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Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Simple Website Designs Outperform Their Counterparts

I wrote about this topic years ago with an actual client example (original post here). In that analysis, I had one client who was over the top when it came to design requests. If it could be done, he wanted it on his site. Eventually the site became cluttered and went against every convention I knew of. Music playing, animation, blinking text, etc. It was crazy but as long as he was paying his bill and I did everything I could to convince him NOT to do those design things, that was all I could do. After a year and many discussions about how his website wasn't accomplishing his goals, I convinced him to let me rework the site the way I thought it was best. If he didn't like it, fine, we could revert back. The website leads increased by 400% almost overnight.

Dealers shopping our products on higherturnover.com sometimes ask why our designs are very simple. At times we have even had dealers choose another provider over us because they preferred the look of the other provider's designs. Is an aesthetically pleasant design important? You bet. Is it the most important thing? That just depends on what your priority is. Would you rather have people comment on how "cool" your design is, or would you rather have those people coming onto the lot to buy cars? Ideally there is a balance between the two, and that's where Higher Turnover Websites can help dealers who don't know much about web design principles.

Interested in hearing more about this? Check out this post from November on the ConversionXL Blog.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Sometimes I Think the Auto Industry is Corrupt

Yup, the title of this post is intentionally sarcastic in nature. The fact is, a high percentage of car shoppers believe the auto industry is overloaded with dishonest dealers, sketchy salesmen, and an almost endless supply of people/companies who want nothing more than to see the shopper separated from their hard-earned money and to sign on the dotted line for delivery. A 2012 Gallup poll listed car salesmen at the bottom of their list of perceived trustworthiness, right below members of Congress. Whether you agree with that assessment or not is irrelevant; it's not what this post is about. This is about the same (or maybe worse) level of corruption within the industry from a vendor perspective.

First some background. For every Rolls Royce Phantom there are many more Chevy Cavaliers, yet people buy more Cavaliers than Phantoms. That makes sense based on affordability. Why then would someone who can afford a Rolls Royce go with the Chevy? This happens all the time on the vendor side. There is no shortage of companies in the auto industry that push crappy products, due in large part to the fact that there's no shortage of dealers who buy those crappy products. What about when a dealer or salesperson is under the false impression that their vendor is legitimate though? The short answer is that it doesn't matter. Whatever the impression, there are some bad companies out there, many of which haven't been called out by their competitors. I'm not about to call anyone out by name, but I am going to expose a few practices which dealers may not know about.

Let's start with one of the dealership rating/review sites. My last vehicle purchase which was not from a client did not go very well. I fought for 3 full months to get the dealer to honor items which were agreed upon in writing at the time of delivery. I visited the service dept. at least 5 times during those 3 months too. All in all, not a good experience, which is why I wanted to let others know about my personal experience. I submitted a review to a well-known dealer rating website and to my surprise, it was removed by an administrator the same day with no explanation why. Maybe it wasn't "moderator bias" or the fact that the dealer was a paying client of the rating site, but it sure seemed like it. My review was completely objective and truthful, but the site moderator apparently did not want my negative review to hurt the dealer's already poor reputation.

There is another company who publishes an annual report of dealer website providers. We (Higher Turnover Websites) have received decent reviews in this publication on a consistent basis, so clearly that's not my issue. My issue, which I brought to the publisher's attention last year, is that their publication which is presented as an objective review, is not always apples to apples in their comparisons. They will do a "quick review" of a company's products/services, but if a company wants to pay them a fee (if I recall it's a few thousand dollars), they can be more fully reviewed. If their objective is to provide a good source for unbiased comparisons of companies, they should not be taking money from a small portion of those companies they are reviewing. To me that's not far off from presidential campaiging...ever been to one of those $25k per plate dinners? Me either. I don't know that I can really categorize this company as being "corrupt", but unbiased as they say they are? I don't think so.

The third and final gripe I have is with another industry website/blog. I have respect for the creator of the site, but I think it has evolved over the years to become something that I'm not happy with. Occasionally I get inspired to comment on a post when I feel I can contribute something positive to the community. The past 3 times I've left comments, they were deleted by the moderator. These weren't comments that were hurtful, no foul language, or anything else of the sort. They were literally just me weighing in to discussions that I found relevant and that I could offer some helpful advice to other readers. I have to wonder, since the site owner knows I'm a vendor, and they accept sponsorship money from other vendors, is this a possible reason my comments are being removed? Who knows if that's the case, but I do know this: it really seems like more sites/companies/etc. out there are filtering things (i.e. "media bias") so you only see or hear what they want you to see or hear.

It's discouraging, but I guess we live in a different world where some things are crammed down your throat until you believe them and other things are intentionally hidden from the masses.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Craigslist Charging for Auto Dealer Ads

Well we knew it was coming at some point, and it seems like today is the day. Craigslist will begin charging for ads in the "Cars and Trucks - By Dealer" section of their site on December 3rd. As you can see in the screenshot below, a new message is appearing on Craigslist when posting ads as a dealer: "$5 fee per ad in US cities starting 12/3 - questions? ctd@craigslist.org"

$5 fee per ad in US cities starting 12/3 - questions? ctd@craigslist.org

Craigslist has charged listing fees for quite some time in certain markets and certain categories within those markets. This new policy is sure to upset a lot of car dealers because it's always been free for vehicle ads, but the reality is that you can't complain about a free site, and like any other site, there are other advertising options available so if a dealer doesn't like it, they can advertise elsewhere.

I'm sure many dealers will begin posting their ads in the "By Owner" section instead of the "By Dealer" section, and I'm sure that will ultimately get a lot of dealer accounts blacklisted. At the very least it will cause irritable anti-dealership car shoppers to flag any ads that seem like dealer ads.

To play devil's advocate, the dealer ads on Craigslist have become quite numerous. Not just because so many dealers are listing cars on the site, but also because so many dealers violate the Terms of Use and overpost. At times I've seen hundreds of cars posted the same day for one dealer, and as a consumer it does get annoying...almost to the point of pop-up ad annoying that used to be the norm in the early days of the internet. Speaking as a consumer, we get it...your dealership has a lot of cars that you want us to see, but don't force them down our throats by posting 200 ads 3 times a day. Customers search the ads for a specific make/model or price range, so having your ad come up so many times does nothing more than push someone like me away from your dealership.

I get that (especially since the site is/was free) you want as much exposure as possible for your vehicles, but think like a consumer when you're marketing, not as a dealer. Personally I think Craigslist is shooting themselves in the foot with this move, but time will tell.

If you're looking for an alternative, be sure to check out Backpage.com which is a similar format, brings high traffic, and is free to use/advertise.

There are very few answers at this point, so in the meantime,you can check out the list of FAQ's at http://www.craigslist.org/about/ctd

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Password Security, Think You're Safe?

No way anyone will ever guess my password. I mean, how would some hacker on the other side of the world know the name of my dog? Shoot, they're making me use numbers in my password too? Fine, I'll just add a "123" at the end. And there you have it..."Lucky123" is born.

Unfortunately this is how a lot of people think when it comes to creating a password. I read an article this morning about the most popular PIN numbers, and one statistic really surprised me: "DataGenetics says thieves can correctly guess more than 25 percent of PIN codes within 20 tries." This is because most people just don't want to be bothered with security, or have to remember more secure passwords/PINs. The effects of having this mindset can sometimes be catastrophic. I'll bet that when it comes to PINs for your bank card, more than half of our readers have a PIN that is either (a) their birthday, (b) a sequence such as "4567", or (c) some other meaningful numbers like their address or last 4 digits of their phone number.

Getting back to the password issue, we had one client earlier this year, let's call him "Bill", who had an email account compromised. Their password? Apparently they had simply set it to their last name. For those of you who weren't aware, someone hacking into email accounts isn't sitting at a computer with a large cup of coffee and continuously typing in new passwords. It's much easier than you think to use a "dictionary attack" which (through a program) guesses millions of passwords one after another. Use a simple password, and the likelihood is good that your account will eventually get hacked. In Bill's case, the hacker gained access to their email account and began sending spam messages out to thousands of addresses. Once we identified the compromised account, we changed the password to something more secure and informed the client of what had happened. We told Bill his new password and thought he understood the reasoning, but within a few weeks, Bill didn't want to keep remembering the new password so he changed it back to his last name.

