Best PracticesOpinions & Advice

If you had the opportunity to start over with your website, what would you do?

I just came across DealerRefresh few days ago and wanted to let you know how much I appreciate the time and effort it must take to keep it up and running.  I’ve been involved in the car business now for almost 4 years and have been on the Internet side of it for all but about 5 months.

For the most part, everything has been a self-taught or at best a trial and error experience.  It’s nice to have a resource such as this one to turn to for thoughts and opinions from others in the industry that are in a non-competitive situation.  I’m working now for a family owned business that has been in business for a little over 58 years.  It was started as a Buick dealership back in the day.  We are now a 4 franchise group, Buick, Isuzu, Mazda and BMW.  We are in the process of becoming only a BMW dealership, that along with the used car department which will expand by adding a high-line section to our current, mostly GM and other domestic inventory.

We now use Reynolds both for our web site design and our CRM tool.  I used AVV at my prior dealership (Honda) for about 3 years.  I can’t say that Reynolds Contact Management is any easier to use, but it does seem to have much more capability and the support folks at Reynolds are outstanding.  With the upcoming new changes in mind, would you have any advice to offer as to a web provider? Reynolds is a bit limited in the template offerings they have available and they only have one template that is BMW compliant in their super premium package.  It’s in use by a BMW Center about 225 miles away from us and I am afraid the same template might be a bit confusing to our clients.  If you had the opportunity to start over with your website, what would you do?

If you have taken the time and effort to read this far, I truly appreciate it.  As well as any opinions/suggestions you might have to pass along to someone who wants to get better and dominate this market area.  I am a full time Internet Manager here and have a pretty free hand as to how I run the department.  It is me and I generally receive and work the leads myself, except the BMW leads which I divide out among 4 Client Advisors.

Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Sincerely, Ray

-Per Ray’s request, I was asked to remove his full name and dealer info.

Founder of DealerRefresh - 20+ Years of dealership Sales, Management, Training, Marketing and Leadership.
"If you had the opportunity to start over with your website, what would you do?"

In a way, I think you've answered your own question. Your web vendor is supposed to be just that- a vendor, constantly trying to impress and satisfy you, since you pay their bills. And yet, you're left having to pose questions about site quality in the hypothetical, because you're likely locked into a contract with an old-school vendor who doesn't know a damn thing about web sites.

If I want to change something about my website, I call up my vendor, and they change it. If they come up with a new tool or strategy, they bring it to my desk. And if I decide I want to move to a new vendor, I can get out of my current sites in 30 days flat.

So if an Internet Manager has to ask the question that has been posed, the answer to that question is that they should've started over by taking control of their Internet presence and hiring a vendor who knows what they're doing and treats customer accounts as a privelege, not a right. That is far and away the main ingredient in the success of an automotive dealer site.
For OEM dealership I would stay away from template designs... and work on a overall brand design... where group site, bmw site, buick site all have the same look and feel and integrate well with each other.

Things I would look for in a vendor....

Have my inventory be part of the site... instead of being framed in. Avoid links to sites that drive traffic away from my site... help me convert at an average of 5%... studies from and AutoTrader prove images sell... so a vendor that give me high quality images... a vendor that can syndicate my inventory to different place... someone that can integrate to any CRM software (AVV,iCarMagic,ReyRey,ADP,Cobalt)... knows about search engine marketing... offers as many lead capturing forms as one wants... ability to change content with out waiting for vendor... and as Mitch said listens to you and you can get out of contract if not satisfied. And may be help you setup blog... has a nice write up on Web2.0 technologies and Mitch could share some stats on his blog ROI.

Before I go down switching a vendor route... first two thing I would ask my self is why do I need to switch and what are my goals?

Answer to both is likely more leads... now would getting a new vendor help you in this... maybe and maybe not... if you are already doing around 5-7% conversion then switching a vendor may not help... but if you are not... then I would look at my site stats.. and find out where I'm lacking... do I know at what point the user exists the site... are my lead forms working... what is the average time user spend on the site... how many pages does the user look at... if all numbers look bad.... then you likely get better site structure in place... and may be a redesign.

if conversion is there but you are lacking traffic then it might be simple as putting the redesign money into search engine marketing...

