Day in and day out, my team evaluates powersports dealer websites. Trust me, we have seen it all. Truth be told, many of the sites are quite similar in function and design, and as a whole they need an overhaul. This got me thinking, what makes a website effective? What features are must-haves? How do we measure success in this industry?
Let’s explore these questions so you can evaluate your own website and be sure you are on top of your game.
Above the Fold is Gold
In web speak, we say that the content on the top half of the web page is “above the fold” (this saying stems from standard newspaper formatting, which is folded in the middle, requiring the reader to open it to view the bottom half of the content). When if comes to your website, treat that space like gold, only including the most important content for your business. This is a rule of thumb, since the vast majority of users never scroll down to see what else is on the page “below the fold.”
Less is More
The typical dealer site is packed with as much information and graphics as possible, which is mind boggling to the user, so you lose them before they even start. Consider scaling back the elements on your homepage to include:
• Branded header with contact info (phone, address, email)
• Top navigation with intuitive names for each site section
• One sidebar with social media icons and promotion information
• Clean, simple-to-read graphics on most important site content
The Mom Test
Test the usability of your website by asking your mom or other relative to navigate your site while you watch and ask her/him to find certain site sections. You may be shocked at the results; generally, this experiment ends up proving how much hunting and pecking around people do before they find the content they’re looking for.
Here are a few questions to ask as you run the test:
• Where would you go to view pre-owned vehicles?
• Where would you look for financing options?
• Find the hours of operation for the dealership.
• How do you contact the company?
Take your findings and apply changes to the site navigation as you see fit. Run a follow-up test to see if your updates made your site more intuitive. Wondering why I recommend using your mom or a relative for testing? Guess who purchases all those gifts for your best customers?
What’s Hot Now!
If your site is still promoting Christmas sales, you’ve got issues. Allowing your site promotions and content to be out-of-date is one of the biggest business mistakes you can make. Your site is your brand, and you stake your reputation on it. Make sure it reflects the savvy entrepreneur that you are by keeping up with monthly OEM promotions and dealership events.
Many dealers skimp in this area and attempt to keep up with this site maintenance on their own. My advice is to find a good designer to create and upload your graphics for you, so you can focus on selling. Your time is money.
Your product search should require the least number of clicks possible to guide the customer from your homepage to the product they are considering purchasing. Once on the product page, the content must only be focused on the core features customers care about.
For example, if I am looking for a helmet, show me large pictures so I can see the detail of the design and features. Display all color options and place call-outs in the description.
One of the most effective add-on features is the display of customer reviews and ratings alongside the product. Displaying similar products to the product being viewed will keep them shopping as well.
Most dealers are not writers, but they know their business better than anyone. Consider drafting your content in your own words, and then have a marketing company jazz it up for you to reflect your personal style, attitude and customer service mentality.
This content should be “keyword rich” — filled with terms relevant to your business, products and services, allowing search engines to find it and rank it as relevant to your category.
You would not believe the number of sites that require digging through page after page just to find a darn phone number! Don’t torture your potential customers this way. The best practice is to have your phone number and email address in the site header to assure they are displayed on every single page of the website.
When it comes to forms, require customers to fill out the minimum amount of fields necessary: first name, last name, email — done. Don’t ask for address, city, state, zip, phone, fax, blood type — it makes people feel like they are being squeezed for personal info, and it’s a major turn off.
Once the user submits the contact form, display a friendly “Thank You” message with a convenient link back to the page they were on before they filled out the form. This requires minimum coding, and users definitely notice this effort.
Need for Speed
The average user decides whether or not to click to another page within two seconds, so you are under the gun to make it quick. Factors that impact your site speed include:
Graphics: Size and type of graphics on the page
Audio: Automatic play audio files are generally seen as an annoyance – get rid of ‘em
Hello? Where Are You?
If no one can find you on the web, it’s kind of a problem. This doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune on search engine optimization or pay-per-click advertising (in fact I recommend against it, but that is a topic for another day).
Start simply by claiming your Google Places page at http://www.google.com/places/. This will assure your business is listed correctly for the majority of searchers. If you want to get ambitious, do the same on Yahoo Local, Bing and City Search.
Customers are savvy these days, and most are not willing to purchase from a website that does not appear secure. How can they tell?
When a site is properly secured with a valid security certificate, there are two ways to check it — the site URL will begin with “https” and a small lock icon will appear in the browser window. If either of these are missing, your customers will high tail it out of there.
No One Likes a Spammer
Adding customers to your email marketing list without explicitly asking permission is poor business practice (plus this backhanded approach officially makes you a spammer).
When collecting customer data online, clearly ask the customer if they are interested in receiving newsletters, exclusive discounts, etc., and provide a checkbox for them to select if they are agreeable. We will all respect you more for it.
I hope you’ll take some time to review your site and run a few of the recommended tests to continually improve your website presence. Your site is your No. 1 marketing tool.
If not, you may end up like the dealer we spoke with a few months ago who rejected all website recommendations because, and I quote, “He doesn’t believe in the Internet.”
Man, I sure love this business.
Award-winning blogger and CEO of Duo Web Solutions, Heather Blessington is a web technology veteran and a certified PMP with the Project Management Institute (PMI). Her company provides monthly columns focused on best practices in web marketing for powersports dealers.