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The Automotive Website Tragedy Still Exists and Frankly, I’m Shocked

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We’re halfway through 2021 and we’re still seeing website tragedies in automotive. And yes, it really is a tragedy. When a dealership spends that much money for a solid website, competitive traffic, and SEO maintenance, you’d expect the website to be optimized for conversions and leads. If you want your website to attract most modern-day shoppers, there is some work to be done in the industry because, without this gem, dealerships can’t showcase their inventory, incentives, and dealership culture to the avid online shopper.  So let’s dissect some of the common mistakes that we are still seeing today and how you can fix them.  Overlapping CTAs One of the most common website tragedies is when CTAs (call-to-actions/buttons) overlap with each other. CTAs are your moment to shine, dealers! So if you’re crowding the button with bad UX (user experience), your expensive traffic is never going to convert into a lead-- and not just because of the aesthetic, but because it’s actually impossible to click the CTA underneath when something is blocking it.  This is a must clean-up situation so you can optimize for the most leads. Where can you start? Probably with consolidating on-site vendors so you can avoid these CSS mistakes, but if you insist on keeping separate vendors, I’d certainly recommend connecting the vendors to coordinate online real estate.  Stuck/Cutoff Overlays Dealership websites often have multiple pop-up overlays, including chat, that simultaneously interrupt a shopper's browsing experience. But what’s worse is that often the overlay is cut off, usually because it’s not optimized for every screen and every device. As you can imagine, not seeing the full engagement can lead to some frustrated online buyers.   To avoid this, dealers need to work with quality (not quantity) website optimization partners and ensure proper QA on every device. With our screen-obsessed generation, you never know if your next buyer will be searching for their vehicle on a tablet, iphone, or computer, but rest assured, they’ll expect the perfect user experience wherever they are.  Dead Specials Pages When consumers click on your specials page, they’re expecting gold-- how can they get the best deal and are you the store that’s going to give it to them? If your specials page doesn’t display any incentives, you’re losing an opportunity. Your dealership should be investing in technology that scans multiple data sources, in real-time, so you can pull any incentive opportunity for your dealership at any time. This way, your dealership doesn’t just rely on OEM incentives resulting in some dead days in the beginning of the month.  Lack of Transparency  Even if your store is not a one-price store, you can still show basic price transparency on your website and leave room for negotiation later. In this example, the sale price isn’t even listed which pushes away the modern shopper looking to understand ballpark prices before committing to a conversion online. Use transparency to attract all kinds of shoppers, but especially the experienced online shoppers.  While it’s important to look into all the new digital marketing solutions out there to build healthy streams of traffic, this is a reminder not to leave your website behind. Your website is your home base-- your lead magnet-- to represent your dealership and bring in more business in a world where 92% of shoppers will start their journey online. Let’s make it easy for them! 
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Introducing Google Analytics 4: New Tracking & a New Way of Thinking

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Long the industry standard for measuring digital advertising, Google Analytics launched a significant update recently. More than an update, GA4 provides a whole new paradigm on how to think about and measure web traffic. So whether you're the guy who crunches the numbers, or needs to rely on or manage those that do, here's a quick dive on what you need to know about the new Analytics 4. Google Analytics Pre-Update: Universal Analytics As a starting point, a quick recap pre-update. Google Analytics, a free tracking tool from Google, provides data on your dealership's website traffic. It reports on things like which content or products are driving traffic on your site, from what website your visitors arrived, where and how they are converting or what actions they are taking on your site, as well as information like users' age, gender, country, device, etc. Many vendor dashboards are based on GA4, so whether or not you're viewing it in its native form, you're likely still relying on its data to make decisions. A key point on the previous Google UA is that tracking was accomplished by placing a block of JavaScript code on your website. And while that worked well for your website, tracking mobile devices required a different version of analytics, for example, GA for Apps, or  Google Analytics for Firebase , which created a problem. The data from these versions looked quite different from the tracking for your website, often making it difficult to implement consistent tracking. New Device Support and a New Data Model With the new GA 4, you can now track your website, an app, OR BOTH together. But since page views, bounce rate, or time on site are different for mobile, GA introduced a second change - a new data model. To unify the collection methods, GA underwent a complete rethinking of how it works, redefining things like page views, transactions, social interactions, etc., under one concept. These are now referred to as events. With the new GA4, an event can be almost anything you choose; a pageview, screen view, or app view. With each event that gets triggered, you'll also see extra information that describes the event more closely. These are called event parameters. Also, these properties can now occur in other events. So you can query them together and compare them against each other. It also future proofs the system for the different sorts of devices that you may want to track, like the IoT (Internet of Things) devices or Point-of-sale systems.  