As an industry, we sometimes make the Web too complicated. We get caught up in the technology and the process, and ignore the simple things that can take a dealership to the next level.

In the early years of the Internet, the dealerships doing the best online typically had a sharp Internet manager driving the success.

The truth is, sharp Internet managers are hard to find. And the Web is a dynamic that continuously evolves, and is hard to keep up with.

If you've relied on the computer guys to manage your Internet presence, it's probably time for you to get involved in a big way — that is, if you want to get a leg up on the dealership down the street.

Here are some simple ideas that you, the dealer principal or general manager, can use to leverage the Internet to help your dealership sell more cars.

  1. Pay attention to your Web site

    It is an extension of your showroom and as important as your physical dealership. Potential customers are going to your Web site to find your phone number, set up service appointments, find a sales person, look at vehicles and determine if your dealership is a place they want to do business with. Many times, your Web site is the first impression the customer has of your operation.

    So, use the Web site to advance the perception that your dealership is an honest and safe place to buy and service a vehicle. Include photos and short biographies of employees. It's odd when the Web site has a “Staff” link, yet the page has a generic description of the departments.

    Talk about the history of the dealership and include a short message from yourself. Brag about your business. Are you a President's Award winner? Do you have CSI? Do you contribute to charities? Include all of this on your Web site.

    Also, make sure your specials page is updated each week. Not updating the specials is like leaving the Christmas decorations up all year. Besides, updating the specials will help with the search optimization of the site.

    There's a lot of talk about customer reviews on outside Web sites. Time will tell if customers really will begin writing reviews on some of those third-party sites. A simple idea now is to encourage customers to write reviews on your own Web site. Many dealerships have binders full of customer letters displayed in the waiting areas. Find a way to have some of those letters place on your Web site.

    Market your dealership as a green-friendly store, if it is. You can highlight the vehicles that get good gas mileage and even talk about some of the things you do to help the environment. It's warm and fuzzy, but a lot of today's customers are looking for that.

  2. Take control of the marketing of your Web site

    Don't leave it strictly to the Internet staff to make the marketing decisions. Involve them, but make sure the person handling your overall marketing also oversees your Internet marketing.

    Create URLs that go directly to specific pages on your Web site. For example, if you're marketing your service specials on the radio or TV, provide a URL that links directly to the service page on the site.

  3. Demand all leads get responded to quickly

    This may take some effort, but quick response times lead to more sales. Don't settle for a yes or no answer from your Internet staff when you ask if they're responding to emails promptly. Ask them to show you the process and the numbers.

  4. Involve your staff

    Show them the numbers and the value of making the Web a key component of the business. Tie pay plans to performance. This also applies to the parts and service departments.

    Provide spiffs to employees that come up with creative ideas for your Internet operations. There's no shortage of inexpensive, simple ideas.

  5. Expand your horizon

    The Internet isn't just about sales. Web-based applications help improve dealership efficiency.

You can cut costs by buying used vehicles at online auctions. They're easy and efficient to do. Also, the inventory management tools offered by Resource Automotive, Vauto, DealerTrack and JM Solutions' AAX and others provide business and competitive intelligence for your store. You can know how to price your vehicles in relationship to your competition and you can know much better how to appraise vehicles and which vehicles you need.

Another area starting to see Internet applications is finance and insurance. Online credit applications are beginning to generate strong leads for dealerships.