March 9th, 2010

Ling's Cars: Subtle Brilliance and a Lesson for Design Elitists

A friend with a particular gift for web wisdom once told me “there are only two ways people will find your site: through Google, or because someone tells them about it.” I subscribe to this assertion (of course “someone” includes aggregation sites and other trusted link collectors) and also believe that if your site is worth talking about, Google will respond to that as well.

I saw a link to Ling’s Cars last week on Twitter and stared in shock and awe for a good 10 seconds at the website. Animated gifs, FOR SERIOUS. It took me an additional 30 seconds of pretty concentrated analysis to decide whether the site was a farce, a scam or maybe-just-maybe a site that actually leases cars? You can take a look at the image below, but that’s just a small taste.  Click the link. Go ahead, I dare you.

That was just the beginning. In the hours that followed, I realized that Ling’s Cars is actually totally effing brilliant. I find myself sometimes so sucked into the rounded-corners gospel that I forget no one really notices that stuff except for *other design snobs*. I think good design is extremely important but I’m starting to realize design and usability aren’t as tied together as I once thought.

So why is Ling’s Cars awesome? Thoughts:


Car salesman have a (often well-deserved) reputation for sleaziness. Every time I interact with a car salesman, I am trying to pinpoint how exactly I am getting screwed, and for how much. Ling’s whimsical site prompts the opposite response – all the “shiny objects” prevent the buyer from going on the offensive the minute he/she lands on the site.

Did everyone see Jesse Schell’s awesome talk from DICE last month about “Design Outside the Box”? I think it’s relevant here – start watching at about 12:00, where he talks about authenticity.  The most interesting quote:

“Gilmore and Pine put forth this interesting concept, that the most valuable thing in products today is ‘are they real?’ ‘are they authentic?’…we live in a bubble of fake bullsh*t, and we have this hunger to get to anything that’s real.”

If nothing else, Ling’s Cars is authentic – you can tell it’s a real person behind the site and not just some SEO factory. Perhaps you missed this quote: “Note: I live inside this website Monday to Friday 9am-6pm, to give you the very best service and make your experience a happy one! – I am Ling, accept no substitutes.”

Entire video here:

Insane Understanding of Importance of Referral Traffic

After I found the site, I was curious to see what the smart folks at Hacker News thought of it. So I posted this thread and within 30 minutes, Ling had found the link, responded and emailed me. A personal email. From Ling.

I think many web business owners underestimate the importance of referral traffic, especially traffic that comes from sites that aren’t search engines.

Personal Attention

Given the quote about living in the website, the personal email I got from Ling and the piles and piles of customer letters on the site, it is clear to me that Ling really takes good care of her customers, in a genuine way. If I ever need a car in the UK, guess who I am going to call? Perhaps it’s not directly “conversion” but it’s that step before conversion -  “awareness”- that’s just as important.

Give The Customer What they Want

The reason why Ling’s Cars was getting so much attention on Twitter a few weeks ago was likely tied to this presentation from the 2010 Online Marketing Summit (start at slide 54). After doing some research I also found a blog post that speaks about the usability win of the site.

I think something the site excels at is giving people what they want. It’s surprisingly easy to navigate and find what you’re looking for.


There’s been a bunch of interesting academic work done on how to build trust on the internet. Anyone can throw up a PHP template and call it a day. But to really build trust you have to make it clear that there’s a real person on the other side of the tubes, and that they’re not going to just take your money and give you some snake oil. Like authenticity, it seems like building trust with your audience right from the beginning is important.

For some reason, who knows why, I trust this woman to give me a good deal. I just do.

Anyway, back to my original point. In a market as saturated as car sales, good luck trying to SEO a term like “lease cheap cars”. Even if you had all of Mechanical Turk back-linking you 24/7 you’re not going to win that game. Instead, Ling has made her site memorable. I told a few friends about it, and now here I am writing a whole post about it.

Oh, and if you google “lease cheap cars” on (the site serves only the UK market), guess which site is #1.

Game over.

Share This Post:


  • LingValentine

    At the very least, I can be the first to comment.

    This blog means more to me than any number of glossy, corporate reviews. This is an intelligent, mature, real person giving an honest opinion. To be true in this world, you can only do this business building one person at a time, but Amanda is like one of those steps you take in a dream where you shoot 100 metres in a blink. I feel very happy that someone has taken the time to understand my principles. After one email, I feel she just about knows me.

    Thanks so much for this assessment, Amanda. You are on the money as far as I am concerned :) No one can please everyone, guess many people will read this blog or my website and just not get it. But, as long as SOME people gettit, that's exactly the same effect as I look for from my own website. Some will, some won't so what :)

    Thanks again AP! Superstar! Tell me when you are a high flying MBA, get over to the UK and buy me lunch! Hahaha.

    Ling Valentine

  • alphonso

    I am not an SEO factory I am a real person to.I have 2 cats and a goldfish and blue fluff in me belly button.
    Very astute post.

  • zachaysan


    <quote>Oh, and if you google “lease cheap cars” on (the site serves only the UK market), guess which site is #1.
    Game over.</quote>

  • alphonso

    afraid you need a few thousand more top rankings than that for it to be game over,!!

  • Used Cars

    Wow, lingscars is really busy.

  • Jam

    Ling set off a huge google bomb the night of her Dragons Den broadcast.  Her site used to tell you how to do it, but sadly no longer does.  

    If ever I were to lease a car, I'd use Ling.