Before discussing digital marketing, you need facts*. Fact #1– More than 50 percent of lead-generating traffic to your website arrives there because the customer typed the dealership URL directly without using search. Fact #2 – Customers who search for the dealership name are much more serious about buying and are more likely to submit a lead on the dealership website than those who arrive at the dealership site via another keyword search. Fact #3 – Shoppers who enter through an inventory page instead of the home page are 50 percent more likely to submit a lead.
Based on those facts, dealers might believe all they need to do is optimize their dealership name and their inventory and the leads will pour in. If only it were that easy. Today, digital marketing encompasses blogs, social media, customer reviews, videos, multiple websites or micro sites, and even PPC campaigns, all designed to drive traffic to the dealer’s primary website. If a single domain is all your dealership does really well, you may be getting your virtual butt kicked online.
To push shoppers to submit a lead, dealers must have a strong digital presence and a great website, but having both eludes many dealers. Auto Dealer Monthly has a unique perspective of the automotive digital landscape. It has the benefit of viewing numerous dealership websites each year that encompass all dealership types and a wide range of website providers and services, therefore we see the best and the worst in the market. We also see a large number of additional digital marketing initiatives each month through interactions with dealers and industry professionals. It is that perspective that has shaped the year-end review of dealership websites and digital marketing on the following pages.
Our goal is simple—to highlight some of the best in our industry and why they stand out. There will always be dealerships that do a great job that are missing from our list. The Internet is too big for anyone or anything but Google to see everything. We only review those dealerships nominated, and there will always be a difference of opinion since part of the review process is subjective.
How did we decide out of hundreds of site submissions? First and foremost, we believe in search; specifically, does the dealership own its name? (All sites were reviewed weeks before the changes Google made in late October.) How many of the first-page organic results does a dealership own for a keyword search of the dealership name? Numerous studies have shown that roughly 85 percent of click-throughs come from the first three search results on a page so every dealer had better own those three. No dealer is ever satisfied leaving 15 percent on the table, therefore they will want to own as much as possible on page one and be as visible as possible anywhere their customers are. All of this should be done in a positive light and ethical manner.
If you don’t own your own name, it’s hard to drive traffic. Clearly, a dealership with a unique name has the potential for better search results than one with a more common name. The first criterion for determining which sites were atop the pile was how well they searched for their dealership names. The only time we deviated and included the city in the search phrase was in the case of a Canadian dealership or when a used vehicle franchise was searched (e.g., Thrifty Car Sales, Payless Car Sales); otherwise, the results would have been of no value.
We divided the sites into to similar groupings – single-point franchise sites (regardless of the number of franchises, they only have one geographic location), independent dealer sites (single-point or group), group franchise sites (multiple geographic locations), and specialty sites. Then each grouping underwent additional scrutiny for functionality (navigation, load times, errors, etc.) of the site, ease of getting to inventory, and other digital marketing initiatives. Keep in mind that each group had some very clear expectations of performance. As the checklists were cleared, the winners stood out.
Regardless of how complicated or simple you make digital marketing, in the end the value of a dealership’s digital marketing plan can truly only be evaluated by the dealership based on the return to the bottom line (i.e., traffic that converts to sales). There is no secret formula that works for everyone. It’s about taking the best practices and concepts that will work within your dealership processes and with your customers.
Space restricts how much can be said about each site's performance in the review process, but key points have been highlighted. Here are the top picks for the Auto Dealer Monthly 2010 Digital Marketing Awards:
*The facts are based on data supplied by Dataium, a data utility company that provides critical business intelligence and insight through the aggregation and analysis of consumer activity from across the Internet.
Franchise Group Sites
Creating a group site is a huge challenge. Each manufacturer seems to have some crazy requirement that prevents a dealer from having a group site that covers all franchises with the same look and feel. The best they can hope for is to create a group site that allows customers to browse inventory across all of their locations and provide enough information to the customer to keep them engaged and drive them to action.
