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Christian Salazar

Christian Salazar GM

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The Nasty Truth About VDP's and Conversion Rate In Automotive

2e906714a3ea7937d367383b109a7b9d.PNG?t=1Vehicle Details Pages (VDPs) have been a hot topic for some time now. Over the past few months, I have become increasingly convinced that their importance is not completely understood within the automotive industry.

E-commerce websites outside of automotive put a lot of emphasis on product pages. They are extremely important and measured with precise accuracy.  Here are some things that are taken into consideration:

  • Conversion Rate - What percentage of website visitors (now called sessions) are turning into paying customers?
  • Cost per Transaction - How much does each transaction cost your business
  • A / B Testing - Do certain versions of product pages produce more (or higher grossing) sales
  • Average Transaction Value - Every time I ring the register, how much am I ringing it for
  • Days and Visits to Purchase - How many days between the user’s website visit to the sale?
  • Types of Users - What are the demographics of my website visitors?
  • Task Completion - Did the user complete the task you wanted them to do while on your site?


From where do these criteria come? E-Commerce giants that are doing hundreds of millions of dollars per day online.  The same e-Commerce giants that are getting over 100 million page views per day.  

I have heard a few automotive website companies talk about and compare the industry to Amazon.  I don’t believe this is an applicable or accurate model for car dealers. Take into consideration these quick stats about Amazon:

  • $74 billion in sales last year
  • $202 million in sales per day
  • Over 150 million visitors each day
  • Online only
  • Trusted, fair prices, fast, convenient

Now, take a look at this scenario.

 If I had a dealership group of 60 rooftops, and my stores were all open 7 days a week and each one of them sold 7 cars per day.

* My average selling price is $30,000.  Each one of my websites gets 15,000 sessions per month.  

  • $4.6B in sales last year
  • $12.6 Million in sales per day
  • Over 30,000 visits per day
  • In Person Only
  • Trust has to be earned
  • Fair Prices? Fast? Convenient?

It should be easy to see that apples do not equal oranges in the example above.  Amazon can A/B test product pages within an hour on any given day of the year.  Cyber Monday 2013 was the single most impressive day in E-commerce history, raking in an astounding $2 Billion.  The Average Conversion rate of all e-commerce websites is 2.67% as defined here: Monetate.  Is your website company telling you that your conversion rate is higher?  Are you hearing companies promise 25% increase in conversion?  If they are, chances are they do not fully understand what conversion means.

For my clients a conversion is this: Website visitors who come to the dealership and service or purchase a vehicle.  

I do sometimes have clients that ask map / direction clicks and phone numbers to be tracked within analytics.  While these tell us about a click, they do not count as a conversion in my book.  I do not possess the secret sauce for website conversion.  I simply aim to get as many of them as possible.  My clients are well versed on bounce rate, total sessions, session duration and conversion rate.  

With respect to bounce rate, I want my clients getting entrances and visits from all over the country, not just their hometown.  When you have visits from all over, your bounce rate may rise, but when you’re putting out blogs and landing pages that let consumers research on your website, that is not a bad thing.  

For instance, if a consumer types this into Google - 2014 s class vs 7 series - the result is a landing page on a dealer's website that compares the two models.  The information only takes 60 seconds or so to read and if the user leaves after viewing, this plays a part in your bounce rate and average session duration.  If the dealership brings sessions from around the world to their website to answer a question that search engines are being asked every day this is a good thing.  In the example above, pages like this bring in thousands of visitors each month.

Your dealership isn’t opposed to selling cars outside of your PMA right?  The more content you have on your website in the form of landing pages, blog posting and rich content pages, the more organic traffic and entrances into your website you will have. Conversion rate may drop as website sessions increase, but as long as more conversions happen, I don’t see the business owner thinking twice about the minutiae. With too many factors playing into it, there isn’t one defined conversion rate in the auto industry. The standard for success is still website sessions compared to cars sold and serviced.   

Autonation recently announced that they would stop relying on third-party websites to drive traffic to their websites.  Mike Jackson also told CNBC that Tesla should be able to sell cars direct to consumers.  Two things are happening here:

  1. Dealerships should now start to invest in content writers that drive traffic to their OWN websites.  

  2. A better consumer experience is necessary when merchandising vehicles online.

This isn’t Amazon, and Scott Hernalseen said this at the 2013 DrivingSales Executive Summit, “Dealers must have a clear merchandising and pricing strategy that makes their vehicles stand out from the competition.”  Dealerships should be pointing web traffic (most importantly Google and Bing Searches) to their own website.  Third-party listing and lead providers know that content is king and that they are capturing searchers, bringing them to their sites, then selling to you.  

Tim Martell, CEO and Founder of Wikimotive, said that third-party lead providers are “toxic to car dealers.” He explains that their negative impact begins in the messaging to consumers coach.PNGthrough use of distressing language against the dealership to position themselves as the only trusted resource. The first 

experience the consumer has in the buying process enforces the distrust.




zara.PNGThe second thing that happens is that the lead is then sent to at least three to five competing 

car dealers where their own automated processes barrage the prospect with follow-ups. The consumer is left regretting ever entering their contact information in the first place.  Martell adds, “Let’s not forget that in some cases, consumers will submit leads on multiple third-party sites. You do the math; phone calls and 


converse.PNGemails ensue for a few weeks to a few months. Some experts have suggested that a single lead will cause well over $1,000 to change hands by the end of one lead process while others have suggested that it never ends. That the leads continue to be sold and resold forever.”


