JD Rucker's Posts (15)

Reviving DealerBar

"The other sites just have too much spam."

That was the complaint that we received most often when discussing with dealers and other vendors about the variety of sites out there that serve the automotive industry. One would have to sift through sales pitches and direct spam just to get to a few hidden gems of good content. We decided to build DealerBar as a place with proper moderation that allowed us to make sure only the best content reached its pages.

Things changed. The other sites started getting their acts together, so the need for DealerBar evaporated just as quickly as we were able to build it. The site fell off our radar... and everyone else's. This, as it turns out, was a huge mistake. Today, the same sites that had stepped up their content have, over the last year and half, been engulfed once again by an onslaught of spam. It appeared that our decision to let DealerBar fade away was extremely premature.

Today, we're looking to revive and revitalize the site. The need is even greater now than it was when we first launched it. We know this now.

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For the last several years, dealers have had to endure the box of website vendor choices closing in on them. Many of the OEMs have adopted either mandated or recommended website providers. Some of the larger dealer groups are doing the same thing. The thinking is that they will save money with bulk deals and they'll be able to control quality and compliance by going down this road.

The problem is that aggressive dealers want to do more with their websites than they can accomplish with a mandated site. Some complain. A handful fight it, even defying the OEMs at their peril of being removed from the corporate website. This isn't going to change any time soon because the majority of dealers accept the mandates and don't really think twice about it. For those who want more, they are annoyed by the lack of choices and the quality of the solutions.

This isn't a bad thing. In fact, a savvy dealership can turn it into a very good thing. This is where Octane powered by Dealer Authority comes into play.

If everyone is given the same basic website platform, it's like giving everyone the same car to drive in a race. Those who don't really care too much will accept the vehicle as it is and run the race as best they can. Those who want to get aggressive will shoot for whatever advantage they can find. That means improving the conversion rate on the website itself and driving more traffic to it through superior SEO, PPC, social media marketing, and buzz marketing.

The fact that the base of every website is pretty much the same means that those who "supercharge" their websites with products like Octane can have an advantage while staying completely compliant with the OEM. It isn't the base of the website that makes the difference. After all, getting shoppers to the inventory is the primary goal. The more people you get to your inventory, the more leads you'll get and sales you'll make. Website marketing enhancement products like Octane aren't cheap. In many cases, they can cost more than the website itself. However, the benefits of ranking #1 in search engines and driving more traffic through other venues is unquestionable. Given the same basic platform, those who enhance their base are the ones who will get the most out of it.

When everyone starts the same, it's the modifications you make to your base website platform that can make the difference. While most still don't like the mandates, there's the silver lining of knowing that yours is enhanced to perform better than any of your competitors' websites.

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Pointing fingers. It's something that everyone at the dealership who has dealt with vendors over the years has experienced from time to time. The website provider to the inventory provider. The Inventory provider points to the pricing tool. The pricing tool points to the DMS. The DMS points to the website provider. Can't someone just fix it?

I'm going to keep this short so my day doesn't start off in anger. Vendors need to stop pointing fingers and start fixing things. That doesn't mean pointing fingers at the perceived source of the problem. That means making calls, sending emails, and using smoke signals if necessary to bring everything together the way it should be rather than waiting for the dealer to call these guys so those other guys can do something that allows this guy to help that guy.

It means communication.

We require communication directly with other vendors that service our clients. It's the way it should be. We can often get things done much more quickly. There's no reason why anyone at the dealership should be the middleman for all communications. Copied on the communication - yes. There's a difference.

With so many amazing marketing products out there, it's amazing that vendors aren't talking to each other on behalf of their shared clients rather than pointing fingers to assign blame and check off a box.

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I'll apologize ahead of time if this comes across as a rant (which it is) about an important topic to dealers (which it should be). When I started on the vendor side of the car business eight years ago, I wanted to build my company's brand based upon education. We felt that the techniques and strategies we were using were not threatened by sharing. In other words, we could help dealers and even competitors learn how to make things better for themselves based upon an idea I heard at a conference once.

Paraphrased, the idea is this. If you educate your potential customers on how to do things for themselves, you'll find that 20% will take the advice and do it, 20% will hear the advice and want you to do it, and 60% won't act at all on the advice. It has proven itself out over the years, which is why I'm not a fan of big booths at trade shows but prefer to speak and educate.

