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Your Dealership's Website: Improve, Add To, or Replace?

Build Something

It's great to be out of the website business. After a decade of working for dealership website providers, I now have the freedom to tell the story like it really is. There are certain truths about dealership websites that dealers need to know.

The first important point is that almost all dealer websites are either underutilized or incapable of being utilized at a high level. Here on DrivingSales the readership is more aware of this than the general dealership body, but even the people reading this article now have a good chance of falling into this category.

Most websites should be improved, added to, or replaced. Let's look at the three options, but first let's discuss why this is the case.

Universal Problems

Here is a brief list off the top of my head of problems that dealers face with their websites. Yours might not have all of these problems, but chances are very strong that you have at least some of these deficiencies.

  • Boilerplate Content - There's very little a website company can do to generate unique, relevant content on every important page other than to hire an army of content writers. Very few do (and when I say very few, I don't actually know of any but I can't declare that none of them do until I go through all of them).
  • Terrible Homepage Layout - At some point, website providers started pushing the idea of having several banners floating across the homepage. Testing has shown that very few people click on these banners, but that hasn't discouraged the practice. Then, the rest of the homepage is designed in a way that requires 3 minutes just to see everything and figure out where to go. Consumers aren't doing that. They're clicking within the first 30 seconds to the place they really want to go. Clean, intuitive homepages that tell a compelling story within a few seconds would be much more effective.
  • Limited High-Quality Inbound Links - We've always understood the value of quality inbound links for SEO purposes. Lately, some website providers have jumped on the bandwagon, which is good, but they're still doing it at such a limited rate that it's not having enough of an effect.
  • Too Many Calls to Action - There are providers who boast about having several calls to action on every page. The data shows that the most effective landing pages and even inventory pages have fewer calls to action. The most effective number is (you guessed it) one. A single powerful, relevant call to action is more effective than several.
  • Poor Search Functionality - Sites like Amazon and eBay can attribute much of their success to proper search functionality. When will a dealer website come out that knows when someone misspells the word convertible with an "a" that the correct answer isn't "No Results Found"?
  • Mobile Challenges - Responsive. Adaptive. I'm not here to debate those particular options. The list of challenges with mobile dealer websites goes beyond the layout style. Thankfully, this is one challenge that is being actively fixed in our industry, but there's still a great deal of room for improvement.
  • Underutilized or No Blog - Blogging works. It works for the community. It works for SEO. It works for content marketing. It works for social media. If you don't have a blog on your website, get one. If you have one and you're not posting at least once or twice per week, start posting more.
  • Ineffective Landing Pages - Most landing pages we see are terrible. Either they don't have an appropriate call to action, they don't have compelling and relevant content, or both.
  • Bloated Content and Title Tags - It doesn't matter where your dealership is. You shouldn't stuff your content and title tags with more than two or three cities on the homepage and more than one city on landing pages. Instead, build more pages that fit each individual metro. When you put in too many, you might as well put in zero. Search engines aren't buying the concept that you're a "Honda dealership serving [list of 14 cities]."
  • 2012 Inventory Pages - This is a topic that requires more than a bullet point paragraph. In fact, it probably requires more than a single blog post. If your inventory looks like the same types of inventory that have been on display in our industry for the last four or five years, they're probably not working the way they should.

That's off the top of my head. When we analyze websites, we usually see some or all of these and many, many more.

Dealer websites are like the movie Groundhog Day. Every time you build a new one, there's the hope of doing something better but it often turns out to be the same old thing over and over again. Of course, by the end fo the movie Phil (Bill Murray) puts in the effort to make it the best day ever for the folks of Punxsutawney, PA. As a result, he's finally rewarded with greatness.

I don't recommend building a digital marketing strategy around a Harold Ramis comedy. However, it's a good illustration that making something exceptional takes work. Just the other day we had to call a website company CEO for a simple fix to inventory because customer support told our client that something simple was impossible. You may be seeing the same challenges. If you're not, chances are you're not looking in the right places. These challenges are fairly universal. Thankfully, there are options.

