Dealer groups have unique needs, challenges, and opportunities, all of which extend to their digital strategy.
A typical scenario includes owning a website for each dealership location, along with a portal site that acts as a branded hub, encompassing all of the dealerships in the group.
From a search standpoint, owning a network of sites has tremendous value. But without a cohesive dealer group SEO strategy, you’re bound to run into some common pitfalls.
Let’s pretend your group is a sports team. Each website in the group represents a different player on the team.
These players can act as a unit, helping one another reach their goal of winning the game. Alternatively, players can put their own needs before those of the team, and in an effort to show off their athletic ability, diminish the team’s chances of winning.
Dealer groups commonly confront this phenomenon in their quest to win coveted search engine rankings. Instead of supporting each other, group websites may compete with one another for visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs), leading to a poor experience for the searcher, and missed opportunities for the group.
The following are four common SEO challenges dealership groups face.
1. Overlapping geographic locations
Dealer groups with many locations within driving distance of one another experience overlap when consumers search for a featured car brand (e.g., Chevrolet) and the locations surrounding the dealership. This is less of a problem when the brands in question are different, but it can still come into play with brand-agnostic search queries such as “used cars.”
Although some overlap is unavoidable (Google is smarter than we think), you can minimize it by initiating an audit of your target locations for each website in your group, including the portal.
With the help of tools such as Google Analytics and Google Search Console, an experienced SEO strategist can identify strategic location targets for each website based on where each site’s users are located, and what keywords they are using to find you.
2. Targeting the same keywords
It’s no surprise that we like to search for ourselves. When searching for your group sites, you may notice that multiple sites appear in SERPs for the same keywords.
In some cases, this makes sense—for example, when you have a certain vehicle model at more than one location. The key is to be strategic about your keyword targeting for each site, conduct extensive keyword research, audit each site to find the most valuable keywords, and then match keywords to the site best aligned with the searcher’s intent.
3. Duplicate content across group sites
A frequent, insidious problem on websites is the presence of duplicate content. This involves identical content on more than one website page, or identical meta tags such as titles and descriptions.
A 2016 analysis by SEMrush found that 50% of the 100,000 sites analyzed had issues with duplicate content. The biggest duplicate content offenders on dealer group sites are inventory pages.
Let’s say you enable inventory sharing across all of your sites. Now search engines are forced to choose which of the numerous vehicle search or vehicle details pages to display in SERPs. There’s also a risk that they could decide not to index your inventory pages at all.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with inventory sharing. It could make perfect sense for your group if you utilize the strategy that addresses duplicate content through a technical SEO process called canonicalization.
This involves a code being placed on the duplicate pages that tells search engines which of them to include in their index and serve up in SERPs.
4. Portal site cannibalizing site traffic
Portal sites present dealer groups with a major opportunity to capture lifelong customers because many vehicle shoppers aren’t loyal to a specific car brand. In fact, 73% of consumers cross-shop among brands while researching a vehicle purchase.
In the search engine world, portal sites are often seen as highly authoritative. They usually have tons of links pointing to them, high-quality content to offer consumers, and a sophisticated site architecture that guides users along the buying journey, eventually landing on a particular dealership site.
Having such high authority, the portal site, left to its own devices, can outrank the dealership sites—even when it benefits the searcher to land directly on one of the dealership sites. A portal site that’s optimized in a way that minimizes competition with individual dealership sites is a key feature of an effective group SEO strategy.
By using strategic keyword and location targeting and technical SEO on the portal site, and building the authority of the dealership sites, your group network can enjoy a healthy and supportive relationship—one that minimizes competition and maximizes search visibility.
Just like in real life, having a support network in the online world is a huge asset for any business. Dealer group sites can work together to grow organic traffic above and beyond what the individual sites could achieve alone.
A network can be supportive, but it can also be competitive. That’s why it’s essential to have a dealer group SEO strategy in place to ensure your sites are helping one another, not taking all the glory at the expense of the whole group.
When you focus the SEO strategy for your dealer group around the big picture, you’ll reap the rewards of increased visibility in search engines, and a more streamlined digital experience for your customers.
Megan Medaris is a dealer group SEO analyst at CDK Global, with five years of digital marketing experience working as part of an agency team to support clients from diverse industries, including automotive, manufacturing, and retail. At CDK, Megan works primarily with dealer groups to articulate and achieve their goals through SEO. She is passionate about delivering an outstanding customer experience, enhancing SEO processes, and continually expanding her knowledge to help clients succeed in the digital space.