1. Zimbrick Auto Group
Zimbrick Auto Group’s site (Zimbrick.com) was a clear winner in the Franchise Group category. Not only did it perform well with a search of just “Zimbrick,” it loaded with lightening-fast speed. Searches were easily conducted and individual listings indicated where each vehicle was located. It’s tough for a group of this size to present so much information without overwhelming the shopper, but Zimbrick has found the right balance (from inventory to service and sales specials). The drill-down options on inventory and specials were big hits with every person who reviewed the site. Zimbrick has a large digital footprint, captures more than its share of search results and has done a great job of simplifying complicated tasks.
2. Don Wood Automotive Group
“It’s not sexy or flashy,” was a regular statement made about Don Wood Automotive Group’s site (DonWood.com) during the review period, but clearly a group site doesn’t have to be. Customers appreciated function over form in this case. This site had the ability to search inventory across stores, and everything worked and loaded quickly. Don Wood’s digital footprint includes several franchise-specific sites, blogs, several review/gossip sites, and several specialty parts sites. One thing lacking on this site was an easy way to get from an individual franchise site back to the group site.
3. Rairdon Auto Group
Video-rich is how to best describe Rairdon’s website (Rairdon.com). Although Rairdon’s site has several videos available from the home page, they have been handled properly as to not cause significant delays. The Internet team at Rairdon is kept busy with a blog, customer testimonials and videos, all of which are cross-promoted through the group site. Inventory was easy to search; however, the fact that scheduling service wasn’t an option off the main navigation service and parts tab was troublesome for many reviewers.
4. Randall Noe Auto Group
The Randall Noe Auto Group (RandallNoe.com) has search under control, with its various automotive sites dominating page-one results for just the words “Randall Noe.” This site was deemed the simplest of the Group sites. It allows shoppers to find locations, contact a dealership or search inventory across all stores. However, no service options are present on the home page. Inventory pages all have dealership information listed and are connected to a credit application. Those reviewing this site did note the inconsistent vehicle photo quality among the stores.
5. Herb Chambers Group
“Overwhelming” and “impressive” were the words that popped out of the mouths of every reviewer when asked about HerbChambers.com. The vast number of very different images was a bit much to process immediately and caused the “overwhelming” statement, but once reviewers’ brains processed what was on the home page, everyone was impressed with the amount of information provided in such a small area. The ability to search both new and used inventory at the same time was very appealing to shoppers. Most reviewers felt that stock photos of new inventory would be acceptable in this situation if they actually matched the actual vehicle color in inventory. Taking this many franchises and locations and wrapping them in a single group site is a big task that the Herb Chambers Group has handled handsomely.
Honorable Mention: Dick Hannah
The Dick Hannah organization (DickHannah.com) has done a great job of organizing many makes and locations on one site. The rollover on each make that provides a quick reference of address, and phone numbers for sales, service and parts makes it very easy for a customer to quickly reach the dealership. Inventory was also a breeze to search across all dealerships. However, the dealership group site was not able to crack the top five due to the very slow load time caused by the video and reviews on the home page. With today’s ever demanding consumer seconds can be the difference between engagement and immediate exit of a site.
Franchise Single-Point Sites
All year, Auto Dealer Monthly has been reviewing dealer websites in this category, so all finalists in this group underwent the same process as the monthly-reviewed sites. A single franchise site is certainly not as difficult a task to manage as a multi-franchise group from the technical side of things, but in other ways it can be more challenging. Without all the extra franchises and/or locations to help boost search, it can be a challenge to own much of page one in the search results, but all of these top dealerships have a healthy share of those results. Differentiating which of the top five was number-one came down to just a few points because all of these dealerships do such a great job with their digital marketing. They all excel in SEO, social media usage, blogs, customer reviews, videos and micro sites, so instead of saying the same things about each of the top five, Auto Dealer Monthly focused each description on the one aspect of each dealership that stood out (even if just a little) above the rest of their excellent digital marketing efforts.
