Online dealer reviews drive showroom traffic
How many stars for your store?
Weaver seeks online reviews.
A year ago, Tom Wood Toyota in Indianapolis started urging customers to write online reviews of the dealership on Cars.com in addition to Google.
That turned out to be a good move because the Cars.com reviews have drawn customers, while Google has twice in the past year cut customer reviews without explanation, said Diana Weaver, the dealership's Internet marketing director.
"We've had people tell us that they drove past four other Toyota stores because the reviews they read said it would be worth the drive to come here," said Weaver, whose store has 401 reviews on Cars.com with a stellar composite rating of 4.9 of a possible 5 stars.
Reviews have become an integral part of dealership online marketing because Internet shoppers are more likely to visit a store if they see good reviews. That has created an opportunity for some companies, such as Chicago-based Cars.com, to jump into a mix dominated by search giant Google and third-party review sites such as dealerrater.com and Yelp.
In August, Google deleted nearly 500 reviews the store had collected over several months. That was part of a nationwide Google purge that dozens of dealers have complained caused thousands of legitimately gathered customer reviews to be removed from their Google + Local pages. Google said the move was to fight "spammy content."
Cars.com, a leading car Internet shopping site, launched dealership reviews for customers in July 2011 to complement its vehicle inventory and other information, said Cars.com President Mitch Golub.
Since then, customers have left more than 100,000 reviews on the site relating their experiences at nearly 18,000 new- and used-vehicle dealerships that subscribe to Cars.com, he said. The average score is 4.5 of 5 stars, Golub said.
Cars.com also has been consulting with dealers on how to best collect reviews after sales and service, Golub said. Cars.com attracts about 24 million visits to its Web site per month.
Weaver said her dealership began asking customers to write reviews on Cars.com when the shopping site launched the review program. Tom Wood Toyota now asks all sales and service customers for reviews, she said.
A recent study by Volkswagen of America found that VW dealerships that attained an average score of 4 stars or better on consumer reviews received 32 percent more traffic to their Web sites from Google searches than those with 1 or 2 stars.
About the time Cars.com started its review program, Google was eliminating all dealership reviews on Google search pages from third-party review sites, such as dealerrater.com and Yelp. That caused dealerships to lose dozens or hundreds of reviews overnight.
Weaver said she "saw the handwriting on the wall" at the time that Google would continue to sweep away reviews. Her foresight was justified in August when Google again purged thousands of reviews nationwide without notice or explanation.
Weaver said Tom Wood Toyota has just 25 reviews left on Google today.
Tom Wood Toyota is one of eight stores in Indiana and two in Minnesota owned by Tom Wood Automotive. The Toyota store sold 1,545 new and used vehicles in 2011.
Weaver said the store increased efforts to get customer reviews on Cars.com when she became assured that the reviews would remain on the Web site.
Said Weaver: "That's when we really started to buckle down."
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