Best PracticesDec 9th, 2012

Building a More Profitable Website


The online marketing landscape has become a lot more complex as the internet has evolved. At first, businesses created websites for customers to learn about their companies and products. Then marketers discovered that they could draw customers to their websites by placing banner ads on popular websites. As more and more websites were created, however, search engines such as Yahoo and Google became necessary for online viewers to find what they were looking for.

With the rise of search engines, businesses began to use Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to make sure they appeared high in the search results. The search engines also began to offer Search Engine Marketing (SEM) programs such as Google’s AdWords, which allowed businesses to promote themselves directly on the search results page. Search and search marketing became effective staples of an internet marketing toolbox and then social media began to grow exponentially and that toolbox needed to grow even bigger. Now as technology allows the internet to go mobile, marketers are working once again to stay in front of online consumers.

Websites and especially dealership websites have evolved along with the internet. They are no longer simple static pages where customers can learn about your dealership. Today’s dealership websites are resources for consumers to learn about the car they want to buy, browse inventory, connect with the dealership, and much more. Through all this change, however, your website has remained central to any online marketing plan.

There is no doubt that a website is essential to a dealership’s success, so we sought out some industry experts to discover what they thought were the keys to success for a dealership website. Stuart Lloyd, GM of Dealertrack Interactive, Jeff Wardwell, owner and CEO of Driving Force, and Chris Deringer vice president of marketing for DealerOn was kind enough to answer our questions.

Top three items every dealership website needs

Every dealership knows they need to have a website, but with so many tools and technologies available we asked our experts to narrow it down to the top three most important in their opinions.

Stuart Lloyd of Dealertrack gave us a list of his top three, “

  • Mobile: If your dealer doesn’t have a site that adapts to a mobile device, you’re behind the eight ball. Today, between 30-40 percent of all web traffic is through smartphones or tablets. If your site looks like it was built in 2005, then you are going to turn off today’s customers.
  • Sounds SEO strategy: Ensure you have a plan to keep your content fresh, compelling and updated to improve your search engine rankings and to convert more visitors into leads.
  • Goals: We recommend every dealer set goals for their site. It may be to be on the first page on Google for searches for specific vehicles. It may be x percent conversion rate for visitors to leads to sales. Without goals, it’s hard to measure success and hold your website vendor accountable to the work they are doing to support your marketing and sales efforts.”

We put the same question to Jeff Wardwell of Driving Force and he explained that his top three were, “navigation, speed, and flexibility…

  • Ease of navigation means one or two click navigation to the page or information the site visitor wants. More than a click or two and your site is diminishing the quality of the visit and frustrating the visitor.
  • Speed of page load and information delivery is paramount. Site visitors will not wait for big videos, graphics or inventory pages to load. If they find that every page is taking too long, they will leave.
  • A dealer's website must be flexible and very customizable in content, design and structure. Every dealership is one of a kind. Market, brand, staff, culture, and process are all unique to every store. The website must to be crafted to match these variables.”

Chris Deringer also listed his top three for us, but he included an extra tip for the fixed operations department. He responded that, “Every dealer site should have:

  • An overall conversion strategy and plan (whether it’s incorporating a coupon/incentive, a pricing strategy, or a showroom incentive like a Hooklogic-type product).
  • An analytics plan—you can't manage what you can't measure. Every dealer should know their prior month's visit, visitor, and lead volume numbers like the back of their hand. This is vastly more important than any single website feature.
  • Testimonials and reviews. Consumers expect reviews and testimonials in this day and age. For proof, just look to any of the top consumer e-commerce websites (Amazon, Staples, Dell, Office Depot) these sites all incorporate consumer feedback on the product page (the page where a consumer is making their purchase decision). Your website needs to do this too.
  • Bonus tip: You must begin marketing the fixed operations side of your business. The independent national service providers are killing dealers at marketing their services. If you Google any typical automotive service term [e.g.]‘oil change coupon,’ the results are dominated by the national service providers and dealers are absent.”

Improve and enhance your website without spending a fortune

There are many ways to improve your website that do not require a lot of money out of pocket, but we wanted to know which were the most effective, so we put that question to our experts.

When we asked Stuart Lloyd, he reminded us of the importance of content. “Content is king,” he stressed. “If a dealer signs up with a new website vendor promising the world, and the dealer doesn’t focus on what is being displayed on the site, the relationship will end in failure. We recommend dealers focus on developing compelling content that will interest consumers through promotions, unique inventory, and accurate finance/pricing information.”

The providers you work with can also affect the cost of running your website. This is why Chris Deringer believes that “The easiest and best way a dealer can improve their site is to get a better website provider. Most dealers have contract terms which would allow them to switch providers fairly cheaply or without any cost within the next 12 months, and for dealers who are on a website platform that doesn't continuously optimize their platform for conversion, and track their performance via Google Analytics (in addition to their providers' in-house metrics), by far the fastest and cheapest way to improve their site is to get a better provider.” Sometimes switching providers isn’t an option, so Derringet added that “If switching website providers is not practical for a particular dealer the second fastest way to quickly improve their results is to get Google Analytics on their site and start benchmarking their performance. Dealers need to establish a lead volume baseline and then hold their website provider accountable/responsible for helping them increase that metric.”

Jeff Wardwell went beyond low-cost solutions and suggested, “a no-cost way to improve a dealer's website: Remove content.” He explained that “One of the biggest problems we see on a regular basis is that many sites have way too much content on every page. Dealers tend to promote what they want the customer to see instead of promoting only what the customer is looking for. Less is more! Website visitors come to the website with a fairly simple agenda. Don't let content get in their way.”

Social media and the dealership website

Consumers are already discussing dealerships and their vehicle purchases on sites like Facebook and Twitter, whether dealerships are involved or not. What dealers need to know is how they can become a part of the conversation and integrate their social media into their websites.

Chris Deringer told us, “The dealers we've seen who are most effective at integrating social media within their sites, not only incorporate their social media iconography appropriately and completely throughout their site, but they also blog and interact with their visitors extensively. The dealers doing the best job have integrated a blog (usually Wordpress) within their actual website, so that their blog is a seamless part of their website and is within the primary domain of their site, so its viewed as additional, dynamic website content by Google and not as a second, competing site (like a sub-domain). A dealer effectively using their on-site blog in this way is (”

Having a blog is also central to Jeff Wardwell’s approach to social media on your website. “We now have blog functionality built into our website control panel, allowing dealers to create and deploy scheduled content from one easy-to-use console,” he explained. “As with all social media content, it’s important for dealers to keep this content helpful, easy-to-read and avoid anything that would come off as self-promoting. A blog is not the place for direct promotion. It’s a place to share experience and expertise that build relationships and trust in the dealership.”

Dealertrack’s Stuart Lloyd reminded us that social media is about community. “Dealers interact with their communities every day through advertising, sponsoring the local little league, and contributing towards charity events. Social media is no different. Social media sites such as Facebook enable dealers to extend their influencing reach into their community and beyond.”

Whether you’re trying to improve an already successful website or build an entirely new one, I hope the advice of our experts has helped you to focus your efforts and take aim towards greater profitability, but we also want to hear from you. Email [email protected] with your own tips for website success and visit to discuss it with your fellow dealership professionals.

Authored by

Steven Couture

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