Dealers launch Websites to reach more customers and sell more cars. That’s a worthy goal, and building an online presence will certainly help. But there’s a difference between sites that sell cars and sites that sell what special finance customers are really after: a second chance at good credit.

A traditional dealership Website is designed to promote the inventory and assist a potential customer in the research and buying process of an automobile. Not surprisingly, most dealership Websites are boring! They all seem to feature the same old inventory photos and the only the most basic information about financing. That’s good enough if your only objective is to make cash deals on the metal you have in stock, but to compete with the best, you have to offer much more.

I’ve visited many dealer sites that fit the description above, but with one added feature: A “Bad Credit? No Credit? Click Here!” button. Hoping for an interactive credit-solutions page, I take the bait, only to be disappointed every time. At best, it’s a credit app. Usually, it’s a dead end, such as back pages that tell prospects they can be helped, no matter what, but fail to explain how. “Come on down to the dealership!” is just not enough to capture the credit-challenged customer who has been turned down in the past.

Advantages of a credit site

On the flip side, a credit site is entirely focused on the credit aspect of a vehicle purchase. The site is not there to get you interested in any particular vehicle. In fact, the vehicle itself hardly matters. Customers are there to build their bureau first and select a vehicle second.

Let’s say you’re running a Suzuki franchise that includes a pre-owned lot full of Toyotas, Fords and Hondas. You might be missing a lot of buyers who are shopping online but aren’t necessarily looking for a Suzuki. They may be unfamiliar with the brand or they may have something else in mind — it doesn’t matter! If you do have the used car of their dreams and the right financing to back it up, they’ll never know.

You have to decide how your dealership is going to approach special finance. Are you going to take the credit-challenged buyers as they come, or are you going to proactively engage the subprime, nonprime and nearprime markets? To me, it makes far more sense to sell credit than any particular vehicle. I tell my clients that the era of traditional Internet sales, where the prospect is landed on a particular vehicle and the financing is an afterthought, is already over. If I’m in the special finance business, I want my customers to feel confident that I can get them a loan, I can assist them in re-establishing their credit, and I will treat them with respect and discretion along the way.

I have sold cars for long enough to know that it’s better to work forward than backward. By that I mean I don’t think it’s a great idea to get someone all excited about a particular vehicle, options and upgrades only to find out 10 minutes later that they can’t even qualify for the loan they need to buy it. I don’t want to then have to (a) start the vehicle search again, from scratch or (b) play therapist to try to help the customer get over their disappointment and embarrassment. The better way to work it is from the credit angle. I want to sell them on the idea that I can help them find the best scenario to fit their needs and then work with them to find the right vehicle.

The first step is to get that credit site up and running.

Building your credit site

If you’re willing to tackle the opportunity, I suggest you start with a strategy. If you’re going to sell credit, you have to do it right! Here are the five key features of a successful special finance credit Website:

1. Start with the right address. If your dealership’s name is ABC Motors, do not register There is no need to rebrand your dealership or create any kind of cross-affiliation with your credit entity. Why? Because your dealership and your credit site should be two separate businesses. Your credit customers will still end up in one of your cars in the end. Come up with a new name for your credit business. Then, consult the same legal and accounting resources you utilized to set up your dealership to help you with your new venture.

2. Invest in SEO. Proper, effective search engine optimization (SEO) is the key to making sure your customers can find you on the World Wide Web. If you’re not an expert yourself, seek out a partner with Internet-marketing credentials that include experience in all aspects of SEO, including organic, vertical, and, last but not least, video. Also, be sure you have a site map for the Website — very important for search engines. You can’t let a single potential customer slip by your site!

3. Content is king. Your credit site should be clean, simple and easy to understand. Visitors should have no doubt what they’re there for, and that’s credit repair. Make sure you map out all the back-end pages with your Web-design company. For example, if you really want to give your customers the opportunity to repair their credit online, is an application really enough? What comes next? Without options, your customer might end up on your competitor’s site. You want to make sure that there is substance and content to your Website. You can even set up a credit-help blog or forum. The possibilities are only as limited as your imagination!

4. Testimonials, testimonials and more testimonials. This is one of the most powerful features you can build into your credit site. I know you’ve had customers who were happy enough with their experience to recommend your dealership to their friends. Why stop there? The next time you secure financing for a customer who wasn’t sure if he or she could even qualify for a car loan, pick up the video camera and let them share their story. If your site isn’t designed to handle embedded videos, create a YouTube channel and a link from your home page. There is nothing more powerful than video testimonials from customers you helped into a good loan and a good vehicle — especially if other dealers couldn’t or wouldn’t!

5. Track your progress. Work with your provider to generate data reports or set up Google Analytics for your site. It is very important to track any statistics available to measure your site’s popularity and performance. If you don’t, you will never be able to improve them.

When I worked on the front lines at a Nissan/Cadillac/Kia dealership in New Jersey, we booked, on average, more than 75 special finance deals each month. We owed a big part of our success to our dedicated credit site. It drove massive amounts of traffic to our dealership and we didn’t spend a dime on third-party providers. If you have any questions about what we’ve covered so far or need help starting your own credit Website, please feel free to drop me a line.

Sean V. Bradley is the founder/CEO of Philadelphia-based DealerSynergy. He is an expert in special finance training, Internet sales, BDC and technology. E-mail Sean at [email protected].