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How Google’s Website Ranks Website Vendors for Average SEO, Accessibility, and Best Practice Scores

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How Do You Measure Up? We’ve now written three articles on how Google views our industry for speed and performance. We touched on Page Speed, Speed Index, SEO scores for OEMs (vs Independents) and vendor vs vendor . Next, we looked at Google’s accessibility and best practices score for OEMS. In this article, we will wrap up this four-part series with an analysis of how Google ranks website vendors for average SEO, Accessibility, and Best Practice scores. Remember, our data source is quite large pulling from over 35,000 dealer websites. No joke. Average SEO Score As everyone knows, technical SEO is a very important requirement for good website design. If your technical SEO is poor, then your site will behave like a one-legged man running a marathon.   The average SEO score for all vendors was 86%. Overall, this is pretty good and a sign that most vendors are getting their technical SEO right. This is in sharp contrast to our mobile Page Speed analysis where the performance was dismal. But let’s look at the data… What does this bar graph tell us?  The most obvious thing we see is that Sincro Digital has work to do and YourCarLot is doing slightly better than most.   Average Accessibility Score What is Accessibility and why is it important? Google’s Accessibility audit/score is rooted in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is a civil rights law that “prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.” What does that mean for web providers? Simply put, websites need to be designed in such a way that they can be easy to “read” whether by adjusting sizes, maintaining strong contrasts, and/or by allowing digital readers to “read” the website out loud for someone with a severe visual impairment. Google’s Accessibility Score weighs the average of a number of accessibility audits to create the score that you see. These scores are important because if you have a low score, you are not serving your customers well AND you are possibly exposing your dealership to a lawsuit by an enterprising lawyer or two. Enough with that. On with the data: By and large, these results are good, but as you can see some providers, such as Naked Lime and Dealer.com average below 75%. Realistically, the average should be higher and technical and design adjustments to the website can improve performance. I would recommend that any provider who is below at least 85% should seek to improve their positioning. Otherwise, they are risking causing trouble for their dealers. That said, kudos to those website vendors 90% and above such as AutoFunds, Jazel, LotWizard , ProMax , SOKAL , V12 , Team Velocity , eBizAutos and SurgeMetrix . Average Best Practices Score Your Best Practices score is based on an audit of common web development mistakes, some of which serve as the root cause of scoring deductions for other scores such as those above.   A poor score here is very avoidable so the overall vendor average of 75% is something to decry and not celebrate. Realistically, you should score over 90%, but like I said above, 85% or higher is a good start. Here’s some data-driven eye candy since a “picture”, or in this case graph, is worth 1,000 words. As you can see from the data, most website vendors hover around the 75% mark with some, such as CarBase, Dealer eProcess, Dealer.com, DealerFire, DealerInspire, FusionZone, Motorcar Marketing, Naked Lime, and PixelMotion all scoring in the 60s.   Sadly, there are only two website vendors above 85%: V12Software at 88% and SurgeMetrix at 91%. The Final Word While Brian Pasch drives conversation around GA4 standards for the dealer community, we need to have the same standards discussion for website vendors as I suggested in my last article . Some standards are pretty obvious. For example, since we know that bounce rates increase dramatically the slower a website loads, we should set our speed standards according to user behavior. 3 seconds is a good goal for mobile sites although 4 is fine to start. In the case of the stats above, it is not hard to reach 90% for a performance goal for all three measures. We can do better.   If anyone wants to discuss the data we collected, have opinions and suggestions for standards, or want their site (and even their competitor’s sites) evaluated, then contact me via email or 954.507.6468. Until then, use this data to push for better performance. You deserve it. 