We were blessed to be a pioneer when it came to educating on many of the topics that are hot today such as social, search, and mobile. Over time, we noticed that others were doing the same thing. The various automotive networks became flooded with articles. YouTube exploded with educational videos. New conferences started popping up. Webinars were plentiful regardless of which day you watched.

This site was built on the concept of providing unique content for dealers in some sections and to highlight excellent content that we find from other companies and dealer personnel that can be beneficial. We've even highlighted content from competitors on our Around the Web section because if the content is good and the advice is righteous, we don't care who is delivering the message. Then, something happened. It happened twice, actually, and we're going on a third round of it happening again. I'm having a difficult time finding content. I go to blogs of major companies and see only sporadic posts about new employees or promoting the booth at the next conference. I go to YouTube channels and see tons of promotion but not very many videos that a dealer could watch and actually learn something.

There are exceptions. Some of my favorite people in the automotive industry like Paul Potratz and Brian Pasch are still out there educating while promoting their products. I see nothing wrong with that message - "Here's what you need to know and here's how we can help."

Unfortunately, today I'm having another round of difficulties traveling across the internet searching for worthy content. Why are vendors abandoning the educational aspect of the web? Why aren't they posting at least a blog post every week? We are blessed with several talented people on our team, many of whom are active in educating through articles and best practices. Surely we're not alone, right?

This is an industry that relies on thought leadership. The good news is that there are plenty of thought leaders. The bad news is that many of them have stopped leading. This needs to change.

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There seems to be a "secret sauce" brewing at our company, not because we thought it was a secret but because we learned that it's not getting done by others. We don't believe in having a secret sauce so we'll gladly share it with you. If you're a savvy dealership, you may be as surprised as we were to learn that very few vendors are doing it today.

Before we start, it's important to note that we found some pretty incredible PPC services out there in our journeys and we're not trying to insult anyone who presented to us. After nearly 20 presentations, we saw some really good stuff and some mediocre stuff. One thing that was missing in all of the pitches seems like a nobrainer to us but it's apparently more difficult than we would have thought.

There is no reason that we can think of that you wouldn't want many of the landing pages built for PPC purposes to have great content and a permanent URL on the dealership's website in order to optimize it for organic search as well. Part of the algorithm that affects Google PPC quality score relates to the way that pages maintain relevance. This holds very true for organic SEO as well, though there are additional factors to both sides of search. With that said, the core of both PPC and SEO landing pages is based upon quality and relevance. Why aren't more companies double-dipping?

It befuddled me for quite a while until I was figuratively slapped in the face by a dealer. "Of course they don't want those pages optimized. They only get paid to drive ad traffic, not SEO traffic."

I felt silly. I'd love to say that it's the productive mentality and aligned goals that we keep with our clients that made the answer so hard for me to get, but I think the reality is that I was just missing the obvious.

Keep in mind that there's nothing wrong with not double-dipping, at least from a PPC company perspective. They are trying to do their job as best they can and that means focusing on paid search. However, it's our opinion that if the goal goes beyond the static delivery of paid traffic and jumps into the realm of generally helping to sell more cars, the paradigm shifts. Suddenly, it makes sense to dealers and vendors alike just as it makes sense to us to bring the two together to build the perfect landing pages rather than automatically generated content on dynamic landing pages on and off the site.

We are continuing to expand our efforts looking at automotive PPC companies and we hope that others will step up. Building multi-purpose landing pages isn't a requirement, but it would be nice to find someone who's doing it.

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Consolidation vs Expansion for Dealer Group Websites

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.

Websites: Both

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.

SEO: Both

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.

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Let Your Content Tell Your Dealership's Story

When you talk to most dealers and vendors about content, the standard strategy revolves around cars, inventory, and organic search rankings. This is a strategy that misses so many levels of true content marketing that one article can't do it justice. Here, we'll just focus on the story aspect of content marketing.

Your dealership has a story. In fact, it's a very interesting one. You may or may not know it because you're probably living it every day, but there are things that are happening at or around the dealership and within the automotive industry that can be extremely compelling for your website, search, and social marketing. The key is in telling that story in a way that makes the most sense.

