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Most Auto Dealer Websites are Terrible

Sorry about the harsh statement…but in my opinion very true. I am not talking about the design elements of the site, because some of the designs are quite good. I am speaking of usability, updating capabilities and SEO friendliness. Car dealerships are still playing by the old game of, we just need to get these people through our doors and then we can sell. This is no longer the case…WE LIVE IN AN ONLINE WORLD. The majority of wise car shoppers are going to do most of the research and decision making before they leave the house.

If you ask someone in the market for an automobile where they start their search, most probably say online; or even more specifically AutoTrader.com or Cars.com. Consumers are willing to travel further nowadays to get their vehicle if it is at the right price. And with technology, consumers have the edge, especially over local dealerships. Find the right price on your iPad while waiting for those 30 minute visits to the ‘sales manager’? I’ll drive those extra miles if you can’t match the price. Why aren’t these local dealerships doing everything they can to keep their local customers? Let’s get to the meat and bones…


This is one of the big factors that cause people to go to AutoTrader.com or Cars.com. They are just much easier and less stressful to use. The #1 key to their usability is they actually SHOW THE PRICE. If I am looking for a vehicle online the last thing I want to do is call you for a price so you can use your sales pitches on me and then call me 3 times a week for the rest of eternity. Consumers shop online for a reason: they can compare prices, read reviews, do their research right from the comfort of their own home.

My second frustration is not listing the mileage. We all know that this is one of the major factors in buying a used car. Take the extra 30 seconds to list the mileage because the customer will find out at some point. Internet shoppers are not patient and they know that they should get all of the information that they desire in a fraction of a second. Wasting a visitors time with the lack of information (mileage or any other pertinent details) is not a key factor of usability, believe it or not.


I doubt this is a news flash to anyone, but people use their mobile devices to make buying decisions when they are  away from their computer. What is with all the flash? While my phone supports flash (thanks to Froyo) there are many mobile devices out there that don’t…remember the iPhone? If your main site must be in flash, make sure you are creating an easy to use mobile version of your site. If you can’t do that or aren’t convinced it well help, just ask.

It’s Not All Bad

More and more dealerships are improving their sorting, browsing and search functions. This is certainly a step in the right direction. If you don’t have the budget or in house ability to do so on your own, there are options to have your inventory powered by a 3rd party source such as AutoTrader.

Inventory Updating Capabilities

A web consumer expects is accuracy. Leaving your ‘sold’ cars on the website is not an option (unless they are marked as sold). After a sales takes place, take the <5 minutes to mark the vehicle as no longer available. If your inventory management solution does not allow easy access of updating your inventory, get a new solution. Additionally, it is in the dealership’s own best interest to get the vehicles online ASAP. It will give the consumer a higher likelihood of finding what they want from your dealership as opposed to someone else that already listed a similar car.


Get the attention of the locals and people traveling in your area with good local optimization, both on your main site and mobile site. Major dealerships supported by a manufacturer is generally better with this than the small used lots, but those smaller lots can easily compete and can often have the upper hand in terms of price and if they are low-pressure, a better relationship once the consumer gets through their door. Ensure that you are not only optimizing for the city or town’s name, but also zip code and nickname (for the locals). Keep your local listings up to date and accurate with addresses, phone numbers and links to inventory. With the right strategy your ROI on SEO should be through the roof.

Along the same lines, create descriptions of the vehicles that are unique. It seems as though the copy writers are following a book of car descriptions that are suppose to sound enticing and exciting. Users are not searching ‘a car that has it all’, ‘immaculate’, or ‘must see’. The car description is valuable real estate. Use it for what the user needs to know while taking into consideration what they might be searching.

In Conclusion

I am obviously not speaking of every car dealer website out there…but let’s be honest. Too many of them are not meeting the needs of today’s online consumer. Because we are more apt to travel for the right price and we can find information so easily, dealerships are only hurting themselves.