The Keys to Auto Dealership Website Marketing

Websites have been an essential part of dealership marketing for more than a decade now, and even with the growth of social media, your website is still the online face of your dealership and where customers go to see your vehicles and learn about your business. Social media is a hot topic right now and it has had a profound effect on the auto dealership industry, but your website is still where potential customers go to learn about your dealership, see your inventory, and connect with your business.

A website that has great functionality on all devices (including mobile) and gives customers all the information they want, is still only half the battle when it comes to dealership websites. You also need to make sure that your potential customers find your site. Whether it’s through search, social media, or traditional marketing, it’s essential that you guide in-market consumers to your site.

Just how you should promote your website, and what specific strategies you should employ to convince potential customers to buy from you, is a frequent topic of debate among internet marketing professionals. So, we asked some industry experts for their opinions. The experts we spoke to were: Dave Hanson, senior director, interactive, Dealertrack Technologies, Inc., David Metter president, Automotive HookLogic—AutoHook, Glenn Pasch CEO/partner with PCG Digital Marketing, and Ali Amirrezvani, founder and CEO of DealerOn, Inc.



The opinions they offer do not always agree, but what works for one dealership may not work for another, so take a look at what they had to say and let us know your thoughts at www.dealermarketing.com/forum.

Social media

Social media seems to be everywhere these days. Facebook alone has surpassed one billion users, not to mention the 554 million on Twitter and the four billion videos viewed on YouTube every day. So, if you want your customers to find you website, you need to have a presence on social media. The question is: how can dealers integrate social media with their website, so that their online “fans” turn into real-world sales?

According to Dave Hanson, your social media should reflect your dealership, not just try and attract “fans.” On social media, customers expect honesty and a great experience, not gimmicks. “Dealerships have tried all kinds of gimmicks to ‘be social,’ but to me the absolute best thing a dealer can do is provide such a fantastic experience that the customer wants to tell their social network about it,” he explained. “That kind of true, honest social behavior reaches far more people than the relatively small number fans who would actually follow a dealership on Facebook or Twitter. Often it doesn’t take more than a casual reminder to customers for this kind of social buzz that simply can’t be bought.”

Creating buzz for your dealership is a good way to keep your dealership top-of-mind with consumers, but Glenn Pasch also added that when it comes to spreading your message, “Technology is a megaphone for their [dealers’] message. It must be unified on all networks and should focus on relevance to the platform. For example Facebook could be used to distribute testimonials or information on a service that drives back to a specific page on their website, not just the home page.”

How to use social media is important, but Ali Amirrezvani reminded us that there are also technical aspects that dealerships must keep in mind if they want take full advantage of social media. “There are two important social media integration strategies that most dealers overlook, that I always recommend. First, make sure that you have a fully integrated blog as a folder (not a subdomain) within your website (not on a microsite). Google and the other search engines love dynamic, user-generated, unique, relevant content,” he explained. “The easiest and best way to generate that is to have someone at your dealership blogging on your site about your local area and the products and services that you sell. The second social media recommendation is to incorporate your reviews into your website. Showing in-market shoppers the positive reviews that you’ve received from other consumers who were in exactly the same position (looking to buy a car, possibly from your dealership) six months ago, is about the strongest closing tool there is for generating a lead.”

Not everyone is a fan of social media to help promote dealerships though. David Metter asserted that social media on your dealership website can actually be counter-productive if it makes it too easy for browsers to click away. “I am not a big fan of social branding on sites unless it is statically placed. Dealers spend too much time, effort, and money to drive customers to their site. The last thing that I want is for them to click off to be a friend.” He does however believe, “Social can be a play on service, testimonial, and evidence manual pages. This is when it is more relieving to the customer’s inquiry.” Huh?

Content

Social media can help direct browsers to your site, but the content they see when they get there is what will make them stick around on your site, and hopefully buy from you. Not all content is created equal. What kind of content, how often you post it, and how well written it is can have a profound impact on not just where you rank on the search engines, but how customers perceive your dealership.

Just as with social media, Glenn Pasch believes that honesty is essential to a successful content strategy for your dealership website. “If you are comparing two models, either in video or written content, then be fair,” he explained. “Both models have good features and maybe one has a better feature than yours. If you are honest, and then showcase your model’s advantage, it gives it more credibility than just saying your model is better.”

When it comes to content, Ali Amirrezvani recommends a blog as the best way to have fresh relevant content on your site. When we asked him the best way to attract in-market car buyers, he told us that “Once again, having a fully integrated blog as a folder (not a subdomain) within your website (not on a microsite) [is key]. Google and the other search engines love dynamic, user-generated, unique, relevant content. The easiest and best way to generate that is to have someone at your dealership blogging on your site about your local area and the products and services that you sell.”

