How to Choose the Right Dealer Website Provider
Today’s Major Players + 12-Point Checklist
A revolutionary mobile-first dealership website platform designed for the way people shop for cars today. The secret sauce: a proprietary suite of built-in lead-generation tools designed to keep visitors engaged on the website, build urgency around inventory, and get qualified buyers into the dealership. Pricing is fair, transparent, and doesn’t change based on dealership size.
Since 2014, CDK Global has been providing integrated information technology and digital marketing solutions to the automotive retail industry. However, it was recently announced that CDK plans to sell its digital marketing business (which includes its dealer website platforms), because they found it to be “lacking.” Let’s wait and see how this turns out.
Founded in 1998, Dealer.com websites deliver a modern, interactive, and personalized digital storefront for automotive shoppers. Unfortunately, no drag and drop functionality. And you can’t compare all car photos without having to click back and forth to the VDP.
A majority of the staff at this dealer website and marketing company has real-life dealership experience. So they know the ins and outs of your business. Does this translate into a better dealership website? Yes and no. The sites are modern, but they lack some of the interactive tools that help build urgency among buyers.
In business for over a decade, DealerOn wants to make car buying in the digital age better than ever. High customer satisfaction rates, but they charge extra for some custom dealer website features that other companies include with their websites.
Founded in 2009, fusionZONE Automotive is a full-service, progressive digital marketing provider. Optimized for mobile, but shoppers won’t get a true mobile-first experience since the mobile website is missing features found on desktop. For example, no homepage sliders, banners, talk to search, or Spanish translation on mobile. Also, no native online trade-in tools and some users complain of a difficult to navigate search results page.
DealerFire has been around for more than ten years. Started by 2 friends, DealerFire is now part of the DealerSocket family of advanced automotive technology. They’re creating streamlined dealership websites to make online car shopping easy and fun. But where are the customizable payment filters? And why can’t users search for cars by monthly budget. These popular features were missing from all of the dealer website providers listed — with the exception of 321 Ignition.
How to Evaluate Dealership Website Providers:
Choosing among today’s dealer website providers is a high-stakes decision. Simply picking the right provider will set you up to automatically bring in thousands of dollars more to your dealership’s bottom line every month — without spending any additional marketing dollars. If there was ever a way to fill your dealership’s basket with low-hanging fruit, your website is it.
Many of the most successful GMs routinely re-evaluate their choice of dealer website providers. The minute you feel tied to your current dealer website provider is the minute you start losing ground to your more nimble competitors.
So, what are the criteria for choosing among today’s dealer website providers? The following checklist is a critical tool to help you narrow your decision.
Dealership Website 12-Point Checklist
- Is it really, truly mobile-first?
Today’s modern car buyers — particularly Millennials and GenZs — use their smartphones to shop for cars. That’s why it’s mind-boggling to see such poor mobile functionality on the majority of dealer websites that purport to be “mobile-first.” Your car dealership needs to offer the same frustration-free experience to visitors no matter how they connect with you: on mobile, on desktop, or in your showroom. Younger shoppers are tech-savvy and expect to be able to get all the information they need, regardless of how they engage with your dealership.
So how do you know if the website provider you’re considering is truly mobile-first? One way is to see if “compare cars” is available on mobile. Many website providers don’t offer this critical feature on mobile and that’s a big red flag for you.
Another indication that you’re not providing a truly mobile-first experience is the presence of dreaded 3rd party widgets. 3rd party widgets are “websites within your website” and they’re just like asphalt patches on a city street. 3rd party widgets don’t just look terrible on mobile (and desktop, too) — they also create a bumpy, awkward experience on mobile. Truly mobile-first website providers don’t need ugly 3rd party patchwork. All of their functionality is seamlessly native.
You may think your mobile website is doing a fine job. But if your mobile site has annoyances like these, it’s time to switch to a new provider pronto.
- Does it feature a built-in “search by monthly payment?”
If your dealer website platform is so lacking in native features that you have to spend $500+ extra per month just to show customers how the price of a car translates into monthly payments, let it be known: there are better options out there.
Monthly payments are what ultimately matters most to potential buyers. So there’s no good reason that “search by monthly payment” doesn’t come standard with your dealer website platform.
