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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. 
Typing on laptop
A Revealing Look At Dealership Homepage Banners

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The emphasis many dealers place on creating homepage banners is a glaring example of the industry’s failure to communicate changing consumer behaviors. It’s no surprise that these have become a staple of websites , not just in automotive retail. They’re a visually compelling way to communicate monthly specials and incentives to car shoppers on a highly visible page where many consumers land.  You may be one of those dealers who compels their agency partner to create — say — a baker’s dozen each month.  The truth is that — even with the high-traffic visibility — homepage banners are not nearly as effective as you may have originally thought. The Numbers Behind the Banners While intuition can serve you well, no decisions regarding your digital marketing should be made without statistically relevant data. One of our (Reunion Marketing) Client Success Specialists intuitively felt that homepage banners were an outdated focus, so we took 24 clients who used the same industry-leading website hosting platform to analyze homepage data over a determined period of time.  Below are the numbers of what we found. Car shoppers clicked on the following:  Navigation: 49.36% Inventory Search Widget: 29.73% Homepage Banners / Videos: 5.99% This means that car shoppers , no matter the source or medium, who landed on our clients’ homepage, approximately 0.05 (or 1 in 20) of them clicked on a homepage banner. While it’s true that one person in twenty does have purchasing power, let’s take a closer look into the numbers. Of the 5.99% of car shoppers who clicked on a homepage banner, here’s what we found: 45.51% of them clicked on the 1st Position Banner 25.27% of them clicked on the 2nd Position Banner 14.37% of them clicked on the 3rd Position Banner 9.42% of them clicked on the 4th Position Banner This means that by the time you’ve created a 4th Position Banner, you’ve allocated time and resources to a homepage item that only receives 0.56% of all homepage clicks.  Our research led to our setting-specific recommendations on homepage banners for our Dealer partners.  Homepage Banner Recommendations Based on the data, we concluded that automotive dealerships should create no more than three new homepage banners . Though there is a demonstrated steep decline in car shopper clicks after the First Position Banner, we know, based on our work with hundreds of Dealer partners, that you need to manage more than a single special or event during a given month. This also begs the question for many Dealers: How do I manage this when my OEM requires XX (number of) banners? You can still follow the recommended three new banners for your latest incentives and have a host of stock banners that satisfy the OEM requirement through which you can rotate.  SEO Is Incomplete Without Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) This understanding of homepage banners is part of an ongoing process called Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO), which should be a part of any internal team or agency partner’s SEO work. Beyond the homepage data analysis, there are dozens of other items that should be regularly checked or strategies that you can implement. Hotjar to monitor consumer behavior on pages. Checking for buttons above the fold. Compare metrics across devices. SRP to VDP Efficiency Audits Ensuring clear and consistent merchandising. Homepage to SRP Efficiency Audits Compare benchmarks for mobile clicks-to-call, form submissions, etc. Understanding what goals are underperforming These are just a handful of items that should be part of your dealership’s Conversion Rate Optimization. You are, after all, spending money to have internal teams or outside partners work to send high-quality traffic to your website. It is incumbent upon them to also help optimize their ability to shop the site and feel further compelled to take action.
