How Responsive Website Design Helps Boost Revenue

Carsales.com, Australia's top online automotive classified site, is helping its independent dealers make the switch to sites built with responsive design in mind. Revenue is up, the company says, in part because of increased traffic from mobile devices.

Carsales.com Ltd. runs a network of online classified websites in Australia, attracting millions of consumers each month to listings for autos, motorcycles and other modes of transport. The company, based in Richmond, Victoria, also helps dealers set up websites to display their inventory.

Carsales had its own proprietary platform for building those sites, but the technology limited the company's capability to quickly roll out and update dealer websites en masse. In addition, Carsales wanted to provide its dealers with sites built on the principles of responsive design. That wasn't possible, however, with its site-building platform.

Carsales went looking for a new platform. "Our two main criteria were time to market and being able to offer these dealers a responsive website that was … affordable," says Paul Barlow, group strategy director at Carsales.

The responsive design approach aims to create websites that adjust to the particulars of a user's device — screen size, for example — and provide content best-suited for that device. As more users access websites from a still-evolving set of mobile devices, responsive design can save developers the hassle of creating separate websites optimized for certain classes of devices.

Mike Murphy, senior design director of user experience at GkF, a research company, says responsive design is gaining momentum. "Even a year ago, responsive was the exception, but now it is becoming the rule," he says. "People are understanding what it means and they are learning the benefits of it. It gives you something more sustainable than building three or four different versions of your face to the world."

Barlow says his company considered a range of options, including a number of free source offerings and the possibility of building its own upgraded solution. The in-house approach has been typical of Carsales, he says: "We have a history of wanting to do everything ourselves."

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As the company grew, though, this option became less attractive. Carsales now weighs the speed it needs to field a solution against the recurring cost of obtaining that solution from a partner. In the case of the site development platform, Carsales ventured outside its walls, selecting Moboom's website platform and content management system to drive the dealer sites.

The companies began working together in March 2013. Today, 1,000 dealers — about a quarter of Carsales' dealer population — now use Moboom-built sites. The transition to Moboom has made the website deployment process two to three times faster and prepared dealers for the rise in mobile traffic. The sites also let Carsales offer a value-added product to boost revenue.

Rolling Out Sites Where Opportunity's Highest

Carsales generated $215 million AUD (about $194 million USD) for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2013, on revenue growth of 17 percent. Barlow says the company is the leading online classified business in Australia in verticals including autos. In a June 2012 study, 80 percent of consumers browsing auto classifieds in Australia did so on a Carsales-owned site.

Carsales' dealer website initiative, however, initially focuses on verticals outside of its automotive bulwark. The 1,000 dealers currently on the Moboom-built sites represent Carsales.com's truck, marine equipment, heavy machinery and caravan (travel trailer) verticals. Other verticals, including cars, may be included in the second half of 2014.

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The company opted to begin the rollout in verticals where dealers had less Web experience and, therefore, may not have explored the Web as sales vehicle to any significant degree.

Moboom lets Carsales develop website templates to quickly create sites for its dealer customers. "We worked closely with Carsales to develop each of their templates," according to Jef Rice, co-founder and chief operating officer of Moboom. "It took the team about two weeks to build the website templates, a process that normally takes months when you're coding a responsive website by hand."

Upfront Works Makes Responsive Design Worthwhile

Murphy notes that organizations thinking about responsive design should consider the time factor. "One challenge, upfront, is deciding if it is right for you. Can you support it from a timeline perspective?"

Over the long haul, responsive design will save time compared with building desktop, tablet and mobile versions of websites, Murphy says — but following the steps of creating a responsive site will slow the development process down compared with just building a mobile site. For example, organizations should take the time to structure their content first before proceeding with site development, he explained.

"In the short term, you will work harder to get there," Murphy says.

[ More: 13 Simple Tips for Improving Your Web Design ]

Barlow, meanwhile, suggests that providing dealers with responsive websites represents a step toward the future, noting that dealers haven't been specifically asking for responsive technology. He says 57 percent of the users hitting the flagship Carsales automotive website comes from mobile devices, with traffic to the company's other sites probably trending in that direction as well.

The goal with the responsive sites is to put dealers' products and inventory in front of potential buyers, "no matter what the medium," Barlow says.

The responsive sites will let dealers grow with an expanding mobile user population, he adds. "If we had given these dealers that weren't Internet savvy just static websites, we knew we would never be able to take them on a journey."

Moving Content, Driving Sales

Moboom imports dealer content, which is generated directly by Carsales, using a mass-deployment content management method.

Carsales sends dealer data to an XML feed, which Moboom imports on a particular schedule. The feed is a text file that contains all the details of dealer inventory, including product name, description and image links. Once content is imported, it's immediately reflected in the individually generated responsive dealer websites, according to Moboom. The company said its content system is built to accommodate any data structure, in any format, including JSON, CSV, XML and RSS.

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An interface between Carsales' proprietary CMS and Moboom's CMS enables the data transfer. To set up the import, dealer data is uploaded to an FTP server. Moboom's content importer checks for new files — every 15 minutes in the case of the Carsales deployment. If a new file is on the server, Moboom imports that data into its system.

Dealer websites also uses Moboom's server-side technology, which Rice says makes Moboom sites typically faster than responsive websites constructed along conventional lines. Moboom uses server-side media queries to determine how a dealer website will look on a user's device.

Responsive design using media queries often places the task of determining how the website will look on the client side. In that scenario, every device receives the same images, which can lead to slower browser load times. The server-side media queries, however, let Moboom hold back items such as high-resolution images that will cause a slowdown, according to the company.

Barlow says the responsive dealers sites have helped the company create a revenue-generating product from something the company previously gave away. In general, Carsales seeks to create new products to bolster yield per account and help grow the company in a way that doesn't strictly rely on adding new dealers.

"Most of our websites are No. 1 in Australia in their verticals," Barlow says. "From that point of view, we have a good number of the dealers that are on our sites. For us to grow in those verticals, we need to add value-added products."

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