Something else to consider: when you pay extra for a 3rd party widget plug-in to show a particular car’s monthly payments, that’s all the functionality you get. Period. End of story. Most users also want the ability to narrow their search by monthly payment budget, but that’s not included. And these 3rd party widgets you pay extra for also don’t allow users to customize car loan terms to see a more realistic monthly payment base on their specific situation (ie., credit score, trade-in value, the amount available for a down payment, etc.). Look for website providers with native solutions for all of these critical features.
- Are banner ads static (bad) or HTML5 (good)?
Many of today’s car dealer websites still use static images — GIFs and PNG files — for banner ads, instead of HTLM5. And this can spell trouble for dealers in 2 ways:
- Bad SEO: As Googlebot crawls the internet indexing 60 trillion website pages, it’s mostly looking for HTML code. When your banner ads are in HTML5, you make it smooth and easy for Google to crawl your website banners, and that means more site traffic for you. But as soon as Googlebot bumps up against GIF and PNG banner ads, indexing gets complicated, and your traffic suffers. Don’t throw obstacles in the way of Googlebot!
- Shrinkage: When GIF or PNG banner ads shrink to fit mobile screens, they often get blurry and too small to be readable. What a waste of marketing dollars to create those unreadable banner ads. When you consider that 60% of your dealership website traffic is mobile, using static banner ads to promote your special offers is a losing proposition. However, when banners are built in HTML5, they’re completely responsive and super easy to read on mobile. Your special events or promotions have a much better opportunity to make a splash.
- Does it pass the “fresh eye test?”
Like anything you’ve gotten used to, it’s difficult to be objective about your own dealer website. After a while, you stop seeing it for what it is. But when you’re evaluating providers, it’s absolutely critical to take a good, hard, honest look with fresh eyes.
Today’s car buyers are big on first impressions. If they don’t like what they see, they bounce. When you apply the “fresh eye” test to your dealer website, look out for dreaded “Frankensite” elements: oddball 3rd party widgets and banners and weird pop-ups that turn your site into a monster. Elements like these create the opposite effect of a modern digital storefront. They’re a signal to buyers that your dealer website is old school and will frustrate them. It’s a bad reflection on your brand. Look for a provider that eliminates the need for 3rd party widgets and gives your site native solutions to keep it seamlessly branded throughout.
- How “sticky” is it?
It doesn’t matter how much money you throw at driving traffic to your dealer website. That’s because you don’t have a traffic problem. You actually have a website problem. Once a prospective buyer lands on your site, you need it to be “sticky” enough to keep them there instead of wandering off to a competitor’s site.
Want a little proof that your website isn’t sticky enough? Take a look at your Google Analytics to see, on average, how much time visitors spend on your website. For a gauge, visitors spend an average of 6 minutes on Autotrader. Look for a dealer website provider that can beat that.
So, what makes a dealer website sticky? Anticipating the questions car shoppers will have on each webpage, and offering fast, easy ways to get the answer. For example, if a customer is customizing payment terms and needs to know their credit score, it’s right there on the screen without having to close the window and search for that info. Or, when they’re on the “compare cars” page, they can see more than one photo of each car without having to click over to the “vehicle detail page.”
Your site needs to engage buyers from minute one, anticipate their needs, and keep them on your site to do the bulk of their research. If it’s not sticky enough, you’re simply losing sales.
- Are leads being tracked correctly?
How is your website performing, really? Are you confident that your provider has set up Google Analytics correctly to track real leads and conversions?
Often times, website providers fail to set up “Google goal tracking” correctly and this can disguise the fact that your website is not converting. In the wrong hands, goal tracking can erroneously record pages viewed or landed on as “goals” (aka, leads). But someone who views multiple pages on your site without filling out a single form, is NOT a hot lead. They’re just a big anonymous browser.
You need a website provider with expertise in setting up Google Analytics tracking and Google Search Console to understand where traffic is coming from ... how long visitors are staying on the website ... what content pages they’re engaging with ... and how often they’re coming back, becoming leads, and converting to showroom traffic.
In addition, the best website providers track this info by device (mobile vs. desktop), traffic channels and sources (direct, organic, PPC, etc.).
- Does it lead users from “webroom” to showroom?
When people walk into your showroom, would you ignore them and let them wander around your dealership aimlessly? Of course not. But, that’s essentially what today’s dealer websites do. It’s up to the user to figure out what step to take next.