I'm sure you can guess what happened next. The account was compromised again, and we changed the password again to a new randomly generated series of letters/numbers/characters. We also made sure our server required a higher level of security when changing passwords to prevent similar situations. Bill called us about two weeks ago requesting we change his password back to his last name, which of course in the best interest of our client we were unable to do.

There are several measures we can have in place to prevent some of the hacking attempts...firewall rules which block all activity from an IP after a certain number of failed logins, required security level for passwords, etc. These things are helpful, but at the end of the day, nothing is going to prevent unauthorized access to one of your accounts like a strong, secure password. Try to remember this next time you find yourself typing "Lucky123" when signing up for something online.


Monday, April 08, 2013

SEO Scare Tactics - Don't Fall For Them!

About once a week we'll get a call or email from a client who has been solicited by some "company" to use their dealership SEO services. Sometimes the solicitations even come from our less-than-ethical competitors. Most of the time they come in the form of spam email messages, but for some reason, the dealers don't realize it's spam. A typical message will go something like this:
Hello website owner, your website is terrible. You're not #1 on Google for all keywords. Pay us money and we'll guarantee #1 placement.
To someone like me or any other ethical SEO expert these emails are laughable. Jade Sholty wrote a good summary here which I recommend reading. These "companies" (many aren't even legitimate companies) send these emails out to every website contact they can find. This is one of the reasons we recommend registering client domain names with our own contact info, so there is a lower chance that our clients will get sucked into one of these scams. The truth though, is that the wording seems quite scary to the untrained reader. Someone who knows very little about SEO or website structure is only going to see "my website needs to be improved right now". There are a handful of reputable SEO companies out there, but like anything else, a good rule of thumb is that if you're going to buy a product/service from someone, either you call/email them to buy it, or you do some due diligence before pulling the trigger on someone who is soliciting you.

Like Jade mentioned in her own article, I too have occasionally called these companies to see how they present themselves over the phone. I have yet to speak with anyone who knows much about legitimate SEO, yet they continue to (successfully) acquire clients on occasion. PT Barnum had it right, but I'm still trying to do my part and convert some of those suckers into educated dealers who are able to hang on to their money in the face of spammer snake oil salesmen.

Another recommended article is here, and talks about questions to ask your SEO provider. Most of the "bad companies" can't even answer half of the questions. Can your provider?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Some Craigslist Autoposters No Longer Working for Many Auto Dealers

If you've been using an auto-poster to list your vehicles on Craigslist, you're not the only one. Many dealers use such tools, because the amount of time required to post so many vehicles manually (let alone renew the ads regularly) is just not feasible. Craigslist doesn't care, because they really want the classified site to be used by individuals, not businesses. The reason why many auto-posters will soon no longer work is that Craigslist is no longer supporting the HTML tag in its listings. This is presumably to combat the rising use of auto-posters, something that is against the Craigslist Terms of Use.

As of today, when posting a vehicle to Craigslist users are shown a message that says the following:
PLEASE NOTE: Externally-hosted images (IMG tag) will soon be disallowed in for-sale ads. Please use CL image upload.

Here's a screenshot of the actual message:
PLEASE NOTE: Externally-hosted images (IMG tag) will soon be disallowed in for-sale ads. Please use CL image upload.
In case you're not clear on what the img tag is, it's a way to have an image (e.g. an ad for your vehicle) displayed on the Craigslist site without actually uploading the image to Craigslist. Using the img tag enables you to specify a source on your own server, or if using a 3rd party autoposter, a source on their server for the image displayed. It was only a matter of time before this happened, because Craigslist had absolutely no control over what images were being displayed, and some sellers (including car dealers) were abusing the site by flooding it with post after post of their own inventory, even duplicating the same vehicle several times per day. If the classified listings have 100,000 ads for used cars in one city and 20,000 of those are duplicates, it decreases the usability of the site for car shoppers, kind of like having to sift through your inbox when it's full of spam.

So what does this mean for dealers who want to continue using an auto-poster? Well the days of posting image-based ads are pretty much over. Dealers can (and will) complain for as long as they wish. The Terms of Use on Craigslist state clearly that (paraphrasing here) if you don't like the way they run the site or the rules they have in place, your only option is to stop using the site. I personally think a lot of dealers will stop using the site because they don't want to spend the time, which will only help those dealers who choose to continue using the site. In terms of supply and demand, it will mean less supply (ads) with the same amount of demand (shoppers). Dealers who continue to use either an auto-poster, manual posting tool, or posting service like Higher Turnover offers will thrive and continue to see a significant return on investment from one of the most visited classified sites in the world.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Choosing a Dealer Website Provider

A simple email I received prompted me to write this post today. The email was from a "website development and marketing company" based in the Western U.S. The message was short and sweet: they saw I just registered a domain name and wanted to know if I needed help with programming, design, or marketing. We get emails like this all the time. Some are well-written, some are not, but the point of this post is the bigger picture.

Someone who didn't know any better and who had a real need for website design or internet marketing at the moment they received the email might have hired this company. Every decision-maker has the right to hire whomever they wish, but chances are you don't have to think too hard to come up with a horror story about a friend, relative, or even yourself who made a bad decision at some point and had to live with it (i.e. money or time wasted). For some reason it seems that car dealers are especially susceptible to "being sold" on a vendor's products or services, without doing any due diligence at all.

To me, this email I received had several red flags:
  1. It ended up in my spam folder - If they can't even get their own emails successfully delivered to my inbox, why would I hire them to do email marketing for me?
  2. There were grammatical errors - Again, if they can't write a 3-sentence email without grammar and spelling errors, how would that reflect on my business if they were representing us?
  3. It was addressed to a generic name - If they want to impress me with their marketing skills, they probably shouldn't be referring to me as "Mr. Admin"
These sort of emails are a regular occurrence. I just happened to look this one over as I was emptying my spam folder and decided to comment. We see it all the time...dealers who choose a website provider because the salesperson "sold" them. These are the same dealers that come to us 6 months later, complaining that they wasted thousands of dollars on empty promises. If you're a dealer reading this, don't say you haven't been warned!

Friday, January 04, 2013

How Many Sales Do You Lose on Fridays?

I'm guilty of it from time to time, and I'd bet money that you are too...mentally "checking out" on Friday afternoons. Sure, it would be great to be at happy hour, or with your family, or whatever it is you look forward to when starting your weekend instead of finishing up those last couple of hours at work, but staying focused at the end of the week can make a difference in your paycheck.

I've seen it a million times...a salesperson is an hour or two from wrapping up their day and watching the seconds tick by on the clock. What they're not seeing, or sometimes even downright ignoring, are customers. Not just customers that show up on the lot, but customers in your CRM system, Rolodex, or whatever it is that you keep customer info stored in. If you're sitting at a desk for your last hour at the dealership and checking out Facebook, reading news articles, or doing other "non-work" activities to just get the day finished, you're shooting yourself in the foot. How many calls to past customers could you make in an hour? All you need is one good call every Friday and you're potentially talking another 50+ units sold throughout the course of the year. Could you use that extra commission?

Sure, salespeople can survive by cherry picking those ups who fall into their lap, but you can EXCEL by being proactive and "running through the finish line", not just trying to get to it. Happy Friday, and happy selling!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Another Google Update to Remind Us About the Importance of Marketing Diversification

Google confirmed recently that they pushed the 23rd update to their Panda algorithm since the first release in February, 2011. For readers who aren't familiar with what this means, this is the 23rd time in the last 22 months that they've "tweaked" the ranking mechanism which determines where your website ranks in their search results. This constant tweaking is a nuisance to some webmasters, as you can see from some of the comments on this Search Engine Land post. It serves as a reminder though. The important thing to take out of this is that Google has become such a large part of our lives that often we lose sight of how much we rely on them to drive business our way.

