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Grading Automotive Website Providers

Disclaimer: I must preface this by saying it not intended to make any enemies or friends. This is not meant to hurt anyone’s business, call out how they perform for their clients, highlight weaknesses or put stock in one product over another. This was nothing more than a simple experiment.

I was out to dinner with my wife recently when I ran into an old college acquaintance. Very quickly I discovered that she works in our industry for a startup website provider. I tell her that I, too, work in the industry (not in the same category), but wondered what made her tool stand out above all others, to which she replied “We have the best SEO in the business.”

I chuckled out loud. I’ve heard this before. What secret sauce could one website provider have that the biggest and best providers do not? This is a constant uphill battle for dealers trying to differentiate one vendor from another. So I took it one step further. We at DealerKnows believe in practicing what you preach. If you have the best SEO in the industry, certainly your own website marketing efforts are up to par, correct?

I decided to run an analysis on many of the primary automotive website providers (culled from another forum’s vendor ratings page as well as a few industry mags I read) using Hubspot’s Marketing Grader tool. This is one of the very same tools that my good friends at PCG Consulting and PCG Digital Marketing use to evaluate potential clients’ websites. This tool measures elements of your website marketing such as 

• On-site/off-site SEO
• Indexed pages
• Inbound authoritative links
• Blogging frequency,
• Social media performance
• Analytics and more

Hubspot also puts on some of the best information-packed webinars about Internet operations in the world, so I figure their evaluation tools (while not perfect) would provide me more details about the prowess of these vendors’ websites than I could personally analyze myself.

By no means is this meant to sway your opinions of your current or potential website partners. DealerKnows doesn’t have any horse in this race, and, truthfully, don’t even have any specific knowledge or experience with a couple that made the Top Ten. Either way, we assembled a downloadable whitepaper that you can review to see how the different website companies very own sites stack up in comparison to their competitors when using a third-party tool, such as the Marketing Grader from Hubspot. Once again, we are not claiming this tool is the answer to all marketing prayers or has any relevance as to how well they market their own clients’ websites, but Hubspot’s Marketing Grader is utilized by some of the leading SEO providers in our industry, so it has some credence.

With that, I’d like to congratulate the TOP TEN !

• AutoRevo                     (Grade of 91)
• Dealer.com                  (Grade of 90)
• DealerFire                    (Grade of 88)
• Naked Lime                  (Grade of 87)
• LiquidMotors                 (Grade of 83)
• DriveDigitalGroup          (Grade of 82)
• VinSolutions                 (Grade of 81 – tie with eCarList)
• eCarList                       (Grade of 81 – tie with VinSolutions)
• DealerOn                     (Grade of 80 – tie with DealerImpact)
• DealerImpact                (Grade of 80 – tie with DealerOn)

By Hubspot’s standards, these providers have done a great job optimizing and marketing their own websites. Great job, everyone!

If you’d like to see how all other website vendors fared in the Hubspot ranking study, please visit our DealerKnows blog and download the complete whitepaper with the full list of grades. While there, please comment and let us know what you think about this experiment. Would you like to see other vendor categories compared?

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Tags: automotive, car, consulting, dealer, dealerknows, joe, providers, ranking, rating, training, More…vendor, webb, website, websites

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Comment by Tom Gorham on July 4, 2012 at 10:53am

Hey Joe, at eight years old, I was shining shoes at the local barber shop and hardly ever wore shoes myself, at least in the summer. (Wore those rubber thongs)  But I could spit-shine those old farmer's boots like a soldier. ;-)

Seriously, your advice is well-taken. I always look at how a company handles it's own site and SEO before I consider how they might handle ours. 

And Ralph, I am very much looking forward to the AWA awards at AutoCon2012!

Comment by Ralph Paglia on July 4, 2012 at 9:49am

I am a big fan (and user) of Hubspot and the tools they provide, however this is one of many tools that dealers should consider before choosing their own independent website provider (as in not OEM mandated). The AWA rankings are another tool to use in reviewing prospective website providers, as is simply speaking with dealers who have been using a company's sites for awhile.  Service levels are a big item to consider for dealership website providers.  Like Joe, I have also worked with dozens of companies who sell websites to dealers and the variance in their service levels and responsiveness are extreme.

Comment by Joe Webb on July 4, 2012 at 6:27am

Hello Tom,
That is a great question.  I definitely took this into consideration and it was one reason I mentioned on a couple of occasions that this study has nothing to do with how these providers perform for their dealer clients.  Since social and off-site (blogging especially) plays such a role in the marketing grade they achieve (which are often not offerings from many providers), it wouldn't be fair to assume they deliver the same good/subpar level of marketing for dealers.  
That being said, Hubspot's Marketing Grader IS just a more detailed version of their former tool, Website Grader, and both account for on-site SEO, metatags, keywords, alt-tags, and inbound links.  That most certainly is something every website provider is expected to handle for their clients, so I felt this tool would be the best to set a benchmark in that category.  In other words, how can a dealer have hope their own site will be well-optimized on-site if their provider doesn't even do it for themselves?
Since consulting, I've seen some of the worst websites.  I trained a 5-store group a few years ago that had websites created by a company that doesn't even have their own website.  It's like paying for a professional shoe-shine from someone who has never owned or worn shoes before.
For that reason, I know on-site SEO considerations wouldn't change these standings as Hubspot takes them into consideration, and the Grading experiment was done more in an effort to see if these vendors practice what they preach.

Comment by Tom Gorham on July 3, 2012 at 9:32pm

Joe, I like Hubspot.  However I have a question.  If you don't expect or even want your web provider to do off-site SEO or Social Media and Blogging for you, how would this list change? 

Some providers want to do it all, but you may want to segment those responsibilities either to yourself or to other professionals.  I tend to judge a website provider by the website and onsite SEO and indexing more than those other things.  Would that change these standings?

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