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The mad rush is just starting. By this time next year, the majority of automotive website providers will have responsive, adaptive, or a hybrid in place as their website platform. The days of focusing strictly on the desktop and having a plug-in mobile solution are quickly fading.
That's the good news. The bad news is that so many responsive websites that I see are failing miserably at delivering on the actual benefits associated with RWD. This is why I was against them less than two years ago (even though the company I worked for at the time was developing responsive websites). Just because a vendor puts their websites on a responsive platform doesn't mean that they'll be delivering the expected results. The shortcomings of responsive must be addressed.
When looking at responsive websites, I look at several different components to determine if they're good or bad. The strange part is that it's not universal even within the same companies; I found one provider in particular that had very strong responsive sites launched last year and then really poor ones launched recently.
Instead of going into all of the factors, I've isolated it to three that dealers who are considering responsive should look at closely.
Speed plays an important role in two of the biggest factors associated with mobile websites: organic search rankings and bounce/time on site/engagement. Google takes into account how fast a page loads in their organic ranking algorithm. People won't wait for pages to load - bounce and page abandonment rates increase dramatically with every second wasted after only a few seconds of loading.
To check the speed of a site, you need to check a few pages: the homepage, specials pages, vehicle details pages, search results pages, and landing pages. Plug the URLs into Google's PageSpeed Insights and check the results.
One major note: don't get caught up in the numbers too much. I know of at least two vendors who would fight me on this point (mostly because they do well with their own PageSpeed scores), but this is really a red light/green light issue. In other words, a website that scores a 99 on mobile PageSpeed isn't much better than a website that scores 60. Google takes it into account, but your site won't tank if your website scores a 55 as long as the rest of your SEO is strong.
You're looking to make sure that they're not scoring in the 20s. Even if they do, it's important to ask why. As someone who has worked at a website provider before, I know that there will be dealers that demand that their 24 hi-res banners floating across the homepage stay intact on mobile. If you're looking at website providers, be sure to check multiple sites.
If you really want to make me upset about a particular about poor use of a responsive platform, you'll make the mobile version a duplicated, shuffled version of the desktop variation. There is so much that a vendor can do when utilizing RWD when it comes to functionality on mobile devices and I see so few taking advantage of it.
Let's start with the basics. Your phone numbers do not need to be clickable on a desktop. They definitely need to be clickable on a mobile device. To the right is an example of a page that intuitively changes the phone numbers that are visible on the homepage into a single phone number that can now be easily clicked on a smartphone.
This might seem like a no-brainer, especially considering that many smartphones can recognize phone numbers and will automatically make them clickable, but not all are like that. I've even seen some website providers that plug the phone number in as an image.
Another thing you'll notice on that mobile homepage is that it auto-populates "New Vehicles" in the CarFinder portion. This is a minor point, but one worth making. Every button should have a destination even if nothing is selected by the visitor. In other words, there are many websites out there that force the consumer to make a choice before the button will work. By auto-populating the most popular selection (in this case, new cars), they can instantly click through and get to inventory without having to pick one or the other. Again, minor point, but in this competitive automotive market, every little bit can help. Attention to detail is so very important in websites.
Here's another example of proper use of RWD, this time on the search results page. If you were to visit this site on your desktop, there's no Click to Call button. However, on a mobile device, the button doesn't just pop up on vehicle details pages. It's in every listing on the search results pages as well.
Dealers know that contact form fills are down. Some of this can be attributed to an increasing distrust by the North American population with transmitting their personal information online. Moist of it can be attributed to the fact that we're doing more web surfing online and forms are a pain in the rear (especially for those of us who have big fingers).
Every simplification of the contact process is a benefit to the overall effectiveness of a website to generate more leads. I'm a big fan of simplicity when it comes to calls-to-action, but I also want to make sure that no opportunities are missed.
Now, let's discuss buttons briefly. Most things should shrink when seen on mobile devices: pictures, videos, banners, forms, etc. Buttons, on the other hand, should get bigger. Make it easy for people with fingers as big as mine to go to the right places by making sure the buttons are sized appropriately for mobile.
One final point on intuitive mobile interfaces: make it work well from top to bottom and utilize the proper order. I'm not going to embarrass any website providers by putting in an example, but they're bad. When a screen shrinks, particularly when shrinking to the size and shape of a vertically held smartphone, the order of the modules makes a huge difference. I've seen responsive websites that plug in the contact forms and other important modules below some exceptionally unnecessary items. Sometimes, entire modules on a website should disappear altogether on mobile devices.
A website shouldn't break on mobile devices, nor should the plugins associated with them. This was a huge issue a couple of years ago in the early days of the responsive boom when websites would render properly but the plugins would not. Sometimes, they would even break the sites altogether.
Today, many of those problems have been fixed but there are still plenty of poor ones out there. Make sure to test out all of your website plugins on responsive websites. To do this, you may have to ask the website provider you're considering if they have examples of websites that use this plugin or that widget.
In the example to the right, Amaral is utilizing CarChat24. If you go to his site on a desktop, there are several prompts to get desktop visitors to engage in chat, including an appropriate Java popup. If all of them were placed on a mobile site, they would dominate the screen and would hurt the functionality. As you can see, the multitude of chat prompts have been replaced by a small prompt at the bottom of the screen.
Don't just check the buttons. Check the landing pages as well. There are several plugins out there that take visitors to specific pages on the website. With plugins, this can become a mobile nightmare if they do not render properly.
Think of it like this - anything that you add to your website that isn't built by the website provider must be checked across multiple devices. As the world continues to become more mobile in its surfing style, you cannot afford to have pages that do not work on mobile devices.
Over the last several months, I've looked at 9 responsive web design providers in the automotive industry and 2 that are hoping to get into the industry. Most were not ready for primetime, but only one of them was actually bad enough that I see no hope for them in the future. No, I'm not going to reveal who those ones were.
Three scored strong marks in my tests: DealerOn, FlexDealer, and WorldDealer. I'm not done. At next year's big convention, we will be looking at the latest and greatest. Then, we'll be putting together a comprehensive list of recommendations that we'll be posting right here on Driving Sales. In the meantime, we're looking for other website providers to consider as well as stories of experiences from dealers in the trenches with responsive websites today.
Please feel free to comment below or contact me directly if you have any recommendations of vendors I need to look at or experiences you'd like to share. As someone who worked for a website provider for seven years, it's truly refreshing to be able to look at everything with an open and detached view.