Search Engine Optimization (henceforth known as SEO) is one of the most misunderstood subjects in automotive digital marketing today. Unfortunately there is still SEO advice being given and automotive SEO services being sold to car dealers that are based on outdated strategies and tactics that USED to work (like a decade ago) but have long since proven to be inefficient (at best) or potentially harmful (at worst) to your auto dealership’s overall web presence.
So how do you figure out what’s right for your dealership from an SEO perspective, and what you should avoid at all costs? Whether you handle your auto dealership’s SEO in house, or are looking for a top notch SEO service provider, we’ve assembled this list of best practices that will get you up to speed on what a modern SEO strategy should look like, that will drive results.
Before we get into our best practices for automotive SEO, we think it would be really helpful if we’re all on the same page in understanding what SEO actually is.
WHAT IS SEO?
The definition for SEO that we adhere to at Dealer Inspire comes from Danny Dover, our Director of Special Initiatives. Danny literally wrote the book on SEO (a best seller!) and ran SEO for companies like Moz and AT&T before joining our team way back in 2013. He defines SEO as:
“SEO is the art and science of optimizing web resources for people and for computers. The emphasis is on people first, then computers.” — Danny Dover
There’s a couple of words in that definition that we should expand on to really drive the definition of SEO home:
Why SEO is an Art:
SEO is dynamic and must be learned through real-life, practical experience. Just like music, acting, dancing, drawing or painting — SEO is a skillset that improves and flourishes through direct experience over time.
Why SEO is a Science:
SEO is a byproduct of the work of computer scientists, and that means there are best practices that one can follow that will consistently lead to a predictable and repeatable outcome.
At Dealer Inspire, we use this definition of SEO as our basis in optimizing your online presence so that you show up for more things, more often, for less money.
Ok, now that we’re all working from the same definition of SEO, let’s dive in to the tips, tricks and tactics that you can use to in your own SEO efforts today!
1. KEEP YOUR WEBSITE HEALTHY WITH TECHNICAL SEO
A lot of times, when people think SEO, they think “Content & Keywords”, but SEO is so much more than that. Before creating new content, it’s critical to make sure your website’s technical health is optimized.
Technical SEO is auditing and optimizing the aspects of your website that improves its crawlability and indexability by search engines, while simultaneously providing a superior user experience that gets people to the info they’re looking for as efficiently as possible.
While a technical audit of your website is crucial prior to launching your content initiatives, it’s also something that should be performed on a quarterly or semi-annual basis. As your website grows, and more hands (from your own team or outside sources) are manipulating your website, mistakes or errors are bound to occur. If you’re not performing regular technical audits, many of those errors will go undetected, potentially affecting the health of your website.
Here are some common errors you should look out for in order to maintain the technical health of your website:
- Broken Links: Ensure that all links on your site work, without giving error messages to the user when they visit the page.
- Redirect Chains: Don’t slow your site down by having more redirects than are necessary. Clean out old redirects and always get users to their destination in the most straightforward way possible.
- Duplicate Title Tags/Meta Descriptions: Each page should have its own unique title tag and meta description describing the page for users.
- Clean XML Sitemap: Ensure your site’s XML sitemap doesn’t have pages that redirect, that have been no-indexed, or contain broken links.
- Internal Linking: Provide your visitors with links to additional content that are natural extensions to the page they entered your site from.
- Proper Index Directives: Have a robots.txt file in place to direct search engine crawlers to the web pages you want to be crawled, and the pages they should ignore.
- Provide Alt-Image Text: Ensure that your images all have descriptive alt text for users using a screen reader, and for search engines to have image context.
2. CONTENT ISN’T KING, RELEVANCE IS!
Once you’ve established that the technical health of your website is optimized, then you can start thinking (or rethinking) your approach to content.
How many conferences or webinars have you attended where you were told, “Content Is King!”? Today, while content is certainly important and a big part of a larger, ongoing SEO strategy, the RELEVANCE of your content is much more important than ever before. #SpoilerAlert: It takes more than the latest in auto news to draw and keep customers on your site.
The content you publish on your website must be relevant to real people with real problems looking for real solutions.
Remember, when someone is searching on Google (or Bing…or Duckduckgo), they’re looking to answer a question or solve a problem. When it comes to auto, those questions can be about in-car technology, vehicle specs, availability, pricing, offers, incentives and so much more. That’s why it’s critical to develop a content strategy based on what consumers are actually searching for before you publish a single word of new content on your website. This will help ensure that you’re creating the most relevant content that speaks directly to a car shopper’s specific needs.
In addition to performing content and audience research, you’ll also want to be able to answer these questions:
- Who are your organic competitors? Often times these are different than your local competitors.
- What content do your competitors have that is doing well that you don’t have?
- What content is on your site that is already performing well?
- What could be performing better?
- What pages aren’t ranking for what you intended them to rank for?
