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Updated Best Practices for Dealership Websites

In the hectic day-to-day of dealership business, it can be hard to carve out time to keep your website up to the ever-changing standards of online shoppers. We can’t do that for you (unless you’re one of our clients), but we can help jump-start you with the best practices for delighting today’s car shoppers.

 

Incorporate Powerful Search

As of January 2018, Google had a 91.74% share of the search engine marketing worldwide. It’s safe to say that Google is defining the way people experience the internet. One of the ways that Google has done this (since from the beginning) is with the backbone of their company — their search bar.

Google's classic search bar.

Classic.

Google’s search bar is also the gold standard in search. Predictive, corrective, and powerful, a Google search almost always turns even a misspelled search into a relevant result.

Predictive search saves time and prevents errors.

Predictive search saves time and prevents errors.

Whether you’re holding out for a Yahoo comeback or you’re fully on board the Google train, search bars are familiar shopping technology at this point. By the time they reach your website, car shoppers have been conducting hours of research — almost certainly using a search engine and other search features in the process. Your dealership website should be an extension of that researching process, and including a search bar (preferably with the same capabilities as Google’s) is one of the best ways to offer a relatively seamless transition from pure research to vehicle browsing.

Search on mobile (impractical and unpleasant in the days of typing out texts on a number pad) has become a leading source of dealership website traffic, and often indicates high likelihood to purchase. This means search functionality on dealership websites has to include voice search. Voice search, also once a clunky technology, is entering an age of sophistication that is radically boosting its popularity. In fact, it’s estimated that 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020. That’s just two years away (as surprising as that seems), but voice search has been growing rapidly for a long time. Between 2008 and 2016, voice search use grew 35x. The rise of voice search is only beginning. In fact, 41% of people using voice search have only started in the last 6 months. We’ll stop with the avalanche of stats, but the point remains: voice search is essential.

Being able to search a dealership website (with only your voice if need be) is exceptionally important for car shoppers, but it can also be helpful for use on the lot. By including a search bar that can index your entire inventory, your sales staff can pull up a car with a quick search by VIN, and instantly see all the details a shopper is looking at.

A search bar is a powerful tool. Not only should it belong on your main homepage (to facilitate immediate browsing) but also on all SRPs to help shoppers drill down their searches in seconds. If you have this exceptional tool, it should be put to use for customers on all the dealership website pages they need it.

 

Navigation Should Be Smooth Sailing

Navigation isn’t the most exciting element of dealership website design, but it is likely one of the most important.

Now, ‘navigation’ is a pretty vague term, but in essence, it means the process of getting to an intended location. Even more simplified: finding your way. The purpose of website navigation is to allow a user to find the content they are looking for with the minimum amount of inconvenience or time-wasting.

As we mentioned before, most of the shopping process is research. Facilitating seamless and easily understood navigation is essential to a successful dealership website. Your dealership website should provide navigation to the main sections of the website that is easy to find at all times. To this end, your dealership website should include navigation bars and menus that link to all major sections of your website, like New Cars, Used Cars, Parts and Service, and more.

Navigation should be simple. Websites shouldn’t require tracking the positions of celestial bodies to get around. All navigation elements and icons should clearly indicate their functionality and conform to the standards and expectations of the majority of shoppers.

Being able to move freely, quickly, and easily between pages means shoppers can feel comfortable browsing even if their search takes them to dozens of different pages on your site. Facilitate that experience with navigation menus or bars on every page that fit with shoppers’ navigational design expectations.

 

Keep Shoppers On Your Site With Infinite Scrolling

Infinite scrolling is a web design technique used by your favorite social media sites — and the best dealership websites.

Infinite scrolling loads content as the user scrolls down the page, instead of forcing the user to click the ‘Next Page’ button. Every time a user gets to the “next page” button, they have the opportunity to bounce, and if they haven’t seen anything that is compelling to them yet, they probably will.

With infinite scrolling, vehicle search results will keep loading until the shopper finds what they’re looking for or exhausts the inventory. This method of presenting search results means the shopper never encounters an invitation to bounce and ends up viewing much more of your inventory and exploring options they might not have seen on a paginated site.  

 

Optimize Above the Fold Homepage Design

Above the fold is an old design term dating back to newspapers. ‘Above the fold’ was the top half of the front page, above where a newspaper is normally folded. In the context of web design, above the fold means the content above where the browser window cuts the page off.

Your dealership website homepage is your virtual storefront, and it should communicate the same style, personality, professionalism, and trustworthiness. Custom images, videos, colors, and styles should engage shoppers and help you stand out from your competitors. This is where shoppers will form an almost instantaneous impression of your business.

Because shoppers are forming an immediate impression, the above the fold design of your homepage should also contain crucial website elements and functions — the true essence and purpose of your website. This could be considered a “mini landing page,” an immediately loaded section of your homepage that communicates the essentials to shoppers the second they arrive on the page.

A tangential but important thing to mention whenever discussing design is responsive design. There are a few general dimensions that designers shoot for with above the fold design, but it won’t necessarily be the same on every device, or even every window, depending on the size. Another of the many reasons that fully responsive design is absolutely required for a good dealership website.

 

Streamline Your Structure

The structure of your website should be built to help the shopper find what they’re looking for. Visible navigation is a huge part of this, but so is how you’ve built your site.

Like we mentioned with infinite scrolling, every time the user has to take an action, they’re also invited to not take that action — to just give up and try somewhere else. Keep your website simple and search results available with just one click from the homepage. From homepage to conversion, the fewer clicks (or actions) required, the better.

 

Revitalize Your Calls-to-Action

Your calls-to-action (CTAs), are a website element that can, and should, be continually optimized. The best dealership websites have effective CTAs for all available shopping actions.

As a dealership, you offer different options for actions on a product detail page. Whether it’s request a price, calculate a payment, or save a vehicle, your page is going to have a variety of CTAs. These CTAs need a well-designed hierarchy, so the action that you most want to encourage should have the most eye-catching CTA.

As always, the best practice with designing CTAs is to keep them clean, simple, and obvious but unobtrusive. An annoying, flashy, distracting CTA is almost worse than one that’s too subtle.

As consumers continue to research digitally instead of visiting multiple regional dealerships, your dealership website will become increasingly important to capture their interest.  The experience your dealership website provides will either drive them to your dealership or your competitor’s and chances are, you’d rather it be your dealership they visit.