How you integrate your content into your site is important, but David Metter emphasized the importance of the basics when it comes to your website content. “Simple: The best merchandised inventory and customer testimonials. Sometimes we make it too hard. If a customer wants to see a car, show them a car and differentiate your car and reasons for buying that car from what your competitors are doing.”

Dave Hanson agreed that, “A dealership that actively and regularly adds useful content to their website will start to build more authority with the search engines and, in turn, attract in-market car shoppers. But,” he reminded us, “the content has to be relevant—particularly to reach a potential customer when they’re doing general research before even getting to the point of browsing specific vehicle inventory.”

Mobile

Content and social media are important to making sure that customers find your site and make you a part of their car buying process. But if they can’t view your site at all, then it doesn’t matter how relevant your content is or how up-to-date your inventory is. When users were all browsing with their home computers and laptops, this wasn’t a big problem. There were a few different browsers and you only had to make a few small tweaks to make sure that your site displayed correctly in all of them. Now, however, mobile has made it much more complicated and the number of mobile users is skyrocketing, making it more important than ever for your site to work just as well on a smartphone as it does on a desktop.

“Whether it’s redirecting traffic to a mobile-specific site or adapting the primary site’s content to the phone’s smaller format, users need to be able to quickly find what they’re looking for on the go,” cautioned Dave Hanson.

To make sure dealers can connect with their mobile customers, Ali Amirrezvani recommends starting with testing. “First, they [dealers] can test their sites themselves on the most popular phone and tablet devices. Secondly, they can check their Mobile site analytics in Google Analytics,” he explained. “They’ve recently added some robust reporting tools for mobile devices that website providers and dealers can use to monitor site performance. The Site Speed report in Google Analytics, for instance, shows the site speed Google is reporting for both desktop and mobile traffic. Site speed is one of the most critical factors for mobile performance, so it’s useful to have such easy access to such an important metric.”

When you’re hiring your website vendor as well, “Make sure you are working with a vendor who will give you a mobile site that suits their needs, not just a site that shows up on a mobile device,” added Glenn Pasch. “Some platforms have adaptive websites, where it sizes to the device. This is something we as consumers expect.”

David Metter also emphasized the importance of doing a thorough examination before choosing your website vendor. He told us, “Make sure that your provider offers a site package that is truly mobile enabled. Before you sign up with a new provider, don’t trust what you see in a demo. Test one of their live client sites on multiple mobile devices so that you can be sure that you will be able to reach every customer that tries to search your inventory at the most critical time, when they are mobile and out searching for a car.”

Turning browsers into leads

Convincing customers to visit your website is only part of the job. To truly be successful, however, your website needs to turn those online browsers into online leads and eventually customers, so we asked our experts how dealerships could turn online browsers into leads and sales.



When we asked Dave Hanson, he cautioned us that, “There’s not a magic formula to increase lead conversion, but we have found that adding chat can actually double the number of leads a website receives. Chat is essentially a different class of shopper that isn’t ready to pick up the phone, but doesn’t want to wait for an email to be returned. To be effective, chat must be managed appropriately, staffed 24/7, and provide added value to the shopping experience. Simply having a chat window prompt users for their contact information is counter-productive.”

If you want to convert more browsers into leads, Ali Amirrezvani believes, “Incentives (cash or gift card or prizes) are as powerful a conversion tool as there is. If your pricing strategy affords your dealership the opportunity to use a coupon as a lead collection tool on your site, I would suggest you test this out immediately. I’ve seen 25 dollar gift card offers for a consumer to simply test drive a vehicle, produce close rates of 30 percent and higher, so that a dealer is basically trading 75 dollars for incremental car sales.” He also added, “Another powerful tool is to provide what psychologists call ‘social proof’ for a consumer. Show them reviews on a vehicle details page, so that they can see that other consumers in exactly their circumstance, submitted a lead and had a positive buying experience. Another valuable tool for conversion is scarcity. If you can show the number of consumers who have viewed a vehicle (assuming that it’s more than one or two) on your site, you instill a sense of scarcity to visitors checking out a vehicle. If they can see that 10 people have viewed that vehicle, it implies scarcity and influences conversion.”

David Metter also believes that the way dealer websites collect leads needs to evolve. He told us that if dealers want more leads, they need to, “Break up the monotony of the common lead form. Dealers wonder why leads are down. It’s because we are using the same lead forms that we did 10 years ago.” Like Dave Hanson, Metter also recommends, “chat because it cuts through the clutter of the traditional lead form.”

Chat, incentives, and better lead forms can all help your website convert more visitors, but Glenn Pasch wanted to steer us back to the basics of what makes a dealership website work. He believes your site should have, “Clear calls to action. Balance the content between ‘sales’ pitch and the experience you will deliver. The simpler the website is to navigate and find what I am looking for, the longer I will stay on the site and more likely to move closer to doing business.”

Michael Bowen

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