August 31st, 2010
According to research by PCG Digital Marketing, creators of the ASMA Study, the largest companies that service automotive retailers have made major investments in rebuilding their Automotive Advertising platforms in the past year.
This is a very promising trend and will make attending the upcoming automotive conferences critical for any car dealership looking to significantly grow their business in 2011. The changes in Automotive Advertising platforms, tools and resources have never been more impressive.
The XIGroup, owned by Dominion Dealer Solutions, is no exception. The latest XIGroup platform we reviewed showcased many features that will surely please their user community as well as attract new customers. This article is not meant to be a full review of the XIGroup website technology. The XIGroup platform will be included in the 2010 ASMA Report that will be published on October 13, 2010 which recognizes and awards the leaders in automotive search technology.
I was impressed with Joe High, General Manager of XIGroup, who made the presentation because his focus was not the same as other companies that we have reviewed as part of the 2010 ASMA Study. Joe started his presentation with a focus on the quality of data presented on car dealer inventory pages.
Inventory pages are the most popular pages used by consumers when visiting a car dealer website. XIGroup has leveraged automotive data from Data One to create what Joe High considers the highest quality car detail data in the industry. You don’t have to look hard to find car dealer website with inaccurate data for options and configuration data by VIN Number.
I was also impressed how easy the car detail pages could be configured to give car dealers the ultimate granularity in how their cars are presented online. In the screen shot below, you can see that dozens of features can be turned on or off on a car listing page to make the consumer experience powerful.
In fact, this degree of customization is integral in the entire platform. I give XIGroup high marks for their back-end administrative menus on how easy it was to change website features. Some car dealer website platforms have so many features that dealers can get lost in finding configuration settings.
The XIGroup administration controls were clean and followed a user interface design that even novices could follow. The menu design is a hybrid between “old-school” menus that dealers like and new navigational aids that the next generation of dealership employees demand. Shown below is one master menu that controls some of the user configuration options:
One of the most interesting features was their rules based engine. Dealers can quickly update inventory pricing, tags, call-outs, visibility based on business rules. If dealers wanted to add a “special” tag on all cars in inventory over 30 days, that can be done in one click. Dealers who want to take any car out of inventory without waiting overnight for a new feed can do so quickly. The rules based inventory management features will save dealers a lot of time when compared to manual editing.
Another feature of the XIGroup platform is that all car photos can have a custom overlay with the dealer’s information. Photos on a car dealer’s website look so much better when a consistent photo overlay is used. This is branding 101! The XI platform can automatically take plain photos and dress them up with the dealers phone number, website address and logo.
The integration of car photos and videos is very smooth and the car detail pages are very clean and attractive. I like that consumers can bookmark cars, save them and create a side by side comparison. This feature is useful when consumers find similar new cars in stock that have significantly different prices. The tool can show them how the installed options change their delivered cost.
In the screen shot below, you can see where I highlighted in red the two visual navigation controls that are visible on car detail pages:
The new XIGroup platform has one of the strongest page editors on the market and gives dealers full control over SEO Page Titles, META Descriptions and Keywords. Their platform allows dealers to create unlimited content pages and these pages can be placed on multi-level nested navigation menus.
XIGroup is one of a handful of website platforms that offer specific upgraded packages for Automotive SEO. Their offerings to car dealers who want managed SEO include Basic SEO, Enhanced SEO and SEO Elite, which are all priced very reasonably. These packages are what I would consider “On-Site” SEO and on-site optimization is a very important part of the overall success of any car dealer’s website.
In conclusion, XIGroup hit the bull’s-eye for dealer usability and consumer shopping tools. Their new platform does a great job of providing a robust feature set that can be easily controlled by dealership staff; especially those that do not have a technical background. With their mobile platform offering and a new website architecture, XIGroup website technology demands a closer look.
We look forward to testing this new platform as part of the 2010 ASMA Awards and rating their search marketing strengths. Results of our review of 46 automotive website platforms will be announced on October 13, 2010 and published on www.asmaawards.org.
August 24th, 2010
I’ve said this before, but what a difference a year can make. I just finished a two hour webinar presentation of the new BZ Results platform called Virtual Dealership 2.0 and I am very excited with the platforms openess and new user interface.
When Mike McKenzie, Supervisor of Web Design, said that it was a ground up rebuild, he was not joking. The new platform will be a strong Automotive Advertising tool for car dealers seeking to increase leads and sales.
This blog post is not a full review of their SEO architecture and search strengths; that will come when we publish the 2010 ASMA Awards and white-paper on October 13, 2010. That said, BZ customers who are on their old platform should know that some great changes are on the way. On of the customers that is using their new platform is Seeger Toyota.
Results Virtual Dealership 2.0 is a powerful platform that allows dealers to create a fully customized website using simple drag and drop widgets, similar to how WordPress works. Dealers can select from a number of “layouts” ( as shown above) and then within each layout, they can pick a theme. Think of themes as the color palettes and textures that your website can use.
For any layout and theme, dealers are presented with a number of universal widgets within the base build and dealers can create as many custom widgets as they like. These widgets are CSS aware so that when they are dropped on to a page, they blend into the color palette and theme.
Widget examples are Contact Forms, Maps, Videos, Slideshows, Text Boxes, Inventory Lists, Search Boxes, Specials, Twitter Feeds, RSS Feeds, etc.. Critical widgets like inventory listing modules can be configured to the nth degree. This will allow dealers and marketing professionals to create landing pages that can meet any business need. The widgets for inventory had many customizable features that will make creating PPC landing pages very easy.
The process of customizing any existing page or adding a new page is straightforward and all pages can be edited for their SEO Titles, META descriptions and permalinks. This represents a new attitude in BZ Results which once felt that they had to do everything for the dealer. I like the fact that I can help a BZ customer directly with a custom on-site SEO strategies which in the past I could not do.
Today, their new platform is built on empowering the dealer to create a customized customer experience. If the dealer doesn’t have the skills to customize their site, Mike reminded me that BZ has staff to do that work for the dealer.
Another nice feature was that dealers can create their own custom forms, slide-shows, change navigational menus, and even microsites. Yes, the new platform will launch new microsites on a new domain or sub-domain with simple tools. This will keep all content and technology under one control panel. (Now BZ is gunning at me!)
As part of the new site architecture, BZ customers can store all their digital assets in a library that can be used in the future. You can see from the Assets list on the right, that BZ has made sure that dealers can easily create, store and reuse their digital assets.
Dealers can also store common external and internet links in the asset libary (see Links on right) to use within their websites or as part of their content writing strategies.
I liked this feature especially when dealers rely on third party website partners that have cryptic links that may change over time. By storing the link in the asset library, external links can be edited in one central place and be updated site-wide.
Another cool feature is that these assets can have a start and end date so that coupons, incentives and web pages can start on a predetermined schedule.
The new BZ automotive website platform is best described as “empowering”. The system is a dramatic change from a closed platform for design and SEO to very open.
The design team at BZ has leaped ahead of many competitors in the marketplace on design and flexability. It will be interesting to see how the site indexes as well as being subjected to our search criteria.
In the meantime, if I was a BZ Results customer under a long contract, you should be calling to get your site upgraded.