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Car Dealers Should Stop Running SEM Campaigns Right Now


If you’re just going to let a machine do all the work, you might as well stop. The majority of SEM campaigns running for car dealers today are machine-based programs. Is this all bad? No, but there are consequences that come with “set it and forget it” SEM platforms.

Honestly, some dealers can afford to run SEM campaigns through automated systems that miss critical components for optimal results, but why would you want to? Let’s be fair… most dealers are not going to take the time to know how every digital marketing detail affects their bottom line. With that in mind, here are a few tips to fill the knowledge gap that will at least help you keep an eye on areas of importance.

Ad Group Structure

The big SEM machines only need a business name, address, and phone number to automatically create a campaign. What could be wrong with that? The problem is that these campaigns always have too many keywords. Your Ad Groups should only contain a few keywords per group. Yep, it will take longer to set up, but your quality score will remain high, which helps your page position and cost per click.

Campaign Extensions

Campaign extensions include site links, location, phone call, and callout extensions. Proper campaign extension set up not only ensures that your ad takes the maximum amount of page real estate, it provides the most valuable calls to action for the searcher directly from the ad. Many of the machine-based systems fail to set up campaign extensions successfully.

Ad Copy


It shouldn’t be rocket science to write decent ad copy for car dealers when it comes to SEM, but you might be surprised. That’s why we have a couple of best practices. First, you should make sure that each of your ad groups contains a minimum of one mobile preferred ad, one call only ad, and three general ads. Second, be careful if your SEM is run by a big SEM machine AND all your fellow same brand competitors are run by the same, big SEM machine. You might look like everyone else on the page. You wouldn’t create the same exact looking ad anywhere else. Why is it okay for your SEM ad copy?

Ad Scheduling

It’s common for the super SEM machines to completely avoid setting up an ad schedule for car dealer campaigns. This means you’re running ads all night long and on Sundays when most dealers are closed. Does this mean you shouldn’t run ads 24/7 or at all on days your store is closed? That actually depends… It’s probably not a good idea to let it run all through the night, unless you can prove that your conversion rates are high during those hours and that those conversions resulted in real sales opportunities. You’ll probably find out you’re in the majority that sees little (if any) real conversion past midnight and before 6am. Sundays? Most dealers should run their campaigns on Sunday, but with modified bids.

Often, it’s simply a matter of filling the knowledge gap, so hopefully these tips have been helpful. If you’d like to talk SEM, digital marketing, websites, baseball, drums or Seahawks… hit me up!

Be blessed, be focused.

Author Shaun Raines

VP of Marketing Email Shaun Shaun is a true internet car guy and the Vice President of Marketing at DealerOn. His automotive internet career began in 1998 with the Reynolds and Reynolds team that launched Microsoft’s, CarsDirect Connect, Yahoo Autos, Automark Websites and Reynolds Web Solutions. Shaun’s Marketing prowess coupled with expertise in Social Media allows him to effectively market DealerOn’s capabilities, extend its reach and build the right reputation. His unique blend of humor and automotive experience has made Raines a sought after speaker at industry events including NADA, NCM, Digital Dealer, DrivingSales Executive Summit and 20 Groups Shaun lives in Frisco, Texas with his wife, children and dogs.

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