Changing How We Think about Analytics As you can see, Google Analytics 4 is a significant update, offering new tools with an entirely new perspective on data and how it represents the digital world. In addition to providing more flexibility in what we choose to send into the system, it also allows Google to plug your data into their existing machine learning systems and provide predictive insights. There is no longer a need to ask questions; rather, GA 4 gives us insights right away with new predictive metrics already built-in and available. The new GA4 is also more independent regarding the assumptions about what type of business it's looking at. In a nutshell, Google Analytics 4 has moved from being less of a reporting interface where you merely view your data and instead of providing you with D-I-Y tools to build yourself. This means your GA 4 setup doesn't have to look like everyone else's. Of course, this means more advanced planning on your part so the events can be properly interpreted later.  In closing, while the current Google Universal Analytics platform will likely stick around for a while, it's pretty clear that GA4 is the next step in the evolution of analytics data. So if you're ready to jump in and see what the new GA4 can do for you, there are three ways to get started (with varying degrees of commitment).  1. If you're ready to fully rely on Google Analytics 4 reporting. Set up a new site on a Google Analytics 4 property. 2. Create a parallel new GA4 property collecting data alongside your existing UA property. This will also establish a connection to migrate configuration settings from your UA property to your new GA4 property when you're ready. 3. Add Google Analytics 4 to a site that already has Analytics. Your UA property is left unchanged and continues to gather data. Note: you'll need Edit permission on your current account. Read more on setup here .  
Why Your Dealership Needs To Actually Use Your Blog

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If you want to keep a secret, secret... If you'd rather not air your dirty laundry in public... If you don't want anyone ever to find out what you did that one time in college... Here's the best place to hide that information from the world.... Page two of Google search results. Searchers are 10x more likely to click on the first result than on the 7th-10 listed website, according to a recent analysis of over 5 million searches. The news gets worse from there. Less than 1% of searchers will click on anything at all on page two of the search results. A lot less than 1% to be exact - 0.78%. If you want to depress yourself, head on over to Google and do a quick search for your best selling model: Ford F150 Toyota RAV4 Alfa Romeo Stelvio. The odds are pretty good your dealership's not going to show up on page 1. Page 2 either, for that matter. It gets a little better if you add "city name" or "for sale" to the search, but not much really. You pay MILLION$ to the factory for the right to promote and sell their products, but you're nowhere to be found when people are looking for them. Do you know who you will find on page one of the search results, though? Third-party lead providers. Every time. All Day Long. Twice on Sunday.  Your customers were looking for you when they found them. They want to buy what you're selling, but first, you've got to pay the tax. Pay the gatekeepers. It's like they stole your watch, and they're charging you thousands a month to let you know what time it is. Well, it's time for a change, that's what time it is. Do you know why the lead providers and aggregators DOMINATE page one of the search results and you're stuck back in the boondocks on page 3?  It's simple really — three little words. Content. Content. Content! They've cracked the code, and they understand that Google and other search engines (but seriously, Google) will reward them for creating a steady stream of fresh content. It's a you-scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-yours kind of deal. Google is in the business of taking all of the content on the web, mashing it up, running it through its algorithm robots, and putting it in front of the right eyeballs at the right time to maximize advertising revenue. Google needs more content to attract more eyeballs and more dollars. If you give it what it needs, it will reward you with what you want - a higher search ranking. The lead providers know this, so they spend millions churn blog posts and reviews and top ten lists about anything and everything. Meanwhile, most dealerships don't even have the blog function on their website activated and if they do, the most recent post is about getting your car ready for summer vacation from the summer of 2017. It's hard for them to see the forest for the trees. Blogs are rarely high traffic pages, and they don't actually sell anything, so why bother? But Charlie Watson, Marketing Director for the Mark Williams Auto Group in Cincinnati, uses his dealerships' main websites' blog feature to boost SEO and drive traffic, not to the blog post themselves, but to the home and VDP pages. "You can't really do it for instant gratification because you're never going to get it," he says. "So we just trust in the process and work that." In addition to the SEO boost Watson gets by keeping Google fed with fresh content, he sees an added benefit from regularly blogging and sharing those posts on social media, email, and across the web. "Of course, we do a lot of video work, but our blogs allow us to reach a different audience," he says. "Don't forget about people who like to read." Here are a couple of tips to get you started: Keep it local Car shopping may begin online, but it still when they drive off of your lot. Retail is local, and the web hasn't changed that. Location. Location. Location. Being there on that high traffic street corner is half the battle, so make sure your blog is continually mentioning local events, local celebrities, and local attractions for your town and all the little hometowns surrounding your store. Keep it personal Your people are your superpower - employees, customers, neighbors, local vendors. The only thing that differentiates your dealership from every other dealership is your people, so shine a light on them. Use your blog to tell about your people, and best of all what they're doing in the local community... with other people! Keep it fresh Of the over 200 factors that Google uses to determine where your web page shows up in the search results, high-quality content is by far the most influential.  If your last blog post is from three years ago, odds are the contents aren't very useful to readers, but a post about local activities going on in your town THIS month - that's relevant. That's useful. That's quality. And Google will help you spread the word if you write about stuff like that often enough.