Umer Farooq
  • J
  • July 27, 2007

Umer has provided some sound advice. Another thing I would add is that it's important for some dealerships to choose a website provider who is able to give a higher level of service. Service is important no matter which vendor you choose, but sometimes a dealer is going at internet marketing with the trial and error approach, and often feel like they don't know what they're doing without guidance. A lot of our (Higher Turnover) dealer clients are either small independents or franchise dealers in rural areas, so we run into this all the time. As an example:

We have a dealer in Northern PA who had never used any internet advertising in the past. He knew he had to do something to stay competitive, but he was barely able to turn on a computer and check email. Developing a website for him that was easy to use was one thing. The bigger picture (internet marketing) was more confusing to this dealer. In the beginning it wasn't uncommon to get 2-3 calls a day from this dealer asking for opinions on 3rd party sites or other ways to drive traffic to his site. Our role was one of education more so than traditional customer support.

I think Mitch picked up on a good point - the fact that you're posing your questions here instead of having Reynolds work with you (like they're supposed to) tells me they may not be the best fit for your situation on several levels. My advice as a vendor is to research and price several companies, and get references from each. When you contact the references, ask the questions that are most pertinent to your particular situation to ensure a good fit.

  • L
    Lao Shi
  • July 27, 2007

There are a number of web site providers, CRM and inventory providers offering great sites and service.

The price will range from $1200.00 per month for a Reynolds type site with inventory solution coupled with LSI to $5,000.00 plus from a company like BZ results which is way over priced and also is lacking technology wise.

Watch out for the sales people who promise everything and deliver 50%. Look who they are servicing presently and ask them what they think of the solution. Be sure to mystery shop the dealers using the tool and see how they perform.

Ask the manager, GM and the ISM separately what they think of the program and solution provided. Many times the manager will make the decision without knowing the process and the ISM must live and suffer with the mistakes. Or the ISM will make the decision and later find out the decision was bad however is afraid to say anything.

I have spoken with some dealers so unhappy with their solution and contractually bound so they just close it, pay the fees and move on to a new solution and end up paying two companies. Sad but true.

Stay away from long term agreements. Companies like BZ and ADP like you to commit to long term however technology changes quickly and if you are locked into a 3-5 year deal you must live with it and suffer while your competitors move ahead. Most of these companies protected by long term agreements get comfortable and lag on technology updates and improvements.

Many of the good companies will have 1or 2 years contracts and some offer solutions with no contract.

Research what each company offers you and which seems to be the most comfortable group to work with. Tech support is key of course so find out who works with you best.

Always be sure to make 3rd party providers agree that you do not pay for Dup. leads. Most leads come in from OEM’s first so you must monitor the leads every day to be sure. Being a one OEM store this should not be difficult. Leads can run between $15-20.00 per lead so they are expensive paying for the same lead 2-3 times.

When you do decide on a solution send an email to Jeff and “Dealer Refresh” and ask their opinion on your deal. There is support out there to help you decide. This is the beauty of Blogs.


You have found a good place for questions like this on DealerRefresh. Not to say that this is the case for you, but all too often I see dealers bedazzled with the idea that the grass is greener on the other side.

The other day I had a dealer contact me about building him a new site. They have 5 franchises and each of them are on the Rey Rey platform, but his splash page was was done by AutoONE Media. At first look I was impressed at the quality and character of this site. Then I did some searches on Yahoo! and Google to see how he faired in Search Marketing, he his site was top rate. When I asked him why he wanted to switch providers, his response was that he has, "been with AutoONE for a long time" and isn't happy anymore with their level of customer service.

The unfortunate aspect is that while the provider is seemingly doing the job right with the technology, they are not meeting the dealer's relational needs. This is by and far the biggest killer for most providers because they are constantly seeking out new business and leave existing customers to speak up or get out.

My two bits is to compare the depth of the tools they are offering. Things that I recommend keeping an eye out for are:

- Make sure the provider is on a CMS platform and make sure you can test drive it with your own hands and eyes. Do not settle for a video or PPT showing you all the benefits. You need the ability to modify 100% of the content on your site at any time. Do not settle for less than that.

- Make sure it has a built in ILM and is designed for SEO. I also recommend making sure it has a blog component, but these are easy to attach to sites so it's not the end of the world if it doesn't.

- Make sure you can access your inventory real-time. For most providers today this is not an issue, but definitely make sure you can.

- Find out what is farmed out and in-house. Not that one or the other is better or worse, but make sure you know who the real technology provider is behind the scenes.

- Talk to customers of each provider you are considering. This is where places like DealerRefresh and come in handy.

Welcome to DealerRefresh!

