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Too many Web sites are too confusing

In this day and age, almost all dealers have a Web site working for them, or should have. After all, it’s an important 21st century vehicle for stimulating business. Or, is it?

As Web sites have become so common, even taken for granted now, they’re effectiveness and productivity is coming under increasing scrutiny.

A good example comes from the travel industry. One of the most successful categories for Internet Web site results has been in the travel market. Online travel bookings have been a steady leader of the consumer’s move to Internet shopping. However, a recent US Online Travel report has revealed the dynamics for this category are changing.

In 2008, US travel sales booked online reached about $105 billion, up 12 percent from 2007. Interestingly, however, even though online sales were still growing, fewer travelers were actually booking their trips online. Moreover, the drop was not due to economic concerns -- online travel bookers are mostly an affluent demographic. Rather, the drop is being caused by consumer frustrations with the Web sites. In this particular case, frustrations with the planning and booking capabilities of the online travel sites. One result has been to actually spur some renewed appreciation for the expertise and personalized services offered by traditional travel agents.

There are some lessons in this for us, too. One is that we likely don’t take time to make certain our Web sites are not a cause for frustration, either by their design or operation. In other words, as in the travel example, that our Web sites do provide an opportunity to easily navigate to and access all the information a visitor might want.

No question Internet studies have shown a person who becomes frustrated with a Web site simply clicks the mouse and they’re gone. . . and so is some potential business!

Another point is the need to respond fast to inquiries coming in from your Web site. There are countless stories of lost business because no one responded quickly to an e-mail inquiry. Finally, when someone did respond, the response they most often got was: “I’m sorry but since you didn’t get back to me right away, I bought it from someone else.”

I find that once dealers have established a Web site, most don’t visit them frequently enough. Not good! Always keeping a Web site fresh and up-to-date is critical to its success. But, if you don’t go to it, how can you inject new, fresh ideas into it? Doesn’t happen, you say? I have visited many Web sites and I can tell you I have observed a lot that haven’t changed, updated or added something good in years. They never change. So, they can hardly be called up-to-date and effective.

How about your Web site? When did you last visit and take a serious look? How far back did you make the latest changes and improvements? If it has been a while, now’s a great time to jump in and get it done.

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