Let's discuss why this content is important, then we'll look at some ideas on how to make it happen for your dealership.

The Power of Storytelling

Everyone loves a good story. It's why we watch movies. It's why we watch the news. It's why we watch YouTube, read a novel, or check out the history of a restaurant written on a menu while we wait for our appetizers.

The first question that most will ask is, "Why would anyone care about a car dealer's story?"

For that, we simply need to look at human nature. Remember that nearly every transaction that happens at the dealership, whether in sales or service, is extremely important to your customers. It can be life-changing. It's important for many of them to know who they're dealing with, what sets the dealership apart, and why they should do business there.

The next question that comes to mind is, "How will this help us sell more cars?"

This is the question that keeps many vendors from even offering this type of content services. It's a question that has a great answer, but it's not the easiest answer to communicate. I've found it challenging to make many people understand. It makes perfect sense to me, but then again I spend the vast majority of my day testing and delivering content, search, and social marketing, so I have the advantage of experience.

Telling stories on a dealership's website or through their blog and then sharing these stories on social media and through other means gives a pureness of depth to a website that everyone enjoys. By "everyone", I mean your customers, Google, Facebook, Bing, Twitter, and just about every other search and social component out there. It humanizes the website experience in a way that cannot be achieved with horsepower numbers or APR incentive specials.

The reason that it works so well in the automotive industry, better than pretty much any other, is because most dealers are not doing it. The reason that they're not doing it is because we are a very focused industry; we expect every action in marketing to have a direct impact on sales. This is important, but there must be room for supporting elements in a dealership's marketing that can help the important pages to perform better. This is where storytelling comes into play.

Inbound links, social media exposure, and social signals all have dramatic effects on the power of a website to generate leads. Just because a piece of content is not directly relevant to selling doesn't mean that it can't help the other pages to perform better. Let's look at social signals as an example. They are important for exposure on social media as well as the website's ability to rank for keywords organically in search. Getting these social signals is nearly impossible for the vast majority of pages on a dealership's website. Who is going to share a service appointment page, an inventory listing, or a specials page to social media? If your answer was anything other than "nobody", then I hope that it was "very few people," because that's the reality.

When an interesting piece of content on your website (i.e. a story) is made available for sharing, it is much more likely to get those social signals. In the world of SEO, social signals on any page of the website permeates its effects throughout. In other words, when someone shares a story on your blog about the service manager who dresses up like Ironman and reads stories at the local children's hospital, the sharing that happens will help your other pages to rank better.

It's a crude example, but hopefully you're starting to see the importance of this type of content. Now, let's look at what content you can put on your website.

Content Ideas

As I mentioned earlier, we have a tendency to miss the awesomeness available at our stores because we're there all the time. The reality is that there is an endless number of stories you can tell that are intriguing and relevant to the dealership. You just have to open your mind to the possibilities.

The first thing to keep in mind is that you don't have to be a Pulitzer Prize winning writer to produce content. For some, it's as simple as shooting videos. They don't have to be professional. In fact, nice little iPhone videos are often better, especially for social media. Another thing to remember is that we've been told for years that you need tons of content. That's no longer the case. The length needs to be as long as it needs to be. That's not double talk. If it takes four paragraphs to tell a story, then write four paragraphs. If it takes 14, then write 14. Don't shoot for a certain length or a keyword density for SEO reasons. Those are both antiquated strategies.

Here are some ideas of things that you can use to spark some brainstorming:

  • Interesting Walkarounds: The key here is the word "interesting". This isn't a sales pitch. This is you telling something truly intriguing about the car, making it fun and/or informative.
  • Employee Profiles: You have interesting people doing interesting things at your dealership. Volunteer work, a Saturday night country western gig at the local bar, 25 years at the dealership - there are plenty of stories to tell. This doesn't just help with marketing. It can help with company culture and employee morale as well.
  • Events: When dealerships think of events, they usually think of sales. There are, however, interesting stories that can be told about other events that are happening in the community. It could be the local fair or festival. It could be a concert that's heading your way. There is no shortage of events happening that you can cover and get interest in, not only from the local community but also from the event organizers.
  • Localizing Industry News: When a new model is coming out, the national publications have it covered. However, you can take it local and get feedback from the community, discuss why it's an important model release for your local area, or post a graphic about the number of owners of previous models are populating the city streets. In other words, you wouldn't post a story like, "The All-New Camry is Coming in March" but you could post a story like "36MPG Makes the New Camry Perfect for Commuters on I-95".
  • Helpful Videos/Articles: Anyone who has been in the business long enough has had to pair so many key fobs or bluetooth devices that it's second nature, but most people have to do it once (or never) in their lifetime. There are plenty of things that make great content where your knowledge can be translated into something helpful for your customers.

