In this article, you will learn how to create a website like Autotrader and turn it into a successful car classifieds website.
1. Market Research
Before you build your Autotrader website, I recommend doing some basic research on your target market to help you understand your audience.
Here’s a screenshot of Autotrader.com’s demographics
Autotrader’s audience is made up of females who browse the website at school. I’m guessing lots of college students and young professionals search the website for cars to buy/trade/sell. I would build a demographic profile of:
- 18 to 36
- Browsing from School
Here’s a few things to consider when planning your website:
- Who is my ideal visitor?
- What kind of cars do they like?
- How will I market to them?
AutoTrader.com is a huge website so spend some time browsing through their website to get an idea of the content they use. Post lots of classified car ads and allow people to register accounts to get lots of traffic to your new site.
2. Get a Domain Name
You will need to acquire a short yet brandable domain name for your new website. Brainstorm a bunch of domains then try to select a domain that is:
- Easy to Remember
- Avoids any trademarks
- .COM extension (or a country level domain if you want to target a certain country)
Domain Name: $9.95 per year
I use Godaddy for all my domain needs. Every website needs a good domain name from a reliable company. I’ve registered my domains with Godaddy ever since I got started back in 2006. They offer the best pricing and deals for repeat customers. You can also get private domain registration for an extra $3 per year. It’s the best investment if you want to keep your identity secret to the public.
What if my domain name is unavailable?
Type your desired domain in your web browser to see if it’s available. If you land on a blank internet service page, then the domain is available.
If not, then you can either choose another domain or buy the domain name from someone else.
Get a custom logo
Every website needs a custom logo to establish their brand. If you are on a limited budget, get a cheap logo from Fiverr for $5. If you have a bigger budget, I recommend 99designs.
3. Get Dedicated Hosting
Web hosting allows your users to access your website on the internet. Most people don’t have web servers in their homes, but many companies provide access to their servers for a monthly fee. Your website is 100% dependent on good reliable web hosting. If your web hosting goes down, then nobody can visit your website.
Managed dedicated hosting will handle 100% of your server’s tasks without you having to lift a finger. Good managed dedicated hosting costs between $100 to $500 per month.
Dedicated Server Hosting: $279 per month
LiquidWeb is my recommended dedicated server hosting company. Their clients include: MTV, ESPN, Michigan State University, Audi and Home Depot. LiquidWeb’s Intel Dual Process Dedicated server is the best web hosting for Pinterest-like websites. The Intel Dual Xeon E5-2603 v2 comes with:
- 8 Cores Total @ 1.8 GHz
- 8 GB RAM (DDR3)
- 250 GB SSD MLC, RAID 1 (Primary Drive)
- 1 TB 7200 RPM SATA (Backup Drive)
- 5 TB Outbound & FREE Incoming Bandwidth
The server is fully managed. LiquidWeb takes care of everything so you don’t need a degree in Computer Science to get started. Don’t worry about server administration because they have 24/7 phone customer support and will even help you install any website script on your server.
4. Use a Content Delivery Network
A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is one of the best way to improve website performance. Unlike normal web hosting, where your content is housed on a single server, a CDN takes the website’s static content and replicates it through hundreds of servers around the world instead of a single host at one location. This technology makes sure each visitor to your site gets their data from the city closest to them. By bringing your content closer to your readers’ connection point, your website will have much quicker load times, superior scalability, and guaranteed uptime.
Content Delivery Network: $20 per month
My recommended content delivery is handled by MaxCDN, one of the biggest CDN providers on the Internet. MaxCDN is the content delivery provider for Mashable, Template Monster, BuySellAds and many other big sites.
MaxCDN charges on a pay as you go plan with no long term contract. The first 1,000GB of data transfer cost $39.95 (normal price is $99). After that, you pay 9.9 cents per gig.