Someone searching for a car online may run across your vehicle that matches their search. Someone looking for a nearby dealership may end up finding your website. They only find these things because of Google or whatever search engine they're using. Imagine if Google decided to start selling cars and remove all car dealer websites from their search results so they could effectively "hide" their competition. Sure, that's an extreme example, but it's the sort of thing (the bigger picture at least) that you should be thinking about. Because the web offers so many advantages over traditional media, and because it's the most cost-effective marketing platform, it's become huge. Sure it may make sense to put the majority of your marketing dollars there, but don't put all your eggs in one basket, because although unlikely, the next Panda update could wipe your dealership off the most widely used digital map. A little marketing diversification can go a long way, especially when it's geared toward a combination of both traditional advertising media and various online platforms, not just a narrow focus on SEO for one search engine.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Don't Fall for the DNS Services or Domain Registry of America Scam

Every few weeks we get a call or email from a client wondering what the "bill" from DNS Services or the Domain Registry of America is for. The truth is, it's not a bill, but rather a shady tactic these unethical companies use to try and trick people into paying them money.

They market via direct mail, and send what appears to be an invoice for domain renewals, often complete with a message indicating the client's website is going to be taken offline if they don't act fast. They're presented in a fashion that highlights the "scare tactics", but if you read the fine print, it shows that it's not actually an invoice.

These companies make their money from the people who don't know any better and end up sending a check for domain registration services, at a rate of typically 10x the normal rate you can register a domain with a reputable company like GoDaddy.com. If you receive one of these fake invoices, our advice is to throw it in the trash where it belongs. After all, if a company has to trick you into doing business with them, does it really matter what they're trying to sell you? Avoid these companies unless you want to spend unnecessary money and cause yourself a headache.
Domain Registry of America Scam
Domain Registry of America Sample
 
DNS Services Scam
DNS Services Sample

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Changing Dealer Website Providers

After a lengthy process of restructuring our company website, I was thinking about how much a car dealer normally has to go through to switch website providers, and unfortunately the answer is "not much" with most providers. I say "unfortunately" because by not doing things properly, the dealer's website can take a big hit in the search engine results and rankings. It takes a lot of work to do things properly, and because dealers typically don't know any better, they trust their new provider will do it the right way. Providers can get away with not spending the extra time/effort and 99% of the time the dealer will never know, but as a reputable dealer website provider, Higher Turnover insists on doing things the right way whenever possible.

Usually a websites URL structure (the names of the pages) will change from one provider to the next. Someone may have an inventory page as "inventory" while another may have it as "vehicles" or something else. Pages get indexed in search engines, and if the appropriate steps aren't taken, all of your search results could be useless. Imagine your old provider has your vehicles at www.yoursite.com/inventory and that's the way your vehicles are indexed (included) in the search results. If you switch to a provider who uses a different URL, for example www.yoursite.com/vehicles, the visitor who clicks on your indexed link in the search results will likely be taken to an error page because the page they were taken to no longer exists.

Some things to put in place to avoid these problems are uploading a new sitemap to the search engines (which lets them know what pages currently exist on your site) and automatically redirecting all old URL's to the corresponding new pages. These are relatively simple things to do which help you retain search engine rankings, and perhaps more importantly help your customers actually get to your new site when they click on a link in the search results. If you're considering a switch from one dealer website provider to another, make sure they are accountable for making your transition a smooth and PROPER one.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Dealers Listing Cars on Facebook

A new article was published today about the use of Facebook by retailers to promote their products. The original article is here and it got me thinking.

Car dealers are becoming more and more interested in promoting their dealerships on Facebook because let's face it, pretty much everyone is on Facebook. It's free, and there are hundreds of millions of people using the site regularly. While most successful dealers have at least set up a business page on Facebook and use it to interact with customers, other dealers use it to try and actually sell their vehicles to their followers/fans.

Some website providers these days offer to build a "tab" on the dealer's Facebook page which lists their entire inventory, just like their own website. The thinking is that potential customers (or anyone who "likes" the dealer's page) will click on that tab and browse their inventory. They feel that people will browse inventory on Facebook instead of actually going to the dealer's site and do it there. I personally have never bought into this, and today an article came out that suggests the same thing. (see the original article by clicking here).

On some levels it makes sense to market vehicles this way. If the people are there, then why not, right? Well the article I referenced quoted an analyst as saying for companies trying to sell their products through these means, "it was like trying to sell stuff to people while they’re hanging out with their friends at the bar." Furthermore, people would need to actively seek out the vehicle information, whereas the entire philosophy of Facebook is to push content to the user, so they don't need to seek it out. This is why we offer a different service to our clients where individual vehicles are posted to the dealer's Facebook wall. This way they actually show up in the fans news feed and get exposure. It's important to limit the frequency of these sort of posts, but that's another article for another day.

If major retailers like Gamestop, Gap, J.C. Penny, and Nordstrom have all pulled the plug on these Facebook storefronts, I have to think there's some validation to my beliefs. I know I don't shop on Facebook for anything. Sure, I may visit a retailer's page to see if they have any promotions going on or to see what other shoppers are saying about them, but if I want to buy something I head to the retailers own website. Getting people to change the way they shop online can happen, but I personally don't think it's going to happen anytime soon, and Gamestop (and the others) have proven that point as far as I'm concerned.

I'm curious to hear comments from others, but I'm especially curious to hear from car dealers (or salespeople) who have tried the inventory tab on their company Facebook page. Has it worked for you? Do you know how its use compares to your other Facebook activity in generating leads?


Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Car Dealer Websites - What Not to Do

I'm a big picture guy by nature. I could be doing the most mundane task and I'm usually thinking of how it relates to other industries, or what the implications are from different angles. This week I was Christmas shopping online as millions of others do. I'm involved in development of car dealer websites, so I consider myself somewhat of a usability expert when it comes to web design.

When someone is visiting/using a website, they expect certain things. They have expectations for a lot of things including where to find things on the site and how certain things work. For example, I was shopping for a new Pandora bracelet for my girlfriend. Of course the first place I went to research was the official Pandora site. At first it was like any other website...decent looking and seemingly functional. Click on "explore" and navigate to the bracelet section...easy enough. OK, I know she wants a bracelet, I know she likes silver...click and click. Hold on, now they want to know what color. What color? I thought it was just a silver bracelet. OK, let's pick a random color and see what happens. How about orange? That's her favorite color. Now they want a price range. I just want to see the damn things that are available so I click on "show all". Finally, some results for me to check out. They have 10 different bracelets to choose from? Well I guess I'll start with the one that I think she'll like best. I click on it which produces...nothing. I click again and then realize the image isn't even linked. No way to get a closer look at the bracelet. I'm just stuck looking at a low-resolution image of the bracelet. It could be a circular ring of speaker wire for all I know.

Whatever, I'll just have to trust that this is the one she'll like. OK, time to put it in my cart and find some charms to go with it. I don't see how to put it in my cart, so now what? Oh well, I guess I'll just remember which one it is and find the charms. They have over 600 different charms you can purchase. For the average guy, this is a little overwhelming but I manage to find a few that I know she'll like. Good, I'll just add them to my cart and checkout. Wait a minute, where's that cart I put the bracelet in? Oh yeah, there wasn't one. All I can do is put everything in my "wish list".

My biggest gripe with this process is that I'm a guy and they don't make it easy for us. I'm not just a "clueless when it comes to buying jewelry" kind of guy, but as many would translate that title, I'm your "average" guy. The Pandora website is not the easiest or most intuitive design for someone like me, so I can only imagine what it's like for someone with fewer internet skills. It took me at least a half hour to figure out what to buy. The biggest surprise once I found all that stuff? You can't even purchase anything on the site other than a gift card! I know that if I go to my nearest jeweler who carries the Pandora brand that they're not going to have all 600+ charms in stock. Also, I've since discovered that there are a multitude of sizes for the bracelets themselves. What guy knows the size of his girlfriend's or wife's wrist? I ran across 7 different sizes available, and guessing which one will fit properly doesn't seem to have good odds.

At the end of the day I decided to get a different gift. If the Pandora site had been designed without some fundamental flaws, I would have dropped quite a bit of money on their overpriced items. Instead, I became aggravated and even after spending quite a bit of time looking at their stuff I decided to abandon the idea. Think about who you're designing your website for. In the case of Pandora, I'd have to believe a significant percentage of shoppers are men buying gifts. The site isn't geared toward men buying gifts though, it's geared toward people researching the brand. Pandora has some really strong aspects of their business model (e.g. securing long-term business through repeat customers) but this lack of e-commerce and non male-friendly site seems like a horrible marketing move if you ask me.

