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After interviewing several web providers and being consistantly bombarded with new and upcoming designers/providers. I would like to hear from as many in the business as possible on whom you would most likely choose if you could only have one full service site and most importantly, Why?

As we are all aware, there will always be the next, latest, greatest thing. In the past 6 months I have interviewed, Reynolds, BZ, TK, Dealer.com, Chrome and others. All of whom have the best of the best. Here's our chance to hear from our peers whom and a particular company or group may really be one of the many to consider.

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Hi Andy,

Boy do I relate to that! The fact is that each of them seem to prioritize a different strength. BZ focuses on SEM - at a premium, Dealer Skins on ergonomics that facilitate conversion opportunities, Cobalt on back end analytics and their managed "Pro-Care" SEM and SEO support, Reynolds & Reynolds with their easy dealership management services and varied "integrated" applications to their CRM and DMS - no one seems to offer it all!

Maybe that is the point, and the opportunity for future improvements by the providers. For now, I try to fit the site to match the staff, resources and personality of the client. Investing in an integrated SEO or SEM plan to drive traffic to a site for a client that doesn't have the staff and processes to man the site is a waste of money - so BZ REsults won't work for them. Compicated sites that are not dealership friendly confuse customers as well as the dealership's staff so for these dealers I stick with the simple designs offered by Dealer Skins or the dealer friendly back end provided by Reynolds.

Is their one size fit's all answer out here? In my opinion, not yet but the market is ripe for the first one to do it.

For now, I just suggest that you study the dealerships resources and make sure that the site fits into their existing selling processes and personality. Not an easy task or simple answer, but that's what they pay us consultants the big bucks for!
BZ has great eye candy on their websites, but unless a dealer really knows what to look for, their basic website is not as user-friendly for the customer, in my humble opinion. BZ legitimately has SEM/SEO ninjas working for them, and has nice Virtual Test Drives, and measurable metrics to track time on/in/within the site, as well as real car guys handling the training.
Having said all of that, I agree with Philip Z that too many dealers "jump" into that "investment" and get little ROI largley due to inadequate staff, lack of understanding of the commitment of a "dedicated" vs "designated" Internet Dept,
etc etc. To me, although pushing the leads to one's website does in fact generate the highest closing percentages, it is all for naught when the processes are not in place, or in place on paper only.
I would much rather have a more basic user-friendly site, with a strong-as-rope process to handle the leads, and build on it from there. Many many stores have nice websites, only to visit the stores and see a train wreck for any kind of process. SEO and going dot.com crazy within a dealership (posting your URLs on anything customer-facing), are relatively inexpensvie ways to help build awareness.
Always remember - crawl, walk, then run.
As to whom I would choose? I would say that largely depends on how much "investment" and true dealer commitment you are willing to make toward the process. Just getting started, I would be fine with the OEM site, as long as you promote it and customize it as much as possible. Buy mis-typed URLs to redirect to your site.
If you are a GM dealer, you more than likely get a very reasonable Cobalt-provided website, and GM subsidizes to some extent, both the cost of it, maintenance, and some training. And, dealers must have Cobalt to get GM leads, so again, ask yourself, if you have one provided to you, are you wanting one "just because"? Clearly, the site is important, just not the MOST important. People and Process are numbers 1 and 2.
Again. not trying to dodge the question...it is just that it is not a simple answer. Your own "budget" and month-to-month vs unbreakable multi-year contracts from the vendors are important considerations. Do they provide on-site or virtual training (initially, I believe on-site is a must)? How do these costs for quarterly or monthly training compare?
Have you talked to your dealer peers - those of like-kind staff/size? A good website provider that focuses too much on the site and the tools, without asking you probing questions about your current process, your goals, commitment, etc, in the beginning is more of a product-pusher vs a consultant/partner.
And one critical mistake that dealers make when the site is set up, is to not "test drive" the site, so they can make the website provider make appropriate changes. Think like a customer. How easy is it to get what you are looking for? Too many clicks lead to frustration and quick exits. Do you have your staff listed with contact info? I hate seeing form-fills for when I am trying to contact a specific department etc. Any eye candy? Site too busy? Too slow download times? Accurate information? Links to most-used 3rd party sites that still keep them within your current site (no click-outs)?
I know I am preaching to the choir, especially on this site, but I or several other people on here could take just about any provider's sites, maximize their potential, and as long as we have the right people and processes consistently followed, would perform as well, cost-agnostic.
Thanks Wayne

