Dealers are all looking for competive advantage and having something 'unique' results in custom bespoke designs which generally have a price tag to match. That said the majority of sites whether custom or templated need to have the basics in place. Detailed descriptions, good imagery, clear methods of communication and most importantly any site needs to return the user a worthwhile experience for visting in the first place. It never fails to amaze me how dealers want the very latest 'add on feature' yet fail to address the basics when it comes to describing or presenting their main product, the car!
Templated sites will also have included a considerable number of SEO pages that in the custom site will have to be planned and built in.
Dan - You are truely right on that. Taking full advantage of SEO you would want to go Custom. Custom Website Design you have more flexibility for your site to be built from the ground up to represent your dealership / community & brand you are selling online.
Custom Wesbite design also provides the SEO on every single page too.
Templated Website Design is built on a platform and the unfortunate part is no proper optimization can be fully applied to a templated site.
Yes templated design it is a cheap way but the results are cheap too.
I have personally designed, created, purchased, managed, sold, built and destroyed hundreds of various types of dealership websites, microsites, landing pages and portals... Rather than choose between a template and a totally custom site, I have found that using a website platform that provides the maximum amount of customization capabilities, but starting off by selecting from dozens of templates that originate from other dealer's custom designs gives you a head start. After all, what is a custom design for a dealership on November 1, 2008 is often part of the catalog of templated designs to choose from on December 1, 2008! The key is to make sure that as a digital marketing professional working in a dealership that you have a supplier, or multiple suppliers, that provide you with access to a Content Management System (CMS) so you can change page titles, meta descriptions and actual site content and publish at will... It is always somewhat frustrating to be calling/emailing a supplier's support team every time you want to make a change. Having photo and video libraries that you can populate is very useful and being able to create completely new pages for ad campaigns, hook up domain names to them, provides you with a degree of flexibility without additional cost which allows you to develop a grow-your-own lead strategy.
I think Ralph really hit the nail on the head here.
The main thing I look for is a great front page, and then leave the rest up to me. Our current provider (as of this date) has a platform dating back to, oh, 1999. So it is all framed pages. And so for the last few years I have spent most of my time essentially putting lipstick on a pig! It took a threat of instant death for them to come up with a way for me to use their backend tool so that I could create additional content pages. And THEN switching many of the latent content pages on their server to MY URL!!! Can you belive that?!?!? Imagine the brain damage my SEO initiatives went through getting all of that handled??
As a group, we decided to make a switch two days ago, and I am so greatful for that! Soon, I will have the right platform, a cool home page that we designed together, and complete control of every page!! Yippy!!!!
Content is king! The more a dealer adds in exceptional and unique content, the more engagement they will be able to achieve with site visitors... Engagement is what drives showroom traffic, phone calls and a lead forms. In my opinion, the best web sites have more impact on showroom traffic than lead volume of phone calls, but I know that is against what every body else looks at. I have experienced crowded showrooms as a result of various web sites and microsites, and it is very powerful, results in a lot of car sales. Another opinion I have that many will disagree with, is that the content on the site is more the dealer's responsibility than the supplier's... Every dealership I have worked in, we took control of all the web site content, and the results were better than relying on a supplier to take ownership.
If a dealership's web site is an extension of the store's showroom, than who should own the content that is dsiplayed? The dealer or the supplier? Do you let the construction contractor that built your dealership control how the showroom is used, or the cars that are displayed on the showroom floor? I think not! So, why would a dealer leave it up to a supplier to control the look, feel and content on their home page?
It's all about caring enough to put forth the effort to either use your site's CMS or send content to the supplier... Photos, videos, interviews, stories, road tests, employee profiles, testimonial letters and emails, photos of tricked out vehicles, MP3's, etc. all of this stuff makes the site stand out from the competition and drives visitor to showroom, phone and lead form conversion!
Digital Marketing strategy must still solve for the following deliverables, just like it needed 10 years ago when Tom Malone from Koons.com taught this to me:
1. TRAFFIC - How will you get the most site visitors per dollar spent?
2. INTERACTIVE - How will your web sites engage those visitors and convert them into OTDB?
3. PROCESS - How will you use people and technology to convert OTDB into Showroom action?
4. SALES - How will you handle showroom visitors that originated on your site to make sales?
None of these basic building blocks have become obsolete, but if all 4 are not solved, then cars are not sold... PERIOD!