This is a very small sampling. The possibilities are practically endless, so take these and expand on them. We all know about the blog posts someone posted for you titled, "The 2014 Chevrolet Camaro for Sale in Newport Beach". We know they don't rank like you thought they would and even if they did, they wouldn't convert. Take a step back from the sales and marketing component, generate real content, and then let that content support the pages that can actually help you sell more cars.

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5 Things I would Do if I Owned a Dealership

It's a question that comes up around half the time. When I'm consulting with dealers, some of them want to know about the things that I work on from the vendor side such as content, search, and social. Others want me to invoke my past dealership experience and apply what I've learned in the digital marketing world.

I love answering these questions because it's almost always different with each client. There is no roadmap that works for everyone. Different brands, different demographics, different selling styles - all of these go into determining what I would do if I owned any particular dealership.

There are a handful of universal best practices that I would utilize regardless of the dealership. For posterity, I've posted them here.

Build Everything for Mobile

It has been well documented that I'm a big fan of responsive website design, but my love for mobile doesn't end there. I firmly believe that everything should be geared towards the mobile tendencies of modern shoppers for today as well as following the trends towards tomorrow. Here's the thing. A properly designed mobile presence works and looks fine on a desktop. The reverse is not always the case. Assume that most of your customers are accessing your web presence through mobile devices and let the desktop work as a mirror rather than as the primary component.

VDPs for Referral Traffic, Landing Pages for Search

This is the controversial one that I always have to explain in detail. We are resellers for LotLinx for a reason - we do believe in driving shoppers to vehicle detail pages from most sources. If a customer is already on a site searching for inventory, you do not want to take them to your homepage or even a landing page when they click on a vehicle. Take them to the vehicle! On the other hand, if someone is searching on Google for a 2015 Honda Accord, don't take them to a single inventory item. What are the chances that it will be the right one? Take them to a landing page that links to the inventory but that also gives them the opportunity to tell you exactly what they want.

Give the Buyers a True Shopping Experience

Wouldn't it be nice if there was a way for consumers to find a vehicle they want, work out the pricing, give information about their trade to work directly into the deal, apply for financing, and schedule a test drive all on one website? You may be thinking, "my website can do all of those things," but it really can't. Sure, all of those capabilities are present, but there's no true path to the sale on 99% of dealer websites today. Those who have made it easier to initiate nearly every aspect of the buying process in a clear path for the consumer are selling more cars. Why doesn't everyone employ this?

Post Constantly on the 'Other' Platforms

Last year, there were some high-profile dealer groups who declared that they were going to focus on generating their own leads and were leaving the 3rd-party market. This caused many dealers to consider doing the same, but a lot took it too far, abandoning sites like eBay Motors and Craigslist. This is a huge mistake to me. In fact, I would have a strong presence on the major sites like Autotrader and Cars. I would use tools like LotVantage to post to eBay and Craigslist regularly. I would put a strong emphasis on making sure that my cars were all properly positioned anywhere my potential customers were looking. You don't have to buy leads, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't expose your inventory everywhere you can.

Invest Heavily in Social Media

Social media has the data. Some say sites like Facebook know more about us than we know about ourselves when it comes to purchasing and interests. Owning an automotive social media company gives me the bias of believing in it, but more importantly it gives me the insight into the numbers to let me know that this stuff works. The problem is that the majority of social media companies simply aren't doing it right. They're not taking advantage of the targeting. They're not taking advantage of dark posts. If I owned a dealership, this would be one of the first things that I would do if I wanted to make an impact.

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The Three Components of Automotive SEO

Humans prefer to keep things simple in most circumstances. There are exceptions, some of which include politics, religion, and automotive search engine optimization. Somehow, the last on the list has made it into the consciousness of both vendors and dealers as being much more complicated than it really is.

