• Car Dealers and the Internet

    Posted on March 19, 2013 by in automotive, ebusiness, Marketing

    “Car Dealers and the Internet – they just aren’t getting it”, or “How Can Car Dealers Improve Their Websites”


    Warning, this article may hurt some of you but it’s about time someone was honest with you. Maybe people have been honest with you about this in the past and you just don’t care. Either way, that is a problem. Please understand this article really is designed to help you despite the negative tone.

    Let me preface this by saying there are certainly some car dealers out there that do get it. If you run across one, or happen to be one, please comment or reach out to me so we can chat. The concern is that the majority of car dealers’ web sites and web presence can be summed up in a few, harsh, words:


    There I said it. Whew. I feel better now. Oh wait, you probably want some details and maybe a few pointers. Then read on….

    Bad Car Dealer Website

    Dealership owners invest MILLIONS of dollars in not only their brand name but on their physical stores as well. Have you seen some of these new dealership buildings recently? Very beautiful buildings. I suppose it makes actually visiting the dealership a tolerable experience. Wait, let me say that another way, the experience may still be the same but it’s a much nicer setting. Similar to how hospital maternity wards have unique birthing rooms. Still hurts like crazy but it’s not a sterile hospital room.

    Dealers spend A LOT of money on advertising. Research firm Borrell Associates suggests the automotive retail sector total ad spend in 2013 will be about $31 billion. 31 BILLION DOLLARS! 40% of it allocated to digital. 12.5 billions dollars is a HUGE number. This may or may not be the right mix but that’s a topic for another time. From past experience and current trends, very little of that 12.5 billion dollars will be earmarked for a dealer’s website as far as maintenance and improvement are concerned and this is the main issue of this article.

    All dealers have a website. If you are a dealer and do not have a website, please stop reading right now. I can’t even deal with you right now. We all know there are a few major players in the web vendor business that most dealers use. This is perfectly fine. Do not worry about having a website that looks like another dealers website. Most visitors won’t notice and I have NEVER heard a visitor say “hey, this looks just like that other dealer’s website”. They do not care. They care about other, more important things like customer service and integrity. So stop worrying about this non-issue.

    OK, I am going to start to lose some of you readers during this next paragraph but there is no easy way to put this. I hope you stick around but if you decide to bail on reading this, it is probably you who needs to read it most.

    You signed up for one of the Factories “preferred” web vendors and now you have this “awesome” website. Most dealers move on and forget about it, kinda, sorta. After a while, when they are challenged with increasing sales or stopping a decreasing sales trend, dealers start to think about “switching their website”. Back to square one. Forget all the SEO (email me if you need more details on what SEO is – but its CRUCIAL to your success) the site has behind it and how much effort and time it takes to get that SEO momentum, lets just start over and while we are doing that lets up our SEM (again, contact me) budget to get more hits on our new website. This thought process kills me. The root of this process is that most dealers do not understand the digital landscape and think they can just hit reset and start over. This is very rarely the best decision. There are MANY reasons to not make a rash decision like this:

    1. How will SEO be impacted?
    2. How will SEM be impacted?
    3. Downtime?
    4. Man hours?
    5. Contract?
    6. Education?

    The list goes on.

    Dealers tend to think that once they buy a website then their website is done. FAR FROM IT. Maintaining the site with content and personality is something that needs to be done CONSTANTLY. Who does this in your dealership? You do know this is more than likely a full-time job, right? Is your “Internet Manager” also responsible for website maintenance? I bet they are paid to sell cars. Guess what they will focus on. Good guess….

    Heres a challenge for you. Take a look at your dealership’s website home page and ask yourself the following, “Does this website represent who we are?”. Just look at your home page. Does it? Every dealer has inventory, service and parts. Besides location, what makes you different? Is your dealership’s brand (not the OEM – they make sure they are represented well – just read over you advertising covenant if you have one) represented how you want it to be? Go ahead, do it now. I’ll wait…..

    Now, lets dig a little deeper. Click on over to your, let say, “meet the staff” page. You have one right? With pictures of each employee and a bio for each one? The bio is important for SEO. You have one for each associate right? Be honest. Let me repeat, the bio is important for SEO. How about pictures for each associate? It’s always nice to put a face to a name. Each associate has a picture? Good. Now, how is the quality of those pictures? All the same size? They are all professional headshot photos? For years the manufacturers were beating you into submission to have quality photos taken of their vehicles on your website, all lined up the same. They told you over and over again about the importance of quality photos of your new and used vehicles. I wonder why. Wait, I know. They realized that it helps to portray their brand in a professional manner. There they go again protecting their brand image. Do you see what I am getting at here? Hire someone to take some damn semi-professional headshots for you associates. You may even have a photography hobbyist as an associate already. Someone with a quality camera. Point is, just get it done. Make each one similar. Same background (maybe even a dealership logo??), same color jacket, have them stand facing the same direction. This is just one example. Try it on your blog. You have a blog right? How about social media integration?

    Even if you switch website vendors, you will still have to do this. Did you hear that? You will still need to do this.

    What you should do is, instead of throwing money at another web vendor, take that money and invest in yourself. In your website. In your brand. Improve what you have and make sure you are presented the way you want to be presented online.

    Think like a consumer would. When they are researching their next vehicle, what do you think they do? They go online. They Google the hell out of stuff to narrow down their list or get information. Are you represented in those search terms? Investing in yourself will go along way to make sure you are. Then once they hit your website, the visitor sees a polished, professional site that provides them the experience they are happy to do business with.

    Take some of that marketing money we spoke about earlier and make your current website a converting machine. Hire people or vendors to help you do this. Once you get your site in order you will be surprised that your:

    1. SEM expense will either decrease or you can target broader terms
    2. Conversion rate will increase as you attract qualified visitors
    3. ROI on website will go THROUGH THE ROOF
    4. ROI in Internet Department will improve
    5. Cost per sale will decrease
    6. Decrease spend in third-party leads (instead of paying a lead provider for them, the lead is landing on your site organically)

    I could go on and on about how bad most dealers are in this area but I get the feeling they do not like it when people are honest with them.

    If you read this far, you have taken the first step towards improving in this area. Someone was honest with you.

    Please feel free to comment or contact me at kevin@s2rsolutions.com if you would like to discuss further.