The RV Trend – What is the season for online “lookers”?

There are a lot of RV Dealers waiting to list their inventory online on various RV Classifieds or RV Portal websites until they “feel” the 2009 season start.  They are measuring that by when they see sales go up, which is a common mistake that up until this year has not really been a factor because there have been plenty of RV buyers out there.  With the financing difficulty and other factors that deter folks from buying an RV now, your going to want to get your dealership and inventory out there in front of as many potential buyers possible.

Over the past 13 years, we’ve noticed there is definitely a marked trend as to when potential buyers start searching for their next RV to purchase.  The “looker” trend starts in November and continues through December, which is demonstrated by the amount of time the average visitor spends on the website.  During those months there is less traffic but they are spending considerably more time on the website.  Then from December to January the number of visitors on RVUSA.com increases by 50% or more and the “lookers” continues their RV search. 

Most RV dealers really start to see their sales increase in late March or early April, so that’s at least 2 good months for the “lookers” to find what they are looking for online and contact dealers for purchasing options.  If you’re one of those dealers who’ve waited until April to start your online advertising campaign, then you’re not even on the radar screen for all those visitors who’ve been searching the internet since January and are ready to buy. 

The good news is that from February to March the traffic numbers on RVUSA.com increases another 50% and then fluctuates a little each month until about September or October.  As an RV Dealer, your website probably follows the same basic traffic trend.  That brings my next question to mind. 

Do you have access to view your website traffic stats month-to-month?
How often do you check your website stats?
How many visitors did you get to your website last month?
How long did those visitors stay on your website?
How did they get to your website?
What are your top 10 most popular pages?

Then you’ll want to watch your specific website trends for each of those topics to see if they are improving or not.  It’s nice if the process of compiling your monthly stat report is automated and emailed directly to you, which is a feature that I implemented this past week on all of our hosted RV Dealer websites.

The bottom line is you have to get your dealership and inventory out in front of RVers in order to make sales.  If you are unsure which websites you should signup with you can check out one of my previous blogs on that subject:  http://cindyatrvusa.wordpress.com/2008/09/27/which-rv-industry-websites-you-should-advertise-on/

Let me know if you have any questions.  I’m here to help you succeed online whether you are a customer of mine or not.

Cindy Spencer  🙂

NEXT BLOG:  Who should host your RV Dealership Website?

Pros and Cons of linking to the RV Manufacturers websites

Typically when an RV Dealer sets up their website they will include a Showroom page to display the NEW models they carry from each RV manufacturer.  They will also link those images or model names to the manufacturers website so that visitors can check out floor plans, decor options, standard and optional equipment, photo galleries, etc.  Adding all this content to your website would be very, very time consuming and maintaining it would be a full time job, so adding the links to the manufacturers websites just makes sense. 

As with everything else in life, there are pros and cons that I wanted to let you know about when it comes to linking to the RV Manufacturers websites:

Pros:

  1. As long as the manufacturers maintain the model information on their website, your visitors will have access to the most up-to-date content.  (Example:  http://www.lonestarrvs.com/showroom.asp)
  2. Reciprocal links between your dealer website and the manufacturers website will help you both increase your popularity and rankings in the search engines.

Cons:

  1. If the manufacturers don’t keep the model information up-to-date on their websites and your visitors are looking for the new models, this link would be worthless.
  2. Most manufacturer websites have a “Locate Dealer” button / link that allows visitors to search and possible buy from another dealer – and your website sent them there.
  3. Your visitors will have access to all the models the manufacturer makes even if you don’t carry or sell them all, which could lead to frustration or confusion for your visitors.
  4. When the manufacturers change their website design most often the model links change, this means the links you have on your website will go to error pages or Page Not Found.  (You’ll notice this problem on http://www.lonestarrvs.com/showroom.asp – click on the Sportcoach models in the top line and you’ll see what I mean.)