We have auto dealer clients from time to time who ask for off-the-wall features on their websites. Music playing on the homepage or some other novelty which was cool in the early 1990's for example. I encourage every website owner to think about who their audience is before designing a site. Sure, if you can dream it you can build it, but is "it" what your customers are looking for, or is it what you want?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Car Dealer Websites Using Flash Alienate iPhone and iPad Users

As someone in the business of developing websites for car dealers, I frequently see an advertisement for a dealership and check out the website listed in their ad. If I happen to be watching TV and see the website on a TV ad, I typically don't sit around with my laptop so I check on my iPhone. This happened the other day and when I went to the dealer's site from my iPhone, nothing but a message telling me to download Adobe Flash. Of course I know Flash isn't supported on the iPhone or iPad but I wanted to see what less knowledgeable people might have seen if they clicked on the link to install Flash. "Flash player not available on your device". So basically, if Flash is required to view your dealership website, there is no possible way for the customers to actually use your site. With the number of iPads and iPhones out there (and continuing to grow), if I were a car dealer, this would be the only reason I need to stay away from Flash websites.

I won't mention their specific name, but our competitor who handles this particular dealer's site I checked is one of the larger companies out there. They've made a decision to cater to what their clients want, rather than educate them on best practices for exposure. When we use Flash in our designs, it's only because the dealers insist on it, even after we've educated them on the drawbacks. We know that if you are going to use it, you should use it properly. This means have a non-Flash version of the site which is displayed for iPhones/iPads, or for smaller Flash elements, have images which are displayed when the Flash cannot be displayed. See the website header on www.tmotorsales.com, one of our client sites. Visiting the site from a PC you'll see the animated header. Visiting the site from an iPhone you'll see an image of the header rather than the big empty space that most providers have on their client sites.

If you're going to do something, you should do it properly, that's all I'm saying.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Car Dealer Giving Away Free AK-47's

I ran across this video recently which I thought was worth sharing. I've seen a lot of gimmicks used by car dealers to draw a crowd, but never anything like this. There are some good lessons to be learned from this dealer, even though you may not agree with his tactics...



Whether you agree with this dealer or not in his advertising practices, you have to admit one thing: he's got a huge amount of exposure as a result of this. Sure, some people are going to be definitively turned off by this, but when you consider the exposure he's getting from CNN and other national news, local news, YouTube views, syndicated radio shows, and blogs like this, I'm sure there is a significant net gain in the number of potential customers the dealership has been getting. Even if someone isn't a gun owner, seeing news pieces like this often end up in Google searches for the dealership. The dealer even mentioned how much his website traffic (and resulting sales) are up.

Personally I feel this marketing takes things to a different level, but I like how this dealer thinks outside the box. How many YouTube videos or CNN bits have you seen on a particular dealer offering a free gas card?

Max Motors is now upping the ante...instead of AK-47's with a purchase, they're now offering a .50 cal sniper rifle with any Viper purchase. Same sort of promo as the last one, but they wouldn't get any additional press if they simply continued the AK-47 promo, so why not take it up a notch to get more people talking?

I see only one problem with their marketing campaign. They obviously have done a great job at creating attention/interest, but upon examination of their website I think their conversion rate could be a lot higher if the site wasn't so busy. Granted, I don't know what their conversion rates are, but with all the "crap" on their site I'd be willing to bet that a more simple, to the point site would help their sales. Even a micro site for the "Snipers for Vipers" campaign.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Something to remember when using Facebook for your car dealership

More and more dealers are turning to social media to generate exposure for their dealerships. This has been a growing trend for years, but I would compare it to the late 90's with dealership websites. More than 10 years after the inception of online classifieds and dealer website platforms and there are still a lot of dealers who have yet to invest any time in it. A lot of old school dealers think that because they sell enough cars without a website, there's no need for one. I hear a lot who say things like "we tried a website and didn't get any sales," or "people browse websites but don't buy anything". This same mentality often translates into newer trends such as social media.

Let's take a look at Facebook since it seems to be the most widely used. Hundreds of millions of people use Facebook, and not just for car shopping. Of course there are going to be people who aren't relevant to your car dealership because they're not researching car dealers there. What about the people who are relevant, i.e. the people who at some point in their lives will buy a car from a dealer?

We've had dealers set up a Facebook page and a week or two later abandon it because no car shoppers have contacted them directly through it. To effectively use Facebook one must realize that it's a newer concept than what they've done in the past, therefore it needs to be used and interpreted differently. Take for example my personal account with Facebook. I have many friends who have accounts, and I frequently talk to these friends on the phone. If I look at their Facebook pages, some of them haven't updated their status or done anything on there for months or even years. At times these same friends will ask me about things that I've posted like "so I see you bought a new car". So what you may ask. The point is that social media is different, and everyone uses it differently. Just because people may not leave comments on your dealership Facebook page doesn't mean it's not being seen. Taking it a step further, some of these people formulate opinions on your dealership based on what they see on your page, and often times these are the people that are walk-ins at your dealership.

Social media like Facebook is much more difficult to track effectively, and just because you only see the tip of the iceberg from the wheel room doesn't mean there isn't a lot of stuff below the surface that can impact your course. If you're a dealer using social media to generate exposure for your dealership, keep this in mind. Be vigilant even when it seems you're not accomplishing much on the surface, because usually it's what's below the surface that's most important.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How many hours per day are you selling cars?

I've spent a couple of Sundays on car lots recently. None of the dealers were open while I was there; I was just checking out cars without being hassled by salesmen. To my surprise, there were a lot of people on each lot I visited. Apparently a lot of people prefer to check out cars on their own time, without being confronted by intrusive salespeople. I don't know why this surprised me, because the behavior parallels the internet shopping experience. Buyers use the internet for two primary reasons: anonymity and convenience.

With all these shoppers on the lots when the dealers were closed, it made me wonder...while some of these dealers had websites, what were they doing for the real-world customers who silently examine their inventory on the lot? I wanted to know mileage for cars. I wanted to know what options they had. Sure, this info is typically on a dealer website, but what about the "old school" shoppers who aren't using the internet? The answer is window stickers.

A window sticker always comes from the manufacturer for new cars, but why don't many dealers use them on their used inventory? Higher Turnover offers the ability to print professional, custom window stickers in a matter of seconds for each vehicle. These stickers show buyers many of the vehicle features and benefits that they want to know. Sure, some dealers have the mindset that if someone is a serious buyer they'll come back when the dealer is open, but those dealers forget one thing. Building value for the shoppers makes them want to come back even more, and makes your cars stand out above the competitor's inventory. If you have a car on one lot which has a professional looking sticker, all of the vehicle info, description, etc., don't you think that builds value more than just a car with an FTC Buyer's Guide that has a VIN and no info specific to that car? I say it does, and I guarantee you're losing some customers if you're relying solely on the actual car to sell itself.

If you're interested in learning about how easy it is to print custom window stickers for your inventory, visit the Higher Turnover website.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Lead Response Times are Important

A recent shopping experience prompted me to write about lead response times, and you can probably guess why. I'm in the market for a boat, and I'm busy during the day so my shopping time is after the boat dealer is already closed. I recently found 3 boats at the same dealership which fit my needs as well as my budget.

I submitted a lead for 2 boats through the dealer's website (which was less than professional, but more on that later). I also submitted a lead for a 3rd boat through a 3rd party classified site. Here we are, more than 48 hours later and I still have not received a response from the dealer on either of the leads. Needless to say, I'm definitely not purchasing a boat from this seller.

I've heard some dealers say that web leads are mostly garbage and that serious shoppers will call. True, sometimes a phone up will be a more serious buyer, but that doesn't mean that all online lead submissions are worthless. Here I am with cash in hand, interested in purchasing inventory from the seller, and they don't feel the need to respond to me because of how I contacted them. A dealer is in business for one primary reason: to sell units. Why on earth would I plunk down thousands of dollars with a particular dealer if they aren't even responsive when I (among others) am the reason for their business being in existence? If they can't even be responsive to a sales lead, how would they be responsive to needs after the sale? A horrible website and no response to my inquiries adds up to an unprofessional dealer in my book.

