How to Maximize Google’s New Vehicle Listing Ads

How to Maximize Google’s New Vehicle Listing Ads

Ray Thibodaux
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Date Published:
Tuesday, April 5, 2022

At the 2022 NADA Show, Google announced vehicle listing ads would be available to all automotive advertisers in the United States. The announcement was significant since dealers will now have a new tool to reach highly qualified local car shoppers, similar to shopping ads already familiar to online consumers. This post will review how VLAs work, tips on maximizing performance to drive more vehicle sales, and initial results from the pilot program.

Smartphone shows Search results for “2019 suvs for sale.” There are two ads, each showing a picture of a car and its details. The ad on the left shows a white SUV and the ad text below the image says “2019 Honda Passport Sport, $32,773, Used - 8k mi, Park Place Motors” and has a location icon to indicate the car is in Fort Worth, Texas. The ad on the right shows a dark blue SUV and the ad text below the image says “2019 Toyota RAV4 Limited, $35,286, Used - 16k mi, Big Star Honda” and has a location icon to indicate that the car is in Houston, Texas.

Introducing VLAs

We’ve known that vehicle buyers rely heavily on digital information and online research when purchasing a vehicle. According to a recent study conducted by Google / Kantar in 2021, “89% of new car buyers researched their new vehicle online,”1 while a previous study from Google states, “search is the most commonly used source in the car-buying process”2.

As their latest search offering in the automotive vertical, Google designed vehicle listing ads to serve as a low funnel, performance-focused ad type displaying important vehicle information to shoppers searching for cars for sale. Search queries such as “2022 Honda Pilot” trigger carousel-style ads located at the top of the search results page. Vehicle listing ad units are customized to feature the make, model, year, mileage, location, and vehicle image, allowing shoppers to see critical details before even interacting with the ad. Upon clicking the VLA, the shopper is linked directly to the vehicle details page on the dealer site, where they can place a call, fill out a form, and chat with a sales representative. Advertisers can measure these actions and assign value to each depending on their importance within the car buying journey.

Tips For Maximizing Performance

Vehicle listing ads first appeared in search results in 2021. The TMG team joined the pilot program with our automotive dealers through our Google partnership. Enrolling in VLAs is a multi-step process, including creating a Google Merchant Center account, submitting a vehicle inventory data feed, and enabling the Google Ads campaign. From our early involvement, we’ve learned a few things to deliver more value to our dealers. 

The vehicle data feed is the most critical asset for VLAs. The feed is what Google uses to match online shoppers with vehicles relevant to their search queries and dynamically generate ads in search results.

  • Optimize the vehicle feed - It is crucial to provide comprehensive data for each vehicle to maximize the campaign's reach and keep your ads competitive in auctions. Only specific vehicle attributes are required (make, model, mileage, year, location, image), but supply as many optional attributes as possible to help Google understand your inventory. These include additional details such as the trim or body style of the vehicle.
  • Submit quality data - Use proper formatting to avoid disapproved statuses that prevent an ad from showing. Image quality can also impact performance, so make sure the images submitted are high quality with minimal backgrounds. Routinely monitor Merchant Center product diagnostics to address any issues since vehicle inventory can change frequently.
  • Keep your data fresh - Update vehicle feeds at a minimum of once daily to ensure the campaign accurately reflects your inventory and prevents sold or out-of-stock vehicles from appearing in ads. 
  • Choose the correct conversions - Select conversion actions valuable to your business that bring shoppers closer to a vehicle purchase. Many times these include calls, form lead submissions, and store visits. VLAs use a value-based smart bidding strategy, so it is also vital to determine the value of each of these actions to optimize campaign delivery. Use your sales data to define the correct monetary value of each conversion action to properly inform machine learning on which conversions are the most important to reach your business goals. 
  • Allow for a sufficient learning period - Google recommends a two-week learning period where conversions and spend volume may be low. Accounts receiving a higher volume of conversions may see data stabilize in less time. Consider the delay when shoppers click an ad and submit a lead or visit the dealership, which can be up to around 30 days. Avoid making significant changes during the learning period and give conversions ample time to populate before evaluating performance thoroughly. 

Findings from live campaigns

VLA performance when compared to model-specific Search campaigns

The Moran Group team has run vehicle listing ads for several months, leveraging the new ad type to drive highly qualified, local traffic for our dealers’ pre-owned inventory. Over this time, we ran our existing search campaigns targeting searches with similar shopper intent. Generally, VLA’s have been more efficient at generating leads and store visits than Search ads, resulting in a lower CPA from VLA traffic. These campaigns benefit from machine learning and automation and successfully deliver incremental traffic to dealers’ VDPs while capturing traffic at a lower cost than similar model-specific search campaigns. Vehicle listing ads have demonstrated the ability to reduce friction in the car buyer’s journey by delivering shoppers the exact vehicle they want to find. 

Choose the right partner

With Google opening up participation in VLAs to all dealers, now is the time to take advantage of the new ad type and start placing your inventory prominently at the top of search results to reach more qualified car shoppers. It is essential to work with a trusted Google partner well-versed in the multi-step process of launching and optimizing VLA campaigns. Our team is experienced in getting dealer accounts allow-listed by Google, configuring Merchant Center, creating a vehicle data feed, and regularly submitting the most up-to-date inventory from your website. Contact the team at TMG to get started or learn how you can maximize opportunities from vehicle listing ads.

Call The Moran Group at 225-769-1059 or schedule a meeting online today!

  1. Google/Kantar, Gearshift Study, US, 2021, n=1,408 new car buyers
  2. Kantar TNS/Google, U.S., "The Drive to Decide 2017," n=600 online consumers who have bought a new car within the last 12 months, 2017.
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