By Tony Albertson, Ward’s Dealer Business

Many new-vehicle dealers have a tendency to treat the pre-owned internet site as an afterthought, just like their physical lot.

Think about it. When you replaced the carpet in the new vehicle showroom, did you throw the old carpet out or did you put it in the pre-owned vehicle building?

When you spent all that money on the new-vehicle showroom the manufacturer pressured you into remodeling, did you build a new pre-owned building as well, or did you just paint the old prefab pre-owned vehicle office trailer? Does the pre-owned vehicle display area look as good as the new-vehicle display?

And does your internet site for used cars look great? It should.

Several sources say more than 80 percent of pre-owned vehicle buyers search the internet before they call or go to the dealership.

Today’s automotive internet user is the direct equivalent of what we used to call “drive-buy” traffic. What are we doing to attract them?

When I was young, my dad decided we needed to get the family a new “used car.”

On Thursday afternoon he bought a newspaper and spent an hour checking ads.

Then we’d pile in the Mercury wagon (with wood grain side panels) and drive around the used-vehicle lots. He may have had 15 vehicles underlined in red pencil and intended to look at every one of them. Did he? No.

We drove around a few lots, and something would just catch his eye. The same thing happens on our pre-owned website if it is set up and marketed properly.

Pull up your website. Can you access your entire pre-owned vehicle inventory with just one “click”? If not, fix it. When the public pulls up your site to look for a pre-owned vehicle, they will not stay if it is difficult to view your offerings.

Ease of navigation is a key factor. If you spend some time checking out various dealer websites, you will often find a great-looking homepage and spend 10 minutes trying to figure out how to get to the information you seek. One good solution I see more and more is flash video with sound and someone explaining how to navigate the site.

When you click on a specific vehicle, what do your pictures look like? What do you see in the background? (This one might shock you.) Are you providing free advertising for the dealer next door?

How many pictures do you have? Evaluate your picture-taking process. The goal beyond quality pictures is to present the various views of the vehicle in a consistent manner. If picture number four is a rear view of the vehicle, picture number four on the next vehicle pulled up should present the same view.

The easy way to do this is designate a specific area in the dealership where all your pictures are taken. Paint some marks on the ground indicating the direction and location the vehicle is to be parked with additional marks designating where the pictures are to be taken from.

I have seen dealers convert an empty wash bay into a pre-owned vehicle photo studio using good lighting and monochromatic backgrounds to facilitate this process. Just as effective is putting the car in front of an outside wall with a canvas backdrop showing the dealer’s name and phone number.

What information about the vehicle are you providing? There is a common saying among website aficionados that goes like this, “He with the most information wins.”

There can certainly be a case made for too much information, but do you present a story beyond the usual “low miles,” “extra clean,” “loaded”?

When marketing pre-owned offerings, there should be no difference between the real lot and the virtual lot. Both should be clean, attractive and easy to navigate and present products in the best light.

This article reprinted with permission from Ward’s Dealer Business.