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How Auto Dealers Should be Using Third Party Websites

As auto dealers increase their interest, knowledge, and investment in various digital marketing tactics, the discussion on how to best utilize third party auto sites is growing. If you are asking yourself, “what exactly is a third party auto site?”, no worries, let me take my best attempt at defining it. Third party auto sites are websites that do not advocate for any specific auto brands or act in favor of any brand, have unbiased auto related content, and have vehicle listings for consumers to shop for new and used vehicles. Some of the websites that would fall under this umbrella are NADAGuides, Motor Trend, CarGurus,, J.D. Power Autos, Car & Driver, and AutoTrader. This is just a small sample, there are many more on top of the sites I named. These sites are widely used by consumers who are looking for a new car or simply looking for information and vehicle reviews. Below are some guidelines for auto dealerships to follow when deciding how to utilize these sites.

First and Foremost, Get Your Inventory Listed

Make sure your inventory is on as many third party sites as possible, is accurate and is regularly updated. Nothing can turn a consumer off like enticing them to call you or visit you for a vehicle they saw online, only to find out you don’t have that car anymore. It’s crucial to keep your inventory up to date anywhere you are listed online, and that definitely includes third party sites. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles recently named CarGurus a ‘Premier Partner’, and through this new partnership, FCA dealers will now be able to post their Certified Pre-Owned vehicles on CarGurus, and will have access to the CarGurus Display Advertising Programs. CarGurus has seen significant website growth in the past couple years, so they are providing FCA dealers an opportunity to reach an extremely large volume of auto shoppers in the US. I wouldn’t be surprised to see other third party sites make similar deals with other major auto companies. However, for those sites that produce unbiased content, it may prove tough to remain unbiased in the eyes of consumers, when they partner with a specific brand. That could be an interesting topic to follow in the coming years.

Represent Yourself Correctly on Your Own Inventory Listings Pages

Make sure you have your dealer name, and a link to your website, on your inventory pages on these third party sites. You would be surprised at the number of inventory listings on third party sites that don’t have the name of the dealership on the page, let alone a link to the dealership website. To me, that is a huge mistake. It’s done this way to entice consumers to submit a form lead on the third party website. Many shoppers don’t want to submit a form lead on the third party website, or maybe on any site for that matter. Give them the opportunity to come visit you and check-out your inventory live and in-person, if that makes them more comfortable. As a consumer, when I can’t figure out the dealership name and location, I usually Google the VIN of the specific vehicle I’m interested in, and see if I can figure out the dealership that way. But think about how many consumers won’t take the time or don’t think to do that. You are losing out on their business simply because you didn’t include the name of the dealership (and a link), because you wanted them to fill out a form first. Make it clear and easy for the consumer to figure out where the product they want is located. I think that’s something that can be applied to any industry.

Don’t post Used & CPO vehicles without a picture. I’m astonished by the number of listings I see on third party sites that don’t have any pictures. And for the record, posting a generic picture of the car you found on the internet is not any better. You should be posting pictures of the actual vehicle for purchase. Consumers already feel vulnerable to deception when buying a used vehicle, so when you don’t include photos of the car, you are giving them a reason to be skeptical. Also, make sure you fill out an accurate and detailed description of the car. I know this can be time consuming, but it can be the difference in getting the lead and not getting the lead. Hold your marketing/sales staff members accountable, force them to take photos and write detailed and accurate vehicle descriptions.

Do I Need to Advertise on Third Party Auto Sites?

Make sure that advertising on third party sites is part of your display strategy. And more importantly, make sure you are working closely with your marketing services provider to understand which sites your ad impressions are being served on. Some third party auto sites are better than others. Of course I have my own opinion, but that’s not what this article is about. What I will say, is most third party auto sites have inventory listings to shop from, but not all of these sites are thought of in the same way by consumers. Some third party sites attract more enthusiasts and gearheads, while others do a better job of attracting consumes who are truly in-market for a new car. It’s up to you to decide which type of third party site is best for your marketing goals. The point is, don’t assume they are all the same.

Also, this may be obvious, but make sure your marketing services provider sets accurate geo-targeting parameters. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that these third party sites are visited by consumers all over the world, but you only want to reach the consumers that are close enough to consider you as an option for their next vehicle purchase or lease.

Third Party Auto Networks use Blogs and Forums to Pad the Stats

Many third party sites are part of larger networks of auto related websites. Some of these third party networks will try to sell you on their large reach of auto shoppers. Make sure you get a complete list of the sites in their network, and actually take the time to go through it. Many times, the majority of the sites in these networks are smaller blogs and forums for enthusiasts to talk shop and discuss their sports/performance vehicles. These sites are normally not the best option to reach actual consumers who are actively shopping for a new or used vehicle. This goes back to my point about reaching the right consumers, and realizing that all third party websites are not the same.

How Many Ads Can We Fit on a Page?

As I said above, advertising on third party sites should be part of your overall digital strategy, however you need to find the right balance. Third party auto sites have become overrun with ads. Some of these sites have 8-12 ad units per page. Third party sites make their money by selling their ad space, so the more ad space they have, the more inventory they have to sell, and the more money they can make. The volume of their inventory is also dependent on the number of Pageviews they get on each page. So, the more Pageviews they can generate, the more ad space they have to sell, and again, the more money they make. Make sure you are aware of the ad space on these sites you are advertising on, you may decide that you don’t want to serve ads on pages that have 10 other advertisements on them. The higher the volume of advertisements per page, the easier it is for your ad to get lost in the clutter.

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Michael Thomas, Director of Analytics

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