Your Website Is (Still) the Backbone of Your Dealership

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It seems like every week there is a new way to market your dealership on the internet. There’s social media marketing, third-party classified sites, search engine marketing, video marketing, and the list goes on. What all these disparate marketing techniques have in common is that they’re trying to drive potential customers to your dealership website. Websites have been an essential part of auto dealership marketing for more than a decade now; they have become the backbone of dealership marketing. Your websites is the place where potential customers go to find out about your dealership, view your inventory, and connect with your business; it is the online face of your dealership.

Creating a website that works well on any device, whether it’s a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or an old-fashioned desktop is essential for every dealership. Having a great website, however, is not enough. You also need to make sure that customers can find your site. Whether it’s with search, social media, or traditional marketing, bringing in-market consumers to your website is key to the success of your dealership. The question is: How do you do that?

Just how to bring more customers to dealership websites is a topic of much debate between internet marketing professionals, so we talked to some internet marketing experts to get their opinions and find out how dealerships can use their websites to bring more business to the dealership. The experts we spoke to were: Len Short, Co-founder of LotLinx, Ken Kolodziej CEO and Founder of String Automotive, Aaron Schinke, Vice President of Product Development and Marketing for DealerFire, along with two experts from Dominion Dealer Solutions: Jessica Ruth, Sales Engineer—Websites and Fred Rose, Manager of Social Media Services. Their opinions aren’t always the same, 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 what you think at

Dealer Marketing Magazine: How can dealers make their websites more mobile ready?

Jessica Ruth: Responsive websites built by a trusted and experienced vendor, ensure that dealerships are ready for any device- mobile or otherwise. A few years ago, responsive web design was a buzzword being thrown around, causing website providers to race to build a platform to support responsive sites…Though the amount of website vendors providing responsive sites has grown over the last couple of years, the functionality, speed, and general performance offered is still very inconsistent. The question is no longer how to be mobile ready, but how to be multi-device ready. Dealerships should be considering the way websites look on smartphones, laptops, TVs and tablets of all sizes. The device size drastically alters which components of a dealer’s website are most important to the consumer. Mobile devices should have driving directions, maps, and phone numbers prominently displayed and quick to access for those shoppers who are trying to find a dealership while in their cars.

Aaron Schinke: Ultimately, it’s time that dealers consider going fully responsive. We certainly provide options that check the boxes for minimum requirements of a “mobile property”, but none that don’t leave you settling for less than ideal. Not only are responsive sites preferred by the top search engines, but they also make it easier to have consistent messaging across all devices and save you from having to update multiple properties.

If a separate mobile site is required, clear links to inventory, a prominently displayed phone number and directions to your dealership are musts.

Ken Kolodziej: Obviously, responsive design is a given. But one of the biggest issues we’re seeing right now is vendors not tagging links from mobile apps appropriately. How do you know how third parties like AutoTrader, and Pandora are performing for you if you’re not tagging your mobile traffic? With more and more traffic coming from mobile, the ability to analyze and optimize that traffic is key.

Secondly, mobile shoppers act differently than desktop shoppers, even though it might be the same person using two different devices! They have different expectations of content and calls to action, so dealers need to make sure that (a) content is optimized properly for mobile and caters to the expectations, and (b) that you’re looking at the “right” metrics…i.e. mobile shoppers are far less likely to submit a form on their smartphone, and will either look for directions [a “soft” conversion] or will click to call…both of these are actions that can easily be tracked through Google Analytics with the assistance of your website provider, and will give you added insight into what makes mobile shoppers tick.

Len Short: You’ve got to change everything. You can’t just make it mobile friendly. It’s literally a different function. I just saw a study, a big study about mobile traffic to dealer sites and it was shocking how much of that search and traffic was coming from people who were in the process of buying. Either standing on another dealer’s lot, wanting to see what’s available out there or literally on their way to a dealership somewhere. It’s a very high percentage of that traffic. It’s very much in the moment, so if people are looking for inventory they need to be able to very simply navigate it—not just that your site works on mobile, but that mobile experience is designed for what people are doing on mobile, which is largely trying to access inventory. If you tried to jam the whole desktop experience into a phone thing, it just fails.