1. World Hyundai Matteson
Here is a dealership with a giant digital footprint, which it represents well on WorldHyundaiMatteson.com. You had to look closely in the first page of search results to find something that didn’t belong to or drive traffic to the dealership website. This dealership is active in social media, has a blog, actively promotes customer reviews and makes great use of video, all of which they have tied back to their primary site. The site layout was even praised for the seemingly small choices they made in the design process (e.g., “I’d like to …” in the navigation bar). Chat was available but not intrusive. The dealership maintains the balance of an all-around great digital marketing plan from Web design to search optimization to reach.
2. Marlboro Nissan
You’ll have to search hard to find an organic result that doesn’t tie back to Marlboro Nissan. It practically owns the page-one organic results on Google, Yahoo! and Bing, and when you start listing the online properties it owns, it’s easy to see why. Its main home page, MarlboroNissan.com, searches extremely well, and the items on its global navigation bar (Used Cars, Car Loans, Service & Repair, Nissan Parts and Marlboro Auto Body) lead to the new URLs UsedNissanBoston.com, CarLoan-Boston.com, Nissan-Service.net, BostonNissanParts.com and AutoBodyWorcester.com (respectively).
3. Burnsville Toyota
BurnsvilleToyota.com was reviewed in the September 2010 issue of Auto Dealer Monthly (barely a month and a half before the Awards judging ended). This provided solid evidence as to how hard the dealership has worked to improved its site. In the initial review, reviewers pointed out the troublesome items: automatic audio, sluggish load times, lack of new specials, unclear service department hours, and a small bit of text left on a page that needed removing. The dealership was clearly paying attention, as it corrected all these issues within a month-and-a-half.
4. Suzuki of Wichita
Suzuki of Wichita (SuzukiOfWichita.com) is no stranger to winning awards for its online presence, and what makes its digital marketing presence unique is the right mix of bucking some industry trends for website design, striving to be perceived as an “anti-dealer” and staying ahead of the curve in digital marketing. The navigation of the site is very different from others, and the dealership’s “No Car Guys” blog and the promotion of the dealership’s non-commissioned salespeople who don’t want “to talk you into anything you don’t want” are prime examples of how the dealership is trying to shape its image. Simply having tech-savvy people who are early adopters at the reins of the dealership keeps its digital marketing at the forefront of the industry.
5. Hare Chevrolet
The HareChevy.com team does an outstanding job of maintaining their website site. Additionally, this dealership believes not only should they be found in search but they should interact with everyone they can. The dealership has amassed a huge number of followers and fans online and promotes regular interaction with its followers/fans through contests, question-and-answer campaigns, local events the dealership is attending/sponsoring, and responding on Twitter even to non-followers. All of this interaction is focused on one goal—drive traffic so leads can be generated.
Honorable Mention: Dennison Ford
If search was the only criterion for these awards, Dennison Ford (DennisonFord.com) might very well have topped the list this year. A search of the dealership returns a page full of deep links into their primary site. While many dealers use multiple sites to achieve this level of search, Dennison Ford has captured it with one site. This site received many positive comments from reviewers, and with some minor site improvements by the dealership staff, it would have easily knocked off one of our top competitors.
Unfortunately, the majority of independent dealers lag behind their franchise counterparts when it comes to digital marketing, especially their focus on search. Many independent dealers don’t even own the top organic search results for their dealership names or even have their businesses in Google Places and Maps—neither of which should be acceptable in today’s market. However, if you search long enough, you will find a few independent sites that stand out.
1. Dream Cars Credit
Dream Cars Credit is an outstanding example of a single-point independent site (DreamCarsCredit.com). Dream Cars Credit owned the top four Google search results for the dealership name, one of which was their inventory page. Additionally, their blog and Facebook accounts appeared in page-one search results. One thing of particular note regarding its blog site is the suppression of the dates of blog postings. Their approach makes it look fresh all the time. Everything Dream Cars does online is geared toward driving the customer back to the primary dealership site, which is simple to use but very extensive in offerings to the customer. Everything about the site seems customer-friendly, from the home page to the About Us page.