Dealers should listen up. If you're not treating online leads as being important, you're literally throwing away money. Of course everybody would like to get emails with nothing but serious shoppers with cash in hand. You don't expect this from your walk-in traffic or phone ups, so why expect it from web leads? All lead sources are going to have good leads and bad leads. If you think one lead source produces leads that aren't worth your time, maybe you're showing some qualified buyers that you're not worth theirs.

Our Higher Turnover car dealers are trained on this from the moment they sign up with us. If someone submits a lead through their website, treat them as a valid lead, but more importantly, respond to them in a timely manner. Once they submit a lead on your site, chances are good that they move on to the competitor's site to continue shopping. We enable our dealers to receive SMS (text) messages the moment a new lead comes in. Using a service like this makes our dealers look more professional and attentive in dealing with customers, and that's what shoppers want when they're getting ready to spend thousands of dollars.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Where Do You Want Your Customers to Go When they See Your Ads?

There's one thing I've never understood about the pharmaceutical industry...their marketing philosophy. I've seen it a million times, a television ad for some new miracle drug, and then in the ad they say "see our ad in Women's Health magazine" or some other magazine. Why on earth would they want to get someone interested in their product and then send them to the store to get a magazine, then force them to search through the magazine for a 1-2 page advertisement amid a hundred other pages of content that they probably find more interesting? Sounds like a lot of work and a lot of possible distractions along the way. The point of mass media advertising is to hit a large audience with your message and siphon off a percentage to pay attention to your product. Let me try an analogy:

Suppose you're an independent dealer and sell nothing but Ford Mustangs. You have a website dedicated to your inventory of Mustangs. You decide to spend millions in an ad campaign on TV, radio, newspaper, and even a pay-per-click campaign in the search engines. Imagine if each of your advertisements told the viewer/reader/listener to search for Ford Mustangs on Autotrader.com to see your stuff. Doesn't make a lot of sense, does it? You wouldn't send them there where they can easily see your competitors inventory or click on advertisements for a Camaro, Charger, etc., would you? So why does the pharmaceutical industry consistently do this?

The only thing I can think of as a possible reason is that for the drugs that are targeted toward the elderly demographic, perhaps they're more likely to get a magazine than visit a website. Even if this is the case though, I see virtually all drug commercials pointing consumers to their magazine ads, even for those that are used in younger adults who likely have internet access. Even if they wanted to target non-internet using adults with their product, wouldn't it be better to provide a phone number so the company can get the "ups" while they're still hot?

And I thought some car dealers made poor advertising decisions...

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Craigs List for Car Dealers is No Secret These Days

One of the things I've noticed over the past two years is how much Craigs List has really come to the forefront of dealership advertising. Before taking my "break" from blogging 2 years ago, I was reporting on how Craigs List compared to Autotrader, Cars.com, and a few other classified sites. Some dealers were using Craigs List at the time, but not nearly as many dealers who use it now. Many website providers like Higher Turnover offer Craigs List posting tools, and I would say this feature is a common one at this point.

Because it's more commonly used these days, that also means more dealers are competing for the top spots in the listings. Since Craigs List is user-policed and anyone can flag anyone else's ads, this leads to problems such as "competitive flagging", where one poster flags another poster's ad just to remove the competition. Imagine if you could remove your competitor's listings from Autotrader.com so customers only saw your cars. How many dealers would be calling Autotrader to complain? A LOT! With Craigs List there is nobody to call, no way to be sure who is flagging your ads. It causes a lot of frustration for dealers if they are being targeted. The end result is that it takes a lot of work to keep up with Craigs List ads for your dealership. It can certainly help you sell cars. Sometimes you just have to work hard to sell cars though.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Online Auto Dealers Back in Business

I'm sure many of our original followers are gone by now. After all, it has been over 2 years since the last post here. We've gone through a lot of changes with our web design for car dealers business, added many new features/improvements, and introduced new offerings/businesses too. More about that in later posts.

A lot can happen in two years, both to a person and to a business. I'm glad to say that Higher Turnover has had a lot happen in a positive way, whereas I've seen a lot of negative things in the industry over the same period. Car sales have gone through a serious slump. Some website providers have failed to improve their products beyond what they had 2 years ago...an eternity as far as the internet goes. I refuse to point fingers at those who are complacent, but if you're a car dealer it should make you think. You should be in the habit of asking yourself questions: Has your website provider added any value to you over the last year or two? Have they generated more sales for your dealership to coincide with their price hikes? Have they developed new features to make your life easier, or are they just collecting their fees from you because you don't push for more value in their product?

I'll be the first to admit that things need to be prioritized and there are things that are more important than spending 10 minutes to evaluate your web design company that you've been with for years. At some point though, you have to say "OK, it's time to catch up on some things that are long overdue". If you don't, you're going to become one of those dealers that everyone else laughs at because you're so far behind the times and pay more than you should for "old" products. You're setting yourself up for disappointment at some point.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Best Used Car Classified Site #9

Previous post on this topic
Which Classified Site Works Best to Sell Cars #8

Lead #10: It's been a while since I've updated this topic because the leads seem to have dropped off. The person in Lead #9 followed up with a couple of phone calls and set an appointment to come see the car but was a no-show. A lead came in today through the dealer's website from someone who found them in a Google search. No questions about the car, no phone calls, just submitted a credit app. Usually when customers submit an app and don't even ask about a vehicle, that tells me they're shopping around for someone who will approve them with bad credit. Seemed to be the case here, as the dealer told me they had a 380 beacon. Guess the car isn't getting sold today.

Autotrader.com - 1
CraigsList.org - 4
Cars.com - 2
AutoExtra.com - 0
Google Base - 0
A Dealership Website - 2
Kijiji - 1


Friday, November 09, 2007

One Thing a Dealership Can Do to Increase Web Leads

I wrote a post back in the summer comparing two similar dealers in the same market to illustrate the impact of web design on lead generation. One dealer was doing a lot better than the other in generating web leads despite similar traffic numbers. After listening to a year of complaints about how bad business is, I finally convinced the dealer with the "worse" website to take my advice and redesign it according to my recommendations. The site content was not changed much at all, only the page layouts, some graphics, etc. It's amazing how small changes can impact business so much. Here are the actual numbers from the three-week period immediately before the change compared to the three-week period immediately following the change:

Before:
Site Visitors: 1452
Pageviews: 10,212
Contact Forms Submitted: 7
Credit Apps Submitted: 9
Overall: 1 lead for every 91 visitors

After:
Site Visitors: 1599
Pageviews: 10,716
Contact Forms Submitted: 24
Credit Apps Submitted: 41
Overall: 1 lead for every 25 visitors

The site statistics have not changed much at all, but by making some adjustments to the site layout, this dealer has increased his conversion rate to 4 times the amount it used to be. We run into these sort of problems on a daily basis. A dealer may want to do something on his/her site that they think is a good idea, but I wish more dealers would listen to those of us who have been in the online media industry and have seen how much business these type of "mistakes" can cost. Going off the last 3 weeks stats, let's assume this particular dealer had 27,716 visitors for the last 52 weeks. If they had the same conversion rates they see since the redesign, that would be 1108 leads. With the old conversion rates it would only be 304 leads, a difference of 804 for the year. As a dealer you know your closing ratios, so would it be worth it for you to make a small change and have a crack at an extra 804 car shoppers over the year?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Best Used Car Classified Site #8

Previous post on this topic
Which Classified Site Works Best to Sell Cars #7

Lead #9: Another lead from Craigs List came in yesterday. This shopper said they ready to buy immediately but had a few questions. They want to know the VIN, location, maintenance records, financing ability, and "more information". I supplied them with the info they requested so we'll see what happens.