-Ryan Gerardi

The question I would ask is does the vendor have system totally integrated CRM/ILM/Web Sites/Inventory/Digital Marketing etc. into one seamless system. Wouldn’t it make sense to deal with one vendor that could provide everything you needed?
We are a volume Ford dealer and evaluating providers other than the local provider that we have now. Any inputs on

Thank you!

We recently shopped around for a new website vendor and ended up staying with Reynolds Web Solutions for several reasons. Reynolds is more competitive price wise than most people would expect, and they have new products in the pipeline that will be out soon ( Integration with the ERA System for Service, New Templates, Chrome Data, Color matching inventory to the actual color for new vehicles, SEM optimization,etc) We also switched from AVV for lead mgmt to Autobase.

I recommend also checking out for websites and for lead mgmt has an excellent inventory mgmt and lead mgmt tool.

Most of the mfg's require some type of approved lead mgmt tool.

Best of luck shopping around...
  • K
  • August 18, 2007

Regarding your question about, I can honestly respond from my 2+ yrs experience with this vendor that they are a cut above the rest.

They understand proper site design (code), "visibility" with search engines and the calls-to-action that induce otherwise anonymous visitors to transact with your site.

All too often, Web vendors capitalize on dealers' general ignorance of Web technology and sell them on the buzz and bang of Flash intros, talking spokemodels and other elements which bring far less to the equation than they take from it (BZ, Izmo, Dealerskins, to name a few....sorry if I'm hurting any feelings here). In contrast, uses primarilty static HTML in an effort to maximize search visibility, and they pay much more attention to navigation structure and other potential roadblocks to your visitors finding what they are after and submitting a lead.

Try this:

Google "" using example sites given to you by various vendors. This will show the number of pages within the dealer site domains that are currently indexed by Google and available to be returned on prospect search results. Many will only have 2 or 3 pages indexed, while the average site will have a thousand or more. What's more, one of the reasons this is the case is that's integrated inventory piece actually creates a separate indexable (is this a word?) page for each vehicle detail about a page full of relevant keywords ready to be found by your prospects.

Great support, back-end, reporting, blah blah blah...

No, I don't work for -- I'm an e-commerce director who is a true believer from previous experience with other framed-up, Flashed-out vendors whose sites yielded low lead counts. I could go on gushing about for days, but I'll shut up now..

Hope that helps!

  • K
    Kevin Hampton
  • August 18, 2007
OOPS! I guess I should have adressed that last post to Jerry, not Jeff. Plz pardon.

I think my post over on the
subject is still relevant.
<a href="" rel="nofollow">
You can read it here</a>.<br />
David Jackson<br />


Indexed pages have nothing to do with true SEO. It's a smoke and mirrors ploy. A few providers are saying this, pointing out that their clients can be found for individual cars. That's great, except that nobody searches for individual cars. The "long tail search" concept is great for 3rd party companies, but for a dealership, getting listed #1 for "used toyota camry minneapolis" is meaningless when it's searched for 20 times a month.

As long as there are at least 15-20 pages indexed, you're fine in the seach engines. In fact, most of the inventory pages are considered "duplicate content" by Google and can be viewed as spam, thus downgrading a websites rankings for important keywords.

When someone in Minneapolis is searching for a used Camry, they type in "toyota minneapolis" or "used cars minneapolis". Those search terms get tens of thousands of searches a month.

Don't fall for the smoke and mirrors. If someone shows you high rankings for particular keywords, use the keyword tool link on this website. Anyone can get ranked for "2004 honda accord in shreveport lousiana", but real people are searching for "honda shreveport".

>>>...nobody searches for individual cars...<<<

You're a SEO, you work for TK carsites, is this your opinion or is it TK's SEO focus?

Hi Joe,

In the past, one of the focus points at TK has been to go after the long tail search. In the two months since I got here, I've been changing this. It isn't that we don't want to rank for the long tail, but as Jeff posted in a reply to another article, you make sure you are on the searches with high volume, high conversion first, then you go after the long tail.

Are the conversion rates higher when people find you through a specific car? Absolutely! But getting a 10% conversion on 28 searches a month, like with "used toyota camry minneapolis," is still just 3 leads (if you round up). Converting a tenth of a percentage point (0.1%, or 0.001) of 32,000 searches a month, like with "minneapolis toyota," is 32 leads.