Improve Your Current Website

This is the paradox in the group of three options. It's the one that's arguably the most effective yet it's probably utilized the least. The fact is that most websites, even the ones built by bulk vendors or OEM-mandated sites, have plenty of room for improvement as well as the corresponding tools to make most of those improvements happen.

Of the websites that we've seen improved, over half of them were OEM-mandated. They can be enhanced by improving the creative, eliminating extraneous calls to action, adjusting the boilerplate content, and adding additional pages designed for traffic and conversions. Most have or can have a blog. Out of dozens of platforms that we've worked on, only two platforms were generally unfixable and one of the two has allegedly made major changes recently.

Before jumping to option two or three, it's important to at least explore option one as it requires the least amount of time and effort and the results can be just as high if not higher than the other two options. I'll discuss why that is the case a bit later. For now, let's look at option two.

Add Another Website

For a long time, this was the most popular option for dealers with brands that had OEM mandates. The idea was to build a new, powerful website by an unauthorized provider and park the OEM site in the backyard somewhere.

This option has become less and less popular for a few reasons. The number one reason was the added cost. Fewer dealers are willing to pay for two websites. Another reason is the forced acceptance by the OEMs. Some of them will not allow their name on a non-compliant site, which means that ABC Lexus would have to park their shiny new site on or something like that instead of Some OEMs won't allow co-op ad dollars to be spent sending traffic to non-compliant sites.

The most important reason that this option is fading is because the OEM vendors are getting better. We've seen a couple of the bigger providers adjust their platforms to make them easier to optimize, improve conversions, and look at least a little different from the competition.

Replace Your Current Website

This is the most popular option, particularly at the end of a contract. As much as most hate going through the building process, there are plenty of reasons to do so... at least that's the perception.

We've worked through dozens of new website builds since starting in 2013. If you include the changeovers we went through as individuals with previous companies, that number goes into the hundreds, possibly even thousands. The result is normally an improvement but rarely is it as great as dealers expect. I'm not saying it's a bad solution. However, it's an incomplete solution.

No website provider has a perfect solution. In fact, very few have what we consider to be a "great" solution and nobody has stood out as being superb at this point. That's the reason that I mentioned option one can yield as good if not better results. Changing website providers or adding a new website to the mix doesn't solve all of the problems. They all have their good and bad components and they'll all require effort to enhance them to their full potential. Out of the box, no website platform can be superb. Thankfully, nearly all of them can be made superb with effort put towards extreme and persistent improvements.

Greatness doesn't come at the flip of a switch. It comes through constant advancement, hard work, and incredible strategies. If you want to stand out, you have to put in the effort regardless of which website option you choose.

Bob Collins
Great Breakdown, You and J.D. are writing some remarkable content that is both informative and useful Thanks!
Alex Lau
It would be pretty easy to name names (both good and bad), but no point. There are solid automotive retail web platforms out there and there are average to poorly constructed and supported platforms. A LARGE part of SEO depends entirely on your platform's ability to make Googlebot, etc. happy. Mobile adaptability (adaptive and preferred responsive), site speed (bigger than most think), on-site content cleanliness (vast area), relative content (blog), etc., etc. There is a laundry list of requirements and most small to mid-sized web platform vendors do a decent enough job, with some of them building on open-source supported, WordPress. Googlebot knows this platform very well (where to look for key mechanisms). I find these offerings to be the best of the lot, to be honest. Some of the proprietary offerings and corporate entities, not so much. A lot of dealers don't have the money for two sites, but the ones that do generally convert better. Especially, those that utilize vendors that know what they're doing. The more hooks in the water, they better, IMO. I will say, inbound links have nothing to do with on-site optimization. That's an entirely different subject and blog post. Easily tackled with Google disavow.

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