shop online
Auto Dealer Digital Strategies that Drive Engaged Shoppers Online

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Driving shoppers to the dealership website is only part of the battle... getting them to stick around & engage is the real feat! Back in the early 2000s, we marveled at our ability to attract consumer “eyeballs” as they migrated en masse to the web. Banner ads, pop-ups, and search advertising propelled at a pace that would take your breath away!  It took some time and billions of dollars of ad spending, but we finally began to understand the importance of delivering the right content to the right potential customer at the right time. Even more, we figured out that by doing so, our ad dollars yielded much more than just the presence of our target market members – it inspired their participation with our brand, products, and services.  For dealers, the holy grail is to drive a high volume of quality website traffic that gets deeply engaged with inventory search results pages (SRPs) and vehicle details pages (VDPs). By making shopper engagement a priority, dealers can draw more website visitors deeper into the purchase funnel while providing a seamless transition to the showroom. Website Visitor SRP & VDP Views vs. Engagements Digital professionals understand the importance of ad tactics that land visitors directly on SRPs and VDPs. Such a strategy is crucial considering that dealership website visitors only view between 3-4 pages per session on average. These SRP and VDP “views” are synonymous with the “eyeballs” from the early 2000s – and they accomplish the goal of getting inventory pages in the presence of potential car buyers. But what about getting visitors to “participate” with SRPs and VDPs – to engage with content, elements, and tools? Today, the digital imperative for dealers is to drive digital-first shopper engagement experiences – inspiring SRP & VDP interactions rather than just views - the top priority for advertising dollars. Average SRP & VDP Visitor Stats Consider the following facts about dealer website traffic on average: About 30% of a dealership’s total monthly website traffic makes it to an SRP  Total website visitors stay on the site for about 3 minutes Only about 35% of website traffic that views an SRP, drills down to the VDP level Visitors that view both an SRP and a VDP, view nearly 9 pages per session and stay on the site between 9-10 minutes Look at the following Google Analytics reporting from a live dealership over a 90-day period. We can see that there is a huge opportunity to get more SRP visitors to drill down to the VDP level. When they do, they stay on the site 6.9x longer and view 3.6x more pages per session. Additionally, there is a much higher engagement rate at the VDP level than the SRP level.  There is a direct correlation between VDP engagement and a car deal - the more engagement, the higher the probability the visitor will become a customer. Digital Strategies That Drive SRP Traffic To VDPs The typical car buyer spends about 14-15 hours researching before they make a purchase decision with most of this research done online. However, about 50% of car buyers have no contact with the dealership before they arrive in the showroom. This gap from online to in-store indicates a need for dealers to create strategies to get higher levels of interaction from car buyers while they are on the dealership website. When conducting research, car buyers search for the following information and more: Video Test Drives Service History Reports Reconditioning Records Inspection Results OEM Window Stickers Used Vehicle Return Policies Extended Service Options eBrochrues Vehicle Photos & Videos Dealership Reviews Special Incentives Trade-In Value Monthly Payment Estimates Dealership Value-Add Programs Much of the information that car buyers look for during the research process is either not on the dealership website, buried under navigation tabs, or not contained on SRPs and VDPs. If shoppers only view 4-5 pages on the website and two of those are an SRP and a VDP, then we know they are not seeing other valuable information that would aid their decision making. Look at the SRP image below… From this view, shoppers can see that there are reconditioning records, the manufacturer’s ebrochure, an OEM window sticker, the dealership’s inspection results, a video walkaround, a digital portfolio, and dealer reviews. By bringing such valuable information to the SRP level, more shoppers will drill down to the VDP level and ENGAGE. More importantly, you will have provided information that shoppers want right up front – without forcing them to drill down into your website or leave your inventory pages altogether to get the information they need. Not all SRPs are designed to accommodate this size of a widget, but there are a variety of options for creating more interest even with a vertical, narrower SRP layout.  Placing informative banners above the SRP is another strategy for informing shoppers that there is additional valuable information that will help in their decision-making. Today’s, car buyers expect a rich, interactive shopping experience. Serving up highly engaging content such as videos, reports, documents, and photos on SRPs and VDPs allows you to get the right content at the right time to shoppers in the discovery and research phase of the car buying process. Proving relevant information upfront that answers questions and educates shoppers creates a transparent environment where trust is built. The result is increased conversions, a smooth and seamless transition from online to in-store, and higher levels of customer satisfaction.  To bridge the gap from the digital retailing experience to in-showroom – dealers must explore creative options to engage car buyers on key inventory display pages and draw them deeper into the purchase funnel.
