How Car Marketers Get Customers

Rolls Royce Dawn

This post is the second in the “Fight for Leads,” a series focused on lead-generation tactics in four key industry verticals: healthcare, automotive, legal and marketing agencies. Sponsored by CallRail.

More than 17 million people purchased cars and trucks in the U.S. last year, paving the way for the automotive industry to have one of its greatest sales years in history. But that doesn’t mean all is well for the industry going forward. Across the country, dealerships and repair shops say they expect sales to fall flat over the next few years. With interest rates on auto loans expected to rise, and an anticipated flood of used vehicles entering the market, automotive businesses are looking for new ways to squeeze life out of a market that could be sagging.

Compounding the issue is that consumers are becoming savvier in the ways they research and purchase new cars, often favoring online research over conversations with real world salespeople. According to a study by McKinsey & Company, buyers today visit an average of just 1.6 auto dealerships before making a purchase, compared to five dealerships just a decade ago. Car buyers are also relying more heavily on third-party referral websites, like Autotrader and, where they can compare prices on specific makes and models at dozens of local dealerships from one screen.

Although consumers still lean heavily toward dealers and repair shops with the lowest prices, data suggests that more than half (53%) would buy new vehicles more frequently if the buying processed were improved. Fifty-six percent of consumers say they would prefer to start the price negotiation process online, and 72% would prefer to complete credit applications and financing paperwork online.

With more and more of the car buying experience happening on the web, automotive dealerships and repair shops are having to change the way they reach new consumers, and they’re also leaning into digital marketing platforms to find and attract qualified customers. The U.S. auto industry is expected to spend $8.71 billion on paid digital media this year, with a nearly even split between search and display formats. These businesses will be relying more heavily on online solutions like SEO, pay-per-click, third-party directories, and call tracking software for the automotive industry in order to keep incoming leads in the purchase funnel.


Pay-per-click advertising is huge within the automotive industry, with top dealerships creating individual ads for each vehicle in stock. Recent ad format features like Google’s Dealer Automotive ads are driving a 30% increase in CTRs for dealerships. Pay-per-click advertising guarantees that consumers will see that dealership’s listing at the top of Google’s results when they search for the type of vehicle and the city where they’re located. (For example, “2010 Toyota Camry in Nashville”)

Automotive businesses can take their pay-per-click campaigns even further with remarketing tactics. When a consumer visits an online listing and then leaves the business’ website, a digital ad is displayed for the vehicle on other websites the consumer visits. With remarketing, dealerships can serve their website visitors with the exact cars they were looking at on their websites, even after they have left their websites.

Consumers are doing more legwork online before coming to dealerships and repair shops in person. Not only are they evaluating potential vehicles, but they’re also using the web to research local dealerships and auto shops. Potentially hundreds of new and used car dealerships in any metro area could all by vying for the first page of Google results, making SEO a virtual requirement for any local automotive business hoping to remain competitive.

To help their vehicle listings and information pages stand out, dealerships can feed in reviews from third-party sites like They should also make sure to include star ratings, price ranges, and specific details like the year, make, and model of each vehicle in stock to boost search engine rankings. Digital marketing firms often handle the heavy lifting when it comes to SEO for their automotive clients, giving marketing professionals at these businesses more time to spend on other paid lead generation tactics.

Third-party Directories
Third-party automotive directories like Autotrader, CarMax, and have become valuable sources of information for consumers, and thanks to successful digital marketing practices, car buyers will often find these websites first when they start to research available cars in their local areas. They’ve also become a significant source of traffic for local dealership websites.

Many third-party automotive directories work hand-in-hand with local dealerships, providing local marketing assistance in referring visitors to their websites in exchange for a fee. Research has shown that as many as 80% of website visitors viewed inventory on a dealer’s website after having been on Autotrader or

Call Tracking Software
Although the majority of car buying research happens online, consumers are more likely to pick up the telephone as they inch closer to closing the deal. By adding unique tracking phone numbers to their websites, pay-per-click ads, and listings on third-party directory websites, automotive businesses can fully evaluate the effectiveness of each marketing channel. They can also better serve new leads, with deeper understandings of what type of information the consumer has already collected before calling the business.

With keyword-level call tracking, dealerships and repair shops can actually see the content that visitors have viewed on their websites before placing a call and what actions were taken after the call was completed. This information can be useful as marketers look into which pages are delivering the most phone calls and how they could better optimize the pages visitors view after their calls are over.

The automotive industry is at a crossroads, and the only way dealerships and repair businesses will continue to grow is by adapting to changes in the consumer marketplace. Today’s consumers are doing a greater share of their research and buying online, and auto brands that dedicate a significant portion of their ad spending to digital channels are likely to see continued growth in the coming years.


CallRail provides call analytics to more than forty thousand companies and marketing agencies. CallRail’s easy-to-use platform helps data-driven marketers optimize the performance of their advertising campaigns with
powerful call tracking and call recording software.


  1. James Quinn
    October 14, 2016

    Interesting read. I think the role of call tracking in closing deals is still undervalued. I have been using a call tracking service for a while (Ringostat), which also provides keyword-level call tracking. It gave my business a major boost with all the analytics I can now gather. Would be interested to read more about what call tracking can do.

    1. October 14, 2016

      Completely agree on call tracking still being undervalued. Pretty regularly here at CallRail I get to see dealerships and even some repair shops completely transform their inbound close rates when they implement call tracking. We’d love to win your business, btw. 🙂 If you’re interested in a demo please ping me on email!

      1. James Quinn
        October 17, 2016

        Thanks a lot, Mark, good to know. Though currently I am satisfied with the call tracking I’ve been using and I’m not planning to switch.

  2. October 17, 2016

    Local co-marketing can be helpful too.

    1. October 21, 2016

      Would love to hear more about what you mean. What kind of local co-marketing have you had success with?

      1. October 21, 2016

        We are piloting a platform where local stores/biz can interactively explore on online map for co-marketing partner candidates within miles, along with the platform’s recommendations of non-competition,
        compatibility, and reachability of the candidates.

        The platform handles the co-marketing invitation, request, confirmation, and eventually dispatches promotion e-mails with co-marketing content “inserts”.

        Platform usage scenario:
        Become the platform member
        Explore nearby co-marketing candidates
        Send out invitation or requests to your selected candidates
        Confirm and start on your co-marketing partnerships
        Prepare your own promotion e-mail & co-marketing contents
        Send out (via the platform) your promotion e-mails to your customers
        with insertion of co-marketing contents from your co-marketing
        Vice versa, all your co-marketing partners send out their promotion
        e-mails to their own customers, with insertion of your
        co-marketing contents

        No success story yet, still in piloting stage for selected cities

        1. October 24, 2016

          That’s a really interesting platform. I just returned from a Local U Advanced workshop on local search and there was a ton of focus on the importance of finding quality, hyper-local partners for getting backlinks. It seems like your platform would be a fantastic option for businesses or agencies (and not only automotive businesses) looking to do some co-marketing outreach for the purpose of content generation and local link-building. Would love to get a demo when it’s ready!

          1. October 24, 2016

            Thanks Mark for sharing your views. It is true that we’ve built the platform aiming for applicability for general local independent SMBs, whom we see are lacking resources to get benefits of state-of-art marketing. We also see that it can be in the toolbox for marketing agencies assisting their clients,

            We have now approximately 450k+ local independent SMB records across all US business areas for co-marketing exploration. Our current focus is on usage refinement. Will certainly invite you specifically when we’re ready for first round critics 🙂 Thanks in advance!

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