Once your research is complete, and you’re ready to begin publishing new, relevant content, be sure to follow these best practices:
- Visuals are good, but don’t overload pages with media that will bog down your page speed.
- Layout your media for the mobile experience first, then tweak it where needed for desktop.
- Review how your new pages look on both mobile and desktop before publishing.
- Naturally link existing pages to your new web pages.
- Utilize internal links to direct car shoppers to other pages and topics that are relevant to their journey.
- Don’t skip title tags and meta descriptions.
3. KEYWORDS – STILL IMPORTANT, BUT A LOT HAS CHANGED
It’s hard to talk about content without talking about keywords. Understanding and using keywords correctly in your content is critical to your SEO strategy. But be careful! While keywords can be extremely powerful when used in moderation, keyword abuse can cause your webpage to hit the rock bottom of search results.
Keywords, also referred to as search queries, are the terms that people use to find what they’re looking for on search engines. When you publish a new page to your website, a search engine like Google will do these three things:
- Crawl: Search engines are constantly crawling the web looking for new web pages to add to its index.
- Index: When a search engine finds a new page, it will try to understand what it’s about and index it accordingly. (This is where the proper use of keywords is a must!).
- Serve: When a user types a query, a search engine will check its index to serve a list of the highest quality answers to that specific query.
Back in the day, the keyword was “the key” for getting your webpages noticed by search engines. SEO’s would obsess over metrics like “keyword density”, “keyword distribution” and “latent semantic indexing”. So all SEO’s had to do was use their seemingly magical word skills to place just the right keywords in just the right places, in just the right amounts, on a web page which would miraculously produce top rankings on Google. Piece of cake.
Unfortunately there are providers in our space today selling packages that only focus on content and outdated keyword strategies.
Now, don’t get it twisted, keywords are still important for users and search engines to understand what a web page is about. But gone are the days where you could unnaturally repeat the same keyword in every paragraph to shoot your way to the top of the rankings.
Today it’s important that you’re cognizant of using natural and semantic variations of your keywords in your copy in addition to other strategic areas such as your Meta Title, Description & Heading tags.
Let’s take a look at an example of how an SEO would have created content a decade ago, to how it should be done today, shall we?
In most cases, there’s more than one way to ask a question. For example, if a shopper wants to know how much stuff can fit inside of a 2019 Jeep Cherokee, they might search for:
- 2019 Jeep Cherokee cargo space
- 2019 Jeep Cherokee dimensions
- 2019 Jeep Cherokee capacity
- 2019 Jeep Cherokee cubic feet
- 2019 Jeep Cherokee storage
So here you have five very reasonable queries that a car shopper would be likely to search for, but there is only one definitive answer.
In the old days, you would publish five different articles on your website each optimized around an exact match search query, replacing just the variable keywords but leaving the rest of the content the same in order to rank for each of the keyword variations.
When creating any type of content whether it’s a blog post or a model landing page, your goal is to use a variety of keywords naturally throughout your content. This will give search engines the best chance to understand what your page is about and increase your chances of winning the search when your content matches a user’s intent.
Today, thanks to Google’s implementation of RankBrain, it can understand in real time that all of these queries are just a variation of the same general idea and provide the a definitive list of search results.
If you felt this the storage capacity was a topic that was relevant to your audience, you could create a piece of content addressing it while naturally working in mentions of “cargo space, dimensions, capacity, cubic feet, storage, etc” throughout your copy which would not only create a comprehensive article for users, but it would also signal to Google that this webpage is relevant to everything it knows about how people search for the storage capacity of a 2019 Jeep Cherokee.
To sum up, this is what you need to keep in mind when it comes to keywords:
- Do your research: Before you start adding content to your site, make sure that what you’re writing about is something that users are really searching for.
- Use keyword variations: In the age of semantic search, using related keywords throughout your content is critical to creating quality content.
- Use keywords in key parts of the page: Your title tag, meta description and H1 should all use versions of your target keyword — naturally.
- Write Compelling Content: Not only should your content addresses the user’s intent, but it should be written in a way that engages a reader, without coming off salesy or spammy.
Remember, there is a dark side of keywords too. If you read an article, get a pitch or notice your current SEO provider is doing the things below, run away as fast as you can!
- Keyword Stuffing: Unnaturally repeating the same keywords over and over and over and over and over and over again is bad for users and search engines.
- Cloaking: Manipulating content so search engines see one thing and user see another is definitely frowned upon.
- Content Without Research: Publishing content on your website without having a “why” based on research/data should be avoided at all costs.
Follow the SEO best practices for content outlined above and you will have served the human who wants to buy or service a vehicle from your dealership, and the robot that wants to show them how.
4. YOUR WEB PLATFORM MATTERS…A LOT.
Odds are if you’re interested in SEO best practices for your automotive dealership website, then you understand the importance of having a web platform that was designed for SEO.