Is Your Dealership Site Ready for the New Era of Car Buyers?

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What You Do Speaks so Loudly, I Cannot Hear What You Say People inherently value freedom of flow. The difference between your bedroom and a prison cell is whether you can leave it. While the pandemic severely restricted travel and tourism rates fell off a cliff, holiday travel numbers still reached record highs for this year. People value the ability to go places and will take certain risks to get there.  Automobiles represent this idea of freedom and make it possible for many people now more than ever before! Owning a car opens many doors and offers many opportunities, not just for travel, but in job choice and many other realms of life.  Does it make sense, then, that the auto-buying experience offer within it the same kind of freedom that vehicle ownership offers? Price point and product quality are no longer the number one consumer concern. Sure, these things still matter, but the primary driving force behind purchasing decisions is the customer experience or CX. Up to 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for an item if it comes with a superior customer experience. The more expensive the object, the more willing a customer is to pay extra for a better shopping experience.  The Customer-First Approach Unfortunately, traditional dealership processes don't match this idea of freedom and lack a customer-first approach. Websites have become so very similar, and various restrictions and guidelines impact what offers can be shown online. The days when all you needed was a well-designed site and eye-catching offers to get people in are gone. Additionally, this past year has accelerated the drive to limit in-person interactions to the bare minimum. That means that brands across the board will have to put as much personalization into their online engagements as possible to fill the gap. Person-to-person sales tactics are useful because good salespeople know how to connect with customers and give them their desired shopping experience. If you fail to deliver that personal connection with your digital storefront, the customer will go somewhere that does.  What I Say or What I Do? Promising a great shopping experience isn't the same as delivering it. What do the tools on your website provide? An empty form to fill out? Real answers? A live connection? How do you become THE one location that earns a buyer's visit? What is their experience with you before they ever step foot onto your lot? Your website's features will speak volumes about the experience you offer and the freedom they are seeking. If you assure your customers that you are putting their needs first but then try to capture their data at every turn, they will feel betrayed. Asking for contact info should come only if the customer says they want to hear back from one of your employees. Consumers don't want a digital run-around. They want to find the answers — and the service — they are looking for. Does your website provide that? According to a study by Cox Automotive, consumers visit an average of 4.3 automotive websites and 2.3 dealerships in the course of their car-buying journey. Shoppers are looking for something specific and will only visit the dealerships that fulfill their car shopping expectations.  If you don't make your prices easy to find for your customers, you're also not putting their needs first. Hiding prices might seem like a way to force consumers to begin a chat with one of your agents, but that's not actually the case. Removing prices causes chat interaction rates to plummet because customers don't want to spend time with a company that uses such tactics.  Using bots and forms to capture lead data sends the wrong message to your customer. It says, "You're just a lead, and we just want your marketing data so we can send you ads later."  How can your customers hear the message that their needs come first if your site is shouting far louder that you just want their data? Answer: they can't.  If you're willing to spend thousands of dollars per month to drive online traffic to your site, it's also worth investing in the user experience for your digital visitors once they arrive. Perhaps instead of pouring more money into ads, you could work to retain a higher percentage of your visitors and convert more leads.  Let me put this in dollars and cents.  The average cost for an automotive lead was $205 in 2019 — a cost that is likely trending up in our economy. So, I ask you, just how free is that "free" chatbot or 10-question form you're using to generate leads if $205 are blown every single time a poor experience turns off a shopper? Let Your Actions Speak Think about what improvements you can make to your existing site to better serve your customers' needs. What would make the customer experience (CX) of your website match the expectations of your visitors?  Transparent pricing, ease of use, and more features are all on the top of the list. But consumers also value being able to jumpstart the process before even arriving at the dealership. Getting a jump on the paperwork, valuing their trade-in, and scheduling appointments are all ways to put your website to work for your customer — and you.  Are your actions speaking louder than your words? Because your site visitors are definitely listening. 
