Construction Tips from the Website Architects

There has been a lot of discussion of social media and social media marketing for auto dealers lately. The reason for this is obvious; with more than 80 percent of Americans using social media at least once a month, it’s where the customers are. With all the emphasis on social media, however, it’s important that dealers don’t neglect their most important online presence—their website.


Your website is your online dealership. The majority of your customers, whether they find you on Facebook, by searching Google, or see your ad on television and type in your URL directly, will visit your website before they contact the dealership. If your website doesn’t have the information your customers want, such as inventory and product reviews, or is difficult to navigate and doesn’t appear professional, your potential customers will simply hit the back button and give their business to the dealership up the road.


Fortunately we are passed the point of convincing dealerships that they need to have a website; in today’s auto market, successful dealerships already know they need to have a web presence. The question is: What are the essential parts of a successful dealership website and how can you incorporate them into your site?


In order to help find the answer, we spoke with industry experts Mike DeCecco, director of industry relations and spokesperson for and Jock Schowalter, president and CEO of Dealerpeak, to get their advice about how dealers can receive the best ROI for their investment in their websites and grow their sales. If you want to know more about them, check out “The Website Architects” on page nine of this issue and don’t forget to visit for more information on how to turn your website into a sales generating machine.


How can dealers best integrate social media onto their websites?


Kendall Billman—Integrating social onto your website is a must, but you should first determine your dealership goals and more importantly develop a full social media plan. We have created several packages for clients and it allows for simple integration of the top social platforms to a more advanced offering where the dealer integrates Facebook, Twitter and their blogs directly on the home page of the website.


I believe the biggest question is the time and needs of the dealership. We understand the many options and hired a series of social media experts to help build and establish our client’s social media plans.


Mike DeCecco—Social media is quite the buzzword. Incorporating social media into your website can be a daunting task. Putting links to your Facebook page might seem like an easy way to get started, but think twice about links that take your users off your website to a place like Facebook where they will be presented with endless distractions. Instead, consider social plug-ins like a social toolbar that appears at the bottom of your browser and allows visitors to have access to your social content without leaving your website.


Jock Schowalter—The best way to market and drive traffic to social media sites (which should offer customers feedback, specials, get to know the dealership information, etc.) is to include links on all websites, automated emails, email signatures for all dealership personnel, and more. It is critical that value is placed on the dealer’s Facebook, Twitter, and other pages to drive customers there and keep them there using engaging content.


What is the best way for dealers to promote their website and their online inventory?


Kendall Billman—There are many ways to promote your website and inventory and many directions depend on the direction and goals of the dealership. Below are a few areas I would check:


1.       Insure the website is properly promoted on all traditional media.


2.       Does the website have relevant SEO? Many companies start off with advertising your dealership name for the title bars instead of starting with make, city or more detailed SEO phrases. This is really an area you can advance when your dealership name is the same as your URL.


3.       SEM is an area with minimal cost when comparing advertising and the ROI gives you higher levels of tracking. When looking at SEM, you want to concentrate on Google first and then move to Yahoo and Bing. We are also a big fan of Facebook and the cost for brand promotion is one of the best.


4.       Social media is another place where you can promote your inventory. We have several tools to allow dealers to insert inventory on Facebook. It displays inside of the page and does not continue to popup additional sites. Twitter is also a great source for promoting inventory. We like to promote a new special every day on Twitter and one vehicle special each week.


Mike DeCecco—Make sure you’re syndicating your inventory properly. By that I don’t mean spraying your inventory all over the web to every free service on the planet. That’s not helping you. What will help you is making sure you’re sending your inventory in a consistent format to the vendors you work with. Also, by now you’ve all heard that merchandising is critically important. Make sure your cars have plenty of photos, high quality video, and accurate and compelling descriptions with social context if possible.


Jock Schowalter—Social media, email marketing, exit surveys, phone and voice mail campaigns, blogs, and anywhere a dealer creates a presence for themselves, their people, their vehicles, and their dealership—both virtually and non-virtually—it is critical that everyone within the store is eating their own cooking and constantly driving traffic to not only their website but also their online inventory. The consumer needs to know that online negotiation is the best and easiest way for them to shop, buy and save for their new vehicle…online…like never before. Video testimonials of the online experience with messages from customers, quotes, and other references to where these tools have created a positive buying experience for the customer are critical to post on websites, blogs, social media sites, and everywhere consumers are going to learn more about the dealer before they buy.


In what ways can a dealer improve or update their website without spending a fortune?


Kendall Billman—Good content is the best way for any dealership to begin updating their website. I suggest having each department concentrate on creating pages and pages of content. Have every salesperson take a vehicle and write a real time review. Look at service department and have them create FAQ’s for customers. Ask yourself questions such as “How does my finance department differ from my competitors?” Those types of questions are exactly the ones your customers are asking and more importantly they are searching those terms in search engines. Hiring a content writer can make your dealership stand out in your area.


The next area I would look at is the overall flow of your website. Look at it from the customers view. Can you easily find and search for a vehicle? Can they easily get to service? Parts? Now look at the website with conversions in mind. Do you have call to actions on each page helping the customer to get more information, contact the dealership, and talk to a sales professional? Improving the usability of your website can lead to higher customer conversions.


If your website provider gives you reports with greater access than the industry norm, Google Analytics, then you have many areas to help increase your overall website performance.