DMM: How can dealers use social media on their websites?

AS: At the very least, most of the content on your site should be easy to share. It’s never going to hurt to give your shoppers the option to share something, so at least allow for that level of engagement. Also just displaying some of your social highlights on your site can help start the “social relationship” with someone. Whether it’s using the Instagram API to display your photos or adding a feed box from Twitter or Facebook—you have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

KK: Heat mapping suggests that nobody really clicks on the links to social pages in headers, and most vehicle sharing occurs over email rather than social. Make sure to tag your website pages with Facebook’s Open Graph protocol to ensure that when a shopper actually does share the page, the link within the Facebook timeline actually has an enticing description attached to it. Other than that, social is still its own beast—best to just focus on creating shareable content specifically for social channels, rather than concentrating on ways to mash your website and social channels together.

Fred Rose: Incorporating social media and review platforms with your website should be a fundamental business practice. This can be through plug-ins that display real-time feeds of a brand’s social activity, which allows consumers to get to know your dealership while considering a vehicle purchase. People are more likely to spend money with a company they know and trust. It’s worth spending time and investing in a 2014 game plan for customer reviews, and social marketing and advertising.

Think of it this way, would you pay for a traditional billboard and leave off the contact information? The answer is likely no, so in the same sense, why have a website without an incorporation of social marketing features that allow your consumers to interact with your brand?

DMM: What kind of content can attract in-market car shoppers to a dealership’s website?

KK: We’ve seen some really high-performing pages that are killer in terms of search rankings—basically general, but unique content that helps consumers make a decision, such as the differences between an automatic and manual transmission, the process for turning in a lease, and incentives for college graduates. Google loves these pages and ranks them highly. But dealers and/or their agencies tend to forget about them instead of optimizing them and having a clear next step for the potential shopper. So, that leads to a high bounce rate and wasted opportunities.

Secondly, it’s sometimes an uncomfortable truth, but the lion’s share of a typical dealer’s search traffic (paid plus organic) involves some derivation of the dealership’s name, or a geographic keyword that’s very specific to the town that the dealer is in…these are “branded” search terms. With these shoppers, making the on-site experience as convenient and accessible as possible on both desktop and mobile is critical, because you can’t make a priori assessments of where they are in the funnel. So that comes back to general usability and making the shopper fall in love with the site and with the dealership.

LS: Inventory—That’s what people are looking for. If I visit BestBuy’s website, I want to know if the Xbox is in stock and the price. It’s really making that inventory accessible, so that the inventory reaches people that are searching. That’s the whole game. And there’s a lot more to marketing a dealership, right, there’s brand and reputation and all that stuff, but in the end what’s going to drive their business and drive that behavior is the customer has a need [for a new car].

They’re going to go to third-party sites and research for things that they are not going to go to dealers for. And they’re going to go to the manufacturer’s for some things too, but when it comes down to “OK, now I want to see what’s out there” the actual inventory. That’s the dealer’s sweet spot: making sure their inventory and everything around their inventory is right; that’s the whole game.

AS: Research shows that buyers’ behaviors are really varying throughout the entire funnel. So things like more details on a specific model or trim, or even a unique feature of a vehicle, can help bring more prospective buyers in. With brand loyalty waning over the last few years, it’s said that 80% of consumers end up buying a brand other than what they intended at the start of the shopping process started. This has opened huge doors for competitive comparisons. Of course leasing, incentives and pricing articles help to pick the low hanging, lower funnel shoppers.

DMM: Once browsers are on a dealership website, what can dealers do to make sure they turn into a lead?

LS: The thing that we have overwhelming evidence of is that new car buyers are more interested, in terms of their behavior, in seeing the actual picture of the actual car, not a stock photo of a car. Many dealers are, because of cost and complication, saying “It’s good enough to have a stock photo up there”, but it basically makes the experience generic and that’s where you lose the customer and so it’s absolutely necessary for dealers to make sure that as their inventory hits their lot, new and used, it’s photographed and photographed correctly.