car spare part
The Power of Return Parts Buyers

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You probably know the age-old business adage that it’s cheaper to sell to an existing customer than it is to acquire a new one. In fact, it’s about 5x more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to sell to an existing customer. It’s been reported that increasing customer retention by 5% can yield a 25 - 95% increase in profit for your business. Furthermore, the average success rate of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%, while that of a new customer is just 5-20%.  All customers are important, but not all of those customers are created. Although every vehicle owner is a valued potential parts customer, the difference is between new and returning shoppers. RevolutionParts recently looked at a year’s worth of data consisting of over 100 million unique users. Based on the data, here is why return parts customers are so important: They lead to more purchases They spend more money They bring in additional business Return Parts Buyers Make Up More Than Half of RevolutionParts Web Store Visitors RevolutionParts shopper behavior data shows that return shoppers account for 54.9% of visits, where new shoppers account for a lesser 45.1%. Source: RevolutionParts eCommerce Shopper Behavior Report More than half of web store visitors are return customers; this emphasizes the importance of nurturing customer loyalty through marketing and outreach after the initial point-of-sale.  Return Part Buyers Spend More Money It’s no secret that you want customers to spend more in your parts department, and that is exactly what return customers do. Return shoppers to RevolutionParts web stores spend $65 more per order on average. Once someone makes a purchase from your web store, they are likely to spend more money the next time they purchase a part from you.  Return Part Buyers Convert at a Higher Rate Getting someone to come to your web store costs ad dollars. Once someone lands on your website, your job is to convert them into customers. The higher your conversion rate, the less money each conversion costs you. Return parts shoppers convert at 2X the rate of new visitors, meaning they will take less money to acquire. Return Part Buyers Bring The Customers to You Word-of-mouth is a blessing to your marketing budget. After all, it’s free advertising. Generally, research has shown that return customers refer 50% more people than one-time buyers. When you give customers an affordable, convenient, and reliable shopping experience, not only will they come back for future needs, they’ll tell their friends and family to shop with you too. That means you stand to gain new customers at absolutely no cost. RevolutionParts found that over 5% of gross sales came from referrals. Get the Full eCommerce Shopper Behavior Report The RevolutionParts eCommerce Shopper Behavior Report gives insight into the behavior of new and returning customers, including demographics, the devices your customers are using to purchase their items, and customer traffic sources. To view the full report, visit: https://www.revolutionparts.com/
A Look Back at Automotive Retail in 2017 Reveals the Path Forward for 2018

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When we look back at 2017, the best word to capture the year in automotive retail is fascinating . Between the drop in the record-setting 2016 sales figures to the uptick in vehicle demand from the disaster-ravaged states in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, this past year’s seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) was nothing short of a rollercoaster ride. 2017 insights When it came to online shopping behavior, Dealer.com , which operates 62% of U.S. franchise dealership websites, captured key insights from its proprietary DataView reporting that underscored the fascinating year: Presidents Day was both the most popular holiday and day of the year for vehicle shopping. In fact, four of the top five shopping days of the year fell during the week of Presidents’ Day weekend. The one outlier in the top five was Friday, March 24, which coincides with Friday being the most popular day of the week for vehicle shopping and March being the most popular month for car shoppers in 2017. All of this took place in Q1 2017, despite the dip in monthly sales figures . Texas and Florida were two of the top five states for car shopping this year, likely a tie-in to vehicles lost to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The state with the least amount of vehicle shopping? Wyoming. Consumers love their daytime car-shopping window: 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PST was the most popular block of the year. Going into 2018, confidence is still high across the industry for another healthy sales year, particularly from dealers themselves. In our recently released Cox Automotive Q4 2017 Dealer Sentiment Index (CADSI) , U.S.-based dealers were optimistic about the first quarter this year, and believe recent inventory issues have begun to subside. The CADSI also indicated, however, that both franchise and independent dealers continue to feel pressure to lower prices, experience high costs of running their business, and report weak customer traffic. Let’s take a moment to address that third caution flag — weak customer traffic — as a New Year’s resolution, so to speak. New year, new traffic Make no mistake, the automotive industry should continue to hone in on online storefront traffic to generate sales leads. Because we’re in this post-peak sales period, however, we need to reframe our core belief that the quantity of sales leads eclipses all other key performance indicators (KPIs) when it comes to profitability. It’s just not the case anymore. Instead, dealers should be focusing on attracting quality over quantity — car shoppers with a higher intent to purchase a vehicle — when it comes to lead generation in the sales funnel. How can dealerships conquer this New Year’s resolution of improved quality of online traffic? The key to 2018 digital marketing ROI is through attribution , which uses data to decipher and predict shoppers’ purchasing intent, and shows how to use that information to maximize ROI. Multi-touch attribution models help track the series of digital touch points from shoppers as they work their way toward a purchase, and assigns the respective touch points a value. This lets dealers see what campaigns are resonating most with their customers, and allows them to adjust accordingly. The coming year will bring another healthy clip of sales across the industry; however, the key to your success for the year will be through digital attribution to identify and connect with those quality car shoppers. Here's to 2018! James Grace is the senior director of analytics products at Cox Automotive Media Solutions Group.