With two replies you can already see the difficulty. The truth is that there is no magic bullet and if hiring a web team was all it took.........NONE of us would be here. The one thing anyone that reads this forum should pay the closest attention to is your most profound statement. People and Process. With the right process almost anyone can close leads and vice versa. Both are essential for an outstanding success.
Ok... This is where I weigh in and will probably irritate a few people. Those that have known me for any length of time will know that I don't theorize without experimentation. I personally believe that what has been written so far is true... People are the essence of success in any dealership and a web site provider or providers will all fail to generate any business for a dealer without the myriad of people and processes that must be put into effect... HOWEVER, I believe it is just plain ridiculous for a dealer to have one web site or one web site provider. At Courtesy Chevrolet I built a sales juggernaut that was support by over a dozen different web sites from BZ Results, The Cobalt Group, Reynolds Web Solutions, Fresh Start Studio, Network Solutions, 1and1 and a few other minor players. Web sites, when the purchase is negotiated properly are the cheapest form of advertising from any perspective you look at them, that is available today. Why any GM dealer would pass on The Cobalt Group's GM PowerShift web site for $375 a month is beyond me... And, now they are free! Of course, the conversion rate of Cobalt web sites from a visitor to leads generated perspective is horrible, but take a look at www.SDCourtesyChevrolet.com to see an example of a GM dealer using high end Flash based content from BZ Results, injected inside his Cobalt web site to improve the conversion rates. That same store also has AutoFuse (ADP) microsites such as www.CACorvetteKing.com to dive additional organic traffic and be the landing point for their online ads for Corvettes. Meanwhile, the store banks on the primary site at www.CourtesySanDiego.com which is painted in giant letters on the side of their building facing Interstate 8 and over 100,000 vehicles a day. After getting control of the dealership last April, the GM (Chad Hubler) has used digital marketing centered around multiple web sites from multiple vendors, along with hiring Alvin Newton away from Bob Baker, to double the store's sales and go from losing money every month to making money for the first time in over 3 years. Yes, call me a heretic, but I recommend that dealers use 15% of their total advertising budget to buy, set up and launch multiple web sites, as many as possible, from multiple vendors with each site targeting different customer segments, different products and different services... here are a baker's dozen examples from a single-point franchise Chevy dealership:

1. http://www.Chevy-Tahoe.com
2. http://www.Chevy-Malibu.com
3. http://www.PhoenixAutoFinance.com
4. http://www.ChevyPriceQuote.com
5. http://www.BuyACarGetACruise.com
6. http://www.Chevrolet-USA.com
7. http://www.CourtesyOnBell.com
8. http://www.LatinoChevy.com
9. http://www.Phoenix-Courtesy-Chevrolet.com
10: http://www.Chevrolet.tv
11. http://www.CourtesyChevrolet.us
12. http://www.Tucson-Chevrolet.com
13. http://www.Phoenix-Chevrolet-Dealers.com

All together, for less than $6,000 a month this dealership looks like a dozen dealers online, and gets the leads that a dozen dealers would normally get.
Amen! The old rules for conventional advertising still apply to the internet. Reach and frequency of a common message - like to buy from your dealership - combined with gross impressions on multiple platforms will drive traffic the same way that the use of multiple radio and/or TV stations is more effective than just one. The cross-over audience needs to be kept to a minimum to avoid duplication but different strokes for different folks requires a variety of venues to reach them all!

Sharing impressions generated by a communal factory portal - website - doesn't develop dealer identity - only product identity - and that won't develop any retention of message or recognition for the selling dealer; assuming that is you of course! More is better - as long as you track performance and establish a minimum ROI from each to weed out the week links and shift the focus on the strong ones.
Ralph, there is not one thing I would disagree with you about in your reply. You are a rarity, though, in that you early on, largley based on your previous experience and credibility, you were able to get the blessing of the DPs to dedicate part of their advertising budget to this. And that is therefore the challenge, and my reply focuses on one site first, then you can build microsites and the like.