2. Frank Myers Auto Maxx
Barely nudged out of the top spot, Frank Myers Auto Maxx fought a tough fight in the independent group. The dealership site searches well and can easily be found through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs. The FrankMyersAuto.com site has an abundance of resources, and the dealership team is not afraid to push the envelope, as seen with a recent Halloween promotion. The “Strange Thing” gave the dealership plenty to talk about online with customers, and several dealers followed suit with their own “Strange Thing” promotions.
3. Auction Direct USA
Auction Direct USA (AuctionDirectUSA.com) is an independent group site. The physical dealership spans three unconnected states along the East coast, which can present a few challenges in search. However, Auction Direct owns the top spots for the dealership name, as well as for the dealership name with each state it operates in. The operation has a large overall digital footprint encompassing Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, a blog and more. Once shoppers hit the site, they have the ability to search for inventory across all locations directly from the home page, an important component on group sites. Also, there is no noticeable difference in the site’s look, feel or behavior when on a specific location tab—a characteristic that is hard to find in a group site.
4. Cars Etc, Inc
Cars Etc, Inc (CarsEtc.com) is a Tennessee dealer in the Knoxville market with three locations, making it the only other independent group site to be included this year. It is active in a variety of digital marketing outlets and works hard to engage potential customers in its market. The challenge is search, which the dealership does well for “Cars Etc Inc,” but not as well for “Cars Etc.” Customers have a habit of taking shortcuts and the extra “Inc” is likely to be left off by many searchers. Even though video often slows down a site’s performance, it was not a problem on this video-rich site. The site loaded quickly and no errors were found. If the search results had been a little deeper, there’s no telling where it would have placed.
Independent Honorable Mentions
A few independent sites stood out, but just didn’t have strong enough search results or didn’t have a large enough digital presence to go to toe-to-toe with our winners.
Honorable Mention - Best Branding: Drivers Select
Regardless of whether you are a fan of orange, Drivers Select (DriversSelect.com) always receives high praise for its consistent branding. Everything about the site – from the home page to individual vehicle photos – incorporates the dealership’s branding. Additionally, many dealers could learn a thing or two from their vehicle photo process, which is one of the best in the industry.
Honorable Mention - Best Simple Site Solution: City Auto
City Auto (CityAuto.com) in Memphis, Tenn., is one of the largest independent and Internet retailers in the country, stocking over 700 vehicles regularly. Their site is one of simple effectiveness from the customer’s perspective. There is nothing on this site to overwhelm a shopper, and searching for a vehicle is a breeze.
Dealers are a creative bunch and are always looking for ways to enhance their businesses. Sometimes it is through a new revenue stream, sometimes it’s driving marketing efforts, sometimes it is a concept so new that it’s in a category all by itself. That’s where these sites fit in.
OEMparts123.com is a site owned by the Don Wood Automotive Group created to showcase and sell parts and accessories online. The site is simple to use with a drill-down format to lead customers to the exact items they are looking for. Part numbers, pictures, descriptions and prices are there, and shopping was without incident. This site is truly designed to be a self-service parts and accessories shopping experience. Incorporating this URL in the dealership’s overall digital marketing plan should result in a significant revenue stream for the dealership with minimal cost.
2. Pick the Payment
PickthePayment.com is a nice spin on an unbranded special finance site. Customers are encouraged to pick their vehicle payment, or if they prefer, they can pick their vehicle. It is clear that the site is about assisting with vehicle purchases even if people have some credit issues. The lead form is not intimidating and doesn’t require a Social Security number. Additionally, the site has chat available if a customer has questions.
3. Off Lease Only
Here is an independent dealership, Off Lease Only, that is taking reputation management seriously. The dealership has successfully built the entire review process into its sales and delivery process, and as a result its review site, OffLeaseReviews.com
, has accumulated more than 1,000 customer reviews. The dealership is doing a good job of optimizing those reviews with a variety of title tags and back-links, and it’s feeding the reviews out to the primary dealer site, blog site and Facebook fan page. Off Lease Only reported that their review site is quickly becoming a top referral source for its primary website.
Vol. 7, Issue 12