While many folks have a perception that Dealer Inspire is “just” a website company, that’s actually pretty far from reality as our company started as an SEO agency back in 2011. It was through the challenges of performing SEO services on other web platforms that directly led to the creation of the Dealer Inspire platform (built on WordPress) that would allow us to bake in, or provide direct access to, all the components of a website that need the touch of an SEO.
Aside from making all the critical components of the website accessible on the backend, Dealer Inspire websites were built with a mobile first — and mobile fast! — mindset. This technological approach serves the needs of both users and search engines that demand an easy to use, lightning fast experience.
If you’re serious about implementing a holistic SEO strategy, then you need a provider that makes managing your website easy. If you’re not a Dealer Inspire client (we’re not mad if you’re not, there’s still room for ya!), think about your platform’s backend interface — does it give you direct access to to critical areas where you can implement solid SEO best practices on your site? Or do you have to send in your optimization requests to support and then wait (and wait) to hear if they can even be implemented at all?
You shouldn’t have to make multiple phone calls or jump over ridiculously high hurdles to keep your website healthy and optimized. You need a partner that makes executing these action items easy on your own, or with the guided hand of subject matter experts, without the hassle (hint: I’m talking about us!)
5. OPTIMIZE FOR LOCAL SEARCH
Did you know that optimizing for a query like “car dealers near me” requires a different strategy approach than optimizing for vehicle interest keywords like “best used cars under 10k”?
When search engines detect that a searcher is looking for a local business as part of their search, they rely on a different set of criteria to determine the best results for the map pack. Distance, proximity, relevance and reviews all come in to play. If you want to win for local searches, your strategy needs some key elements to prove that you are the authority in your community by sending the right signals to search engines that you are the best entity to help local searchers discover exactly what they’re looking for.
- NAP Consistency: Making sure that your name, address, phone number and URL are consistent across the Internet is an important step, because consistency is an indicator of trust for search engines. While aggregator tools are helpful, there are many sites that these tools can’t update for you, so manual work is always required.
- Consumer Engagement: Respond to the Questions & Answers section in your GMB card thoughtfully, and keep up with and respond to positive and negative reviews alike.
- Site Geotargeting: Think about the cities that you want to get business from, and use those geographic names (cities, landmarks, etc.) naturally throughout your site. Be careful though: stick to areas that are actually near your location, as going after far-away places doesn’t work.
- Locally Focused Content: Create content about the community in which you live. Understand that a “Best Tacos in Escondido” blog or a “Things to Do at the Michigan State Fair” piece isn’t a waste of time! It may feel silly, and you may wonder how it will help you sell cars, but the truth is that you will signal to the humans and robots that you are an authority in your area.
Local SEO is so important, that it’s a standard part of all of our SEO packages. If your current SEO provider doesn’t have specific line items for Local SEO, or charges and additional fee on top of their regular SEO services, then that’s a sign that your dealership’s best interests are not being served.
6. ENGAGE WITH GOOGLE MY BUSINESS
You can’t talk about Local SEO without talking about Google My Business (GMB). While most, if not all, car dealers have claimed their GMB page years ago, if you’re not keeping up with all the features that GMB offers then you’re probably missing out on some new and essential tools to help boost your local presence.
GMB optimization for local results starts with the basics:
Business Information: As we mentioned above, having consistent (NAP) information across all your listings is crucial, and GMB is the most important place to establish your credentials. Check to make sure your dealership’s name, address, phone number, URL and hours of operation are properly represented on GMB. If you move locations make sure to update not only your Google My Business page, but all other listings too.
Categories: Categories are used to describe what your business is and the services you offer. Google then uses those categories with relevant search queries. Go into your GMB dashboard and ensure that you’ve set the following categories for your car dealership: “Brand” Dealer, Car Dealer, Used Car Dealer, and Car Leasing Service. If you sell trucks, you can also add Truck Dealer and Used Truck Dealer.
Google Posts: Google posts are a free tool found in your Google My Business listing. You can post about upcoming events, service specials, vehicle specials, model landing pages etc. It could also bring in more traffic to a new page you created about a vehicle model or a blog post about five local restaurants to visit while getting an oil change.
Reviews: Reviews are a great way to engage with your customers outside of the dealership. Make sure you are responding to both negative and positive reviews that your customers are leaving. This shows a high level of engagement and thoughtfulness for your new and returning customers.
Q&A: Questions & Answers is another place your customers will engage with you. “Do you offer detailing services”? Is a question you might get, same with the reviews you will want to answer them in a timely manner. If one person has this question there are more asking the same question. You can also fill out some common questions and answers on your own as the dealer to help customers find out information faster.
GROW WITH US
SEO is hard, and not all dealerships have the resources or personnel to implement a comprehensive SEO strategy like the one we laid out in this blog post. We started out as an automotive SEO agency and have built our technology based on our proprietary approach to organic search. From technical optimization, to local search, to user-focused content that converts, our team delivers a holistic approach to SEO that delivers long-lasting results to grow your business. Want to learn more about how we can help you grow your dealership’s online presence through organic search? Give us a shout!