And yes, it still amazes me that dealers don't take advantage of what GM gives them for free; much like Ford, who helped dealers in what may not have been the best websites and Lead Mgmt tool, yet still many stores let this site lay to waste, and/or created their "own" website too, put together half-a**ed, etc.

To say again...I am in 100% agreement with everything you laid out. The challenge is to get the dealer to make the change, after they see the need and see the change...

Many "old car dogs" still reside in key dealership positions, as we both know, an dto this day I still run into dealerships running archaic technology, if any of substance at all, and the same old tired ways of handling/dismissing the Internet leads.

I have seen many at-the-time successful BDCs that are now nonexistent due to dealer cutbacks etc. If we can just get the dang basics in place, the rest of the master plan is waiting. Problem is, forward-looking dealerships like your former one are few and far between.

My friend, I have used your shining example in store after store over the years. And I continue to use you (pardon the terminology) as a very valued resource. So please do not take my comments as any slap against your methods. They are clearly proven ones. We just have an ongoing struggle to get to first base.
That is what I was looking for. And somehow I knew it would probably come from a source of irrefutable reference. I believe every word and am slowly trying to accomplish exactly the synopsis given.

How ever, to my shegrin, I believe I have mislead everyone so far with the question. The hope was for as many hands on operators as possible would answer the question. In the end I hope that we will see a forway of us providing informaiton on as many different providers as possible. Taking the positives and negatives may open your eyes as
to whom to look into and more importantly, who not to look at. I have only had the opportunity to work to Ford's Dealerconnection web sites, No SEM, all SEO funds are spent on sending the customer to Ford, Forddirect or Fordvehicles.com. No control, hard to work with, extremely limited back end usage and on and on. Our main site is a Reynolds site, Premium at one store and standard at the other. No difference really we just pay more for one than the other. Any SEO we have to ourselves. Specials have to be done in house and there's no such thing as Flash. What we do have I have had to do on my own and I'm no where near a novice let alone a pro. Now to make things worse, the company that we ran from, now owns Reynolds and we're under contract. So... this time I have been very apprehensive, quisical and even distrusting. Ok I'm rambling so I'll quit.

In the end I hope that the next person in my shoes can read Ralph and hopefully 50 other peoples suggestions and make some good decisions based on those who reply here with good, solid, experienced information. Thanks Ralph for saying pretty much what I already knew you would say. As always, the best of info.
You guys all rock! Imagine if we could all work together to create a string of Digital Marketing Godzilla dealerships... I can hear the Blue Oyster Cult song playing in the background as our theme to the soundtrack of the movie... LOL.

I will be in Detroit all week working on this type of stuff to try and help those guys push some more metal... See Ya!
We are using cobalt at our VW store and ADP at our BMW store....however, my choice is dealerskins. I like the fact at all websites are designed different, and custom built to your needs. The BZ sites are nice, but I personally feel that they are a little too much and they seem to lose their "zing" with all the technicality.

By the way, ADP is simple and user friendly.
In the decision making process, the culture of the dealership has to change with the DP and trickle down the ladder. If the DP does not embrace change, it wouldn't matter what website provider you use.

Consider a few basics when deciding. According to 2007 JD Power statistics, AIU's (automotive internet user) will go to 4 or 5 websites before ever selecting where to shop. The customization of the home page will set you apart by showing the AIU what you offer, what makes you different ,or what makes you competitive. Choosing such template sites limits your editability from the Dealer's perspective but also makes you look like everyone else. According to Yahoo! the dealership has 1/100th of a second to offer a favorable look and feel to the AIU so, again, back to customizaion. Why should they buy from your store? In addition, flash has come a long way. Sites built in complete flash have a slightly longer load time. According to Yahoo!, AIU's will move on if it takes longer than 4 seconds to load. This is why a site built in HTML with some flash components is the most effective. Less load time, tremendous overall appeal, one click navigation...all of these things create higher conversion rates and better than average page views per visitor. If people are on your site and have visited 8 pages or more, they are calling you and not submitting an email. Be sure to track the calls coming from your site. Autotrader.com tells us people are calling 5 time to 1 email lead submission.

