We've had some questions coming our way in recent weeks about the proper strategy for small- to medium-sized dealers groups and their websites. Is it better to follow the lead of the bigger companies like AutoMax and Penske who are expanding their web presence with more websites, or should groups put all of their eggs into a single website basket?
This is an extremely complex question that a blog post won't be able to answer, but I can tell you this up front: the answer will always be changing. Everyone in our industry from OEMs down to single rooftops are faced with an increasingly complex scenario with their web presence. It's not that it's so difficult. The problem is that it's always changing. Strategies and best practices are influenced by outside forces like search engines, social media sites, and customer behaviors that fluctuate relatively rapidly. As I like to say, what worked yesterday may not work today but may work again tomorrow.
It's for this reason that we've positioned our own services to be aligned properly with today and tomorrow. In other words, we have to stay nimble, test constantly, and improve the products and services to take advantage of current trends while anticipating the directions of these outside forces so we can adjust as it's deemed appropriate.
One thing to keep in mind when determining which strategy to use is to make sure that your lead distribution system is perfect. If you cannot parse out leads to the appropriate dealerships properly on your group site, then the correct answer in almost all of the scenarios below would be to expand. Sending everyone to your group site can hurt some of your dealerships while helping others if your lead distribution system is broken or unfair.
Here are some ideas to help you answer the question for your dealer group. We've broken down the recommendations to be Consolidate, Expand, or Both, with the last option meaning that you should spread your reach out while maintaining a strong group website presence. It's hard, we know, but it's worthwhile.
Back in 2008, I helped develop the "Power of 5" websites for TK Carsites. It was designed to have a single website that was housed on five different URLs for each profit center so that a dealership could dominate searches for their own name while having focused sites that could rank specifically for service, financing, parts, new cars, and used cars. It worked like a charm.
Then, Google started changing their algorithm in late 2011 and unfortunately I wasn't working with the development team anymore. Sadly, I had developed a gameplan to adjust the strategy to work with Google's updates; it would be an effective strategy today based upon those adjustments.
This is the toughest one to make a recommendation about because there are tremendous benefits to both sides. For this reason, I'm going to suggest keeping both strategies. Make your group website strong. Make your individual websites stronger for their brands. This way, you're prepared whichever way the wind blows.
Social Media: Expand
The specialization and hypertargeting capabilities of social media make it an ideal candidate for expansion. If I owned a dealer group today, I wouldn't just have individual pages that were robust and advertisement-driven for each store. I would have separate pages for each dealership to encompass prospecting (advertising to future customers), community appreciation (happy customers, community engagement, great employees), and service best practices (including ongoing service specials targeting current owners in the area).
A robust social media strategy that I would envision is something that we don't even offer (yet) because it would require thousands of dollars per rooftop to do well. I've never seen a dealership doing it this way. Maybe I just need someone to buy me a dealer group so I can make it happen.
Inventory Marketing: Consolidate
I can see a very powerful strategy pertaining to third-party integration with inventory that I would use to send traffic specifically to the group site. Remember, when people are on third-party websites looking at inventory, they're doing so because they want choices. If you send them from these third party sites to an individual store with 150 cars, there's a good chance they'll bounce back to the third party site. If you take them to a group website that has 1000+ cars, you have a better chance of keeping them searching through your vehicles alone.
This is the primary reason that I have the same recommendation for websites. For SEO, there are very good strategies that surround individual websites and very good strategies that surround a group website.
One common misconception that has been floating around the industry is that one powerful website is better for SEO than several less-powerful ones. This is true in a way because it's easier to rank higher for a well-optimized group website than it is for individual sites. However, there's a fatal flaw. For the make and model searches, a single website will only appear once on the listings. In an ideal situation, you have both the group site and the individual sites ranked for these terms so you can take up more real estate and push competitors off the page.
Working on both also gives you (us) the ability to divide and conquer and to have a more robust strategy in general. You can target much more keywords this way rather than taking a single website and building so many pages that may or may not rank for their designated targets.
PPC: Expand for New, Consolidate for Used
PPC is like social in that a proper campaign will be able to hypertarget specific areas and people. For new cars, you should bring everyone through paid search to the inventory on the specific dealership they would want to shop. For used, the bulk of having all of the inventories together can prove to be very effective.
At the end of the day, it really comes down to a dealer group's individual situation. Blanket recommendations are not effective. We would much rather talk to you directly to see which strategies will work best for you.