All I'm saying is that so many companies brag about getting the individual car search rankings but can't deliver on the keywords that the vast majority of real buyers are searching for.

I've been posting on this forum since before I joined TK and I will always post from the perspective of assisting dealers. Please note that I have never even linked to TK on this site, nor have I promoted them or their products, other than one comment (on the TK thread itself) saying that I enjoy working with them.

BUT, since you brought it up, yes I work for them, and no, I do not post my thoughts based upon what they have to offer. If I say it here, it's because I believe in it based upon experience, not because of their policies.

Joe, please feel free to call me to discuss it - 714-937-1239, ext 242. I enjoy networking with people who have insight into the industry and I'm always open to sharing ideas.
  • P
    P hayes
  • September 4, 2007
In Reference to Ryan's comment about the dealer with 5 websites through Reynolds and the hub page through AutoOne Media. I read the comment some days ago and go to thinking about this again.

I was the Internet Manager at this dealership he's talking about at the time when Autoone was brought on. Reynolds' dated design and aging look was getting to me at the time, although the conversions in the back of the site once customers searched for something were still good. The problem was too many customers would visit the hub site and then disappear. So in an effort to capitalize on those visitors, I elicited AutoOne's services in redesigning a hub site. They had already done the SEO for the site and the results were pouring in.

In turn, we talked about a design, call to actions, things I wanted in the site and things they thought would produce good results. The result, a hub site that within a 30 day period of time was producing more leads than the other 5 sites altogether. Combined with the PPC campaigns, we were seeing close to a 1000 leads a month.

The problems with Reynolds continue to plague this dealer. The internet manager I trained to put in my place talks to me often about the issues he still has with reynolds. I mean if Eric is hitting the road, what the heck. That speaks volumes about what is going on over there. To read RAC makes one think that facism is making a comeback.

Anyway, I wanted to give a little more substance to the comment by Ryan. With the issues that Reynolds has, its all to easy to make everyone seem to be a part of the problem. Autoone does a super job. My experiences with Chris and everyone else over there have been 1st class.

Cheers –

  • K
  • April 17, 2008

I can't believe it took me several months to revisit this thread and read your post. While this is old news that won't be viewed by too many, I still wanted to respond to your thoughts and maybe shed a little more light on my own (translation: I need a hobby).

From your last post: --"Indexed pages have nothing to do with true SEO. It's a smoke and mirrors ploy."

I'm not sure you intended this to be taken literally, but since a page has to be indexed before it can turn up in search results, it would be more accurate to say this has everything to do with true SEO. The more pages you have indexed, the better the chances that one page or another will be determined relevant enough to a particular search to be displayed highly and subsequently visited by the searcher.

--"That's great, except that nobody searches for individual cars."

This doesn't seem to be the case in my market. Your post also seems to imply that site relevance to searched keywords is an either/or proposition: either you are deemed relevant to searches for "brand in city" or you are deemed relevant for searches for "brand model city", but not both. We can (and do) have it both ways -- we rank highly for both styles of searches, and I rather enjoy having my cake and eating it, too.

--"In fact, most of the inventory pages are considered "duplicate content" by Google and can be viewed as spam, thus downgrading a websites rankings for important keywords."

The consensus seems to be that Google (and other engines??) handle duplicate content by displaying what it deems to be the most relevant of the pages containing the duplicated content. We seem to have won that battle, as searches like these turn up many of our individual pages, and in many cases where the searched-for model is one we are not even a franchised dealer for. The dupe-content argument may not even apply, as the geographical information in the pages seems to distinguish them from those of other dealers on the same inventory page platform, even if they rep the same brand.

--"When someone in Minneapolis is searching for a used Camry, they type in "toyota minneapolis" or "used cars minneapolis"."

"Real people" don't just search one way with regard to keyword structure, they search in an amazing variety of ways (this is why our SEM campaigns account for roughly 10,000 keywords/phrases), including the 2 we are discussing. I just can't agree that being ranked highly for a variety of keyword possibilities is a negative. And in order to do this, we need many pages indexed, as each page would need to be optimized for a few select keywords at most.

The point of my previous post wasn't to badmouth your company or any other--I'm sure you guys are good at what you do--but to applaud the performance has help me to achieve (the thread's original subject). I'm sure they haven't cornered the market on proficiency in Web design and that many other companies would perform similarly, just none of those I have also tried.

Thanks for the feedback & good luck.

Jeff -- Many repeated kudos to you on the site...keep up the good work!