Does the search engine bump you get from reciprocal links with your manufacturers outweigh the cons listed?  Also, I’ve noticed some of the manufacturers websites have the dealer links buried so far into their websites that the search engine spiders can’t reach and index them.  This makes them useless to the dealer whose linking to them for the search engine bump.

You do have alternative choices.

  1. You can link those models to your NEW inventory page.  So if you have Fleetwood Bounder on your Showroom page, you would like visitors to your new inventory page and list on the Bounders.  This would keep visitors on your website and allow them to shop what you actually have in stock.  (Here’s an example of a Dealer that links directly to their Prowler models:  http://genuinerv.com/new_rvs-p594-prowler.asp.)
  2. You could download the PDF brochures for each model from the manufacturers websites and then link the model images on your website to their corresponding brochure.  Once again this keeps visitors on your website and gives them all the new model information they would typically find on the mfg’s websites.
  3. If you are an RVUSA.com Dealer Partner, you could use our SpecBase tool.  It’s a huge database of all the NEW model information gathered directly from the mfg’s websites including:  floor plans, photo galleries, standard features, optional features, interior color choices, exterior color choices, specifications and PDF brochures.  You can set SpecBase to show the most current model year on your website but many of the models have archive information, which your visitors will be able to access as well.  All this information is maintained by my team – all you have to do is login to the Dealer Management Console, click SpecBase and then mark the models you carry for each manufacturer.  The changes you make there are instantly reflected on your website.  Here’s a dealer that’s using our SpecBase tool on their Showroom page:  http://www.beilsteincampersales.com/showroom-p903.asp and here’s another:  http://www.houseofcamping.com/rv_showroom-p623.asp

If you have any questions, please let me know how I can help you.

Cindy Spencer  🙂

What do you mean “organic” search results?

I’ve explained the difference between “organic” or “natural” search engine listings vs. the Google Pay-Per-Click ads many times over the years and with this new media to speak to you I wanted to post about it because there are still a lot of people who don’t understand.

1.  What is “organic” or “natural” listings and where are they?
These listings are the non-biased search engine results on any particular search engine, which means they won’t accept any amount of money to influence the rankings of any individual website.  Chances are when you perform a search you’ll get thousands of the free listings that have been found by search engine spiders and then ranked by relevancy according to the search engine’s methodology.  Each search engine algorithm uses a variety of factors that influence your websites organic search position including:  website structure, page content, link popularity, traffic and how often the content is updated.  In the image below, I’ve highlighted in red the “organic” (free) listings:
google_001

2.  What is Sponsored Listings and where are they?
The sponsored listings are located at the top and right side of the search results page on Google.com.  The most popular type is a keyword-based Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Campaign and anyone can set-up a campaign.  With a keyword-based campaign you, the advertiser, bids on search terms (keywords) consisting of words or phrases.  Typically the highest bidder for each keyword will be listed at the top, however in recent years the quality and relevance of the landing page has been added to the algorithm to determine placement.  Your Cost-Per-Click (CPC) will vary depending on the search engine and the level of competition for a particular keyword or phrase.  The PPC advertising model is open to abuse through click fraud, which is when a person, automated script, or computer program imitates a legitimate user clicking on an ad for the purpose of generating a charge without having actual interest in the company or product.  Google and other search enignes have implemented automated systems to guard against abusive clicks by competitors or corrupt web developers.  In the image below, I’ve highlighted in blue the Sponsored Listings area:
google_002

It’s very important to make sure your website is optimized for the maximum “organic” search results possible.  Savvy searchers who do understand the difference between the paid and natural results are more likely to hold a higher regard for the natural listings.  When you’re flipping through a magazine, you’re probably going to have a more positive attitude about a company if you read an article about them than you would from a paid advertisement.

If you are a smaller company there are several advantages you have over the bigger companies that focus on the PPC campaigns.

