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How to Craft an Automotive Paid Search Strategy

There are hundreds of tips and tricks out there (some better than others) for automotive paid search, so we decided to take a break from the nitty-gritty and zoom out. Tips and tricks are all well and good, but only if you have a solid automotive paid search strategy already in place. We’re taking the time today to break down the three steps to constructing a surefire automotive paid search strategy. Here’s how:


Start With Research

Imagine trying to fight a battle with no reconnaissance. With no intel or information about what you were walking into, how could you hope to succeed in your mission? It’s the same principle with automotive paid search. In order to create a successful strategy, your first step is gathering information.

What is meant by “gathering information?” A full audit of your current automotive paid search situation.

An audit is rarely fun (unless you are data nerds like we are) and always time-consuming, but in the case of creating a new automotive paid search strategy, it is a necessity. All agencies (or at least, all good agencies) begin relationships with clients with a full review of their current standing, and anyone creating their own automotive paid search strategy needs to do this as well.

A few of the areas we recommend going over in the course of your audit:

  • Campaigns: Are these laid out in an easy-to-follow structure — even if you aren’t managing the account? Your campaigns should be named appropriately to allow swift recognition and aid distinction between similar campaigns.
  • Ad Groups: Do your ad groups follow best practices, like a maximum of 20 keywords per group? Are the ad groups organized according to the same categories as campaigns, and are they sorted correctly?
  • Date Range: Are you looking at a long-enough range of time to deliver relevant data? A minimum of around 3 months is recommended, but more data will yield better results.
  • KPIs: What have been the KPIs in the past? What does this tell you?
  • Settings: It is often the case the settings are created when an account is started and never changed again. Tweaks to settings like device bid modifiers, ad delivery method, ad rotation, location/language targeting, and ad scheduling can be sources of significant improvement.
  • Keywords: Do you use many broad match keywords, and if so, is there room to add phrase and exact match? If you rely on broad match, is there an effective negative keyword strategy in place?

An audit will help develop a roadmap for creating the strategy — revealing strengths, weaknesses, and the success or failure of past automotive paid search goals. This information will inform the rest of your strategy.

In addition to your audit, consider performing an analysis of your competition. If it has been a while since you took a careful look at what the competition is doing, now is the time. Even if you are only confirming what you found last time, or just suspected was the case, it is always better to go into the strategy-building process with information that has been validated by research. Building your strategy on assumptions and guesswork creates unstable campaigns likely to experience major inefficiencies.


Get Focused

With your audit and competitive analysis done, you’re now in possession of an arsenal of actionable information. This is the time to put the insights you gleaned in the first step to work.

What were the strengths and weaknesses that you uncovered? What areas could be easily optimized, and which need to be completely overhauled? What is your competition doing that you aren’t, and how can you take back that ground? If you’re dominating your usual competition, are there unexplored areas that you haven’t taken advantage of yet? The answers to these questions (and the many more that will doubtlessly arise) will help you determine the direction to take your automotive paid search.

This should result in a goal.

One of the goals we often strive for with our own automotive clients is creating paid search campaigns that don’t just generate sales, but create a relevant dealership presence across the whole shopper journey supporting a wide variety of marketing efforts. This includes initial research to visiting your dealership website and eventually, your dealership.


Drill Down

Now that you have your research and your definitive PPC goal, you can expand to deciding upon the types of campaign(s) you will run and the tactics you will use to do so. Each campaign should support your ultimate automotive paid search goal — the backbone of your strategy.

Below, we’ve outlined common campaign types that typically offer the most success for dealerships.


Branded Campaigns

Branded campaigns are created to target your specific brand. Using keywords that include your dealership’s name or brand, branded campaigns help bolster your brand recognition, stay visible on SERPs, and push down competitors who are trying to poach your keywords.

Branded campaigns are built specifically to make the most out of this type of direct search traffic. Because these shoppers are already looking for you, branded automotive paid search campaigns aim to maximize trust and credibility and encourage a click. This type of campaign often converts very well.


Dynamic Campaigns

Dynamic campaigns serve programmatic ads created by your inventory, set keywords, and provided ad templates. These ads can help shoppers find the specific vehicle they’re looking for (at your dealership), without leaving the SERP.

With dynamic campaigns, your ads are periodically matched against the inventory feed throughout the day and will update based on changes. For instance, if you’ve just sold your last Corolla, dynamic automotive paid search campaigns will stop running ads for Corollas until more appear in the inventory list.


Remarketing Campaigns

Due to the significant length of the car shoppers journey and the enormous value of a loyal customer, remarketing campaigns are a popular element of many automotive paid search strategies. There are several types to take advantage of:

  • Site Visitor Remarketing Campaigns
    This is remarketing to those who have already visited your site. If a visitor visited your site, but didn’t click on your VDPs or SRPs before they bounced there is an opportunity to entice them back with site visitor remarketing.
  • Dynamic Remarketing Campaigns
    Dynamic retargeting campaigns aim to show shoppers the vehicles and offers that are most relevant to them. These campaigns show ads based upon the VDPs or SRPs a user previously visited.
  • In-Store Remarketing Campaigns
    The average number of dealerships visited before purchase has plummeted in recent years, but in-store remarketing campaigns are one of the tools you can use to help address that. If you have lots of visitors stop by but still leave, this could be an excellent addition to your automotive paid search playbook.
  • Post-Purchase Remarketing Campaigns
    Your dealership likely has more to offer than just new cars. Post-purchase marketing campaigns can help you drive more business towards other dealership departments like parts and service.

Conquest Campaigns

Conquest campaigns are always popular in the highly competitive dealership business. Conquest campaigns send your ads in beyond enemy lines by bidding on competitive brands and comparative vehicles. Using geolocation and targeted keywords, these allow you to advertise your dealership and vehicles to the shoppers your competitors are targeting.

Pictured: Ford’s conquesting paid search ads on a search for “new Chevy Silverado.”

Conquest campaigns come with a bit of a warning. Typically, conquesting means a higher CPC and lower CTR, as well as a potentially lower quality score due to the discrepancy between your landing page and the keywords targeted for conquest.
The creation of an automotive paid search strategy can get overwhelming, but it can help to remember that this is a strategy, a big-picture road map to help set you on the right path and make the right decisions. Creating the road map doesn’t mean planning to do the road trip in the next 24 hours, just as selecting the types of campaign you want to take advantage of and would best fit your goals doesn’t mean having to implement those specific tactics this instant.

At each step, take time to review and analyze and meet with key stakeholders to discuss essential components. Getting everyone on board and thinking in the same direction will streamline the process of implementing your new automotive paid search strategy and help generate useful ideas.

As always, if you have any thoughts or would like a little guidance, reach out at We’d love to chat!