Most third-party lead providers send traffic to VDP pages.  The problem with this is that VDP pages in the auto industry are old and outdated.  When I visit websites such as Converse, Zara or Coach, for example, I get one experience. When I visit car dealer websites I get another experience.


Ali Mendiola of DealerTrack recently told dealers, in her online webinar “How to break free from the website lead-to-sale conversion rate blues,” that VDP pages offer no guidance and give the consumer too many options. She said that “all of the buttons are the same” and that dealers should “limit the amount of information that is on the VDPs”.  I couldn't agree more.weschaptoy.PNG






A call-to-action click is meaningless if it stops there.  Where does the click take them? Do you want yet another opinion on what their trade-in is worth? Take a look at what the manufacturers offer consumers on their own VDP pages.

Shockingly, it looks nothing like a VDP on one of it’s own franchised sites!  It does resemble e-commerce sites.  From Mercedes-Benz to Kia, it’s all about a big photo, the price and one call t
o action.  Not form leads. We all know that consumers do not surrender this type of information so easily.  

The expert of online psychology Nathalie Nahai’s book Webs of Influence, allow us to understand our hidden motivations when viewing product pages and how to design persuasive experiences.  Nathalie, whom has spoken to Google, Ebay, and Harvard Business Review, understands the principles of how to get the web user to do what you (the business) want them to do.  The vehicle details pages used on our client’s websites implement these principles.  Two noticeable mentions are the use of one main call to action and large images to persuade action.

Now look at the Nissan VDP. Yes! This is more like it; a large photo, no clutter and one main call to action.  This lets consumers have the same experience across the entire e-commerce brand.  One more thing, since the majority of new clients are all now built on responsive platforms, all of this is available on their iPads, iPhones and Android devices in the very same seamless format.  For a case study of how this works you can access here:

Nissan.PNGI will close out with another statement from Mr. Martell, “VDPs show correlation. They are not causation.” You can send traffic to a particular VDP, but if it’s priced wrong, has poor photos or descriptions and more, it will never sell. “VDPs are merely an exposure metric,” he continued. Is more exposure good? Yes. But the context and the validity of the data is what matters.  He warns,”Don’t let the gurus trick you into believing that your own knowledge isn’t valid by the advent of technology and information. It’s time to take back control and stop lining the pockets of vendors.”

  Continue to be the excellent automotive retail professional that you were when you started in the industry. Use your own original content - content that both you and your car buyers care about. The consumer gets to connect with a local business that has what they want and you get the opportunity to become their valuable local resource they were hoping to find. Everybody wins. You. Win.  

Jae Chang
Interesting read, thanks Christian. I think there's a large difference in Autos as to a typical consumer good that is transacted as cited in the Amazon model but I can agree with a parallel. I give AutoNation full respect for stepping out, we all know it was a calculated maneuver. I had a conversation regarding this just recently, we came to the conclusion, " we wish we had the balls to do something like it". It is truly a daunting reality for small groups and single points.
Brian Kenny
Content is King! I have a hard time understanding why a dealer wouldn't want to be globally relevant? Producing original content that is interesting to the world only amplifies your regional relevance thus confirming the dealer is the "BIG SME" (subject matter expert). Your second point regarding consumer experience is also spot on in my book. Easy to use web sites that showcase information consumers are interested in is the way of the future in my humble opinion. It is time to leave behind our pop-ups, pop-unders, falling business cards and random cyber video people interrupting our web surfing to explain how easy it is to submit a lead. I vote to encourage and increase consumer interaction by driving overall satisfaction through consumer oriented web sites. I love it Christian. Keep up the great work! #ThoughtLeader
Joe Chura
A great book on conversion rate optimization is "Don't Make Me Think" by Steve Krug. I read this years ago trying to learn everything possible about CRO. Christian, you are right on by recommending one call to action. Each page needs a goal and the quantity of "conversion points" a.k.a buttons everywhere doesn't equate to more leads. I think a busy page can lead to a less than ideal consumer experience. Yes, there should be secondary CTA's but when is enough enough? #awesome illustration - Next point- Conversions are sales. Leads, phone calls, and direct-non sales actions from the dealers' website are simply key performance indicators (KPI's). It's great to measure KPI's- VDP views, CTR, web traffic, goal conversions, time-on-site, etc but they are the correlation of a sale, not the cause (right on Tim). Having been a dealer (GM) and having reported to DP's I can say that only a few things matter- the top of that list includes sales and profitability (gross baby). The remaining metrics, as previously stated, are indicators on our performance but not the performance itself. (non affiliate book link)
Aaron Schinke
A simpler web is a better web. @JoeChura PREACH!
Shannon Hammons
Great Blog Christian.. Really makes us think about things.

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