Studies have shown that LESS choices and features result in higher user satisfaction, so why then do so many dealership websites today still look like this?


Even checking out examples of what some people consider to be the best dealership websites, several continue to show the same bloated traits. Home pages being used as a table of contents for everything on the site and VDPs with more buttons than a NASA shuttle cockpit. We’re making it difficult for the visitor to complete the task they came here for with so much noise distracting them. Serial offenders include:

  • Popup/interstitial offers
  • Rotating carousels on home pages
  • Live Chat buttons/overlays in every screen corner bombarding the user like an overeager shoe store assistant
  • Banner ads
  • Overly emphasized OEM branding
  • Social share toolbars front and centre on every page
  • Every button is a call to action (when you highlight everything, you highlight nothing)

Web design is a somewhat subjective discipline and you may disagree with some of these items. A feature that is cool for one person is gimmicky for another. My point is not to argue what’s good or bad design but rather to challenge the “more is better” approach to building dealership websites that seems to be prevalent today. Often these decisions are justified with reasons such as “our competitor has it on their site”, “our marketing manager thinks it looks cool” or “it’s already part of our vendor’s website platform”. Website vendors will encourage this feature-fest as they’re getting paid more to build and maintain each one. Once a feature is added, it’s there to stay - when was the last time you removed a feature from your site without replacing it with something else?

The problem with this approach is that every feature on your website has an associated cost, and this cost is often much greater than you think. It can be broken up into the following parts:

  1. Initial effort to design and develop the feature
  2. Ongoing effort to maintain the feature (update content, fix bugs, etc.)
  3. Impact on page load time
  4. Negative impact on user experience of a badly designed or poorly positioned feature
  5. Effort to track usage and performance of this feature and any knock-on effect on other parts of the site
  6. Effort to remove feature when it expires or proves to be performing poorly

So a feature’s benefit needs to outweigh all these cost factors to make it worthwhile. And given that less choices = higher user satisfaction, adding a new feature should not be done lightly, while poorly performing features should be cut quickly. Given the massive rise of mobile, feature frugality is more important than ever.

So how can you make your dealer website leaner and more user friendly? Here’s a 5 step plan…

1) Write down goals

If you haven’t already done so, formulate a short list of high-level goals for how your dealership website will improve your business, and write them down.

For example:

  • Enable online car buyers to easily purchase vehicles from our dealership
  • Enhance brand awareness so that visitors will keep our dealership top of mind when they’re ready to purchase

This should be the mission statement for everyone working on your website. All existing and new features should be contributing (directly or indirectly) towards these goals. If they’re not, they should be cut.

2) Define success criteria

Would you hire a salesperson and neglect to measure how many sales they were closing each month? Of course not. Think of your website features as your digital sales assistants. So how will you monitor their performance? You need a metric of success to measure the ROI that they will bring you. Your success metric should be specified as a rate **(rather than an absolute figure) and should be **time bound. For example, if you’re considering allowing users to search using a new criteria field “Body Style”, your success criteria could be:

At least 100 users per week will be performing a search using the new body style field after 1 month of release.

Real data helps take the guesswork and gut feel out of feature development.

3) Track, track, track

So how are you going to gather the data to produce this metric? Is it simply a matter of tracking page views or do you need to implement custom event tracking when the user interacts with parts of the page? In the body style search example, you may need to add some code to track when the user selects a value in the Body Style drop down list. It’s crucial to get this right so make sure to test the tracking implementation during feature development as well as testing the feature itself.

4) Review frequently

Create a report in your analytics tool to make it easy to see how your new feature is performing. Once the time period specified in your success criteria is reached, review the report. If the feature has achieved its target, great work! If it failed, then it’s time to be ruthless. Beware the sunk cost fallacy, remember the ongoing costs listed above and cut that feature out.

It’s useful to schedule 1 day each month when you can review all features on your website to see how each is performing and identify any longer term decreases in effectiveness.

Pro Tip: If you’re using Google Analytics, you can create a custom alert for each feature to be automatically notified when the feature’s key metric drops below a certain threshold.

5) Publish features independently

Releasing multiple features at the same time makes it more difficult to track the success of each feature as they may have an untold knock-on effect on each other which is impossible to measure. If you can, aim to give each feature at least a couple of weeks on its own on the live website.