Separating the Real Shoppers From the Window Shoppers on Your Dealer Website

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Walking around my local shopping mall in 1998 was an experience that I enjoyed. In fact, most of us in the car business can remember the entertainment of walking up and down the storefront shops looking in the windows at the new merchandise. I was the quintessential 'window shopper' every time I walked by the now defunct Circuit City electronics store. I stared into their store window at the new digital cameras for sale. I can recall pressing my face up against the glass to get the best look. I am sure that I left a streak mark or two behind on the glass. I never went inside the store because I didn't have enough money, and while I wanted the camera really bad, I knew I couldn't buy it.   In the summer of 1998, I also had a lawn mowing business and made it my goal to buy a digital camera with my earnings. I spent hours mowing lawns and daydreaming about the day I could actually go buy the camera. After mowing what seemed to be a hundred lawns, I finally had saved up enough money to purchase a camera.   I watched the new cameras hit the window for weeks, and I was finally ready to make a purchase. As I entered the camera section, the excitement of the moment hit me. Today was the day that I finally was no longer just a 'window shopper' and could finally experience all of the cameras. I could touch them, take sample photos, and really decide what camera would be the best one for me. I liked the look of the new Canon, the Sony fit just right in my hands, but right before I was going to make a decision, the salesperson suggested that I took a closer look at the new Fuji FinePix. The Fuji was not on my shopping list, but the camera had higher resolution, better zoom, and just looked really cool. I was sold. As I was paying, the salesperson said he could predict that I would purchase the Fuji only by how I interacted with the camera and because it had been a top seller at the store for the last month.  I write about this experience because the way inventory managers and marketers today have to figure out how to spend their budget is still missing a lot of information on how a customer is actually interacting with our vehicles online. The traditional system is viewing every 'window shopper' as a would-be buyer. For at least the last ten years, automotive shopping websites have been attempting to predict shopper behavior and what vehicles would sell by tracking Search Results Page Appearances (SRP), or the activity of a vehicle populating in a list of available vehicles in search results. Sites also use Vehicle Detail Page (VDP) views as another indication that a vehicle is going to sell. The common thought is that the more times a vehicle is looked at online, the more likely it is to sell. The only issue is that SRP / VDP views are simply 'window shoppers' walking by the front window.   While both VDP and SRP metrics are helpful, there is a more precise way to determine when a vehicle is likely to sell and what actions to take to increase inventory turns and vehicle gross. Analytic data companies now have AI tools for car dealership sites that more precisely predict the chance of a car being sold than the traditional SRP and VDP metrics. By placing a tracking pixel on a dealership website, dealers can get much more information about the activity that shoppers are doing on their dealership website.   Take for instance, a fresh new Toyota Tundra trade-in that may have only been viewed two times by visitors on the website after fourteen days of having the vehicle. Most dealers tracking VDP clicks would likely start the process of marking down the vehicle so that it would be priced more aggressively and get more views. However, dealers with advanced AI know that one of the Tundra shoppers spent fifteen minutes interacting with the page, clicked on all the vehicle photos multiple times, scrolled the entire page, opened, and then closed the lead form. Best of all, they know that they have a shopper that is very interested in the vehicle and can actually raise the price — inferring that the customer may have been more than just a 'window shopper.' Noah John, founder of Autoscores.com, states: Instead of waiting a certain time period before adjusting vehicle prices, dealers can get daily advice on what they need to do. Stores have to pinpoint recommendations on what action to take next, such as raising or lowering the price, reviewing VDP/Listing, and inspecting the vehicle. Dealers can easily react to online signals and demand in near real-time.   When is the last time you can remember your vendor or software telling to increase a unit's price? By using more data points, stores can raise the car's price before the customer even shows up at the store. By increasing the price, you have a better chance to get shoppers that viewed the car to submit a lead, call, or visit the dealership. By acting instead of waiting, you can sell vehicles faster and at more profitable prices. Before the implementation of AI, this was nearly impossible to do. Noah went on to explain that the studies his company has completed indicate that, "Aggregated customer click behavior analysis on a Vehicle Listings was at least five times more accurate than looking at VDPs / SRPs when trying to predict the sale of a vehicle in the next seven days."   Today's smart dealers are utilizing every piece of information; their website can increase both gross and turn. It is much more fun to work with the customers that are hot on a unit versus relying on the activity of the 'window shoppers.' For more information on how your dealership can take advantage of some of the new AI technology, feel free to contact me at matt@dealerslink.com.   
