Top 5 Automotive Website Vendors of 2011

best five
| Posted on | Automotive Digital Marketing

Wiki-process

The process I used to evaluate the following website companies was actually quite simple. It is a balance between potential, results, and education. I want to focus on the latter for a minute: Education. It is an absolute imperative that dealer vendors educate their clients on how to best utilize the products they provide. A 1 hour tutorial on how to use the backend of the system is not education either. It should be the policy of all website vendors listed here to continually follow up and urge their dealer clients to take advantage of free training that should be offered by the vendors.

Next I looked at a scoring algorithm for the actual vendors websites. After all if they cannot build a decent website for themselves why would you possibly believe they would build an effective website for their clients? All but one vendor scored above a 90 in this category. It may surprise you to know that MANY website vendors routinely score failing grades during site evaluation.

Lastly I evaluated what each vendor claimed to be a top client utilizing the best practices and products offered by each company. The following are the results of those findings:

#5 DealerFire

One of the higher overall website scorers DealerFire is a true contender. This is a case where there seems to be a lack of strategy combined with a lack of education which is why they scored in the “Worst of the Best” in my evaluation. Clearly they have the ability to build great websites. Their own website scored a 95 out of a 100 in my site evaluation.

Yet in spite of this high grade, they are not blogging regularly (a great SEO technique), their domain is set to expire in less than 2 years (are they planning on going out of business?), they have little to no social bookmarking strategy, and they have a rather small number of linking domains and relatively low traffic on site.

Blog: Blog Grade 85. This score is misleading because they are not using a unique domain blog. This score is due to the authority that typepad itself has. The last post was in October and this the true score of this blog is actually quite low.

Readability: Excellent

Domain Info: Good

Social bookmarking: NONE

SEO Rank: Very High- Excellent

Twitter: Grade: 90

Twitter Followers: 123

Lastly, the selected client, www.walshhonda.com scored an 84/100 the lowest of any of the clients provided by the vendors in this list. A quick look at the site and it is not hard to understand why:

Blog: NO BLOG In today’s competitive online landscape there is no excuse for a dealership not to have a frequently updated blog. This is one of the easiest and cheapest (free) ways to ensure long term SEO success.

Readability: Poor

Duplicate Title tags abound. This is a more technical aspect to the fundamentals of building websites. It isn’t important that dealers know how it works so much as understanding that this is something that almost makes DealerFire unworthy of making a top 5 list. This is website building 101 and is inexcusable.

Domain Info: Excellent

Social bookmarking: NONE

SEO Rank: Very High- Excellent

Twitter: FAIL. NO ACCOUNT

Bear in mind that many of the faults found in this case lie with a lack of education. This is why it is so important that vendors make the commitment to give value to their dealer partners and teach them HOW. Anyone can build an attractive website, but few will make the commitment to build an effective one. It is clear that the components for greatness are there, but lack a unified strategy and commitment to education. For this reason, DealerFire ranks 5th in my top 5.

#4 Vin Solutions

It is interesting to me that the vendor with the highest website score ultimately rank in one of the lowest positions. This is, unfortunately, all too common a tale in the web provider space. Here is an example of a company with incredible tools, knowledge and resources that simply fail to put the client before themselves.

VinSolutions.com Ranked an astonishing 99/100 score for their own website. Yet the selected client site, Richards Honda, ranked only 84/100. Having had several encounters with high ranking personnel at VinSolutions it is no surprise to me that there be inconsistencies like this. I have met some of the finest brilliant young minds with a true passion for the business and also one of the most unprofessional vendor representatives in my 19 years in the car business. However this reason alone was not enough to keep their excellent products from my top 5 list.

VinSolutions is an appropriate name because they really offer everything. A true, one stop shop. All of their products are industry leading, well thought out and integrate marvelously.

A quick analysis of their site gave some good insight:

Blogging: inconsistent

Indexed pages: Good

Readability: Excellent

Domain info: FAIL! No permanent redirect!? This is website 101 stuff. What a shame

High SEO Rank: Excellent

Social Bookmarking: Check!

Twitter Grade: 99/100

Twitter Followers: 2,928

Traffic Rank: Top 0.81% AWESOME!

One would think with all that on their side that they would have placed higher, unfortunately all that knowledge and expertise was squandered when it came to their client, Richards Honda:

Blog Grade: 16/100 Yikes!

Duplicate Title Tags: Ouch

Readability: Excellent

Domain Info: Good

Social Bookmarking: Ouch! Missing!

Twitter Grade: 91 Excellent!

