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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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ABCImportCenter.com or something like that instead of ABCLexus.com. 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.
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.