The most intriguing factor of online advertising is the ability to measure its Return On Investment. The advertising industry has been around since the early 1700’s, but it wasn’t until the Internet Revolution that we were able to calculate for the first time exactly what we were getting from our advertising efforts. Back in the day, car dealers knew exactly how much they were spending on newspaper, radio and classified magazine ads, but no one knew exactly how many customers and/or sales they got in return. I remember one time my father-in-law was talking to a magazine rep years ago. The rep said, “Our circulation jumped last week to over 110,000 magazines which means that many people saw your ads!” My father-in-law’s response was, “Most of those cars are still here.”
Your website is on 24 hours a day all year round. It does not take holidays off. It does not go to sleep at night. It is hosted on a server and is logging all the activity occurring at your website all the time. The most valuable accounting tool your website provides is found in these logs of online activity. Knowing what to look for in these logs is crucial if you want continued growth in website traffic.
Before I go any further, I want to recognize that most car dealerships fall into two categories. There is one group that loves numbers and quickly pick up website analytics. The other group just wants to sell cars. I get it. However, even if looking at numbers for too long makes your eyes cross, it is still important to get in the habit of at least reviewing your website statistics, periodically. If you do nothing more than spot trends, good or bad, in website traffic, you might be able to build upon just that.
Website statistics come in many forms. Server log data is always the most accurate. These server logs are usually accessible to you, the site owner, by logging in to a control panel of some sort. If you are unfamiliar with how to access your website counter information, you first need to call your website provider and ask if you have access your traffic statistics. If they tell you they are not available, that should be a huge red flag. These server log reports are not only necessary for you to measure the traffic on your website, they are also necessary for server administrators to properly manage server security and reliability.
Another type of website analytics available to all website owners is Google Analytics. This could be an alternative if server log reports are not available. We also see many of our clients add this counter to augment the data available from their server log reports.
Most website counters will do more than just count the number of visitors to your site. A more important statistic would be how many people return to your site a second or third or Nth time? How many pages does each visitor see before they leave your site? What are those pages they are visiting? What pages are they not visiting?
You see, not every site viewer takes the same path through your website. However, most of the time, you will see they come in the home page and go straight to your inventory page. They should be bouncing back and forth from your inventory listings to your Vehicle Display page (or window sticker page) for each listing. Eventually they will find something they want. When they do, they will either follow a call to action or they will follow a link to what we call a Credibility Building page. These pages may include one for Company History where they should be able to hear all about what makes you the best dealership for them. Or, they might follow the link to your Testimonial page and see why all your past clients felt you were the best dealership for them. Having pages that will detail the process of the sale, what is needed for financing, available warranty information and more are all pages that will drive up your website’s average number of page visits for each visitor.
If you drive up the small numbers, the big ones will follow. Meaning, if you give your current visitors all the information they are looking for, they will click on more pages of your site than if that information were not available. That in turn will result in more search engine traffic because your website’s content is attracting more clicks from Google, Yahoo! and others. Also, your clients will tell their friends and family about your site and reference it in social media and by word of mouth.
What I have not provided are benchmark averages. My reason is simple. There is no benchmark dealership. Some dealerships have a dozen or so cars in stock some have hundreds. The more cars listed on your website, the more traffic you will see. Some dealerships are in the city or downtown while others are off the beaten path. Websites for businesses in large population areas get more traffic than those in rural areas. Instead of focusing on the overall number of website visitors, pay attention to the experience your visitors are getting. That effort will pay off in not only increased overall web traffic, it will also result in more conversions of website viewers into car buyers.
I know what it is like to be asked to stop everything and take the time to review your website analytics, but I want to leave you with one story to illustrate the importance of doing so. I still personally visit all of my “local” clients annually to review website statistics, site design and more. Several years ago I was reviewing the stats with a car dealer client and we noticed their traffic had a trend line of traffic, but for almost three months their traffic went through the roof! We discovered most of this new traffic came from Direct Address or Bookmark. This means the site visitors during that period were typing my client’s website address directly into the Address Bar of the browser. To find out why this sudden increase in Direct Address traffic came and then went, I asked the client if they advertised their website URL in any way beginning from the day this surge in traffic began to the day it ended. This was a husband and wife dealership and they both immediately looked at each other. They knew right away what caused this increase in web traffic. She had put the address on the marquee board out front. He had gotten tired of looking at it and against her wishes had taken it down, effectively wiping out a 40% increase in online traffic! Knowing just the trends of their website helped them realize it is not just about numbers. It also helped convince him to get the ladder and the letters out as I was leaving!
While specific benchmarks were not available for this article, they are available for you. If you would like a no obligation review of your website analytics, we would be happy to help.