5. Build Your Auto Classified Ads Website
Autotrader is one of the most popular websites in the world because people can buy and sell their cars on the website. You will need a robust auto classified ads script to give your users to power to complete several tasks:
- Register an account and create a profile
- Browse car listings and make inquiries
- List cars for sale along with photos and specific details
- Allow dealers to sell cars and create listings
- Provide vehicle information to users
High End Custom Website Solutions
If you want the full functionality of a website like Autotrader, then you will need a massive budget to get the website up and running. I found this helpful advice over at Merchant Circle:
If you really want all the functionality and content of AutoTrader, you would have to hire a custom-programmed script from a team of analysts and programmers. That cost would probably be between $200,000 and $1,000,000. Then you would have to hire site administrators, webmasters, and an army of salespeople to make the strategic alliances with all the auto dealers who list their cars for sale and an army of researchers to create all the information content about all the cars. If your startup budget is $10,000,000 or so you should be able to get it launched.
If you want a high end custom website, then find a good web programmer at Elance or Freelancer.com.
Budget Auto Classified Ads Scripts
If you don’t have a large six figure budget, then there are some cheap alternatives to help you get started.
Each of the above scripts provides you with enough functionality and features to build an auto classified ads website like Autotrader.
6. Add Users and Cars to Your Website
Once you choose between a custom website or an auto classified ads script, you will need to add lots of content to your website. Contact lots of dealers and create as many relationships as you can to help your website get free content in the beginning.
In the beginning, nobody will use your website. You need to add content yourself to make your website look busy. That means uploading cars for sale and adding dealerships yourself. You also need basic car information to help your visitors read about car specs, parts, models, makes and other automobile information.
In the process, I recommend adding lots of fake users. Many big websites start off with fake users accounts that the original founders create. You can advertise your growing user base through the fake accounts you created. This will help your website look better once you submit press releases and start getting public attention.
7. Step Up Social Networking Profiles
Social media is a really important factor in website traffic so be sure to create social media profiles at the following sites:
- Facebook Fan Page
- Google+ Page
8. Drive Traffic to Your Website
Before you begin driving traffic to your website, make sure you have plenty of good content hosting and are able to support a flood of traffic. Your website should be able to handle a viral spike in traffic because it happens when you least expect it.
The best ways to drive traffic are:
- Social Media
- Email Marketing
When you start a website like Autotrader, you need a simple yet effective marketing strategy for each major traffic source.
- Use static URLS – don’t use dynamic URLS that have ?
- Create clear page titles including the Make and Model of each car
- Reach out to local car dealerships for links. Encourage them to post their vehicles on your website
- Update your website regularly. You should be adding new cars for sale on a daily basis. Weekly at the very least.
- Consider adding a blog to your website. Write articles about most common problems in the automotive industry and provide clear cut solutions
- Use ALT image tags for your images. This will help your photos rank in Google image search and send you free traffic.
Social Media Tips
- Focus your efforts on Facebook. Autotrader’s Facebook page has over 1 million likes.
- Use Facebook Ads to boost your likes. Start with a small budget then increase it over time to get cheaper clicks.
- Post car images to keep your fans engaged. Use FPtraffic to schedule your Facebook posts in advance.
- Pinterest is another good traffic source. Create a profile and pin all your car photos. Pinterest is very popular with females.
Pay Per Click Advertising Tips
- Use Google Adwords and Facebook Ads to drive traffic to your website.
- Identify your best performing car models and make then send paid traffic to those pages.
- Create compelling ads to improve CTR and decrease CPC. Use SEMrush to perform competitor analysis and steal their best performing ads.
Email Marketing Tips
- Build a list using a lead magnet in exchange for your visitor’s email address. Write a simple report about a common car buying problem to get more signups.
- Allow users to create an account using social networks. This is the easiest way to build a list fast.
- Create a monthly newsletter and allow people to subscribe to it.
- Email alerts to users when a car they prefer is offered for sale
9. Make Money with Your Website
When you build a base of stable traffic, you have several ways to make money with your website.
Charge a fee to list cars for sale
Autotrader’s business model is to charge dealers and sellers a fee for listing their cars for sale. This is probably the easiest and most profitable way to make money. Here’s a screenshot of how much Autotrader charges people to list their cars:
Find a good payment gateway then accept payments on your auto classified ads website. Don’t just use Paypal. Offer a variety of payment methods because some people don’t trust Paypal.
Banner Advertising through Google Adsense
Google Adsense pays publishers on a CPM basis per 1,000 pageviews. It’s easy to grab some code and paste it on your website. Best of all, you get paid for impressions, not sales. This is a simple way to monetize your website.