How Google’s Website Ranking Factors Rank Website Vendors Part One

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How do you measure up? PART ONE In our previous two articles, we wrote about how Google uses its software to assess a website’s performance, from page speed and technical SEO, to download rates and accessibility compliance. The first article looked at page speed, your speed index score, and SEO rating, while the second article reviewed Google’s accessibility and best practices score. The focus of those two articles was on how OEM websites performed relative to each other and Independents.  The topic of this article will be to review how website vendors perform relative to each other, as seen through the eyes of Google. Our data source was over 35,000 dealer websites. Google’s Speed Index Score Google’s Speed Index Score is based on the average time it takes for visible parts of the page to be displayed. For this study, we only looked at mobile devices since around 80% of car shoppers shop by mobile device, while over 90% of Hispanic shoppers shop the same way.   Let’s look at the data… As an industry, we can do better than this. I’ve identified two critical cut off points - at 5 seconds and at 10. Ideally, mobile load times should be 3-4 seconds at most. Any time longer, and you start to suffer an increasing volume of drop-offs.   I have chosen the 5 second mark just to be practical, recognizing that some OEMs require a lot of time consuming add-ons and features that guzzle load time. But even with this said, it is hard to justify the speeds we see here. I imagine some providers might not like this article and will argue that our data is faulty or should be ignored. That’s fine, they can take that argument up with Google. These are Google’s numbers after all. We need Standards Brian Pasch , a well known automotive veteran, has quite wisely launched an initiative to have the automotive community come together on some GA4 standards in the hopes of crafting common and usable standards for the industry. Based on these numbers, we would do well to apply the same thought process to automotive website performance to ensure that we deliver highly usable, fast, and Google complaint websites to our dealer customers.   To do this, we would have to identify what’s slowing down the sites (think third party code), what metric we’ll use to gauge success (think Google since it’s the 8,253 ton Gorilla in the room), and ensure that all vendors play by the same rules. Otherwise, we’ll continue to get results like you see below for Google’s sister metric to Speed Index, that is, their Google PageSpeed Score. Not good. The Final Word Like I said in my previous two articles, you can’t bury your head and try to ignore Google’s ranking factors. You have to learn how to work with them to maximize the performance of your customer’s website. Google can’t be ignored, but it does serve as a neutral metric for evaluating website performance. If your provider is listed here, see where they rank relative to their competitors and contact me for a deeper analysis, or just use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to do your evaluation. Speed counts, and your website should be as fast as possible on your customers’ mobile and desktop devices. Otherwise, you risk losing potential customers who don’t want to sit around waiting for your website to load. Part 2 of this vendor review will follow in a couple of weeks… Stay tuned.
How Google’s Website Ranking Factors Rank OEM Websites (vs Independents) Part Two

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How Do You Measure Up?  PART 2 In Part 1 of this two-part series on website ranking factors, we discussed Page Speed, Page Index, and Technical SEO scores. We look at the results of our AntiguRecon tool which surveyed over 35,000 dealer websites using Google’s algorithm to drive its calculations. We found that independent dealer websites tend to be faster than franchise websites and that we have some work to do if we want to improve our industry’s performance overall. In this article, we look at dealership website Accessibility and website design Best Practices scores. Let’s have some fun… Average Accessibility Score What is Accessibility and why is it relevant? In the past I’ve written about this topic in detail, but for here let’s just say that your website should be designed so that it can be “read” by people who have limited sight, or are sight impaired in full. In the latter case, a screen reader needs to be able to “read” the page in an understandable way. All of this is required because of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which became law in 1990 and lawsuits have been on the rise for non-compliant websites. All that said, there is good news in that while there is room for improvement, the ratings are not as horrible as the page speed and index ranking factors. If we look at the graph below, Independents over-perform OEMs again with an average score of 83.4 to an OEM rating of 73.9 . Mazda got the lowest average rating at 67.1 , while the highest score went to Bentley at 87.1 . Average Best Practices Score The final score in Google’s Lighthouse algorithm gets into the best practices that are employed in the creation of a dealer website. This score tracks common mistakes made by web developers. Google’s algorithm weights elements based on risks they might pose, among other things. Google itself states that this quality score is a “helpful diagnostic tool, not a key performance indicator”. Nevertheless, a low score tells you that you should talk with your provider to see what might be improved to improve performance. Often you will find that some of the best practice issues have to do with optimizing file use which in many cases can improve speed. So how did our intrepid OEMs and Independents do? Let’s look at the table below. Bentley, following its previous trend, is the top performing OEM, while Hyundai has work to do at 57.8 . That ranking definitely says that there is room for improvement on their websites. Further research could tell us why those sites score so low, but we’ll leave that for another article. Finally, Independents outpaced OEMs at 76.7 . The Final Word - Part 2 What all this data tells us is that there is a lot of room for improvement in how we construct dealer websites. OEMs and their website providers would do well to look at the data and think seriously about how they can reduce the impact, or volume, of third party code on their websites.   This is a bigger conversation than what you might think. In my view, many dealer websites have become cluttered and clogged with distractions that slow down the site’s load time and lose sight of the purpose of the website, that is, to generate leads and business for the dealership. With mobile by far outstripping any other tool that is used to view a website, it would behoove us to have websites that really are designed with a mobile first mentality and a commitment to speed.   I can only hope for change, but in the meantime we’ll keep collecting the data and releasing it to spur conversation and improvement. Should anyone want to discuss this article, or the tool we used to collect the data, you can reach me here .
