Defending the 1 Percent in Automotive Marketing

Some of the pages linking directly from home pages of dealer sites are ignored during 99% of your site visits. Site visitation on pages like the following often falls to 1% or less:

  • Meet Our Staff
  • Contact Us
  • Service Department
  • Payment Calculator
  • Parts Department
  • Hours and Directions
  • Finance Department

Does that mean these pages don’t matter? I’ve heard cries for less content on websites. Is this really the way to go? No, these pages matter a great deal to some of the people looking at them. If a page is visited by only 1% of your site’s visitors, that does not mean the page only influences 1% of the decision making process. For 99% of your sites, there was no influence. For those who did view the page, the influence on which store to visit may be huge.

Yes, dealer sites have a lot of content. That’s not a problem, provided the site’s navigation helps each shopper find the information they need without having to plow through everything else to get to it. Navigation has always been the key to reference materials. Bound encyclopedias and dictionaries used alphabetical order and cross referencing to help people find just what they wanted, even though most entries were rarely looked at. Indeed, the internet itself would be of little use if it were not for search engines and other aids helping shoppers find what they are looking for across a sea of content. I recall the internet prior to search engines, and its economic influence in those days was meager by comparison.

The same is true of content on a page or linking from it. Modern Vehicle Details Pages (VDPs) may have many thousands of words linking from them about the vehicle being displayed. This may include complete brochures, vehicle history reports, vehicle condition reports, the contents of the vehicle, and even the owner’s manual, not to mention all the images and videos. Few shoppers, if any, will attempt to take it all in. Much of the content won’t be looked at by most of the visitors to that VDP. Yet the modern marketer looks at these facts and smiles with delight.

If a site were limited to the information a majority of site visitors looked at, the scant amount of information left would not completely meet the needs of anyone. Mass marketing provides just enough information to get the shopper into the distribution channel, but the dealer’s website is a significant portion of the distribution channel. Websites should be designed to meet the needs of user A as completely as possible, while also meeting the needs of user B as completely as possible, and on it goes for a nearly infinite number of distinct users. The two keys to this are navigation and content.

At the 2004 J.D. Power Internet Roundtable conference I discussed the importance of automotive marketing at the level of one, marketing to the single customer. I noted this would require a growing amount of content. I brought in experts from outside the industry to talk about navigation. Ten years later, I find I’ve still not adequately made the point. Decades of overreliance on mass marketing set a tragically poor perception for what marketing is, and that paradigm lives on and gets passed on, even impacting young minds that cannot remember a workplace without the internet in it.

When talking about the desire for a clean looking website, the Google homepage is nearly always brought up.


What seems to be missed is the fact that the Google home page is 100% navigation. It meets the information needs of no one until the shopper’s interactions cause content to spring forth. I’ve yet to see anything like the mass of content and links below referred to as “clean,” but it is precisely the point of billions of searches each day.


I dare say the organization, sort tools, and navigation buttons on a dealers Search Results Page (SRP), many complete with icons as well as carefully chosen words, stand head and shoulders above the search result that may have gotten the shopper to the site in the first place. Some dealer sites are truly wonderful in their presentation of information and navigational aids together.

The primary focus of website design should be navigation across an increasing amount of content, not a reduction in content. Navigation by menu is essential, but many sites lack a proper site search tool, and that’s a tragedy. Fewer still offer a site search tool with auto complete, a huge improvement in site navigation. The example below shows a search for “used f-150 lariat white.” The results include used f-150s with every white Lariat in inventory at the top of the list.


Having more inventory is a good store experience, provided the shopper can quickly be directed to right consideration set of vehicles. More site content about that inventory is a good thing too, provided you have the proper site navigation. Keep the content most of your site visitors ignore. Chances are, your site does not have too much information. It probably has too little navigation.