I have had the luxury of having both. Building a Website from scratch myself and managing the SEO, as well as going through several different Companies for their Cookie Cutter template websites. What I have found in the last month especially odd is, the SEO for the Company Built site ( Which they claimed to be Masters at ) was horrific. It took me calling, adding many, many, many, many.. did I say many? Keywords and SEO to get us to the 1st page on any of the search engines. What they had provided for us, put us five to six pages deep. Kind of blew my mind. It didn't take a whiz kid to figure out why our site was generating only 6-24 leads a month. YOU COULD NOT FIND US!!! Even under typing the brand followed by Dealer and the City we were in. We were three pages deep! Now I am not usually an advocate for do everything yourself. Simply because who really has the time?
But I poured myself into fixing the lack of SEO and Keywords to our website.. and in a matter of a week, we where first page for every model we carry and much, much, more.
So in short, it totally depends on who is building the site for you. Who ever it is, whether it is Custom or Template, is it effective? Does it drive traffic? Does it generate leads? We all know what Customers want now a days from a Website. Interactivity, Clean Pictures, Valuable Content.. but are they really generating the business they boast when you sign on? To me that is a huge key. Our Website is being built by one of the biggest names in the business and when I signed on I was excited to see what they brought to the table. I got the wind knocked out of my sails real quick.
So just keep that in mind. If you are looking at a Website either way.. it may take you helping that Site Builder as well, to get the maximum out of it. Give your site about a month to crawl the search engines, to see where you are going to end up. If you don't like the results, contact them and work with them to fix it!
VERY shortsighted... Saying a dealer's primary website is ONLY about leads is the same as the ISM who wants his name in 72 point font on every page!
The really great dealer websites drive showroom traffic, service drive and parts department traffic and phone calls to sales, service and parts... And, oh, by the way, you'll get a bunch of leads as a side effect of producing the above!
You would have to be living under a rock not to notice that for the past 5 years, out of every 100 customers who bought a car after visiting a dealer's website, from that dealership, only 19 to 21 contacted the dealership in any way, lead form, phone call or otherwise, before physically visiting the dealership... And, those that did contact the dealership???? The vast majority used the phone and did not fill out a lead form... Some did both, about 3%.
The bottom line is that it is the MINORITY of car buyers that will fill out any form on a dealer's web site before they actually visit the dealership in person based on something they liked on the site...
Do I study and work on increasing visitor to web form and phone call conversion rates? Of course I do, it's my job, silly rabbit! Having studied this stuff since 1995 and practicing what i preach daily since before then, I can tell you that when you increase a dealership website's conversion rate, you usually impact the site's impact on showroom traffic and phone calls a lot more than the number of lead forms completed...
Lead forms are like a sample survey that only 1 out of 5 people will ever complete, at best...
LOL if thats not right, then I don't know what is. It truly is something you have to look at daily, if you want to get the results, maintain the results, or get the results to change. I just changed Dealerships and when I started at my last Dealership.. our site was only generating 50-60 leads a month. By the time I left, I had pushed, pulled, changed, added, and got us to receiving 500-600 leads. Not the usual result from a Dealer Website. But it just goes to show, that when you pay attention to every little detail, you will grow..
The store I am at now was generating 6-12 leads a month. OUCH!!! This month we have surpassed that already, didn't take too much, but I am hoping to get it to start pulling at least 100-150 in the next couple of months. Baby steps. Then more and more as we get to the busier months.
A lot actually. For example. Here at my current Dealership I have added a Blog through WORD PRESS. The absolute king of Blogs, cannot beat how fast and high in Search Engines your articles show up, Building Micro-sites that point back to us, KEY WORD selection and addition to our website here took us from nowhere to front page - Top 4 for every model we carry, Specials Pages ( keep them current, keep them packed with vehicles that appeal ) not just old age units.
Constantly changing pages that do not work. I added or had Pages added through our Web Designers for things like " Green Vehicles at ABC Motors ".. things that were hot at the time, I would add a quick little page, with the SEO to match, to see what would happen. Some would draw good, others would do nothing.
I plastered us all over the Web. Go to MSN, YAHOO, all the Search Engines you can think of and sign up on their local business pages for free. I put our name everywhere I could for free. We have a Facebook, an MSN Space, a Myspace, Blog, YOUTUBE, any Social networking site that you can.. is a good place to put up a page about you.
Keep checking your rankings and if you drop, add content to outrank the rest.
These are just a few of the things that I did, but were a tremendous help.
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