To stay with the premise behind the article, I'm going to break it all down very quickly and simply. It would be easy to write multiple blog posts about each component, but we want to lay it out in its simplest terms so that readers can discern when others try to complicate things.

  1. Content - This is the easiest one that pretty much everybody gets, though few do properly. You need high-quality content on your website. You don't need bulk content, boilerplate content, or scraped content. You need the good stuff. One final note: there's no such thing as SEO content anymore. There's simply content. If it's written specifically for SEO, the provider isn't doing it right and they should go back to 2012.
  2. Signals - Most have heard of it. Most avoid it altogether. Some avoid it because they heard that the Google Penguin update killed it, but that is exactly the opposite of the truth. Google Penguin redefined it. The update was designed to prevent link scams from distorting their understanding of inbound links. They did not kill of the necessity for offsite signals like links and social interactions.
  3. Technical - This is the part that some SEOs put a ton of emphasis on. The reason they do isn't because it's really that important. Most dealer websites are a mess when it comes to Schema.org and other technical aspects of their website. No, the real reason they focus on it is because it can't be double-checked and few dealers have the time to learn how to do it themselves. They can do the rest on their own, but this is the part that justifies the SEO expense. Unfortunately for those who have fallen for the concept, it does little to actually improve rankings.

That's it. There's not much to it. When people try to layer it in ways that make it difficult to understand, they're probably trying to sell you something.

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The war over automotive website platforms has been hot for some time. Providers who offer responsive swear by it. Those who don't swear at it. There's a fallacy of an argument circulating about responsive websites that dealers need to know.

One of the primary arguments against responsive websites is that major retailers like Amazon and eBay do not use them. If they have all of the money and research abilities to determine what's best for them as a mobile strategy, car dealers should emulate them, right? That's the argument. Here's why it's an invalid one...

Common Use Websites Rely on Apps

Buying things on Amazon and other major retailers is a completely different experience than buying a car. People don't research the Kindle online for weeks or months at a time before driving to a nearby Amazon store to take it for a test drive before making a purchase. They actually buy the items themselves online.

The mobile experience on sites like these are geared towards driving people to download and use the apps. They don't want people on their mobile sites. They know that if they can get them on their apps, they have much more control over the current purchases as well as potential future purchases. With a mobile app, they can push notifications, integrate with appropriate mobile payment systems, and be ever-present on the phone rather than passively waiting for people to return to their mobile website.

The thought might occur to dealers or vendors who here this that they should be trying to do the same thing. I'm not going to go so far as to say that there are no apps out there that can be effective for selling cars, but I haven't seen one yet, nor have I heard an idea that would make an app valid for car dealers.

It's a completely different experience. People make quick purchasing decisions when they go to Best Buy's app. They don't make quick decisions about a car. More importantly, they rarely purchase a vehicle without driving into the store to check it out first. When was the last time you heard of someone testing toilet paper before buying a pack of 28 double rolls on Amazon?

Major Retailers Don't Receive as Many Visits for a Single Purchase

When buying something on Amazon, there's a chance you might visit the website 2 or 3 times before making the purchase. Most purchases are done on the first visit.

When buying a car, people will often visit the same websites over and over again. Uniformity of experience is one of the biggest advantages of responsive websites, so whether they're viewing it from their desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone, they'll see pretty much the same thing. This consistency is important, especially when it can take a long time for car shoppers to make the decision to pull the trigger.

The Apple Scenario

People often point to Apple.com as an example of a forward-thinking company that does not use responsive. Here's the reality - they do use a variation of responsive website design. It's an odd variation that doesn't quite make sense to me, but they have the money and the brain power to put out things for reasons that I don't need to understand...

...and that's the point. I don't believe that responsive websites are the absolute best thing that a dealer could use. I have in my mind an appropriate hybrid approach that would revolutionize the industry. The only problem with it is that the development, maintenance, and content management system required to apply it properly for car dealers would put the price tag well above what any dealer would be willing to pay today. It simply wouldn't be worth it.

For Apple and other retailers, they can and do invest millions of dollars per year into their web presence. They have that luxury. Car dealers do not.

