It’s easy to put content on a webpage—about as simple as writing an email. But the question of how to arrange that content, and the site beneath, in order to maximize throughput, profit, and customer happiness, is one that’s eluded companies large and small since businesses started moving online.

I’ve been running an automotive tech company in San Francisco for two years now, and despite coming from a software design background, I’ve learned more about e-commerce design in that time than I thought it was possible to learn about any topic. I’ve noticed a few common mistakes cropping up time and time again for all kinds of businesses in the automotive industry.

Firms of all sizes, from individual dealers to publicly traded dealer groups, are struggling to build and maintain websites that are as clear, simple, and exciting for buyers as those that exist in every other e-commerce vertical. So, I’ve gathered this handful of the fastest and easiest fixes that will help any dealership immediately multiply the conversion and value of its existing website.

1. BE SIMPLE

This is the number-one rule that I see people break. Too many automotive sites are cluttered with distracting content, videos, buttons, logos, links, and calls to action. This look is OK for media sites because their goal is to convey the maximum amount of information in the minimum amount of time. But “super dense and probably confusing” doesn’t work well for a business site whose goal is ultimately to shepherd a customer with previous intent through an e-commerce transaction funnel.

There are many other things a prospective customer can do on a site, like seek support and file requests, but these should be considered paths back to e-commerce, or post-sale support—it always comes back to the bottom line.

With that goal in mind, declutter your website and pursue simplicity as the ultimate virtue. Showcase your inventory on your homepage. Add clear “Buy” buttons next to every car, and don’t cannibalize that value prop with other buttons or text that undermines the function or the price. Simple design helps customers find what they need as fast as possible, which is essential to keep in mind: the average web user decides whether to stay on a page or leave within two to four seconds. Make sure they stay on yours.

If you already have a site, take a good look at it and ask if everything you see on the page needs to be there. If you don’t have a site yet, be careful about what you add. Every piece of complexity could delay the time to conversion. How many menus do you need? How many pages total do you need? I’ve designed sites with three pages to their name. If you can keep it simple, sometimes it doesn’t take much more than that.

2. BE CONSISTENT

Consistency is another big problem online, and it ties into simplicity. You can think of consistency like simplicity of design versus simplicity of content. A web page can have the same kind of action—like filing a support ticket and sending an email—implemented in two different ways. This not only wastes developer time, but it also takes up extra space in the user’s mind as they try to figure it out. If your site is struggling to bring in traffic, or users are not taking advantage of a new feature, it might be that you’ve designed it inconsistently with the rest of your product.

We’ve covered internal consistency, but what about consistency with other websites? While it’s true your site needs to stand out, not everything needs to be an innovation. Choosing a fancy theme is less important than the usability of your interface, and quite often, the most popular solutions are the easiest for a user to understand. Industry leaders tend to have polished, clean web design that doesn’t confuse people and have clear and meaningful calls to action. I suggest tabbing through some of the big players in order to get an idea of modern design standards.

3. BE EXPLICIT

Many times designers are tempted to make something a little too simple: using an icon instead of a word, using a generic term instead of a descriptive term, et cetera. This can be a powerful tool for the visually minded, but for everyone else, too many icons can be overstimulating and confusing.

Don Norman, a prominent designer, famously said: “People cannot remember the meaning of more than a small number of icons… Who can remember what each icon means? Not me.” It’s far better to use a couple of words to clearly communicate what you want the shopper to do than using fancy and often confusing icons.

And don’t write something like “Menu”—a menu could hold anything. Group your pages and sections into similar categories: “Services”, “Order Options”, “Products”. On the support menu, don’t have “Reach Out”, as it’s too metaphorical. “Contact Us” is more explicit, literal, and easily understood. Once again, we are optimizing for a fluid interaction.

4. BE APPROPRIATE

I can be a picky guy, but it’s how I keep my taste good. And I am a stickler for the tone of a website. A lot of the time, people want to put stock images of attractive people or fluff text somewhere because they think it makes customers feel welcome. But, it often has the opposite effect. First of all, use stock photos for marketing extremely sparingly (with the exception of stock product photos). They’re rarely needed on a page, they take time to load on slower connections, and they take up space that could be used for something useful to the customer. A stock photo is, in some respects, visual noise that needs to be filtered out.

My personal litmus test for whether a photo helps me as a web visit is this: if I were drunk and trying to figure out how to navigate your site, would the picture help or distract? Other things to watch out for: salesy catch phrases and marketing jargon. Of course, you’ve got to sell to people but don’t write your copy like an ad. If they’re on your site, chances are they’re close to a buy, so the best thing you can do is be informative and professional.

Space on every page should be expensive, by which I mean that it should be worth a lot of money for you to sacrifice any area for a direct commercial. That’s what separates a quick click from a site that stays around: longevity. Stick to clear and concise calls to action on any buttons you add such as “Buy Online,” “Talk to a salesperson,” or “Get E-price”. And in the e-price example, make sure you actually instantly reveal an e-price after you collect their lead info!

5. BE ACCESSIBLE

Every site you see these days has a navigation bar going across the top. This is not a coincidence or a trend. Organizing the entire site into a small, easy to reach area in immediate view is a design philosophy. Accessibility repeats the creed: “So easy, your grandma could use it.” This ties into simplicity, consistency, explicitness—everything we’ve seen so far, combined together, creates an accessible site that captures the most traffic and nets you the most conversions.

It’s not about the navigation bar; it’s about the fact that anything you need to do is included right there in front of you, and there aren’t too many options, or segments on the page. Keep in mind that when people are purchasing a vehicle, they’re very likely making their biggest purchase of the year and you want that buying experience to be pleasant, exciting and user friendly.

 

I hope this guide has helped you get in the right mindset to rethink your company’s site. You might have to call a meeting or two to iron out some of the finer details—as with anything, perfection takes perspiration—but I promise you’ll start seeing results if you take these lessons to heart. Good luck out there!

 

Read the article in Car Biz Today Magazine: https://flipflashpages.uniflip.com/3/105331/380919/pub/html5.html#page/7

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