How Google’s Website Ranking Factors Rank OEM Websites (vs Independents)

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How Do You Measure Up?  PART 1 Google measures everything, from your website’s Page Speed Score, to your SEO or Best Practices Score. Why? Because from Google’s point of view, all of your website data feeds their algorithm’s ability to rank you relative to your competitors.   Since understanding and manipulating data is the key to success online, it would serve you well to know important ranking factors that Google uses to rank you.   Let’s look at Google’s website ranking factors, and what each means: Page Speed Score - Refers to how quickly a user is able to see and interact with content on your website. Speed Index Score - Is based on the average time it takes for visible parts of the page to be displayed.  SEO Score - A calculation of the user-facing and technical aspects of a website. Accessibility Score - A technical review, or accessibility audit , of how well users can access content and navigate a website. Best Practices Score - Based on an audit that checks common web development mistakes. How We Rank Dealer Websites We wrote a tool called SurgeRecon that we use to measure individual dealers against their competitors for a whole range of KPIs (besides just Google ranking factors), but since I don’t know you or your dealership, we’re going to have fun and rank OEMs against each other (since our tool can do that too). If, after reading this, you want an evaluation, contact me here or call me at 954.507.6468. Average Page Speed Score A page speed score refers to how quickly a user can see and interact with content. There is a lot that goes into this calculation, but that explanation is close enough for simplicity’s sake. As you may guess, mobile site speed is a LOT more important than desktop speed ,since most people browse by phone. Over 80% of average car shoppers typically use their phones, while those in the Hispanic community are typically above 90%.   A couple of weeks ago, we ran a SurgeRecon mobile site speed report for over 35,000 dealers and then divided the list based on OEM franchises vs Independents. Remember: These are Google’s numbers, not ours. The results are not good, to put it mildly..   Looking at the table below, you can see that GM had the worst speed score at 15.6 while Independents walked away with the best score.  Admittedly, this list does not include all OEMs since we took the liberty to remove those OEMs who had a very small footprint. That said, when you look at the results, you see some winners and losers (with Bentley as the top performing OEM and GM with the lowest score).   It’s not all bad news though. The average OEM speed has improved since a year ago. Last year, the average site speed for OEM sites was around 13.   Average Speed Score: Franchises vs Indies It’s interesting to note that Independent dealers are the fastest of the bunch. The average speed for OEMs is 25 , while the speed for Independents is twice as good at 51.3 ! What’s causing this difference? Why is Google’s algorithm seeing Independent sites as loading twice as fast on mobile devices? If we had the time, we would have run a third party review to see all the stuff that is probably clogging up site speed, but since we’ve run such reports before, we can say that third party code is usually the cause of speed issues along with other load speed clogging items such as sliders. We’ve also seen that Independents don’t use as many third party tools (particularly OEM-mandated tracking and analytics tools), thus have improved performance. The bigger question is what can be done to minimize third party tools on sites, especially when we know that the more you have, the slower the load speed. But I’ll leave that to another discussion in the future. Average Speed Index Score Google’s Speed Index Score measures how fast the contents of a page are visually displayed. Based on data from Google, as page load time goes from 1 second to 6 seconds, the probability of a bounce increases over 100%. Jump to 10 seconds, and you’re looking at 123%. I wrote a whole article about this a few years ago with David Kane and Tom Kline, and the data is as relevant today as it was then. Look at the graph below, we can see that OEM mobile websites take about twice as long to load as Independent sites. Not good. Despite the poor performance, however, there is good news in that load times have improved since we wrote our article 2 years ago. The average speed index at that time was over 13 seconds. There’s hope… Average Technical SEO Score All in all, the average technical SEO score is quite good for both groups. For Independents, the average score was 87.4 , while for OEMs, the average score was 85.4 .   Who was highest and who was lowest? Volvo happily pulled a score of 96.1 . That’s quite respectable. BMW, on the other hand, scored an 82.1 .   It is not hard to find out what might be undermining your SEO score. Usually, you’ll find a myriad of small adjustments which can correct any performance issues. You can probably get this information from your provider, or if you read the next paragraph, you’ll find out what you can do on your own. 😉 The Final Word - Part 1 You can’t ignore Google no matter how much you might want to do so. Google plays an outsized role in our world so we must work within their rules as well as the rules of simple reality, especially when it comes to device performance for our websites. The data above shows us some website performance winners and losers, but it should also give us hope because we can identify what is hurting load times (for PageSpeed and Index Scores) and SEO performance. We have that data and you can too if you use simple Google tools such as PageSpeed Insights (or contact us for help). With all that said, there is more to the story.  Look forward to it here: Part 2 will be out next week!
