In recognition of Auto Dealer Monthly’s 100th issue, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on the last decade or so and what it has meant for the retail automotive digital marketing industry. My partners and I started DealerOn about 10 years ago to help dealers sell more cars by providing them with better websites and online marketing tools.

When we started DealerOn, there were only a handful of website providers to choose from, and two companies basically dominated the market. Building a site in all Flash was considered an industry standard and SEO (search engine optimization) was just an acronym that vendors used to sound cool. Ten years ago, Google Analytics didn’t exist, many consumers used dial-up and website A/B testing was more of a theory than a practice. At that time, with only log-based metrics software and no real optimization tools, the average dealer website converted at just under two percent.

Now look at the present and consider the abundance of website providers, the power of even a free evaluation tool like Google Analytics, the availability of broadband and the ready access online agencies have to A/B testing platforms. With all of these tools, data and technology, according to Dataium—an independent, dealer-focused, third-party analytics platform with data from roughly 10,000 dealer sites—dealers’ conversion rates have sky-rocketed all the way up to … 1.7 percent!

I’ve seen dealers for a decade chase the next shiny digital marketing tool instead of focusing on proven digital marketing best practices. I’m challenging all Internet service managers, Internet directors, general managers and dealer principals to stop looking for lightning in a bottle and start demanding more of their digital marketing efforts and vendors. Website conversion is one of the most important and definitely one of the most overlooked areas of a dealer’s Internet marketing efforts.

There is an enormously broad range of conversion rates?the number of website lead form submissions per unique monthly visitor?for dealer websites, even websites within an OEM . I have seen many dealer sites convert at eight percent or more, while their competitors, selling the same inventory in the same market, are using sites that convert at two percent, roughly the national average, or less. The financial impacts of that are staggering!

The average dealer website gets roughly 4,000 unique visitors per month. If that site converts at two percent, that means it is generating only 80 leads per month. Meanwhile, its analytics-savvy competitor using a well-optimized website is generating 320 leads from the same number of visits. Assuming both dealers are converting about 15 percent of their leads to sales, the “average” dealer is selling 12 cars per month out of his Internet department while our savvy dealer is selling 48. Which dealership do you think is still going to be around for Auto Dealer Monthly’s 200th issue?

Here is a quick, easy-to-remember framework called MASTER, which is used by leading conversion experts to evaluate each page on your website from a conversion perspective:

Motivation: Why would a consumer submit a lead or call your dealership from this page? Are you providing a better price, a longer warranty or perhaps a gift card to come in for a test drive?

Action: Is the action you want the consumer to take obvious and easy to find? If you want someone to click a button, use a color that’s been shown to convert well, like green, and make sure it’s above “the fold” of the page.

Simplicity: Make your navigation and lead forms simple! Don’t ask for any information you don’t absolutely need in order to call or e-mail that consumer. You aren’t going to sell them a car online, so get enough information to contact them and let them know why they should come visit you instead of your competition. Each additional field on a lead form will increase abandonment by eight percent, so eliminate all but the necessary ones.

Trust: Some consumers have negative perceptions of car dealers before coming to your site. Give consumers a reason to trust you and your site. Use testimonials all over your site wherever a consumer is making a decision about submitting a lead or calling your dealership. Any page on your site with a lead form on it should probably have testimonials too!

Education: Never lose a lead because you didn’t have the information necessary for a buying decision on that page. Show pricing, rebates, specs, photos, etc., in obvious placement on each relevant page.

Risk Reduction: Consumers buy a new car about once a decade. It’s the largest or second-largest purchase decision they will make during that period. Make sure they know about warranties, guarantees and service commitments. All of these things reduce the risk of them buying a car from your competitor.

Once your dealership has set up Google Analytics to measure your site and has incorporated the conversion best practices I’ve highlighted above, here are some other useful conversion tools:

- Crazy Egg ( is a company that offers very robust heat maps and scroll maps to show how much of each page your visitors are actually seeing. It is available at a very reasonable price point.

- User Testing ( provides very affordable and fast usability testing on your site. You can hire a tester to quickly identify user pain points that are tripping up your visitors. If you spend $300 on 10 user tests, it will be the best $300 you spend online that month.

- Visual Web Optimizer ( provides affordable, easy-to-implement A/B testing software that requires little to no coding.

Digital marketing has evolved enormously since Auto Dealer Monthly’s first issue. Dealers need to focus on website optimization to get the most out of their online budget. It’s crazy to spend $20,000 a month to send traffic to a 2-percent conversion website when you could invest in website optimization and get twice the leads out of half the spend.