The way people buy cars has changed pretty fundamentally over the last decade or so, pushing the automotive industry to find its way into the digital age. Modern customers do most of their research and shopping online rather than visiting dealerships — and they expect this process to be quick and convenient.
For your automotive business to thrive in an increasingly competitive online market, you need a website that stands out and makes life easier for your customers. While your website should reflect the spirit of your business, there are some helpful guidelines to build around that will ensure a smooth experience for visitors to your website.
Your first priority should be making sure your website is easy to navigate. Your user interface (UI), which is essentially the way visitors to your website are able to interact with it, should be convenient, intuitive, and straightforward. Websites that are confusing or inaccessible will be discouraging, and potential customers will turn elsewhere for easy-to-access information.
It’s important to take into account that the average customer isn’t necessarily tech savvy – nor should they have to be to find what they need on your site.
Put yourself in the position of someone doing research or looking to sell a car online — where do you look first on a page? How do you want information grouped? Visual cues such as motion or color are important to guide visitors where they need to go. Be consistent with these cues to avoid confusion.
The “hamburger” menu is a strong starting point if you’re unclear. This drop-down menu style is easy to navigate and represented by three perpendicular horizontal lines that have become widely recognizable across many different websites. These menus can be placed near your company name high on the page.
Think convenience — no one wants to scroll to the bottom of your webpage to find a menu. Your search feature should be near the menu but separate from it and easily identifiable for people who know exactly what they need to find.
Simplicity is Key
Minimalism is an important design principle when building your automotive website for several reasons. The first is related to ease of navigation — a clean web design is easier to navigate than a cluttered one.
The next is professionalism. A website with popups, sudden loud sounds, or a cluttered design feel unprofessional and make your business appear less credible. Simpler designs also tend to load more quickly, meaning your website will be accessible regardless of your customer’s device or connection quality.
Minimalist design also has an association with luxury. Consider the design elements people consider in vehicles as both a guideline for what may look attractive on your website, and also as a branding opportunity. If your business specializes in utility vehicles, for example, a geometric motif and use of the color green through the site could appeal to your specific market while keeping a user-friendly design.
Another good rule of thumb is that it should never take the customer more than three steps to find what they need. Your search feature should always be easy to find and function well. Double check that it works often, and whenever page changes are made.
Don’t Forget Your Mobile Site!
People are increasingly replacing their computers with their phones for research and shopping purposes, and the functionality of mobile websites is a big factor in if a customer will continue to research your particular business.
Your mobile website should be optimized for browsing on the go, so avoid features that will slow users down. If there are differences between your desktop and mobile site for optimization reasons, be sure to keep your design visually consistent to strengthen your branding.
Pursue “responsive” designs, which are designs that are compatible with a variety of different devices and eliminate the need for maintaining a separate mobile site.
Google also considers mobile compatibility a factor when ranking websites in search results, meaning the quality of your mobile site is directly related to the number of customers being directed to your business online.
“Chunking” is a method of organizing information on your website by breaking it up into discrete groups of related information. This method is particularly effective for automotive businesses because customers visiting auto websites are coming for a variety of different reasons.
Attempting to make one overall menu for all of the information your website needs to contain would be chaos. Visitors to the website of a local dealership at any given time may, for instance, be:
- Customer A, who already bought a car and needs it serviced.
- Customer B, who has already decided on a vehicle and needs to research your financing options.
- Customer C, who isn’t even sure yet which brand of car they’re interested in.
Each of these customers will need a very different set of menus, and each should be able to find what they’re looking for with the same ease. This dealership could separate the site into a format with “chunks” for service, financing, and their product lineup to get started.
Think about what services or information visitors to your business will need and create your own chunks!
The automotive industry is competitive, and there’s a lot of websites yours will be standing up against for potential customers. While it’s crucial to make your website pleasant to look at and easy to use, it also needs to be distinctly yours. You want your site to stand out against the others.
Design is also an important part of the automotive industry on the whole — well-designed cars should be accompanied by a well-designed website.
The appearance of a vehicle is a high priority for many shoppers, so the images your website uses are important. Automotive websites are great candidates for video backgrounds showcasing stock. Use high quality photos and videos that highlight the quality of your product.
Car websites are also great candidates for interactive 3D models that allow customers to view the car from different angles or even explore different features.
As long as your font is clearly readable and high contrast, your color scheme and font choice are up to you and should reflect your business. “Broken” layouts, which are layouts that don’t follow a grid, are unconventional but can be used in some standout ways.
Choosing a design motif that reflects your business or design principles will reinforce your brand in your customers’ minds against a sea of other results.