Autotrader.com - 1
CraigsList.org - 4
Cars.com - 2
AutoExtra.com - 0
Google Base - 0
A Dealership Website - 1*
Kijiji - 1

* Denotes the lead originated from an affiliated site not listed above

Friday, November 02, 2007

Autotrader Producing Smaller Returns, Raising Rates

Once a year there is a post that comes up on Dealer Refresh about Autotrader.com raising rates again, and it always causes a lot of dealer discontent to surface. I've made it clear in the past that I'm not a dealer, and I also worked for Autotrader.com for about two years. There are always people who think dealers should stop complaining about the constant rate hikes, but I am not one of them. Some dealers say the ROI from Autotrader.com is flat at best. Nothing speaks louder than facts and figures, so I decided to take a look at three random dealerships and compare a five-month period from last year to the same five-month period this year, and the proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

The three dealerships chosen at random are in different areas of Virginia between Virginia Beach and the Washington, DC area. Since each has a different number of vehicles on the lot and use different packages with Autotrader.com, I've tried to break everything down to a common denominator: leads per vehicle per month. Here's what I found for these dealerships:



June through October



2006
2007
Change
Total Emails:
428
291
(137)
Total Calls:
1634
1292
(342)
Credit Apps:
151
67
(84)
Total Leads:
2213
1650
(563)
Total Vehicles:
1111
849
(262)
Leads/Car/Mo:
1.99
1.94
(0.05)


Big difference? Not really, but over the course of the 5 months examined it does add up. For a dealer with 50 vehicles on the lot each month this translates into 12 less leads over the same period last year. A dealer with 100 vehicles on the lot would see 25 fewer leads over that period. Like I said, not huge numbers, but fewer nonetheless. The important thing to consider is that with fewer leads from the previous year, how is a rate increase justified by Autotrader.com? I submit to you that it is NOT justified, but as the 800-pound gorilla they're doing what they want until the 900-pound gorilla shows up. Is the 900-pounder a Googlerilla? A Cars.comorilla? Time will tell, but it will happen.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Best Used Car Classified Site #7

Previous post on this topic
Which Classified Site Works Best to Sell Cars #6

Lead #8: Another lead from Craigs List today. This shopper was definitely looking for a deal. They supposedly drove 100 miles to look at another one yesterday - same year/make/model with similar miles. They asked me if they could buy mine for $5500 which is about $2000 below asking price. The justification: they didn't want to drive 100 miles back to conduct the transaction on the other one.

Autotrader.com - 1
CraigsList.org - 3
Cars.com - 2
AutoExtra.com - 0
Google Base - 0
A Dealership Website - 1*
Kijiji - 1

* Denotes the lead originated from an affiliated site not listed above

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Traditional Media Generates More Buyers than Online?

I received my usual newsletter this morning from Auto Remarketing and one article really caught my eye. It says that according to a recent study, traditional media translates into more buyers than online advertising. These results are shocking to me, so I'm curious about the details of their research methodology. What cities/towns did they conduct their research in, and how exactly were certain markets weighted differently?

"Art Spinella, of CNW Research, found that used-car dealers are spending more money on the Internet than ever before. However, overall, most of the marketing funds are still going into traditional media, such as newspapers, spot TV and local radio". This makes sense to me based on cost alone. Traditional media has been losing market share for years while online media has been gaining. The newspapers, TV, radio, etc. have had to combat this loss using significant rate hikes just to maintain flat revenue gains.

What surprises me is the finding that "more than 44 percent of people who entered a dealership and purchased a car or truck indicated traditional advertising methods were what drove them to a store".

I'd like to learn a little more about this research, because frankly, I can't believe some of the claims.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Best Used Car Classified Site #6

Previous post on this topic
Which Classified Site Works Best to Sell Cars #5

Lead #7: The first lead from Autotrader.com. This lead came in as a credit application. The person who submitted the credit app clicked over to the dealer site from the dealer's "specials" page. Since my vehicle isn't listed on the dealer's specials page, this illustrates one of the benefits of Autotrader.com driving traffic to the dealer website.

Autotrader.com - 1
CraigsList.org - 2
Cars.com - 2
AutoExtra.com - 0
Google Base - 0
A Dealership Website - 1*
Kijiji - 1

* Denotes the lead originated from an affiliated site

Next Post on this Topic

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Best Used Car Classified Site #5

Previous Post on this topic

Another day, another lead. I think I just found a vehicle for a third experiment so I'd like to get this one off the "lot" soon.

Lead #6: This guy was looking at the vehicle on the dealer's website and called me direct. Of course I asked him how he got to the dealer's site (which most dealers fail to do) and he said Cars.com. He was looking for a Jeep in the $7000 to $8000 range, had bad credit, and didn't want to put a penny down on the purchase. Perhaps I should become a bookie with all these people calling who can't get financed.

Autotrader.com - 0
CraigsList.org - 2
Cars.com - 2
AutoExtra.com - 0
Google Base - 0
A Dealership Website - 1*
Kijiji - 1

* Denotes the lead originated from an affiliated site

Best Used Car Classified Site #4

Previous Post on this topic

Pricing has been reduced across all sites to $7599 to see what that does for leads.

Lead #4 Update: The person who I spoke with the other evening did finally submit a credit application through the dealer website, however it was for a different vehicle. Not surprising since a large percentage of shoppers end up in a different vehicle from the one they first inquired about.

Lead #5: Another Craigs List response. This woman called yesterday and told me her entire story about why her credit was bad and that she needed financing. I referred her to the dealer site for an application just like I did for Lead #4, so we'll see if she gets sidetracked into another vehicle too. So far she has not submitted an application, but from what she was telling me it sounds like she should be approved (significant down payment, no repo's, $45k annual salary).

Autotrader.com - 0
CraigsList.org - 2
Cars.com - 1*
AutoExtra.com - 0
Google Base - 0
A Dealership Website - 1*
Kijiji - 1

* Denotes the lead originated from an affiliated site

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Best Used Car Classified Site #3

Previous Post on this topic
Which Classified Site Works Best to Sell Cars #2

I haven't got around to changing the price yet or reposting on Craigs List, but I received another 2 leads today.

Lead #3: Someone found my vehicle on InternetAutoGuide.com, which is apparently one of the affiliates of Cars.com. I wasn't aware of this site in the Cars.com network, but apparently others are. This person thought the price was a little high (no surprise there) but said he would like to check out the car on Friday when he's in my area. We all know how "be-backs" usually turn out, even though he's technically not a be-back, but I am changing the price and re-posting anyway.
My thoughts are that I'm getting some looks, and with a more competitive price it should sell fairly quickly. I'll classify this lead as a Cars.com lead since it wouldn't have come in without Cars.com, just like a Yahoo! Autos lead would be considered MSN. I'll note the lead with a Barry Bonds asterisk as well.

Lead #4: Another person called this evening who saw the ad on Craigs List. Seemed to be legit, but had some credit issues and wanted to finance the car with $400 down. I told him to submit an application on the dealer site I also have the vehicle listed with. If he's approved I'll consign it with the dealer and let him make his money on the back end.

Autotrader.com - 0
CraigsList.org - 1
Cars.com - 1*
AutoExtra.com - 0
Google Base - 0
A Dealership Website - 1*
Kijiji - 1

* Denotes the lead originated from an affiliated site

Monday, October 08, 2007

Best Used Car Classified Site #2

See the Previous Entry in this Series about
Which Classified Website Works Best to Sell Cars #1

Well, it's been about 2 weeks since listing the Jeep on the various classified sites, and so far, only 2 responses. That's actually better than I expected, considering the price is $7850, well above what it probably should be.

Lead #1: Kijiji sent a lead my way, someone who wanted to trade a motorcycle for the Jeep straight up. There's a reason I don't own a bike (30+ speeding tickets over the years) and I'd like to stay out of trouble.

Lead #2: The second lead came through the website of the dealer who allowed me to list the Jeep on his site. Someone applied for financing and was willing to pay $375/month for it. I was a little excited since there was room to work a deal, but the dealer pulled the person's credit and they've had 2 repo's (one in the last month), a bankruptcy, and an existing car loan. I was curious where the lead #2 originated from, so I did a little digging. This person didn't actually see the Jeep prior to visiting the dealer's site. He found a link to the site from another third party site, basically a local directory of car dealers.

My original plan was to feel the market out by starting high. It's been two weeks and I think I should have received more than 2 leads for this vehicle, so I'm going to drop the price to $7599 and see what happens. I'm also reposting on Craigs List since I have a hard time even finding the vehicle on there after 2 weeks.

Autotrader.com - 0
CraigsList.org - 0
Cars.com - 0
AutoExtra.com - 0
Google Base - 0
A Dealership Website - 1
Kijiji - 1

See the next post in this series
Which Classified Site Works Best to Sell Cars #3

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Happy Birthday to Google - What Can Your 9-Year-Old Do?