  • Smaller companies can change their marketing stategies much quicker, this includes their website content and optimization, which affects their organic search engine listings, whereas larger companies can take months and sometimes years to make a decision.
  • Smaller companies are more likely to outsource specialized services, such as website optimization, to somone with proven experience.  Larger companies have more internal resources and will most likely dump this on their IT person, who typically has too much to do already.  These highly technical people often make mistakes that at best don’t get results and at worst put websites at risk of penalization.
  • Smaller companies have less technical hurdles, this includes databases that are not indexable by the search engines, a website built entirely in Flash and/or other technologies that are virtually invisible to search engines.

Some of the most glaring search engine mistakes are consistently made by household name companies, which leaves their smaller competitors the opportunity to take full advantage.

If you have any questions, email me – I’d be more than happy to help.

Cindy Spencer 🙂

NEXT BLOG:  What are the Pro’s and Con’s of linking to the manufacturer’s websites?

Do you own your domain name? If not, what is the process to get it back?

Time and time again I come across an RV Dealer who thinks they are the registered owner of their domain name or they used to own their domain name but when they switched to a new website hosting company they changed the information without their knowledge.  Back when I first started this gig 10 years ago, buying, moving and managing domain names was extremly simple – all you needed to know was the domain name and you were golden pretty much.  That meant it was very easy to change Registrars, domain name contacts, DNS info, etc. 

Now, in order to even renew a domain name, you need the login username or userid and password with your Registrar to access your account.  It’s even more of a pain if you want to move hosting, especially since more and more hosting providers are utilizing one main account for all the domains they host.  I say it’s a pain, but it’s actually much more secure this way.

 One of the tricks website hosting companies pull is to set themselves up as the Registrant, Adminstrative Contact, Technical Contact and Billing Contact for your domain name.  What this does is prevent you from moving hosting because if you are not a contact on the account, you don’t get access to it.  It’s sneaky and they depend on you not knowing any better or double checking your domain name status to pull it off.  With it set up this way if you ever want to move hosting you would need to contact the provider and it’s at their discretion to allow you to move your website.  Even worse, they can charge you any amount they want to for you to buy your OWN domain name.  I know – nonsense right!!

Here’s a scenario I’m going through with an RV Dealer right now, whom we will call Mr. Ed.  Mr. Ed’s current website host / webmaster is the owner of their company domain name and they are unhappy with the results and customer service they’ve been getting from him.  After several failed attempts to get in touch with their webmaster, they were finally able to reach him and when he learned they wanted to move hosting, he demanded a lump sum payment of around $2,500+ or he was not going to release their domain name.  Well, Mr. Ed paid for that domain name and is not inclinded to pay anymore.  In the meantime, Mr. Ed had already cancelled his account with that webmaster and since he is not going to pay to get his domain name back, his webmaster can put whatever website he wants up there on Mr. Ed’s company domain name, including a porn website.  I personally would consult an attorney who specializes in domain name and internet issues and I’ve advised Mr. Ed that this is the best course of action.

I want to explain the terms in relation to domain name registration to you and if you have any questions feel free to email me.

Registrar:  The website you use to buy or manage your domain name(s).  The most popular are:  NetworkSolutions.com, GoDaddy.com and Register.com.  When buying a domain name you want to make sure the Registrar is ICANN accredited.  This is also the website you will go to if you ever want to update any of your domain name info and/or change website hosting.

Registrant:  This should be the owner or principal officer of your company followed by your company name.  This will be the “owner” of the domain name.

Administrative Contact:  This should be the same as the Registrant or another principal officer your comfortable having access to your domain name as a backup.

Technical Contact:  This should be a contact at your hosting company just in case there is an issue with your domain name, it’s up for renewal, etc.  There’s nothing worse than losing a domain name because the emails to renew it were sent to only one address on the account and that address either blocked it, put it in the spam folder or just didn’t get it. 

Billing Contact:  Depending on how your hosting provider deals with the renewals, this may be them or it could be you.  Either way works.

Remember, if you change your email address from the one listed on your Registrar you need to login and change it there as well – this is very important.