Mike DeCecco—Don’t cheap out on SEO. Most providers have a strong out of the box solution that will perform well on the search engines, but just having that is not enough. You should be purchasing an advanced search optimization package from your website provider or partnering with an outside firm that can help you boost rankings. If you start with a great site, but you don’t do anything to keep pace with the changes in SEO, you’ll quickly fall behind.


Jock Schowalter—Creating mobile websites that convert and are viewable from all mobile devices seem to be an increasing trend today. Adding links to social media sites, blogs, specials (and actually keeping specials relevant and up-to-date on a regular basis) and other value-building tools on the dealer website can also transform it from being a static library of information to a lead generation machine! With the shift we are seeing in consumer buying only going more and more to the web, it is also critical that every dealer equip themselves with a full service online negotiation system that not only introduces the dealership and their sales process to the consumer, but also offers them a non-confrontational, no-pressure, shopping environment for them to research, negotiate and buy their next vehicle almost completely online.


I’m afraid to say that with this shift, if dealers do not add online negotiation to their existing website and their existing online shopping process that they are going to lose to their competition almost every single time. These are just a few easy, inexpensive ways to transform the dealership’s current online experience.


Name the top three “must haves” for any dealer website.


Kendall Billman—Narrowing down the top three must haves for a dealership is not as easy as it sounds. I am going to focus on the areas that will increase conversions and overall give more push to the dealership.


1.       First you should be using a website platform that has the inventory management system built in and is 100 percent integrated. This will give you many benefits and advantages over your competitors. Being able to add inventory comments, enhance the keyword SEO, show rebates, or offer detailed prices gives you flexibility over many of your competitors.


2.       SEO is the next “must have” for every dealership. The SEO needs to be fully customizable and easily changed from the dealership level. Every page and I repeat every page must give you the ability to change the title bar, URL keywords, description meta’s and page content. You should also be able to insert video’s and HTML. The flexibility of the SEO can give you a good indicator of how easy your website platform is built for the many changes search engines make.


3.       The last piece, and one that is currently provided to every VinSolutions customer, is our VinLens. This is a true customer information application giving the dealership real time traffic with the ability to convert those shoppers into customers. VinLens also helps you by reactivating leads that were marked lost, but who are back on your website. The reactivation contacts the salesperson and the overall system continually reaches out to keep all parties connected. Reactivating lost leads gives your sales staff a huge advantage over your competition. There are many dealership specific advantages of VinLens and not enough space to properly detail. This is one product that is a true game changer and worth a quick demo.


Mike DeCecco—

1.       Compelling inventory displays—great merchandising—video.


2.       Complete fixed operations content—It accounts for the majority of dealer profits in most dealerships.


3.       Complete search marketing strategy including pay-per-click and SEO


Jock Schowalter—Top three. Wow, top three. Well, number one—it must be easy to use. Offering too much to any consumer will only drive them away. Simple tools, simple options, and simple ways to shop the site are critical.


Number two—the site must offer a place for the dealer to communicate directly with the consumer. This needs to be an open forum conversation for anything from questions, to trade-in information, even a safe environment for the dealer to negotiate directly with the customer before they ever step foot into the brick and mortar.


Number three—the site must be engaging. It must use only the best and most high-end tools available to the industry today. This will really create a first class experience for the consumer and guarantees to build so much value in the dealership that the consumer will call, email, or walk into the dealership for more information, because they were engaged up front on the dealership’s virtual showroom floor.


What are the most important new tools and technologies to help dealers use their website to sell more vehicles?


Kendall Billman—The industry for automotive websites is changing quickly. Stand alone website providers are losing any advantages due to the integration of the website with CRM, market pricing, and enhanced inventory management systems. VinSolutions offers the first fully integrated system helping dealers gain a competitive advantage.


We first looked at the website and developed a series of call to actions to enhance the consumers time on the website including inventory features to increase stickiness. One feature is the high resolution photos. This small enhancement gives the consumers the ability to zoom in and out of each picture. The attention to detail and ability for the consumer to fully shop online is a proven winner.


We also released VinLens. VinLens is a consumer information application and is an automotive industry first combining the real time data of the website with the power of the CRM. Instead of just having a lot of people on your website, we can tell you how many people are on the website right now, if any of those shoppers have been a lead before and if not the dealer has the ability to chat or push offers to the consumer, all in real time.


Mike DeCecco—Video is very important. We see, on average, time on site up around 67 percent and conversion rates up 20 percent when dealers are using video in inventory. It’s no surprise really…everywhere else a consumer visits, they are being served video, why should the car shopping experience online be any different?


There are an innumerable amount of whiz-bang gadgets and doo-dads being sold to car dealerships that claim they can generate more lead flow. Dealers should be mindful of not only lead flow, but the experience a consumer has with their website. If you visit a website and are confronted with pop-ups and talking heads, what do you do? Close them immediately right? Well, your customers are no different than you. Concentrate on creating real merchandising around your vehicles. Great photos, video, and very descriptive comments will go a long way to generating more lead flow. Stay away from gimmicks.


Jock Schowalter—There is a new modern consumer that is far more aware of their ability to negotiate online for vehicles than ever before. That being said, it is more critical than ever for dealers to create a website that is simple to navigate, easy to use, and consumer friendly. It must build value in the people, process, and vehicles themselves that keeps inventory very open and available, in order to generate a higher number of leads. The website also needs to provide the consumer with an engaging process that keeps them engaged by offering automation, high end look and feel, optimal photos, and virtual demos of both new and used vehicles.





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