Today is Google's 9th anniversary. Even though they've only been around for a short time, Google is one of those companies that has changed the world already. They are a perfect example of what success and innovation can accomplish. When Google products aren't accessible all hell breaks loose. No ads to click on, no videos to watch on YouTube, no way to see your appointments for the day on Google Calendar, and you can't even read our blog with your Google Reader. Oh yeah, and you'll have to use another search engine like Yahoo! or MSN to find that recipe for bread pudding you like so much. What's the real difference between Google and your auto dealership? The world would come to a screeching halt if you were closed for a day, right?

You probably only have a few revenue streams like wholesale and retail sales, parts, service, detailing, etc. Google has so many things going on it's hard to keep track at times, and a lot of these generate significant revenue for them. They have billions of "inventory units" (pages indexed), and they do business on a global scale. How about your little dealership in Anytown, USA?

I believe there is no reason a car dealer can't change the world as Google has. I'm sure that comment will elicit a chuckle from several readers, but I really believe it. The problem lies in the fact that car dealers are inherently "old school". Sure there are a few that are ahead of the curve, but it's common knowledge that most have the mentality that change is bad, especially when things have worked for 100 years. Would the world survive if Google wasn't around? Sure. Does Google make life easier for everyone? You bet.

The auto industry needs to have a few people step up with some forward-thinking ideas. So many dealers and vendors are concerned with money from current opportunities above all else, but sometimes a focus on making the industry better is the logical first step. If you can accomplish the successful deployment of a new product or business model, the money will fall into place. Just ask anyone that has been with Google for 9 years.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Which Classified Website Works Best to Sell Cars?

I wrote a post a while back which chronicled my experiment to determine if Autotrader.com or Craigs List would work better to sell a budget car. Craigs List generated more leads than Autotrader, but ultimately I ended up dumping the car on eBay after 6 months. The experiment was informative for me (and hopefully our readers), but it did leave some questions behind. The biggest question I have is that I'm curious if my instinct is correct in assuming Craigs List will do better for the lower budget cars. I've decided to tackle this question through Autotrader vs. Craigs List, Round 2.

This time around I've included a few other classified sites to look at the broader picture. The sites the vehicle will be listed on include:

Autotrader.com
CraigsList.org
Cars.com
AutoExtra.com
Google Base
A Dealership Website
Kijiji

The vehicle is a more desirable vehicle than the last one, and in the "sweet spot" as far as pricing (between $5k and $10k). For this experiment I've purchased a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee. After a couple hundred in parts to fix a couple minor details, sales tax, registration costs, etc., I'm into the thing for about $6000. More than what a dealer would have paid, yes, but I'm a private party so I think I did fairly well.

Vehicle Details:
Total Cost Basis: $6000
108k miles
4.0 Liter, 6 cylinder
4 wheel drive
Fully loaded with all options except sunroof
Brand new tires

I'm listing the selling price at $7850 to start. Sure it's a little high, but if I don't need to sell it quickly, why not start there? Worst case scenario I don't get any action and have to drop the price. I'll be updating this post periodically, so be sure to check back and see....

Which Classified Website Works Best to Sell Cars

See the next post in this series about
Which Classified Site Works Best to Sell Cars #2

Friday, September 07, 2007

Fantasy Auto Dealership Contest

A little "off-the-wall" post from the right side of my brain:

Football season is finally upon us, and for thousands of people including myself that means fantasy football. In case you're not familiar, fantasy football is a competition among individuals who choose NFL players for their team, and earn points based on the performance of those players each week. Each week you go up against other team managers in your league. At the end of the season, the person who has the most wins is crowned the season winner.

Football is the most popular, but if you like hockey, baseball, golf, Nascar, etc. you can join leagues in any of those categories. I got to thinking the other day...there are fantasy sports leagues for so many different categories. Why limit it to just sports? Wouldn't it be great to have a fantasy car dealership competition? I mean, most car dealers and salespeople are highly competitive.

The way I see it, this could be done one of two ways. First, from the principal's perspective. So many salespeople think running a dealership is as easy as selling the cars. A competition among these aspiring dealers would be fun. Something that took into account all of the day to day operations that normally aren't thought about by the employees.

The other way that would probably be more interesting is a head-to-head matchup where points were given for number of deals, net profit, back end earnings, etc.

So how would all of this be done? I have no clue, but I think it would be entertaining and popular with the number of auto sales reps across the country. Maybe have a draft, and instead of drafting individual players like football, each person would draft a particular make/model. Each participant could submit deals for the week which outlined all of the metrics, and the points drawn from that. For example, say there are 20 dealers in the league. Dealer A has "Chevy Malibu" as one vehicle on their team and is going against Dealer B who has "Ford Focus" on their team. All league members would submit their sales for the week, and averages would be tallied for all deals including Malibus and Focuses. Dealer A would earn points based on those Malibu deals. Same for Dealer B with the Focus deals. When the points for all makes/models on the teams are added up, one team wins and one loses for the week.

Something like this would be good to gauge what other dealers are doing on gross, plus it would help build encouragement to/from one another. "C'mon Dealer A, push a few more of those F-150's out the door this week and help me beat Dealer C!" It would certainly provoke a lot of trash-talking among colleagues, and that's half the fun of fantasy sports.

If anyone has ideas or decides to put something together, I'd love to hear about it! Jeff Kershner at Dealer Refresh seems to have enough time to run 26 blogs, keep up with 18 social networking sites, and still run the internet dept. at MB of Hagerstown, maybe he'd like to take on one more project?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Comic Relief from Working in the Auto Industry

I typically try to post informative information for car dealers here, but our days are all filled with people telling us how to do things, how to do things better, and so on. That can get old after a while and we all need the occasional break from the norm. Here is that break for you...

I enjoy looking for the worst-ever car dealer commercials. It's always tough to pick the worst, because once you get below a certain level of professionalism, they're all pretty close. Here are a few links to the worst of the worst:

Big Bob's Used Cars

Eagle Insurance

And a local commercial for me (Auto Connection) that is best summed up by a comment someone posted on YouTube: "I have seen only one car commercial worse than that. This is more low budget than the other one I've seen, but this one lacks the ability to make you want to murder people." The sad thing is that this dealer has upped the ante even more with their most recent commercials.

Sometimes when you wonder if you're doing a good job on marketing, you just have to sit back and be thankful you don't work for another dealership!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Getting the Best Customer Service from Auto Dealer Website Vendors

Jeff Kershner at Dealer Refresh recently authored a post on his blog about customer service in the auto industry. For some reason many of the auto industry vendors seem to have substandard customer service once the contract has been signed and the customer has made their payment. Jeff makes some great points about what constitutes good service in our world of auto dealer products/services. I'm proud to say Higher Turnover passes the test on all 5.

1. Don't over promise and under deliver: It's important to be straight forward with customers. If you aren't able to do something, don't promise you can do it. Personally I feel it's better to be up front in the beginning. If you over promise certain things it's starting off a business relationship on the wrong foot when the customer sees it's not what they had in mind.

2. Answer your phone: We get calls at all hours of the day, and most of the time I answer the calls personally. If I'm in the middle of 3 different projects I'll still drop what I'm doing to answer the phone, because when I'm the one calling some customer service department, I don't want to leave a message. That increases frustration, and I may be busy when they call back. If we are on the other lines when a customer calls, they will receive a call back immediately when we're available. Our customers tell us on a regular basis how much it means to them that someone always answers the phone when they call. During off-hours I have support calls forwarded to my personal phone. This past weekend I took a call at 11pm Friday night, two on Saturday, and two on Sunday. Car dealers have hectic schedules and we try to accommodate that as much as possible. Other companies should do the same.

3. Have skilled tech support highly trained and familiar with your product: Nobody is more familiar with our product than myself, which is why I prefer to field support calls instead of using a customer service department. It's not easy to hire the right people for support who can learn the ins and outs of a product.

4. Call Me Back: Nothing is more frustrating than sitting around with a product that isn't working properly and not being able to talk with support right then and there. Sometimes it does happen unfortunately. We view our current customers as the most important asset of our company, therefore any support calls which we can't answer immediately are returned promptly, generally within 5 minutes or less. I don't see any legitimate reason why other companies can't do the same, but I've had support calls go for days without a return call.