Now, in order to check your domain name there is a tool that will give you all that info and much more here:  http://whois.sc – once there type in your domain name (without the “www.”) and click the Lookup button.  The top part of that page will give you Page Info, Indexed Data, Registry Data, Server Data, DomainTools and then the WHOIS info, which is what you’re interested in checking out.

If that information does not reflect your company name, current email address, etc., you’ll need to get it changed right away.  If you have your Registrar login, you can access your account and make the necessary changes.  If you don’t have access to it you can contact your hosting company and they should have it.  If it’s on their master account ask them to update your domain name information for you and then go back a few days later and check the WHOIS to see if the changes are complete.  If for some reason neither of you have the login information, most Registrars have a “lost username and password” feature you can use to have that sent to the email address associated with the domain, which is another reason to keep your email address up-to-date with them.

Tip:  When doing research on domain names to buy, don’t use NetworkSolutions.com or NetSol.com because they will give you a certain number of minutes to buy the domains you’ve looked up or else they buy them, which locks you into using them as your Registrar.  Instead use http://whois.sc – look for the link that says Domain Search on the results page.

If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email or give me a call.

Cindy 🙂

NEXT BLOG:  What do you mean “organic” search results?

How often should you update the “look” of your website?

How often should you update the “look” of your website?

This questions comes up often enough that I thought I better do a blog about it.

There’s really no strict quidelines on this, but in my experience the websites that tend to get better results, keep growing their traffic numbers and sales leads are changed every 18-24 months. 

Just think about the websites you visit more than once a week.  What draws you in?  New, interesting content will bring visitors back to your website time after time.

There are a few do’s and don’t when it comes to updating the look and content that I wanted you to be aware of:

DOs:

  1. Keep the navigation consistent throughout the website.
  2. If you add new features or tools, add instructions on how to use them.
  3. Set up a custom 404 error page if you are removing old pages – this will allow your visitors to browse your new pages for the info they are looking for.
  4. If you change your URL or website address, use a redirect on the old address pointing visitors to your new website.
  5. When reorganizing your website content make sure your visitors, potential customers, will be able to figure out and navigate to the content most important to them – for RV Dealers that would be your inventory.
  6. Make sure you have dynamic content (content that changes each time the page is loaded) on your homepage, such as Featured Units, as this will entice search engine spiders to index your website more often as they see the content constantly changes.

DON”Ts:

  1. Don’t put up pages that say “under construction” and just leave them there for weeks, months or worse years.  If you don’t have the content, don’t add the page.
  2. Don’t use AOL, Yahoo!, Hotmail or another generic email host for your business website.  Using domain name related emails does several things for you:  1.) It makes your visitors feel you are a legit company, 2.) It makes your visitors feel like you are a bigger company than you might actually be, and 3.) If email issues arise, it’s much easier to track down and fix the problem – those generic email guys are not really set up for business emails.
  3. Don’t build your website totally in Flash.  Yes, Flash is cool but your website will not get indexed in the search engines, which is how most of your website visitors will find your website.  You could have the coolest, flashiest website on the internet but if no one knows it’s there it doesn’t do you much good.
  4. The less clicks the better… don’t force visitors to make a bunch of clicks to get to the content, especially inventory.  That will just frustrate them and they will look elsewhere for an easier-to-use website.

Remember, if you are building your own website or having a design firm do that for you, make it as easy-to-use as possible.  Give your visitors as much info about your company as you can to make them feel welcome, give them a sense of familiarity and make them feel like they are already an important part of your company.  Think of your website as an extension of your company, like an additional location.

If you need help with designing a website from scratch, redesigning a current website and/or website maintenance and updates let me know.  My design and programming team are dedicated to making your website a success and are experienced in all facets of the process, including search engine optimization.  Take a look at our Portfolio and other services we offer here:  www.netsourcervs.com.

Cindy 🙂

NEXT BLOG:  Do you own your domain name?  If not, what is the process to get it back?