New vs. returning website conversion: leveraging your site to push them down the funnel

By: Russ Chandler

Over the last few weeks, I’ve become particularly interested in studying the differences between new and returning visitors on dealership websites. The reason for this is because all (or at least a good majority) of the leads our clients were capturing were folks who were wanting purchase relatively soon. These folks were going through trade appraisal experiences, scheduling test drives and doing things that you’d typically do right before you’re about to decide on a vehicle.

When I began studying these two different types of consumers, I asked myself a baseline question: “Who was more likely to convert?” The data I dissected indicated that consumers who were returning to a website were more likely to convert into a lead. After taking the data and tying it to general engagement data, I discovered that the path was pretty typical.

When people are initially visiting your website, they’re in a discovery mindset. They’re looking for what vehicles you carry, they’re looking at various prices and they’re looking at other info as well (location, discovery info, etc.).

Most of the time, new website visitors aren’t going to convert often. In fact, they’re very likely going to leave your website to conduct additional validation on what they found. This isn’t to say that you store is completely “out of the running.” That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Although some folks might leave and never come back (which is always a possibility), there are lots of folks who will leave your dealership website to validate some of the information they’ve read on your website. Consumers might look up specific information regarding a particular make and model listed. They might look up reviews of a particular vehicle, or even look up reviews of your dealership.

The time between a consumer visiting your website leaving and coming back can range anywhere from several months to just a few minutes. Regardless of the time in-between, it’s pretty clear that that time frame can be a little nerve-wracking.

You don’t know when a consumer is coming back (or if they’re coming back), and you don’t know if they decided to go with a competitor. Keeping consumers on your dealership’s website for an extended period of time is ideal but challenging. It’s very rare that a consumer will travel down the purchasing funnel from start to finish within one single visit. It’s just not practical for most people. Purchasing a vehicle is a BIG decision and that’s why consumers conduct as much research as humanly possible – and research takes time.

Despite this, however, there are ways your dealership can really make the most of this typical consumer behavior. What if I told you that there was a way for you to “convert” a consumer at the beginning stages of the purchasing funnel? You might not think it’s realistic (or even possible), but trust me when I say it can be done. What it all boils down to is the way your website approaches those consumers.

If you’re like most dealerships, your website caters heavily to consumers at the bottom of the purchasing funnel – basically, folks wanting to purchase very, very soon. Your trade appraisal tools, your payment calculators, your credit applications, your test-drive schedules are all things that bottom of the funnel consumers would be most interested in.

To ensure that you’re thoroughly engaging with consumers at the top of the funnel, you need to provide relevant CTAs and content to someone in a discovery mindset. After you convert those folks, the data you collect will allow you to push them further down the purchasing funnel — so when they very likely leave, they’ll eagerly return to your website. Ideally, your site is setup with the kind of technology capable of automatically remembering them.

Soft CTAs vs Aggressive CTAs

Although returning visitors of the funnel consumers, arguably, have more immediate needs because they want to purchase soon, top of the first time visitors have needs that need to be addressed too. They’re just different than the folks who have come to a more solidified conclusion on what vehicle they’re going to buy.

Typical dealership websites have a variety of calls-to-action (or CTAs) on their VDPs and SRPs. Those calls-to-action often consist of: value your trade, get e-price, get special offer, and so on. As you can see, these types of experiences are often completed by folks who are about ready to purchase.

Because the majority of dealership websites out there focus on bottom of the funnel consumers, folks in the research phases aren’t going to be as inclined to engage with those experiences. After all, those experiences are completely irrelevant to top of funnel consumers at this point.

So, this leaves one big question: How do you convert or, at the very least, collect information on a consumer who has just started research? You obviously don’t want to come off too strong, but let’s face it, you want your dealership’s website to be the one your consumers visit when they ARE ready to make a purchase.

Although the primary goal for bottom of the funnel CTAs is to coerce consumers into filling out their information in an experience, the other primary goal is to provide a consumer with the information they need – a trade appraisal, an e-price, a special offer, etc. Your dealership is proving it’s worth by offering something of value and that’s why consumers are accepting of giving out information.

It might seem counter-productive to do it so early, but CTAs can play just as big of a role for dealers who want to focus on top of funnel consumers – or your first-time visitors. Consumers need information at every stage of the funnel. The only difference is the type of information.

That being said, it would be in your dealership’s best interest to integrate “Soft CTAs” into your dealerships VDPs and SRPs; which would show up primarily for new website visitors who have either, never converted or who have never had any interaction with your website.

Soft CTAs are like normal Smart CTAs, but they offer far less aggressive incentives and experiences. So instead of displaying a button that says “Value Your Trade,” a more appropriate button would be displayed like “Learn More Information” or “Find Out What Vehicle is Best for You!”

These experiences don’t give information that goes toward a specific purchase. Instead, the linked experiences help consumers learn more about what they want and make more solidified decisions about what they might want going forward.

In addition to being a type of evaluator, soft CTAs often lead to experiences that don’t absolutely require a phone number or even an email. And if they do, consumers might have an option of saying “contact me later” or “don’t contact me at all.”

The point of these Soft CTAs is to build a relationship with consumers and earn their trust for future business. You’re giving them useful information without being pushy and in turn, you’re learning a little more about specific consumers on the backend.

In addition to leveraging useful consumer info, your website can leverage the consumer’s visitor information to swap out CTAs on their next visit. The hope with these soft CTAs is that they convince consumers to realize the usefulness of your dealership so that they consider you a trustworthy option coming back.

Russ is a dedicated professional generating results in the world of marketing and advertising. With over a decade of experience in the auto industry as a dealer, he has seen firsthand the problems dealerships face every day. Russ combines this expertise with powerful technology, providing his clients an increased response and conversion on their marketing.

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