Twitter Followers: 293 Avg

Traffic Rank: Top 8.73% average

Again, Education is the missing component. In this case you have a company with industry leading talent, knowledge, and resources. My recommendation is that VinSolutions share that with their clients and ensure that they are maximizing all they have to offer.

#3 dealer.com

My relationship with dealer.com over the years has been that of a love/hate relationship. I love this company. They have some of the most dedicated, passionate, brilliant minds anywhere on the planet. Much of their philosophy and execution is akin to that of Google. If you ever have the chance to visit their headquarters in Burlington, VT I strongly recommend you make the trip! It is truly a sight to behold.

Unfortunately, many dealers never get to see this side of dealer.com. Customer service is average at best and is frequently poor with ZERO follow up. I continue to experience this poor customer service first hand as a Jaguar dealer in MA and this has been the theme of the last 6 years as a dealer.com client.

From a pure results standpoint in terms of the product alone, they are among the best of the best. I would characterize dealer.com as “gadgets galore.” If you can dream it up they either have it or are working on it. Widgets and tools and components that capture this customer and that customer are abound! Oh look! Another shiny thing! It’s a website smorgasbord!

A quick look at their site and it isn’t hard to see why they are one of the largest providers of dealer websites. Scoring an impressive 97/100. Here’s why:

Blog: FAIL! They have a great blog that is updated about once a week. BUT they do not have an auto-discoverable RSS feed! I had to go looking for it!

Domain Info: WOW 15 years old! Nearly as old as the web itself! And an expiration date of +8 years. Great Job!

SEO Rank: 6 Excellent!

Social Bookmarking: Excellent!

Twitter Grade: 96 Excellent! (Maybe they should call wikimotive to get them to 100)

Twitter Followers: 1,300 Excellent

Traffic Rank: An astounding top 0.11%

Now let’s look at one of their top clients, Acton Toyota to see how they score. Acton Toyota scored an acceptable 87/100 just shy of Wikimotive’s minimum excellence score of 90. For those of you who don’t know, Acton Toyota is one of the most impressive, successful Boston Toyota Dealerships in the country. Their online marketing success was spawned by DealerRater.com’s Matt Lamoureux in 2004 and today that torch is well carried by e-Commerce Manager, Justin Brun. I share this to keep perspective that I am about to critique one of the finest organizations in the car business today. We’re talking purely fine tuning.

Blog Grade: 27/100 this is a function of both frequency and the inferior way dealer.com goes about providing blogging to dealer clients. Utilizing a wordpress hosted platform on a unique url or subdomain would be a superior solution and one that would benefit clients like acton toyota.

Blog Articles are not being tweeted! Lack of strategy! SEO and Social Media are parts of the larger whole that is digital marketing. Every piece of content created by a dealership should have a path of dissemination. That path should encompass SEO as well as proliferation among social platforms.

Readability: A little wordy. Seems more focused on Search Engines than people. Also a rather complex navigation structure. There are so many places to go one may not know where to begin, or feel like they have to go back to make sure they didn’t miss something.

Domain age: Excellent! 12 years old and just shy of 5 years to expiration. If I were Justin, I would move that expiration date to 10 years.

Social Bookmarking: FAIL no delicious links! Social Bookmarking is a very important component of SEO in today’s digital marketing landscape.

Twitter Grade: 27/100 but it is really worse because the twitter account associated with acton toyota is Justin Brun’s. Now this isn’t a problem if Justin Brun is meant to be the “Face of Acton Toyota” But his tweet grade is 27/100 and he only has 7 followers! On the other hand the actual acton toyota twitter account only has 76 followers. Either way you slice it there is a significant lack of structure in place to tie in Social Media with their SEO strategy.

Twitter Followers (True): 76 Poor

Traffic Rank: Exceptional! To have an alexa rank below 1 million is an incredible feat. To be a local business – a car dealer and have 3% of the world wide traffic is a true accomplishment especially as a one rooftop store.

Hat’s off to dealer.com and Justin Brun of Acton Toyota. This is the benchmark by which all others should be measured.

#2 Dealer eProcess

This has been an unexpected find. While I am not familiar with their company from a client stand point, my research shows that this is a company to watch. While their own site scored lowest in the bunch, their client site ranked 2nd highest. The true measure of a company is a balance of competence, but more importantly that they put their clients needs ahead of their own. In this regard, Dealer eProcess is second ONLY to one.

Scoring an 89/100 they are clearly a competent bunch in the SEO world. Let’s break it down:

Blog: Grade 24/100 FAIL. Last post was October of 2010. I would recommend posting at least once a week. In fact, a simple weekly post would have ranked them in the #2 spot for blog grade as well.

Readability: Excellent!