The job of your online showroom, or “webroom,” is to prepare people to buy a car from you, and lead them step-by-step into your showroom. The most successful dealer websites anticipate the needs of users and suggest the next best action, for example: offering a list of similar cars on the Vehicle Detail Page (complete with price and monthly payment), providing smart buttons for getting pre-approvals and credit scores, and prompting online test drive scheduling.
- What do you pay? What do others pay?
Some dealer website providers structure their pricing based on the size of the dealership rather than on the features they offer. Bigger dealerships pay more, and smaller dealerships pay less for the same technology. There’s no good reason for this. It’s a money grab, plain and simple.
If a dealer website provider asks about your sales before quoting you a price, steer clear.
- Speaking of pricing, is it all-inclusive?
Many of today’s dealer website providers have hidden ala carte pricing. By the time you add in all the upcharges — for things like monthly payment calculation, credit score requests, trade-in tools and all kinds of 3rd party widgets — not only does your monthly payment swell, but you’re setting your site up for a bad SEO and mobile experience.
The best dealer website providers provide fair, transparent, all-inclusive pricing. No 3rd party widgets to sabotage SEO and create a terrible user experience on mobile.
- How easy is it to get up and running?
Some dealer website providers expect you to do all the migrations necessary to get your current systems up and running on their platform. But, who has time for that? Certainly not busy dealers or GM’s with tons of other priorities.
In fact, the horror stories you hear about how difficult it is to switch website providers stem from providers who have terrible customer service when it’s time to manage the migrations. They overpromise during the sales process, and can’t deliver during set-up. It can take them many, many frustrating months to get you up and running — and that’s many, many months of missed opportunities to sell more cars and increase your profits.
When you’re evaluating providers, make sure you don’t have to lift a finger to on-board. Your new provider should get your site completely integrated with your CRM, your inventory, CarFax, KBB, all of it. And they should do it inside of a month with minimal input from you.
- Is the “get pre-approved” app designed to fail?
Less than 25% of people end up completing the “get pre-approved” finance app on typical dealer websites. That’s way too low. It’s because these applications often aren’t “smart” and mobile-first: they’re too long and cumbersome and they force people to wrestle with extraneous questions that clearly don’t apply to them. 75% of shoppers abandon the form, and you’ll probably never hear from them again.
But, when your “get pre-approved” form is mobile-first, it automatically pre-populates areas without excess typing and tailors the questions to the individual. Completion rates more than double when the app is designed well, and that’s good for dealers. After having an easy time filling out the finance app, these shoppers show up at your dealership already fully aware of what they’re pre-approved for, at what interest rate, what their monthly payments will be, etc. That’s a smoother, faster sale.
If your sales team is still spending countless hours in-store with potential buyers as they fill out the application, then waiting for the finance manager to enter it into the system to find a bank to approve the loan, and haggling on price on and monthly payment — it’s time to change your dealer website provider.
All of this back-and-forth (with shoppers who may not even be qualified to buy) can take 3-4 hours, and that’s precisely what irks today’s younger generation and lowers your CSI score.
When the “get pre-approved” form is truly mobile-first, customers can complete it easily and all that’s left to do is a test drive. Now, instead of it taking the industry average of 3 hours to close a deal, your salespeople can do it in just 1 one hour.
- Can users take and send real photos for accurate appraisals?
The younger generation of car buyers expects to complete most of the buying process online. That includes appraisals. Don’t force them to pick up the phone. Because they won’t. They’d sooner sell their car for less than premium price to CarMax, a fully online service.
The best dealer websites allow users to take smartphone photos of their trade-ins and instantly send them to your dealership for more accurate appraisals. Now, before you ever see the car in person, you can provide a spot-on appraisal online. Photo uploads eliminate the minefield of you appraising the car without actually seeing its condition. Don’t be that dealer who always has to lower their online appraisals when the customer finally drives in with their trade-in. They get upset, you waste time, it’s a disaster. When your photo-assisted online appraisals match your in-person appraisals, sales run more smoothly, and customers tend to trust you more.
But what about users who actually want to come in for a face-to-face? The best dealer websites also allow buyers to schedule in-person appraisals on interactive calendar systems without ever having to call your dealership. After all, these shoppers are doing their car research at all times of day, including before and after your showroom hours.
So, how does your dealership website provider measure up? If your website can’t check off all 12 boxes in the list above, it’s probably time to make a switch.