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How to Bring Your Service Bays to Life with Paid Search


In early 2015, Ward’s Auto published an article that had an interesting data-point from, wherein Cars.com1 found that consumer ratings for the dealer’s service department were a key factor in the final buying decision. If you’ve been in the car business a while, this shouldn’t surprise you. It is also no surprise to anyone that a dealer’s fixed operations efforts are crucial to revenue, profitability and customer loyalty. As a digital advertising agency that focuses on Websites, SEM (search engine marketing) & SEO services, what baffles us is why most dealers allocate lesser than 10% of their paid digital advertising budget to fixed operations2 — even after knowing these facts.

In speaking with dealers, it appears there are typically three reasons why dealerships don’t focus as much on fixed operations advertising as variable operations advertising. The first reason is that dealers primarily-focus their digital marketing on vehicle sales, just as that’s been the focus of their traditional marketing spend for decades. Secondly, many dealers assume that buying their own brand name is sufficient for covering the available Search service opportunities. Finally, agencies (including DealerOn) have failed to properly show value or track success in a clear manner. We are as guilty of this last one as anyone else and have spent the last few quarters working on and refining what a solid digital advertising strategy might look like for dealerships. We wrote this article so that you as a dealer can get actionable tips to improve your fixed ops SEM strategy.

We’re going to focus on 3 key questions:

  1. What can be done to acquire the best quality of paid traffic?
  2. What can be done to ensure that the consumer actually engages with your fixed ops content?
  3. How can consumers contact you quickly once they’ve decided they’re going to transact with you?

Acquiring Qualified Traffic

This is undoubtedly the bedrock of great search marketing campaigns. “Qualified” traffic for a dealer’s service department includes the consumers who are most likely to visit your Service department when they see your ad.

Acquiring qualified traffic hinges on two key aspects — choosing the right keywords to attract the type of customer that’s most valuable to your business, and targeting the right geography with the right message.

Now, finding the right keywords for your budget means understanding how people actually search for service or maintenance-related terms. In our experience, service related searches typically fall into 5 categories shown below.


We’ve found that the average dealership is usually comfortable investing $1500 per month (roughly $50/day) to pilot fixed ops search campaigns. Given the size of the budget, it is critical for dealers to take a disciplined approach to the types of keywords they buy or bid on. The table above shows you the order you should focus on during the initial stages of your campaign. Keep an emphasis on dealer, OEM, and local searches first. Don’t try to conquest your local Jiffy Lube or buy generic service searches until you’ve gained strong impression shares on every other category.

The next key aspect is identifying the right geography to target. Remember that 70% of all service visits take place within 10 miles from home3, so you want to dominate your immediate area first. Don’t extend the geographies you’re targeting until you’ve maximized your impression share in your immediate proximity. In setting your geographic targeting, it is important to incorporate these factors:

  1. What type of market do you serve? Is it a densely populated metro with multiple stores and options for consumers to choose from, or is it a sparsely populated region with few service shops around? (the denser the region, the smaller your targeting area should be)
  2. Which regions around you have the most units or vehicles in operation (UIO/VIOs)? Emphasize these with location-based bids.

The final key to acquiring qualified traffic is delivering the right message to the right kind of shopper. Interpreting search intent is one of the most critical factors in building a high ROI SEM strategy for Fixed Ops. For instance, a user looking for “best tires for Toyota” is someone who isn’t as close to shopping, but is researching options. Similarly, a user searching for “schedule jeep maintenance” is ready to buy. In both cases, if you’re going to spend money for their click, you need to provide an ad that addresses their issue; i.e, researching or scheduling an appointment.

Just like with keywords, service ads can be divided into five categories, shown below. The goal is to marry assumed search intent and the appropriate creative, ad format, message and landing page.


Pro Tip: Google’s new price extensions can be a handy tool in showcasing price points or special offers for your service specials. Price extensions can be used in conjunction with ad scheduling to optimize for those times that you know you have fewer appointments scheduled and your bays are going to be under-utilized.


Now that we’ve discussed how to acquire traffic, let’s talk about how to engage and make these valuable users convert!


Creating Engaging Site Content and Emphasize a Conversion Focus

There are four primary “conversions” for the typical service/maintenance consumer:

  1. a phone call to the service department/station
  2. a service web form lead
  3. an appointment scheduled directly through an integrated service scheduler on your site
  4. Chat/SMS interaction

Cox Automotive’s study found that 69% of consumers tend to call to schedule an appointment, whereas only 14% of them engage through a dealer’s website4. You have to be able to measure each of these conversion methods and entice your customers to click on your ad if you are going to be able to optimize your campaigns for the keywords and ads that actually drive Service RO’s for your dealership.

Here are some additional tips for optimizing your Fixed Ops service marketing:

  1. Tailor your landing pages and content to the device. Make sure images for mobile consumers are legible & easy to read. Paying for mobile traffic and sending it to a landing page designed for a desktop computer is a waste of money.
  2. Ensure your landing pages incorporate the key elements for conversion:
    • An offer consistent with the ad copy/offer
    • A “why buy message”
    • Key facts about the particular topic (oil changes, tires, brakes, etc)
    • Prominent directions and phone number information
    • Clear and obvious conversion forms
  3. Given that most of your users are going mobile, the mobile experience should be your primary focus. As our CCO, Mike Devito loves pointing out, many dealer sites still don’t optimize the mobile experience appropriately. Instead of asking a mobile user to “print a coupon,” provide a mobile coupon that can tie into Google wallet or Apple Pay – they are much more user-friendly and trackable!

Hopefully, we’ve been able to provide some actionable tips to get started on your journey to fixed ops success with paid search. If you would like to get more information or just chat about how we might be able to help, feel free to contact us at


1. Ward’s Auto web article
2. Internal DealerOn Digital Advertising Data
3. 2016 Maintenance Repair Study (pdf)
4. 2016 Maintenance Repair Study (p. 5)

Author Aurko Chatterjee

Aurko Chatterjee, SVP, Product Development Aurko Chatterjee serves as the SVP of Product Development & Marketing at DealerOn - overseeing the product management, UX, Data and Marketing functions. He joined DealerOn 9 years ago and has played a role in building and shaping multiple teams over his tenure. Prior to joining DealerOn, Aurko worked for Cox Automotive and Google Inc.

More posts by Aurko Chatterjee

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