Domain Info: FAIL. Website is set to expire in less than a year! Google penalizes SEO ranking for this. Is the Dealer eProcess team expecting to file chapter 11? If not, renew your domain for the next 10 years.

Social Bookmarking: Fail. This is a common tale with web vendors. You must remember to practice what you preach.

Twitter Grade: 94 Excellent

Twitter Followers: 741 Good

Traffic Rank: Good

Just looking at the stats they seem kind of middle-of-the-road. But a quick study of their clients results show they are anything but. The client site reviewed is www.bmwinschererville.com. BMW Schererville scored an impressive 93/100. Here’s the break down:

Blog: 55/100 Best so far. While the Website grader report shows a 28/100 closer inspection using the actual blog grader tool shows this to be a 55. Frequency is good. Now tweeting these articles out would enhance reach and yield a higher score.

Readability: While this scores slightly more complex, it is expected given the product and demographic, therefore this is still a good score.

Domain Info: Fail! Domain is set to expire in less than a year! Renew for 10 years and renew every year after to keep it at 10 years all the time.

Social Bookmarking: FAIL

Twitter Grade: FAIL no twitter account.

Traffic Rank: Good

So why does this site rank so highly? SEO Authority! There is a high diversity of inbound links pushing this site as a bmw authority in their marketplace. Kudos to Dealer eProcess for excellent SEO practices.

Before we get to the #1 Ranked provider it is important to understand that the difference from the 2-5 spots to the number 1 spot is huge. The previous 4 companies only begin to scratch the surface of digital marketing as it regards MARKETING THE DEALERS WEBSITE. It is important that we remember that is the first purpose of a dealer website. Not to look pretty, not to have the most shiny things and not to be examples of great programming. They are there to be found by consumers as often as possible and lead those consumers to a conversion path resulting in ROI. In that regard, the following vendor stands alone…

#1 TK Carsites

It’s strangely ironic that a provider that so well markets it’s client’s websites so well does relatively little to market themselves or tout just how superior their services are in the website space. The reason that I separate TK Carsites as being in a different league as the other providers mentioned is a combination of factors. First and foremost, TK Carsites develops automotive SEO for their clients that is incomparable to any other website provider. More than proper site structure and best practices, they ACTIVELY market their clients websites via their extremely powerful SEO packages. They do this by employing teams of full time content writers, link builders and SEO experts. All of this massive brain power is directed by their Chief Marketing Officer, JD Rucker, an authority of SEO and Social Media who’s prowess extends well beyond the automotive space.

Let’s take a look at the results of all of this expertise:

Blog: Again, TK stands alone. While website grader does not grade their actual blog they have a blog content network which is used to create unique respected industry relevant content and that content is used to create links to their SEO clients. All of these blogs score above a 70

Readability: Excellent

Domain Info: Excellent -long time existing and time to expiration

Social Bookmarking: Excellent

Twitter Grade: 100 Excellent!

Twitter Followers: 20,467 ! Exceptional!

Linking domains: 2,003 Excellent

It’s not hard to see why they scored a 94/100 for their own site. Now let’s take a look at their client, Marlboro Nissan. Marlboro Nissan Scored a class leading 97/100. Again this shows a company that puts their clients needs ahead of their own.

Blog: Check! Grade: 87 Excellent!

Blog articles consistently tweeted and shared via social platforms

Readability: Good

Domain Info: Age 13+ years. Time to expire 7+ Years Excellent

Social Bookmarking: Excellent!

Twitter Grade: 100 Excellent!

Twitter Followers: 7,011 Excellent

Traffic Rank: Good

Lastly, It’s no secret that I am both the President of Wikimotive and the Digital Marketing Director for Marlboro Nissan. Dealers often ask, “who is responsible for Marlboro Nissan’s success. Is it TK? Is it Brian Pasch of PCG Digital Marketing? Is it Tim Martell?” The real answer is YES. It is all three of those components that makes Marlboro Nissan the success that it is. I am an SEO authority and yet I still use other SEO providers to help market my companies’ websites. I do this because I am humble enough to realize that leveraging the results and work of many is superior to allowing ego to believe that one can do all. I’m also smart enough to know that leveraging the combined talents of the best SEO minds in the business ensures that none of my competition can use any of it against me!

TK Carsites provides the very best SEO service as a website provider. PCG Digital Marketing provides exceptional digital marketing tools in the SEO arena. Wikimotive provides a level of SEO content creation that far exceeds industry standards. Sometimes we work together. Sometimes we compete. It doesn’t take an SEO genius to figure out that the combination of all of these components will always be superior to the best of any one.

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