By Bob George
Car shoppers are more informed than ever before, visiting approximately 23 websites before even stepping foot into a showroom. So how can dealers stay relevant and compete in today’s increasingly connected environment? Many dealers are embracing two major shifts. One is the proliferation of mobile. The other is the dealership website becoming a retailing gateway where shoppers can engage more deeply than ever before, and begin to initiate their purchases online. In the context of such significant changes, it’s natural for a few misunderstandings to emerge. Lately, much of that confusion is focused on responsive website design and adaptive website design, and which is “right” for dealers. Here’s a quick rundown of the top three misconceptions I’ve heard about these technologies, the facts behind them, and what those facts mean for dealers.
Misconception 1: Google prefers responsive design.
A Google message board for developers recently noted that Google recommends responsive website configuration. It’s led some to assume responsive is the best platform for every industry, including automotive. The truth is more complex. For starters, Google’s recommendation shouldn’t be confused with a preference. Google’s business depends on content relevance, not the platform on which the content is served. It recommends responsive for general developers because it’s an easily implemented way for the average business to achieve the most important aspects of mobile web design, including single URL structure without redirects and the easy ability for Google’s “bots” to read and evaluate content for search engine optimization. However, when you are talking about the automotive retailing industry, the conversation is more extensive. Dealership sites need to have impeccable SEO while also meeting the shopping goals of car buyers and the retailing and operational challenges of moving big ticket inventory at high volume. Any discussion of website platform and design should start there – on the strategic goals of your business – not on what Google recommends for a nonautomotive, general web developer. Indeed this sentiment was echoed at this year’s SMX Conference, in which senior Google engineers advised that a design platform should be based on the industry and audience which the website serves.
Misconception 2: To reach mobile shoppers, dealers must choose between a responsive or adaptive web platform.
In all the conversations about mobile design, the terms “responsive” and “adaptive” have been repeated so often, been used so loosely and surfaced in so many different contexts, their definitions have become confused. It’s often assumed responsive design is now synonymous with mobile design, or that an adaptive site cannot be responsive. In truth, this is more a product buzzword overkill than technology. From a technical perspective there are no rigid barriers between adaptive and responsive design. The distinction simply stems from whether the overall platform contains templates that respond and scale to different devices (responsive) or ones that detect the device on which it is being served and adapt content accordingly (adaptive). This means that elements of responsive site design can be incorporated into adaptive platforms. It also means dealers don’t have to compromise when they consider their mobile site approach. Since the lines between responsive and adaptive grow blurrier by the day, we advise dealers to leave the buzzword debate to developers. Instead, when looking at your mobile site start by asking questions about your overall strategy and goals:
- What do you want the site to accomplish?
- What shopping and buying experience do you want to deliver?
- How much control do you want to have over that experience from a backend perspective?terms, the tactical questions like “responsive vs. adaptive” become less important.
Once you evaluate your mobile site on those strategic terms, the tactical questions like “responsive vs. adaptive” become less important.
Misconception 3: Responsive design is better for SEO.
Since SEO is critical to dealership marketing, and is so closely linked to the website platform that drives it, it’s understandable to think search engines like Google might inherently favor sites built on certain website platforms. Nothing could be further from the truth. Search engines make money by connecting users to information, so they’re much more concerned with content relevance than the platform used to drive that content. In other words, Google doesn’t penalize platforms; it penalizes irrelevant content with low rankings. In his keynote address and in breakout sessions that followed, Matt Cutts, a Google senior engineer, repeatedly stressed the importance of a rich, efficient mobile site experience. He noted Google has no preference for the design framework – responsive or adaptive – that delivers that experience. So let’s move beyond the misconceptions. With such an increased focus on mobile design platforms, the retail automotive industry has an opportunity to build brand loyalty and engage consumers on a deeper level via social media, incentives, digital retailing tools and more. Knowing responsive and adaptive design can effectively work together, dealers can focus their marketing strategies around a seamless website platform that can and should engage shoppers on all devices, helping to transition prospective buyers to customers.
Bob George is Dealer.com’s director product management, websites.