google game
Dealer Websites: When Gaming Google Hurts

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It’s been nearly 6 years since “Dieselgate” broke and Volkswagen was busted by the EPA for gaming their diesel car emissions tests. When the vehicle emissions were tested, the vehicle software adjusted the emissions to be “clean”, when in reality they were anything but. The result of this scandal ranged from lawsuits to government fines. The lesson, aside from the various ethics debates we could have over beer, was that gaming the EPA might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but when they got caught it cost Volkswagen its reputation and a carload of money. “Gaming” Google” But what if I told you that I can show you that at least 3 website vendors are gaming Google in a similar fashion. Is this a victimless act or does it potentially cause problems for dealers? What’s the game? It’s simple: Some vendors serve up an amended version of their website when Google’s tools evaluate the website’s performance. While you’re seeing a fully functioning website, Google “sees” a bare-bones fraction of the real thing. The result is that Google thinks that the site is extremely fast, when the truth is something else. How’d We Get Here? I imagine that you are now wondering how we discovered the “game”. It’s pretty straightforward. Part of the work that we have been doing for the last 21 years is creating performance optimized websites for dealers. This means that we have a lot of experience building websites that work as well as possible for dealers given the constraints sometimes imposed by OEMs, and the myriad of third party apps and code embedded on websites. As our work evolved, we started using Google’s algorithm as a benchmark for success through its Google Lighthouse Chrome extension and its Google PageSpeed Insights tool (they both basically do the same thing, but GPSI is easier to use). How did we do this? A couple of years ago we built a tool called SurgeRecon that, among other things, evaluates website performance for a range of factors. For the purposes of our conversation here, the analysis gives us information on mobile page speed and SEO, two things that are critical to website success for a dealer. This data, drawn from Google Lighthouse or GPSI, can identify the probable causes of a slow website thus giving you a checklist for potential success. Time to Test and Validate We decided to test Google’s recommendations over a year ago on a bunch of our dealer websites and the data was compelling.   When we compared the performance of these Google optimized websites to their unfixed earlier versions of a year before, we discovered significant improvements: Page speeds had been cut in half to about 3.8 seconds Sessions had increased and their average duration had improved by 27 seconds Bounces had significantly decreased And, most importantly, organic leads had increased by an average of over 30/month  This data tells us that Google’s recommendations work. Therefore, ignoring Google’s evaluation, or gaming it so that one’s mobile speed appears better than it really is, risks lost opportunities for the dealer. ( Follow this link to read our full post about our work on this subject written by me with David Kain and Tom Kline , both industry heavyweights.) What Your Customer Sees vs What Google Sees Let’s now take a look at what “gaming” looks like. We’ll start with a simple Google Lighthouse analysis of a buy here/pay here dealer (seen below).   Check out those stats!!! This dealer’s mobile website is rated 100/100 ( #1 ) for performance. That’s incredible, but it is just too good to be true. If you look at #2 below, you see that the “largest contentful paint” (when the site is ready for interaction) is 6.6 seconds. Not good. But when you look at #3 , you see that the reported time is only .8 seconds. Oops. Those are the reported numbers. What you might ask now is what do the actual “websites” look like? For the dealer website that we’re showing here, here is a comparison between “What you see” and “What Google sees” when the website gets tested by Google. This difference is massive. The gamed version on the right lacks images and third party apps and code that can slow down load time. In order to serve up the abbreviated site on the right, the website code does something called “user agent sniffing”. In this case, it identified that Google Lighthouse was testing the site, and then served up a different batch of code. It might be a mistake or intentional. You decide. But remember: The most important lesson here is that the mobile website does not take .8 of a second to load before it is usable; it actually takes over 6 seconds. This is important because according to a Forrester study (from over 10 years ago), 40% of consumers won’t wait more than 3 seconds for a web page to load before abandoning the site. Add on more seconds, and even more people abandon the site. Get to 10 seconds, and many won’t ever return. So What Can You Do? Test with Google PageSpeed Insights Testing with Google is very easy. All you have to do is follow this link , enter your dealer website’s URL, and select the “ANALYZE” button.   Don’t be surprised if the results are poor, say 30/100 or lower for your mobile page speed (how long your mobile website takes to download to a mobile device). That’s very common, and even high when you look at the industry average of 13/100 (from a test we did with over 10,000 dealer websites).   