Responsive websites are not a compromise any more than buying a Mercedes is a compromise. It's still better than 99% of the vehicles on the road today and has many of the same features as a Bentley or a Rolls Royce. However, it can be purchased at a much more reasonable price than any of the luxurious super cars. Responsive websites, when built properly, are the best way for dealers to take full advantage of the shift towards mobile while maintaining their strong presence on desktops.

When you hear automotive vendors say that responsive websites are no good, be sure to question their motives. Do they really feel this way or are they defending their turf because they haven't switched to their own responsive platform yet?

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If you look at a car dealer's social media presence, chances are you'll see a ton of messages meant to be seen by potential customers. That's great, but there's more to social media than that in the automotive industry.

Tons more.

One of the most important components of social media is the interaction element. Through sites like Facebook and Twitter, dealers don't just get to broadcast their messages to potential customers. They get to engage with them as well. This is extremely important in a world that seems to revolve around the growing number of ways that people communicate. Social media is one of the few mediums that is strong on all devices from smartphones up to desktops.

Dealers that want to be the most successful won't just be broadcasting on social media. They'll be inquiring. They'll be asking for feedback. They'll be replying to comments, talking to customers about their reviews (good AND bad ones), and encouraging those in the local community to participate in the ways that car dealers often participate.

It's not all about the cars. It's not all about the sales. Dealers have the ability to be business leaders in the community and so many of them are doing so by getting involved with local charities and community organizations. It's no longer just about getting some of the employees to participate in the March of Dimes walk. Through social media, dealers can encourage others to participate, ask for donations, and promote the events themselves.

There is more to social media than marketing and advertising. That's not to say that we recommend that dealers should try to "fit in" like so many other businesses do by posting funny cat pictures or trying to be fun and exciting. Keep it relevant. Keep it local. People in the area won't mind interacting with a dealership that is active in the community, but they don't want to see quotes from Plato hitting their news feed from a car dealership's post. There are plenty of philosophers online already.

Don't just talk to your customers. Talk with them.

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Which Automotive Website Provider is the Best?

This is a question that I've always wanted to ask but couldn't because I worked for a website provider. Now that we're completely independent and not beholden to any particular provider, I'd love to know what you guys think.

Dealers, let me know what you like and why.

Vendors, if you're a website provider, what makes yours better than others?

We want to take demos from nearly everyone out there. I say "nearly" because we know that there are some automotive website vendors that simply do not want to be compared to others. These are normally the OEM vendors, and while we have nothing against them, we haven't had much of a chance of looking at any of them.

Let me know what you think in the comments below. We want to have a solid list of recommendations by NADA.

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Customers for Every Department

Customer loyalty is hard to come by these days. Those of us who have been selling cars for long enough remember a time when the majority of customers would work with a single dealership for a long time, perhaps even their whole lives. Those days are behind us to some extent thanks to the internet, but there are things you can do to win those customers back.

In this article on Automotive Digital Marketing by Jon Lamb, he explores some of the options that dealers have in order to try to make their service customers buy cars from them and to have their sales customers get their cars serviced at the dealership.

We are creatures of habit. Unfortunately, the habits of the general population has changed over the last decade to create a separation between where they buy cars and where they have them serviced.

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When I listen to most social media gurus, particularly in the automotive industry, I hear a lot about how branding, PR, and communication are the goals of social media. This is not correct.

Don't get me wrong. They are all great benefits that occur when you properly manage your social media, but they are not the proper goals. The real goal is to drive business to the dealership. The fact that social media is good for branding, PR, and communication does not mean that those should be the primary focus. In fact, when you focus on the primary goal, the side effects can happen naturally.

Think of it like selling a car. You can point out that it's comfortable, but most people don't think, "I want to relax. I'm going to go sit in my car for a while and unwind." Comfort is a feature that happens as a result of proper engineering and design for the car, but the car is built to get people from point A to point B. If you can get them there comfortably, that's an awesome bonus (better known in this blog post as a side effect).

If you do what you need to do to use social media as a business driver, people will see your brand. You will improve your public relations when the business-driving message is delivered properly. If your message is strong, they will communicate with you and you should communicate back. These are all excellent features, but when your goal is to brand, improve PR, or communicate, you're missing out on the real benefit, the ROI-aspect of social media.

Use social media to drive shoppers to your website and to drive visitors to your showroom. The side effects will happen naturally if you're doing the first part right.

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