Written By Matthew Finke
Google has been hard at work developing a new type of ad format specifically for automotive markets, and it’s officially titled ‘vehicle ads.’ The purpose? To show Google search users those vehicles for sale that better-match their search terms.
While this update is only currently available in the United States, Google’s already planning to debut the new format internationally, and for good reason: it changes how dealerships can reach potential customers by improving both how vehicle ads are displayed in search results and the particular information within them.
Why Release the Vehicle Ads Update Now?
For a brief snapshot of why Google introduced this update at all, it’s important to consider how the pandemic changed car shopping. For instance, it substantially altered vehicle-buying behavior due to the introduction of stay-at-home orders, and it also initiated a huge transition to online shopping for almost everything, which made it harder for retailers to stay in business without going digital.
For car dealerships in particular, new and used vehicle sales were also affected as demand initially dropped. But now demand is so high the auto industry is still trying to complete model developments and vehicle orders due to the global chip shortage. And specifically for vehicle sales, last year’s McKinsey research of the auto market concluded that older buyers were less likely to visit car dealerships and are more likely to think of online buying as a good substitute for visiting dealers in person.
The vehicle ads update first debuted at the end of 2021 in private beta. It was made available to retailers and marketplaces like Carvana, Auto Trader, and a few big auto groups too. After the six month beta ended, Google announced in March of this year that they were going to start the vehicle ad’s public Beta to really see how it worked en masse.
How Does Vehicle Ads Appear And Work?
In a nutshell, these ads show up at the top of search results as ‘vehicles for sale.’ But according to Google, they’re called ‘vehicle ads,’ plain and simple.
Let’s look at a quick example:
In the above image, you may notice that the vehicle ads update looks very similar to Google shopping. Like Google Shopping, you’ll see visual-based ads at the top of the search results, such as for the “2020 Ford Explorer.” Google Shopping ads don’t seem to include opportunities to make your own ad-copy, but they do display important information about the product, including price, location, shipping, etc. That’s very similar to how the new Vehicle Ads are formatted.
So, vehicle ads look very similar to Google Shopping ads, but they’re not technically the same. You may also notice that the new vehicle ads search results have a different header at the top of the SERPs page.
Google ads have always lacked a visual-ad style that reflected current vehicle inventories in search results, and the vehicle ads update addresses this issue in a similar way to how Facebook uses their dynamic inventory ads. The main difference between Facebook and Google in this case is that there’s no outbound searches for a vehicle on Facebook. So, you’re using things like in-market lists to try and pick the right people to show your inventory to on the Facebook platform.
What Does Vehicle Ads Provide and Improve On?
The most important thing Google’s vehicle ads improves on is visibility. Getting to the top of Google has long-been every dealer’s goal. Back in the days when you used to pay to get there, search relevance did not matter as much. But once Google introduced ad quality and a quality scoring system, ad quality started to matter more. Then you could pay less to still achieve the #1 position in SERPs. But Google’s vehicle ads gives you another way to get to the top without having to worry about the paid-search text ads you can see below the new vehicle ads results.
The only caveat to this update is that you don’t really get to pick your placement within the Google Vehicle Ads Carousel. You can usually see up to five vehicles at a time within the vehicle ads carousel before clicking to expand it for a bigger visual list. But there’s still no way to determine your ad’s placement within the carousel, even by increasing bids or having better-quality ad content. Google is using its algorithm to determine which vehicles are the most similar to what you’re searching for within the vehicle ads results.
But there’s still a lot of key information showing up in the vehicle ad itself, including price and mileage, which are probably the most important factors when shopping, especially for a pre-owned vehicle. These details all show right within the ad itself, so there’s no need for users to “click in” or manually expand a particular listing within the vehicle ad carousel unless they want to see a wider range of results.
One of the coolest parts about this is that these top-most results are pretty intuitive from a search perspective. So, the second we change our search from “2020 ford explorer” to “2020 white ford explorer XLT,” notice that, for the most part, we have only white XLTs showing in the search result:
The takeaway? When consumers learn that they can search this way, any piece of data that’s in the vehicle ads feed becomes searchable and filterable within the search bar. It will take a while for the average Google user to become familiar with this change, but once they do it becomes an especially powerful and valuable tool. Essentially, once you get down to filtering search results by color and trim, there’s a lot fewer results to compete against.
If you have that exact vehicle in stock, in theory your dealership is one of the best matches for that search. The likelihood that a user sees that vehicle ad and clicks on it becomes much higher, thus earning your website more clicks and a more probable buyer conversion too.
Implementation and the Future With Vehicle Ads
So, these new vehicle ads really are important. They even play a little bit into Google’s Performance Max feature, which is a new campaign type the company recently released. Performance Max is basically Google’s way of bringing together all the different networks they offer, like search, display, video, and shopping, all together in a single campaign type. This let’s Google more easily determine where and how you should spend your money to get the best bang for your buck.
Google needs all that data to help determine how you should spend your money efficiently. But these new vehicle ads will likely take up a big chunk of that Performance Max campaign type. For the time being though, it’s just a smart shopping campaign that’s still independent of Performance Max.
Google’s new vehicle ads feature will be hugely important for dealerships. I think it will likely take up the majority of a dealership’s budget for search results, especially when it comes to pre-owned vehicles. The update will help reduce the need to bid on keywords or run expanded text ads below the new carousel. It helps narrow your dealership’s marketing focus toward utilizing the vehicle ads at the top based on what users are specifically searching for.
All that said, it is still a little challenging to get vehicle ads up and running. It requires a particular data feed formatted exactly the way Google wants it, which is always the hardest part. There are a couple of providers out there, like Homenetauto, that let you purchase an already-completed and formatted data feed that can get sent directly to Google.
There are also still plenty of hoops to jump through with Google in terms of the company reviewing your dealership website to make sure it’s compliant and reviewing the products themselves to make sure they’re also compliant. But once you get through all that, the vehicle ads are pretty easy to maintain after being implemented.
Overall, these vehicle ad details will be extremely important from a digital advertising perspective for all dealerships. Users will quickly become more familiar with how easy it is to search for the finer details of the vehicles they need, so don’t hesitate to take advantage of this feature to help your dealership’s inventory hit that #1 spot in search results.