However, if your results seem really good, say 80 or higher, then getting a second opinion is advised. To do this, you can download another extension called User Agent Switcher for Chrome and add it to Chrome.     Once loaded, find the extension, click your right mouse button on the extension, select Options, and then add this information to the User-Agent list: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64) AppleWebKit/537.36(KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/61.0.3116.0 Safari/537.36 Chrome-Lighthouse . Once done, save the item, open the extension, and then load your website.   Of course, if you want to skip the work to set up User Agent Switcher, then just use our free SurgeDective app . It just takes a few seconds to test. Hopefully, when you run your test, the website will look like your existing site. If it doesn’t, has less content, or is just a bunch of text, then you have a problem. You should talk with your vendor to see what’s going on or contact us for help. Where Do We Go From Here? Testing your website every quarter is a good idea. Websites can collect code and other things that slow down its performance over time. Getting the test done lets you know how well your site is working, or if it has problems, it tells you that you better get your vendor on the line to do some improvements.   To encourage improvements, you can request that your vendor run the GPSI test, and then discuss the results with you. Or, if you find out that your vendor appears to be gaming Google, then you can have them use our SurgeDective tool, and Google PageSpeed Insights, to make improvements. Whatever you do, paying attention to your site speed is critical. Every second above 3 seconds can cost you a customer. And that means potentially lost money for you.
zero click searcg
Zero-Click Search Is Important, but Web Clicks Have Not Gone Away

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There has been an increase in discussion of late (blog posts, conference sessions, etc.) talking about the Zero-Click search trend related to Google My Business, and the impact it is going to have on your business. For those of you not in the loop on this, Zero-Click searches are those where a consumer conducts a search on Google (or other search engine but really, almost all searches go to Google) and then never clicks through to any website.  Sometimes this is not a bad thing.  Consumers conduct a search to find a phone number and if they click to call, that counts as a zero-click search. They might also be checking your business hours or your reviews, and again, they can get that information right from your Google my Business page with no need to visit your website.  The concern though is, that as Google adds more content to the GMB pages, such as Products, and Cars for Sale, will your GMB page (or pages, assuming you have at least one for Sales, one for Service) essentially steal traffic that would have otherwise gone to your website? It is a justified concern, at least enough so that you should be optimizing your Google My Business pages as consumers spend more time there, but have web clicks really disappeared? Re-strategizing I propose that people still visit the dealer website prior to purchase even if they start their process on Google My Business, and that web clicks are, for the most part, alive and well. To check my theory, I actually looked at 100 dealers and the interactions from their GMB page, specifically, how are web clicks trending compared to Click to Call, and Direction Requests. (on a side note, 100 dealers out of approximately 18,000 is a 90% confidence level with a 8% margin of error.) Seasonality and the variance in demand over the last year make the numbers challenging to compare, so more research is needed, over a longer period of time to truly determine a trend, but here is what we can see today: Comparing 100 dealers, between 2nd quarter 2021 vs 3rd Quarter, 2020, we see that Phone Calls are up 9.2 % and Direction Requests are up 13.4%, so if Zero Click is impacting how consumers engage, we would expect the Web Clicks number to have decreased, or at least see a lower increase than the other interactions. However, Web Clicks actually fall in the middle with an 11% increase during the same period. This would lead us to believe that the Zero-Click trend has not impacted auto dealers' web clicks, at least as of yet. Even looking at the chart above, we see Web Clicks growing steadily along with other interactions. Why do we care so much about Zero-Click? You always want to have a deep understanding of how consumers buy your products, this includes: how long is the buying process? What triggers start the process? And where do they start their research? What is critical to understand is at what point consumers are making a decision on which vehicle they intend to purchase and from which dealer. If you understand this, it can tell you when you need to be in front of the consumer with marketing messages so you are included as one of the purchase options. Once consumers have decided, at least on the model they want, we want to know where they go to find the relevant information they need to decide where to buy. That is where the Zero-Click conversation comes into play.  Will they go to your website to get the information they need? Third-party websites? Or as the Zero-Click trend would suggest, Google My Business. Wherever the consumers spend their time researching to make a decision, is where you what to invest your time and marketing resources. Google does dominate in consumer searches, but what we see from is the data above is they have not abandoned dealer websites as of yet.