotive Ads. One difference, however, is that Microsoft has made these ads available for motorcycles and RVs as well as non-commercial cars and trucks.

Another difference is that you don’t need to be set up in a merchant center account. You can connect your automatically uploaded feed in the ads account itself.

What Do I Need to Do to Run Online Vehicle Ads?

Whether you’re running organic listings or ads, you need to set up an inventory feed. For Google, you have to be properly set up in Google Merchant Center or these listings won’t work. 

These listings are powered by the information you put in your feed, not keywords, so optimizing your feed is a must. The more information you give Google about your inventory, the better. 

Google and Microsoft also won’t let you get by with just putting “Contact Us” for a price on vehicles. Make sure your feed has all the details about your inventory, so Google and Microsoft can serve the right vehicles to the right searchers — which will only increase the quality of the clicks and calls you receive.

Your Inventory Feeds Could Use Cumulus.

Not sure where to start with setting up your feed? I mentioned Cumulus earlier, our software that connects your inventory feed to different platforms — including Google, Facebook, Snapchat and TikTok. Dealerships with Cumulus get more clicks (4x more) for 5x cheaper cost per click — saving you money and getting more eyes on your cars. 

Ready to generate more leads and sales by advertising your specific inventory? Get a custom proposal for your dealership today.

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