What Does Website Downtime Actually Cost Your Dealership?

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For many automotive retailers, the importance of your website has never been clearer than during COVID-19. As economic shutdowns and social distancing measures prevented your customers from visiting the store in person, people turned in record numbers to the digital retail experience. Your website should function as your virtual showroom ─ the foundation of your dealership’s online presence. It’s where you direct every digital lead, whether you’re capturing them from paid ads or social media. Failure to deliver an appealing, easy-to-use, and informative website sends one message to your site visitors: lack of professionalism. Knowing all this, consider the implications of website downtime. Granted, this isn’t an area most dealers spend much time worrying about, and understandably so. You probably assume your provider can be trusted with keeping your site running close to 100 percent of the time, aside from scheduled maintenance, which always occurs at the lowest traffic times. But the reality is there are no guarantees, and even a small crash can have a shocking revenue impact when it comes to website downtime. We have plenty of examples of this, such as the infamous 2018 Amazon Prime Day crash that cost the e-commerce giant an estimated $100 million, 1 or the Best Buy Black Friday outage a few years prior. 2 Your dealership probably isn’t positioned to lose money on  that  scale. However, suppose you have multiple stores utilizing the same provider. In that case, the hit from significant website downtime could still be very real, particularly as COVID-19 and social distancing have placed greater emphasis on your online business than ever before. So, what exactly are the revenue threats from website downtime, and what steps can you take to secure your business against them? The Threats Beyond the obvious loss of sales opportunities when potential customers can no longer access your inventory, there are other ways that website downtime can have serious negative, and long-lasting ripple effects on your operation, including: Idle hands . With so much of your day-to-day workflows being digitized these days, it should come as no surprise that IT problems result in idle employees. A down website is no different, as those employees who manage site leads or other areas connected to the site will see a significant productivity downturn while you work to resolve the situation. A hit to your reputation . Whether it’s customers who refuse to return to your site after a bad experience or your Google Search rankings taking a hit due to perceived unreliability, the reputational hit that results from website downtime also translates to an ongoing revenue hit you’ll be feeling for some time. Wasted ad dollars.  No matter your ad strategy or budget, when paid ads direct potential leads to a down site, it  is  100 percent wasted money – money going down the drain. This is still just scratching the surface of what website downtime can mean for your operation, but you get the idea. Add all these threat factors together, and a picture emerges of significant and possibly long-term revenue loss for your business. But thankfully, there  are  actions you can take to both reduce the risk and mitigate the effects of website downtime. Avoiding Website Downtime The most critical factor in avoiding website downtime is in your choice of provider, and this is one of those cases where you generally get what you pay for. Top-tier providers should be able to show evidence of site uptime in the 99-100 percent range, helping ensure that your site stays online as a vehicle sales engine. They should also offer ancillary services to protect against protracted downtime periods, such as 24/7 site monitoring and IT assistance. Another critical factor is understanding what elements of your site put it at risk of a malicious digital attack. Out-of-date themes or plug-ins can constitute security risks, while expired security certificates invalidate your site’s encryption. That means hackers could duplicate your site and wreak havoc on unsuspecting visitors ─ a reputational blow that your brand could struggle to recover from. Finally, in the unfortunate event that your site  does  go down for a significant amount of time, remember first and foremost  not  to panic. Upon verifying that your website is down, begin working to determine the cause and reach out to your provider for support and guidance. Also, the quicker you notify potential site visitors (think of your existing customer email lists and your social media audience), the better positioned you are to mitigate damage and control the narrative. Both of those are critical to keeping your reputation unscathed. Website downtime isn’t a top-of-mind concern for most dealers, but it can have a very real and lasting impact on store revenue in those rare cases when it does happen. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the potential threats and reevaluate your provider partnership to make sure you’re equipped to handle the worst when it comes. 1 Business Insider 2 CNBC