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An Analysis on Third Party Lead Providers

To have or not to have: Big Third Party Listing Providers for Automotive

Some of us remember the days when you could pick up a copy of AutoTrader's magazine along with your local newspaper to scope out the latest used car listings, and wow haven't we come a long way to how we can list and showcase our vehicles!? There have been several third party vehicle listing providers over the years, but there are a few we call the 'big' third party lead providers - AutoTrader, Autobytel,, Carfax, CarGurus, Edmunds, and Truecar. If I left any off, apologies, but these are the ones that I have seen over the years that currently seem to dominate the Third-Party Listing (TPL) space.

In this article I want to help dealers and marketing teams:


It is quite obvious that car shoppers use these sites to shop for vehicles, but what is not so obvious is how to choose a provider for different markets. There has been debate over the years regarding dealers not using them at all and relying purely on paid or organic search to drive traffic to the dealership site, only using 1 or 2 of the providers, or simply using nearly all of them. I will provide some insights that might help dealers and marketing teams decide on which listings may be best to use in their market, but more importantly I want to provide insights on some of the 'added-services' these companies provide where some are super beneficial, but some are not as beneficial as you might initially think.

One thing we mostly all agree on, is that TPLs are going to serve you best by listing your Used Cars. Most TPLs will provide the new car listings for a small charge, or at gratis, but ultimately - if you do research on the quantity and quality of leads generated from TPL's from CRM data, you will see which are best geared towards either New or Used. The TPL can also supply average leads in a market as well. TrueCar was a predominately new car lead generator, but more recently is generating used car leads; other TPLs that generate tons new car leads are Autobytel,, and Edmunds.


One might think this is a difficult task, but our good friends at Google can help you quickly identify which TPLs dominate in Paid Organic Search results. Simply take a moment to search in your local market for vehicles you have in inventory such as "Used F-150 for Sale" - and identify which listings come up, whether they are TPLs or Local Dealerships like below:

In this example, dealers are executing paid search to dominate the paid ads area, and they are actually overcoming any TPL paid efforts. However, just a bit below are organic listings - and in my immediate marketing (Marietta, GA) come up in the following order: Carfax, CarGurus, and then Carmax show up - just a bit lower follows Edmunds,, Autotrader (twice) ,and then TrueCar.

Now every shopper may not use Google search, they may go direct to a TPL and start shopping. To help identify which TPL may be gaining most traffic in your market through the direct channel (typing, you may also find it helpful to use Google's 'Trends' tool and use their search comparison tool - it is super insightful and can help identify which TPL shoppers go direct the most in your market. Below shows CarGurus and AutoTrader have the highest trends in the Atlanta, GA market.


A healthy mix of Dynamic Paid Search can also help drive shoppers directly to your site. There are many companies who recommend only paid search, or only TPLs, and then the open minded few recommend a combination. All dealers would prefer that paid search or organic search win the click-driving shoppers directly to their site versus to a third party site, but the reality is that shoppers are using a combination of ways to get to the vehicles they are looking for. Digital marketing partners can easily help set up the best Dynamic Used inventory campaigns for search that include low-funnel shopping search terms to compliment third party listing efforts.


If you have chosen or are already partnered with a TPL, another heavy area we know to focus on is QUALITY of leads and traffic driven to the CRM or website. It is super important to NOT rely solely only on CRM data to understand the performance. Although form leads and now chat on TPLs are mostly automatically tracked due to being sent into the CRM, the numerous phone calls that are generated in most cases are not tracked even at the dealership level within the CRM due to manually entry by salesperson. Reviewing and downloading leads from the back-end of the TPLs reporting tools will ensure no leads are missed, especially phone calls. Taking a look at website analytics from TPLs referred shopping traffic to the site and identifying trackable conversions is an obvious tactic. But then, we have to remember that if the shopper can see the dealership's name or has access to a clickable link to the dealership's website on the TPL, they may go directly to the dealership's website and shop, and then the TPL get NO CREDIT if a lead is generated (of course unless the salesperson asks all the ways they shopped...).

So, a great question is - what package do we choose when a TPL throws a proposal at us? From a high level, be VERY COGNIZANT of added packages of retargeting or display, and the sponsored listings suggestions.

In monitoring traffic for several dealerships we have identified the traffic from TPL's display or remarketing efforts (non-social) are almost BOT-LIKE with poor bounce rates and website engagement, be sure to monitor this. Of course, there is some healthy traffic in there, but in scarce in most cases. The more important part, is what we are doing to a consumer when they are shopping on TPL's websites. 'Display' ads run heavily on most TPL sites. Take a look at a few different TPLs and the display that lives on their site. The only TPLs that DO NOT clutter the customer shopping experience with display on their site's that we know of is CarFax and TrueCar. So if you have display or retargeting on TPLs, note that you will be competing with other brands for the same shopper no matter the location or intensity, as well as non-automotive sites who have simply paid for the space.

For sponsored listings - what is the difference in lead volume, and more importantly quality lead volume when adding sponsored listings? Challenge your TPL provider to give you some data insights regarding your Lead to Inventory ratio when on or not on sponsored listings. Some TPLs showcase proposals for paying for the #1 spot or #2 or #3 spots on results pages within their TPL search results pages - again ask them for Lead to Inventory ratios when obtaining those spots, and ultimately the quality. We have found by removing any type of sponsored listings - that lead volumes do decrease, but we do not necessarily see a decrease in sales volumes.

With all that being said, we do have some preferences based on a lead volume and quality on how we would rank TPLs. When referencing quality, I am using closing rate within CRM. Please keep in mind that this data is amongst 200+ dealerships CRM data, and in various markets. The performance may also depict from your individual market, product line, pricing, photo quality and in-store process for working leads etc:

1.) CarFax - Most Value for the Cost, High Quality Leads (Closing Rate)

2.) - High Quality Leads, Consistent Volume

3.) CarGurus - High Volume of Leads and Decent Quality

4.) TrueCar - Decent Volume and Decent Quality

4.) Edmunds - Decent Volume and Decent Quality

5-) AutoTrader - Decent Volume and Low Quality

6.) Autobytel - High New Car Lead Volume and Low Quality


At Automotive Marketing Marketing Gurus, we will give the first 20 dealerships/groups a FREE Third Party Listing Assessment or Vetting process. Please reach out via email, website or directly through linked in.

Offer ends May 31st, 2021.

visit us at Jonathan Thompson, Lead Guru | CEO email:

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