AIU's have evolved from propeller hat wearing geeks to today's common buyer using your site for research. Almost 90% of people walking on your showroom have been online researching their vehicle. Something else to consider, offer as much or more information on your dealership site so they never have to go to the OEM where you could lose the dealer in the process.
Ya, talk about answers all over the board... had to weigh in quickly... I think it's silly to use a ton of different providers if certain ones are proven to convert better, SEO better, and have better service... Why would you use one that was subpar just for variety? It's all about numbers, we don't have to go off of a warm and fuzzy if we do research and don't just listen to their sales pitches and get glassy eyed over flash which hurts SEO. Flash, good for spicing up, BAD for the total site, what's the point of having a beautiful home that nobody can find? And it's still advertising, so quit thinking it's a research library to "help the customer", it's a retail storefront to GENERATE LEADS by phone, email and walkin by providing enough information easily to get them to want to know more...

Reynolds is probably the best site architecture still, though you have to "help" them lots to get conversions up and their support has slipped Post-Bob (watch your contracts!)... Izmo's new sites SEO way better but I promise you their Indian Support will WEAR you out, trust me, lol... Dealer.com I like too, good stuff across the board and easiest backend tool I have played with, but they do seem to be struggling to keep up w/ their growth, so support and innovation seems to be lagging?? Cobalt is terrible across the board (sorry friends over there!), need a total overhaul... BZ and TK are WAY too much flash... ADP, cheap sites, conversion numbers don't look good that I saw, maybe improving, but not the best so why do it???

On all sites to get conversion I use "site amplifiers" that are worth every penny you spend on top of your basic site! Trade Appraisals (i like KBB's conversions and price), Pop-up from Crim is no brainer, Last Man Standing from www.laserstreamvideo.com is a no brainer, Interactive Credit Ap increases conversion AND they are secure which most forms aren't!! Silly to get sites and not do what it takes to make them perform when you drive traffic to them!

Then Just get your SEO dialed, and use SEM and exterior traffic drivers (LOVING the KBB banners right now, great ROI) and you are rocking... and don't forget it takes a few months, so don't jump around, stick w/ the right plan.

PS... Watch for new sites from Stuart Lloyd soon (of Clickmotive infamy) that are coming out, but watch the numbers not the lips! :)

Ya, we have done LOTS of research on this too, and there are real numbers out there to look at rather than just opinions...
Jonah,

Although I disagree with your comments regarding multiple vendors, I respect your opinion and that is exactly why we have discussion threads... I have personally used multiple web site vendors quite effectively for a variety of reasons. One of my primary concerns is prospect segmentation, and when you look at several good vendors you will often find that some of them simply work better for certain customer segments than others... for example, take the growing Latino community. They have different needs and expectations than, say, protestant Anglos from Connecticut. That why I like using Reynolds for Spanish sites... Because they are really good at Latino targeted Spanish language sites. Then there is the all to large segment of the car buying population with dinged up credit reports... I have had really good luck with the DealerCentric site for that purpose... Then there is the "MySpace" crowd with broadband access and a taste for eye candy... They want video, virtual test drives, customer testimonials and more... I have seen the metrics on a monthly basis that shows the BZ Results sites can be used to get high lead and phone conversions from that segment. Then you have the online "Prosumer" who I personally believe and have seen the numbers show, that they like a secured space to log into, such as the "My Account" eature in the old Autofuse sites which are now ADP Dynamic Websites... Again, I respect your opinion, but web sites are pretty darned cheap relative to other advertising and the ROI they can produce when managed properly. I also like more than one outdoor billboard in a metro area, different radio commercials on different radio stations, I like to have very specific ads placed on different categories of web sites, TV commercials that are different depending on the station and programming they appear on, etc. So... some dealerships will have 1 web site and other dealerships will have dozens... Who do you REALLY believe will end up selling more cars?

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