The dealer stood up, stared the cars.com trainer down and fired his question. “Listen, what’s the big difference between online classified ad services and lead providers? They both drive email leads to the dealership.”

The trainer had heard that same question many times before, in sessions across the country. And his response caught the attendees off guard. But it was an answer that every dealer needs to know, because understanding the difference makes a world of difference to the success of your online advertising mix.

Two roles to meet your goals.
Lead providers drive email leads to dealers. So do online classified services. But that’s where the similarities end. The key differences come in the distinct roles each option plays for your dealership, the amount of control each offers, how shoppers interact differently with them, and the results each option delivers.

Here is a brief overview of each type of service, and why it pays to have both working as integral parts of your dealership’s online advertising mix.

Online Classified Advertising Services

What they are: True online advertising for dealers. With online classified advertising services, you can merchandise both your dealership and your vehicle inventory to online car shoppers.

Examples of online classified advertising services: Cars.com, AutoTrader.com, and eBay.com. (Note: eBay.com features used vehicles only)

What they help you do: Sell new and used vehicles and promote your dealership.

Why dealers use them: To drive traffic in all of its forms, including walk-ups, phone-ups, emails, and website transfers to compliment offline efforts and build your dealership brand.

How car shoppers respond: Sites like these attract car shoppers because they feature millions of vehicle listings. Online classified sites also provide shoppers with additional tools and information to make their online shopping experience more productive. Shoppers respond via walk-in, phone, email or website transfer.

Who has control: The dealer is in control.

What that means: Online classified advertising services enable you to showcase your dealership’s logo, phone number, tagline and special offers that tie directly into your offline advertising efforts. You can merchandise your specific inventory of used and new vehicles using multiple photos and detailed descriptions of each vehicle.

How to track them: Online classified advertising services are highly measurable, especially via email, phone and website traffic. Tracking this traffic is done through special 800 numbers and links as well as through special offers. (Be sure to check out the Tips and Techniques section for more information on tracking.)

The bottom line: High ROI; dealer control; traffic driver; brand builder.

Expert recommendation: Approach online classified ad services as the foundation of your online ad plan. Use these services to build your brand and drive trackable traffic to your dealership. Also, remember that your online advertising should provide a strong complement to your offline efforts.

Lead Providers

What they are: Email lead generators.

What they help you do: Sell more new cars.

Examples of lead providers: Cars.com, AutoUSA, and Dealix.

Why dealers use them: To generate new car email leads to the dealership. No phone-ups, walk-ins, web-ups, or branding opportunities are generated via this process.

How car shoppers respond: Car shoppers are enticed to respond from a variety of websites. Interested car shoppers only identify themselves online by completing a lead form. Car shoppers are then frequently assigned to multiple dealers, often of the lead provider’s choice.

Who has control: The lead provider is in control.

What that means: You get more new car leads, pure and simple.This is not advertising. You have no way to promote your dealership’s brand or the characteristics that make your business unique. This means no logo, phone number, or tagline, no tie into any offline advertising efforts, nor do you have control of the way your dealership is presented to the customer.

How to track them: Tracking is done via the email lead and should be responded to with a trackable phone number.

The bottom line: Important for generating incremental leads; essential to choose high quality lead providers.

Expert recommendation: Respond to this type of lead immediately and include information about your dealership in your follow up email to make up for the lack of branding. Clarify to the customer how you received their information, such as via newcars.com. And remember always include a trackable phone number.

Strengthen your foundation.
Now that you know the key differences, it’s clear that a successful dealership needs both online classified advertising services and lead providers to generate traffic in all of its forms. The foundation of your online advertising should be built on a solid presence on multiple online classified ad services. But be sure to strengthen this foundation with high quality lead providers to generate incremental new car leads where needed.

The best of both worlds.
Maximize the traffic to your dealership by selecting a partner who is a leader in online classified advertising and a provider of highly qualified leads. That’s the best of both worlds.