At Dataium, they have collected all sorts of stuff on which angle a car is shot at and conversion rates on the page and all that stuff matters. Whether it’s shot with a background, shot with other distractions, lighting, there are a lot of things they can do to enhance how that car looks and how people engage with it. The biggest thing dealers can do is make sure they’re using actual photographs of the actual inventory. Think of yourself. If you’re going to make the investment of “tomorrow I’m going to pick a dealer to go to looking for a white Grand Cherokee,” what’s going to drive you down there is you actually feel like you found the one. And I’m only going to feel like that if I’ve looked at a bunch of photographs of the real car.

JR: The first rule of thumb is to make it easy. Simplify, simplify, simplify. By the time consumers are on a dealership’s website, they are checking availability and price. Don’t clutter the path to the lead with distracting items, like email a friend or spin the wheel for special pricing. Don’t give consumers a reason to stop thinking about submitting a lead for a vehicle on your lot by distracting them.

AS: A lot of times dealers and web providers try so hard to convince a shopper to submit a lead that it gets in the way of allowing them to actually shop the inventory on the site. There is nothing more powerful than a user/shopper finding a car…and falling in love. Browsing an inventory video and looking through pictures is the new test drive. Would you stop someone from trying to test drive a car on the lot? Then why do it on your website. If a CTA/form provides value, the leads will come.

KK: It may sound obvious, but making sure that browsers are getting to the right content at the right time is key, and removing roadblocks in between a shopper and the information the shopper wants is critical. One absolute key is to make sure campaigns and landing pages are working hand in hand. For example, if you’re running a campaign with a lease special, dropping the shopper onto the home page or the inventory search results page is a big mistake, because you’re giving them something they’re not expecting and making them work for the info they want. You wouldn’t believe how often we still see this happening. However, if you land the shopper on a page specific to that lease special, you’ll see that immediately in the engagement metrics: Bounce rate decreases, on-site engagement increases, and conversion rate bumps up. Remove the roadblocks and give the people what they want…

DMM: What is the biggest mistake dealers make with their websites?

JR: The biggest website mistake a dealer can make would have to be throwing anything and everything on a website with the hopes that something, anything, will force the consumer to submit a lead. Less is truly more when directing a consumer to a CTA, especially on VDPs.

AS: Setting and forgetting. A lot of dealers are sold on a website platform being able to change their lives and their sales single-handedly. It’s ultimately the content on the site and how it is displayed that makes the biggest difference. Your website helps to display your content in the best and most accessible way. From there, you get out what you put it in.

KK: Losing sight of the right metrics is something we often see, and it’s something we’re passionate about correcting. Step one is making sure you’re looking at data that you can trust to begin with, such as Google Analytics, and not relying on “hunches.” Step two is segmenting your website visitors, because no two categories of visitors are the same (i.e. PPC vs. organic, mobile vs. desktop, north of the dealership vs. south of the dealership, etc.) and looking at overall site metrics by themselves is virtually meaningless. Step three is looking at metrics from these segments that make sense to your business and that will help you make meaningful decisions. For example, focusing too much on VDPs and not enough on value per page (driven by the calls to action/conversions that work with your dealership) can be misleading. Take the example of a vehicle that’s getting a ton of eyeballs, but not converting or selling. This is a potential red flag around vehicle merchandising/pricing, and not a sign that a campaign is working well.

LS: This will sound a little bit soft, but sometimes websites are over merchandized. The website attacks browsers with offers, rather than serving what the customer wants to do. The customer wants to shop their inventory—That’s what they’re there to do: to see the cars that they have available and be able to navigate that easily. What we’ve seen in the numbers is, if you make easy for people to navigate, and every e-commerce place is going to tell you this, just look at Amazon. If you make it easy for them to navigate and see the stuff that they’re looking for, that’s what actually drives interaction.

The other thing is not getting the basics right, the photography, the search navigation, presentation, cookies for people so the cars that they looked at are back and readily available for them when they return, so they don’t have to go through a big work around to try and figure it out. People give up very easily. A few clicks and they’re done. If you waste those, they’re just going to go someplace else or the phone is going to ring and they’re done. They don’t remember to go back to you.

If you want to read more about websites and website marketing, visit us at And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @DealerMarketing.

Michael Bowen

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