3 Tips for Building a Better Dealer Website

Updated July 30, 2020

In the increasingly competitive car dealership industry, brand loyalty is more important than ever. It’s also harder than ever to build. Cutting through the noise requires clarity of message and focus on the customer experience.

For dealerships, brand loyalty starts with their website.

OEMs are clamping down on individuality in their franchises, which makes standing out more difficult. On top of that, OEMs and 3rd party lead providers are also trying to build brand loyalty. Throw in the digital prowess of online-only dealerships like Carvana, and the prospects of building brand loyalty seem bleak.

But all is not lost. Dealerships around the country are punching back by building strategies that help them grow profits, improve turn, and win lifetime customers. 

A dealer’s website is their first impression with a potential customer, so that’s where our brand loyalty journey begins. In this article, we’ll share three important tips on building a dealership website that drives sales and promotes customer loyalty.

The Purpose of Every Dealer Website

Dealer websites have one job and one job only: Get customers to the dealership.

Today’s car buyer spends over 60% of shopping time online and visits an average of only 1.2 dealerships before purchasing. If your website doesn’t convince a buyer to visit your dealership, you have lost a deal, and potentially a lifetime customer.

The problem is, most dealership websites try to do too much. Instead of focusing on the customer, they try to sell services, share their life story, and push vehicles the customers aren’t interested in.

Overwhelmed by this site? You're not alone
Overwhelmed by this website? You’re not alone

The result is a chaotic website that’s hard to read and navigate. The customer doesn’t know what to do, so they leave your site and go on to the next one.

The best dealership websites – those that effectively drive customers to the dealership – show customers only the information they need to know. Everything else is a distraction.

 

Improving Your Website in 3 Steps

Which brings us to the three elements that matter most for your website:

  1. Value Propositions
  2. Testimonials / Social Proof
  3. Features that Drive Sales

By focusing on these three elements, you can cut out the junk that distracts customers and turns them off. Let’s look at each more closely.

Tip #1: Clearly State Value Proposition

The most important element of every dealership website is a clearly-stated value proposition. When a customer first looks at your website, they have one question on their mind:

What do you do?

Most dealerships are good at displaying the makes and models they sell. Inventory is important, but dealerships do more than just sell cars. Customers also want to know what type of customer experience you offer.

This is where it’s important to identify a niche in your market. Which type of customer do you serve? Do they value safety over luxury, warranties over short-term savings, or service over everything else? Whatever customer niche you serve, be sure to make it known right away.

“If you can’t communicate quickly, your competitor will.”

Oli Gardner is a master of building great websites. As co-founder of Unbounce, Oli spends his days thinking about – and testing – how websites can convert more users into customers.

Oli was recently on the Dealers Compressed Podcast with Paul J. Daly to discuss dealership websites and the importance of the value proposition:

“If you can’t communicate [your value proposition] quickly, your competitor will.”

Oli says you have less than 5 seconds to make your value proposition clear to visitors. If you don’t, they will move on to the next site.

Create a Powerful Website Header

The best way to answer the question, “What do you do?” is to utilize your website header. The header is the large title at the top of the homepage. It’s often the first thing a visitor sees when entering your site.

Strangely, many dealership websites waste the header on a generic message like, “Welcome to ABC Auto” or worse, use it to display an ad for financing. You haven’t even gone on a first date with the customer, and now you’re trying to talk about money? Slow down, Romeo.

Why would you discuss financing when you haven't even convinced the customer to come in for a visit?
Why would you discuss financing when you haven’t even convinced the customer to come in for a visit?

Dealers should use their website header to clearly communicate their value proposition. For example, below is the homepage of a dealership we’ll call Awesome Auto Sales:

good dealership homepage
This dealership’s homepage is clean and clearly display’s the dealer’s value proposition

Notice anything different? First, there is much less junk on the page. It is simple, even pleasant to view.

Second, their header speaks clearly to a specific type of customer: the customer who values service over everything else.

By saying, “Family Owned for 35 Years. 5 Minute Approvals,” Awesome Auto Sales is promising a fast, friendly experience. They don’t promise the best deals or most options; simply that they’ll take care of you.

Your value proposition is a signal to your target customers that they are in the right place.  Remove clutter from the homepage so your most important message stands out.

Tip #2: Testimonials / Social Proof

Let’s say you successfully answer the “What do you do?” question and have caught the visitor’s attention. Now what?

Customers, ever skeptical of scams and bad companies, want to know that you actually do what you say you do. In other words, they want to see proof that you’ve made customers like them happy in the past.

Testimonials are the best way to share this proof. Every dealership should include a few testimonials on their website. For even more social proof, some dealers share how many reviews they have:

Testimonials are the best way to build social proof with potential customers
Testimonials are the best way to build social proof with potential customers

Keep Testimonials Believable

However, there are some conditions to sharing reviews. All testimonials should be:

  1. Honest
  2. Authentic (i.e. REAL)
  3. Not over the top
  4. Relatable

Nothing kills a reputation faster than fake, exaggerated, or unrealistic reviews. When you ask customers for reviews, it’s helpful to use leading questions to generate an authentic, believable answer.

