You’ve had a website up and running for your dealership for a while now. You know people are going to it because clients mention it to you and you’re getting e-mails as a result of it. But, now you have some other questions such as, “How are people finding it?” or better yet, “Why aren’t we selling more cars from it?”
Like all other forms of advertising, it’s important for every business to have an idea of how effective the website is. When you pay for advertising you expect a return on your investment. The Internet has been touted as the most accurately measurable form of advertising and it all starts with server logs. If you do not know what server logs are, ask your webmaster or the person in charge of hosting your site. If they do not know what server logs are find a new webmaster. Server logs are traffic reports generated on your website’s server. They should tell you everything you need to know about the traffic getting to your website. They are more than just the counter at the bottom of the home page tracking the number of visitors. These server logs will tell you how many visitors are coming, when they are coming, how they are getting to your site and much more.
JTZ Enterprise provides seven different types of server logs to our website clients. The first thing we point out about them is there is a difference between Hits and Visitors. We have all heard it said, “My site had 60,000 hits last month!” That does not mean the site had 60,000 visitors. If your website’s home page has 10 graphic images or photos on it, every time one visitor goes to that page they generate 11 hits; one for the page file (the programming that puts the page together) and one hit for each image that is loaded on the screen. If that visitor then clicks on your inventory page and it has thumbnail images of all twenty vehicles you have in stock then that will cause 21 hits; one for the page file and one for each photo. This one visitor has been to two pages and already created 32 hits. You want an increase in visitors, not necessarily hits.
The next thing our logs will tell you is how many people are repeat visitors. If your website’s content is helpful and up to date, people will come back again and again. The first time a visitor comes to one of our sites we embed a file on their computer called a cookie. Every time a visitor comes to one of our sites we look for that file or cookie. If we find it on the visitor’s computer then we know they are returning for a repeat visit. We have many car dealers that are better at updating their inventory and regularly reviewing and updating their site. Those dealers always have a higher rate of repeat visitors. If you have ever had a customer ask you, “Are you ever going to update your inventory page?” that should be a clue they have been to your site more than once. For every one client that will ask that question there are countless others that just stop coming back all together. Those websites with higher repeat visitors also have higher overall traffic totals.
Our counters will tell you other important things such as what times of the day, week and month your visitors are coming. If you know that your website’s busiest time of the day is between 9am and 5pm (most often the case as many people surf while at work!) then you know it would be wise to have your inventory page updated before the onslaught of traffic begins. Likewise, if you know Tuesday and Wednesday are your site’s busiest days of the week then you know you should make Monday the day to update your inventory. If you find last month your website traffic surged in the second week you can use that information to judge the effectiveness of your other forms of advertising. It might be that you advertised in the newspaper that second week and included your website address in that advertisement. A spike in website traffic during that time tells you there was a high rate of conversion from newspaper readers to website surfers.
I had a client in Fredericksburg notice in their logs that after August of last year their traffic fell off considerably. When I visited their dealership I noticed they had taken their website address off their roadside sign. Once I pointed that out they admitted it did come down in August and agreed that was the reason their website traffic fell by more than 200 visitors a month. Likewise, we had a client in Dahlgren double its traffic in one month by simply adding their website address to the marquee on the side of the road.
There are really only two ways people get to your site. Either they click on a link to your site from another website or they knew your website address and typed it in the Address Bar of their browser. A dealer with higher traffic is good at getting the word out about their website. If you don’t tell your clients you have a website, they are less likely to visit it. A dealer in Richmond told me there is never a client that comes into his dealership or calls them on the phone without hearing, “Have you been to our website?” This same dealership uses their website in every way possible. If someone asks them how to get to the dealership their answer might be, “If you go to our website and click on the Directions link there is a map and directions page you can print.” If they get a phone client asking questions about a specific truck they will tell the client to go to the site and click on the inventory page. I have seen them talking about a truck while both the salesperson and the client are looking at photos of the same truck at the same time.
It always happens when you are in the busiest time of the day the phone will ring and you get the question, “What kind of cars do you sell?” Rather than be short so you can get back to the car buyer in front of you or stay on the phone and risk the chance of your client walking away, you should tell the person on the phone to go to your website and look at your inventory page. Invariably, that customer will call back but then they will be asking buying questions like how much down or how much a month. Finding ways to use your website as a sales tool is something dealers with higher sales volumes from the Internet do better than others.