5. Check in and see how I'm coming along: This is one that we are careful on. We do make it a point to check in on customers regularly, but this has to be done according to the customer needs. Some customers want check-up calls every couple of weeks, while others don't want to be bothered by phone unless you're buying a car. Our practice is to check in more frequently in the beginning as the dealers are learning our products. While we do this we try to get a feel for that particular dealer as far as how often they want us to check in. We have some customers who we speak with several times a week and we have others who we speak with once every 10-12 months. The important thing is that we're available as much as needed.

All of these items above may not be possible for the typical bigger company. No matter how big of a company we are or how much bigger we get, we have made it our mission to maintain our small-company style of customer service. Maybe it stems from my own need to have everything done "right now", but from what our dealers tell us, other companies aren't able to provide the same level of service. For now I guess that's just one more thing to elevate us above the other website providers in the auto industry.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Cost vs. Value in Auto Dealer Websites

I've tried to post a couple of comments on a blog recently that were not approved/posted by the moderator. Perhaps they don't approve of my comments, or perhaps their blog is only being used to help with driving traffic to their business website and they aren't concerned with generating a dialogue. Since there are no comments from anyone on the entire blog I'd have to assume the latter, so I thought I'd speak my opinions here.

The blog I'm referring to may be authored by a competitor of ours on some level, but I'll be the first to admit, they do offer decent web solutions. The latest blog post that caught my eye was about car dealers in the Midwest not wanting to spend money on internet marketing. It's a good topic because it's typical of the dealerships we work with on the independent level. I happen to disagree with certain portions of the post however.

The author equates a website cost with the number of leads received. According to him, the more money a car dealer spends on a website the more leads they will receive.

I have to say I disagree most with their comment that "If you are not spending a minimum of $700 per month on your website, your website is probably not attracting the leads necessary to really be effective". They're assuming cost is correlated directly with value, which if you've taken a look at some of the other providers out there, is clearly not the case. Sure there are some companies that develop great sites for $700/month, and the author's company may be one of them, but there are others that are capable of generating the same amount of leads for the end user at a fraction of that cost. A website should match the dealers needs, and if they don't need a $700/month site, there are other options that may be equally as effective.

Unfortunately a lot of consumers (including car dealers) fall for the trick that more expensive means better product. A friend of mine just bought a brand new car. The identical car was at two dealerships, and they really were the same, even down to the colors/options. One dealer had the car listed higher than the other dealer. If you were buying a car that two dealers each had on the lot, and each one was identical, would you buy the higher priced car? Is it a better car somehow?

The point I want to make is that cost is not the same as value. Our company offers some of the cheapest rates available for car dealer websites. I feel our products are far better than any other company that charges similar rates, meaning we have a similar cost but a better value. As a dealer your focus should be on value. Without it, cost is nothing more than an arbitrary number.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Some Selling Problems Seem Worse on eBay Motors

A while back I did an experiment on Craigs List vs. Autotrader.com to see which fared better when selling economy vehicles. The experiment dragged on for about 6 months, so the vehicle was finally listed on eBay Motors to "wholesale" it. Six months of traditional online advertising with no sale, and then 7 days on eBay and it's gone. All good, right? Not necessarily.

The first problem with selling cars on eBay is that you shouldn't expect to get a high sale price unless it's a unique vehicle (classic, exotic, etc.). eBay says it themselves that their marketplace is intended to be a wholesale arena where dealers can sell cars that they would normally run back over the auction block. A dumping ground. That's what I used it for in my experiment so I didn't expect to make a lot of money on the sale. I say this is a problem because a lot of dealers expect to get retail price for their eBay units and it doesn't happen all the time. As long as you go into it knowing what to expect, it's really not a "problem" per se.

The main problem I've had on eBay is the buying customers. It's not too far off from the average customers walking onto a lot, but I do think it's a little worse. The vehicle I sold went for over $1000 below book price. I still made a little money on the deal, the buyer got a good price on the car, everyone was happy. Everyone was happy until a couple of days later, that is. The buyer of my vehicle flew in from about 5 hours away. I picked him up at the airport and drove him to where the car was located. He spent about an hour going over the vehicle inside and out and then was ready to make the deal. We took care of the paperwork, I got my money, and he drove the car 5 hours to his home.

A day or two later I received an email from the gentleman saying he wanted his money back plus travel/hotel expenses he paid to pick up the car. He said the car had been in an accident at some point even though the Carfax did not indicate this. Of course the Carfax does not guarantee that all accidents with a vehicle are reported and included on their reports. He said he bought the car for a 16-year-old nephew and the nephew didn't want a car that's been in an accident. The description I used when I listed the car on eBay Motors specifically said that according to carfax it had never been in an accident. I also made it clear that I was not the original owner of the car, so even though I did my best to accurately describe it, it was a used car and was being sold as-is.

It wasn't my fault for selling a car that has supposedly been in an accident. There are a lot of cars out there that have been, but it was never reported to anyone. Unless I took a much closer look at a few parts I wouldn't have been able to tell. It wasn't the buyer's fault for coming 5 hours to pick up a car that he thought was never in an accident. He did however purchase a vehicle "as-is" after inspecting it himself in person.

I got to thinking...would this situation be as bad if it wasn't an eBay buyer? The bottom line is that the buyer got a decent looking and running car for well below book value. He had the opportunity to check it out thoroughly (which he did) prior to purchase, and nobody forced him to purchase the vehicle. Would this same thing have happened on a walk-up customer? Personally I don't think so. I think a lot of shoppers on eBay are more picky than the average shopper. Part of it probably has to do with the reach of eBay. A lot of people aren't going to see a car in person because they shop outside their local area. Good for sellers, bad for buyers. No matter what you tell them, send them the photos of, etc., they still expect a new car when they arrive. I had the same thing happen years ago when I sold a '69 Mustang Mach 1. The buyer picked it up in person then called very upset the next day because he got it home and realized it didn't have disc brakes which he assumed it did. I don't know that there's anything that can be done in situations like these, but it's still one thing that I see selling cars on eBay more than on the other classified sites.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Can your SEO company answer these 10 questions?

SEO companies along with other Search Engine Marketing companies are becoming large in number. We recently spoke with one such company that had been trying to get one of our dealers to sign up with their company for SEO services. What we found out was that the company really didn't understand a lot of Search Engine Optimization.

SEOmoz.org just posted a good set of questions to understand if you really know how search engines work. If the people performing your SEO cannot answer these questions, you need to think about possibly changing companies. Most of these questions are pretty basic and any SEO person should be able to answer 90% of these questions off the top of their head. The Bonus question does require some thought.

Answer these Ten Questions Before You Charge for SEO Services from SEOmoz.org
What four search engines comprise 90%+ of all general (non site-specific) web search traffic?
Explain the concept - "the long tail of search."
Name the three most important elements in the head section of an HTML document that are employed by search engines.
How do search engines treat content inside an IFrame?
What resource and query can you use to determine which pages link to any page on SEOmoz.org and contain the words "monkey" and "turnip"?
What action does Google threaten against websites that sell links without the use of "nofollow"?
What is the difference between local link popularity and global link popularity?
Why is Alexa an inaccurate way to estimate the traffic to a given website?
Name four types of queries for which Google provides "instant answers" or "onebox results" ahead of the standard web results.
Describe why a flat site architecture is typically more advantageous for search engine rankings than a deep site architecture.
BONUS (Answer this one and I'll be very impressed): Name twelve unique metrics search engines are suspected to consider when weighting links and how each affects rankings positively or negatively.


I would suggest visiting SEOmoz.org and reading up on what the whole SEO and SEM game is about. The more knowledge you have as a customer will filter out the suspected 70% of bad companies out there. It seems like there are many folks out there trying to basically rip people off.

It looks like we will get the answers to the questions tomorrow.

Be sure to check out Search Marketing Education Has a Long Way to Go - 5 Examples from the Field on SEOmoz also. This is a great entry on how many of these SEO companies are not acting in the best interest of their clients. SEO is not some "trick" or black magic to fool the Search Engines. No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google, Yahoo, MSN or Ask. If a company gives you any guarantee, run to the next company, because the one making the guarantee is not going to be worth your time.