Our friend Oli Gardner has reversed engineered the perfect testimonial and put it in the form of an interview. The idea is to ask these questions to a customer and record their testimonial. I’ll modify it to make more sense for dealers:

  1. Which things have changed in your life since buying a vehicle/service from us?
  2. How have they changed?
  3. Can you describe the feeling of that change?
  4. If you were to quantify that change, what metrics have changed, and by how much?
  5. Do you have any examples of before and after in the form of photos?
  6. Would you be willing to record a video testimonial?
  7. May I have a photo of you or whoever uses a product/service?
  8. Can I share your name and city with your testimonial?

Not all testimonials have to come through an interview like this. Many dealers simply send a link to their Google page and ask customers to leave a review. Most reviews are naturally authentic and honest.

Tip #3: Include Features that Drive Sales

Now that you’ve captured a potential customer’s interest, you can work on converting them into a dealership visitor.

However, some sites make that next step extremely difficult. How do they search for inventory? How do they contact you? You can bet that if a customer is asking these questions, they’re probably already heading to another dealership’s site.

Dealers need to give website visitors a clear path through their website. Here are three ways to do just that:

Call-to-Action Buttons (The Fewer, the Better)

Your dealership website needs a clear call to action: What do you want visitors to do?

Let’s look at an example from earlier in the article. As a website visitor, do you know what to click on first?

 

bad dealership website with Too many calls to action
Too many calls to action

There are at least 10 different action buttons on this website, and that’s before they scroll below the fold. When it comes to CTA, clarity is king. Decide the action you want visitors to take and make it easy for them to take it.

Make Search Easy

Inventory search is one of the most popular actions on a dealer website. Following our rule about a clear CTA, dealers should make search as simple and straightforward as possible.

Let’s compare the search function on two different websites. The first website’s search function has eight sections, three drop-down menus, and five (5!) buttons.

This search feature has 5 buttons and three dropdowns. Plus the "Search" button is not where you'd expect.
This search feature has 5 buttons and three drop-downs. Plus the “Search” button is not where you’d expect.

Notice the placement of the buttons. The button below the category search feature isn’t “Search Inventory”, but “Schedule Service”. We’ll never know how many customers accidentally hit that button while trying to search inventory, but we can be sure they aren’t happy about it.

Now let’s look at the Awesome Auto Sales’ website again:

good car search feature (1)
Awesome Auto Sales makes it clear how they want website visitors to search: By price

Instead of giving visitors eight different ways to search for a vehicle, they give them one: Search by price. They encourage a single path through the website, making it easier for customers to navigate.

Descriptive Vehicle Listings 

Consider this scenario: a customer in your area is actively searching for a specific car. They’ve done their research and learned that both you and your competitor across town have it in stock at a similar price. How do they decide which dealership to buy from?

This is where the information in your vehicle listings can make or break a potential sale. Default descriptions don’t do your inventory justice and will likely fail to grab a buyer’s attention. Including unique superlatives and valuable features in your vehicle listings is the key to making your inventory stand out. 

Make sure to go beyond a vehicle’s basic features and mention things like low-mileage, leather seats, and maintenance options. Include high-quality photos and create custom descriptions that engage buyers. The more information you include, the more likely it is that a customer will want to come see it in person. 

Bonus Tip: Optimize for Mobile

While the majority of online car shoppers still search from their desktop, the number of customers shopping from their phone is growing rapidly. In fact, 59% of shoppers now search for vehicles directly from their smartphone.

These savvy customers will likely be familiar with sites like Carvana and Vroom. Platforms like these deliver a seamless mobile experience that allow buyers to easily search, compare, and purchase cars through their website or app. If your dealership website doesn’t deliver a similar experience, buyers won’t stick around your site for very long.  

Make sure your dealer website is optimized for mobileFortunately, the tips we went over above also apply when optimizing your site for mobile use. It should be easy to navigate, display clear value propositions, include testimonials, and make searching for inventory easy. Mobile-specific features like geo-location and a “call now” button can also help provide customers with a more streamlined car-buying experience. 

Dealership Websites: Optimizing for Clarity

Most dealership websites are horrifically bad. They are messy, chaotic, and (somehow) generic at the same time. After hours of research, car buyers can’t tell one website from another. Except…

Except when they come across a website that is clear, trustworthy, and easy to navigate. Those are the dealers who stand out from the noise, and those are the dealers that earn lifetime customers.

But redesigning your dealership’s website can be intimidating. After all, most (if not all) dealership owners don’t have much of a background in web design. That’s where VinCue can help.

VinCue helps dealers build professional, world-class websites with 100% customizable templates. Owners can use VinCue to create a mobile-friendly and attractive dealership page that leaves a strong first impression, helps convert visitors, and results in more leads.  

Brand loyalty starts with your dealership’s website. If you promise an excellent car-buying experience, make sure your website provides an excellent experience, too. Once you’ve earned that loyalty, the benefits are incalculable.

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