The other way visitors find your site is to click on it from other sites. These other sites can be divided into two separate categories, search engines and third party link exchange sites. One of the worst mistakes many site owners make is not optimizing their site for or registering it with all the major search engines. More than half of all automobile searches begin or end with a search at a search engine. If I go to Google to look for a car dealer in your area but you or your webmaster have not told Google about your site, chances are your site will not come up in the list of possible links. This is the one step we take that sets JTZ Enterprise apart from other webmasters. Most other webmasters ignore this step completely, do it inadequately or charge extra for it. If your webmaster is Auto Trader Online, try searching for your dealership by name. Trader Online does a great job with advertising your inventory but is not that concerned with helping you get traffic from other sources other than through their website.
Our server logs will not only tell you how much traffic is getting to your site from search engines but also will tell you what keywords and phrases are being used. This is valuable information when optimizing your site for search engines. There are ways your webmaster can program into your site the most popular keywords and phrases thereby increasing your site’s ranking with each of the major search engines and increasing the total amount of traffic you receive.
The other source of link traffic is from Third Party Link Exchange Sites. We have already mentioned one of the leaders in this type of Internet advertising and others include www.Cars.com, www.AutoExtra.com, www.CarsDirect.com. These are websites that list new and used cars for sale and attract car buyers to them. If a car shopper finds a listing that interests them they can click on it and get more information about that car or about the person or dealer selling it. These sites are nationwide directories and just a few of the hundreds of directory sites with which car dealers can advertise. Something to be aware of when considering this type of information is results vary widely from dealer to dealer. When considering this type of Internet advertising I tell dealers to put themselves in their client’s shoes. Go to the site and look for a car similar to one you have in stock. Once you find a few with similar miles and condition compare the price, follow the links to learn more about the seller, and see if your client will be led from this site to your site. If you are a BHPH dealer you might not find this kind of advertising to be as successful because these sites are often price driven. The dealers that get the most out of this advertising are typically competitively priced and offer little or no financing. A BHPH customer is just like any other customer in that they want the best price. It does not take long, however for that car buyer to get discouraged when they call on a couple of the vehicles they are interested in only to find out they can not get the financing they need. Soon, that car shopper will leave this site and go to a search engine and search for a dealer that offers financing.
These nationwide third party link exchange sites are typically very expensive, ranging in cost from $300 to $1200 a month. This additional expense does not always mean an increase in car buyers going to your website. Our clients using Auto Trader Online, for instance, have server logs that show very little, if any, traffic coming from Auto Trader to their website. Many third party link exchange sites are not willing to pass the car buyer on to your site because they want to keep the buyer shopping in their site thereby driving up the total click numbers for their customers. If they can not get to your site, they can not apply for credit, learn more about your dealership or get a feel for the kind of business approach you have adopted.
VIADA has a site that has grown to over 4,000 visitors and 37,000 hits every month. VirginiaUsedCarDealers.com (VUCD) targets a smaller crowd. We realize most car buyers want to do business in their backyard. For about a dollar a day all VIADA members are able to tap into these thousands of car buyers. We focus on a smaller region so our listings may not get displayed as often as they might at a nationwide site but because most of our visitors are from Virginia our listings are getting clicked on more often. The ratio of clicks per display is higher at VUCD simply because all of the listings are within a reasonable distance to the car shopper. Server logs of our clients also participating in VUCD will show this site is one of the leading sources of traffic to their sites from third party link exchange sites.
There are some things that set VUCD apart from other third party link exchange sites. First, we provide a direct link from VUCD to the selling dealers site. Your goal with advertising should be to get the shopper out of the World Wide Web and focused on only you. VUCD wants to get the information in front of them as quickly as possible and get that shopper to the selling dealer’s website as soon as they show an interest in the vehicle.
At VUCD, once a shopper clicks on a listing they get a page detailing that vehicle and providing a link to the dealer’s website. Only that dealer’s website. We do not have banner ads at the top of your listings providing links to your competition like you see at other third party link exchange sites. Banner ads only confuse the car buyer and are unfair to the advertiser. It is a lose/lose situation and an unfair advantage to those willing to pay a premium.
The last major advantage to VUCD is we only allow VIADA members to advertise on this site. No non-members, no franchise dealers and no private sellers or curbstoners. At the same time, the website offers some insight to surfers as to who and what VIADA means and stands for. If a car buyer understands that our members have all made a commitment to fair trade practices and to our Code of Ethics they will be more comfortable doing business with us. As more people begin to recognize what our Symbol of Quality or the VIADA logo stands for the higher the value of VIADA membership. Many in the public will not have their car worked on by anyone other than an ASE certified mechanic. The same qualifying factor should be true when picking out a car dealer to do business.
Server logs will tell you a lot about not only your website traffic but also the effectiveness of your other forms of advertising. Another good way to find out how customers are finding you is to ask them. You should already be asking every customer how he or she found you. If they answer with, “On the Internet” you should ask them “How on the Internet?” Did they see your website? If so, how did they find your website? These answers will tell you what you have been doing right and what you need to work on.