,,,, – the list goes on. These websites have many labels: dealership aggregators, automobile classifieds, car local listings comparison websites, car sales websites, third party automobile inventory websites, car shopping websites. They invest heavily to attract in-market automobile shoppers to visit their website, and try to get car dealers to pay them to showcase their inventory on these websites.

It is tricky for dealers to know if investing in these car shopping websites is worth the money. Most dealers consider these sites a means of getting their used car inventory in front of buyers. But, it is possible to present new inventory as well so the dealer can benefit from co-op funding from auto manufacturers.

Attribution is tricky for car shopping websites

Attribution is tricky, especially for car shopping websites from the dealer’s perspective. Every car shopping website wants a list of a dealer’s sold vehicle identification numbers (VINs) so they can match up who viewed the VIN on their car shopping website, and take credit for the sale. If they can’t get that list, some get access to the dealer’s Google Analytics (GA) property, and if the VIN is in the URL, they watch for it to disappear from GA page reports as a sign it is sold (this approach can be skewed by transfers to other dealerships, and auction & wholesale sold vehicles). Clicks to the dealer’s website can be another measure of success for car shopping websites, but they do not refer a meaningful amount of traffic relative to the spend on these sites (from a few to tens of thousands per month). Nonetheless, we know these car shopping websites are adding value.

See the forest through the trees

What’s a dealer to do? First of all – acknowledge that multiple advertising sources contribute to the sale of a vehicle. Also remember you can have perfect advertising across multiple sources, and any number of other things can shipwreck the sale: not pricing to market, bad merchandising, website problems, sales folks not answering emails or phone calls in a timely / professional manner – or just blowing it with the guest inter-personally (especially relative to the all important showroom visit).

If only car shopping websites allowed this…

How can a dealer more objectively get value out of these car shopping websites? The answer may be with an advertising tactic that is possible for car shopping websites to facilitate right now: building Facebook catalog audiences from inventory viewed on a car shopping website, and showing Facebook dynamic products ads to those users that land ad clicks on the dealer’s website, not on the car shopping website.

Get a car shopping website to sell you this ad product, and now you have much clearer attribution visibility into how these websites are helping you sell cars (and a big competitive advantage if other dealers don’t do it too). It is possible because the dealer website and car shopping website already present inventory associated with a common VIN (or stock number, or some other common vehicle ID). The car shopping website already has photos for dealer vehicles, pricing, the URL to the VDP on the dealer’s website – everything they need to facilitate Facebook dynamic product ads. Here’s how it would work:

  1. The car shopping website creates a Facebook catalog for each dealer advertising on their site (obviously requiring frequent updates – but they already have access to your inventory feed – and hence updated inventory data). The URL in the catalog for each vehicle is the dealer’s URL, not the third party inventory site’s URL.
  2. When a user views a vehicle details page (VDP) on the car shopping website, a Facebook automotive inventory ads event, associated with the related vehicle ID, is sent to Facebook, adding that user to a Facebook catalog based audience associated with the vehicle they viewed.
  3. A Facebook dynamic product ad campaign can then be launched, targeting this dealer’s catalog based audience. Ads presented to users represent the vehicle they viewed on the car shopping website, but when clicked land the user on the dealer’s website. Attribution for user activity on the dealer’s website is much clearer / cleaner than user activity that only stays on the car shopping website, so everyone wins (if the car shopping website gets related credit in attribution reporting – and is paid for the advertising).

Dealers can and should be running their own Facebook dynamic product ads based on VDP views on their own websites. Many users that view a dealer’s inventory on a car shopping website also visit the dealer’s website, so they would end up in the dealer’s own Facebook catalog based audience. This ad product would also cover the many in-market, low in the sales funnel users that viewed their inventory on a car shopping website, but never made to a dealer’s website.

This approach also allows the car shopping website to offer attribution reporting that would not be possible if Facebook was not in the mix. If the car shopping website can get their Facebook pixel on a dealer’s website, they will be able to report when a user sees their dynamic product ad, and then later visits the dealer’s website, even if the user does not click their ad (also inherent proof the user viewed the dealer’s vehicle on the car shopping website in the first place – as long as the car shopping website is not simply retargeting to the dealer’s website visitors).

However, allowing a car shopping website to put their Facebook pixel on a dealer’s website is exponentially more valuable to the car shopping website than to the dealer. In doing so, a dealer exposes data to the car shopping website for every car shopper that visits their website, for which they invested heavily. That data could be used by the car shopping website to present competitor ads to a dealer’s website visitors.

One VDP view, multiple Facebook catalogs

In theory, a car shopping website could also use the dynamic audiences Facebook Marketing API to populate multiple dealer product catalogs based upon a single car shopping website VDP view. \

For example, if I view a 2019 Ford F-150 XL on a car shopping website, their back-end can lookup all similar vehicles in their inventory database, and use the Facebook API to add me to more than one dealer Facebook product catalog (in each I would be associated with a VIN offered for sale by that respective dealer). This obviously could be a dicey tactic, depending on whether or not the car shopping website offers exclusivity in a market – at least for an auto make (e.g., Ford), if not in general for this ad product.

If there are no exclusivity options, a Nash equilibrium of sorts will ensue as all dealers learn of this ad tactic, and will feel the need to engage it or lose business to dealers that do. Sales reps for car shopping websites already do this with classified listings – convince all dealers they must have them to stay competitive. Seems like this new ad product would tend toward the same state. We’ll only find out if car shopping websites start offering it!

Car shopping websites and Facebook dynamic product ads