You got your dealership website’s search strategy and search engine optimization (SEO) worked out years ago, right?
Someone at your dealership or a vendor partner probably took care of it at the dawn of Google’s infamous “Mobilegeddon” two years ago—if not sooner. So you’re good to go now, with a mobile-friendly site, effective content and keywords, and the other conventional-wisdom bells and whistles.
But guess what? You may not be doing enough. You may have even fallen behind when it comes to driving prospective customers to your site, then turning them into leads.
The internet and consumer behavior are moving targets, continually changing. And all businesses must consider Google’s role as the 800-pound gorilla in the world of search, then adjust their SEO to accommodate that company’s algorithm changes and other technical developments.
For example, can you describe what dwell time is, and how it matters to your dealership’s search results?
Or have you considered how consumers now search using digital assistants—usually on smartphones—like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, or the Google Assistant, and how that affects search strategy?
If you answered “no” to both questions, you’re hardly alone—and fortunately, you’re not that far behind the curve. Staying on top of the latest developments in search and SEO requires diligence, and more often than not, collaboration with a top-notch SEO partner.
To identify the search factors unique to dealerships—and the current issues and future developments that will affect them—we interviewed the following three search marketing experts. They explain why it’s critical for dealers to monitor their search/SEO strategy—not just today, but constantly.
Gary Galloway is the senior product marketing manager at Netsertive, serving as an adviser to top brand executives and their local partners. He provides key insights on digital trends and strategy for automotive marketers. He’s also an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, teaching digital marketing and communications.
Adam Roseland is the founder of 814 Interactive, a leading digital marketing firm that specializes in automotive SEO. Adam is known as the SEO guy, and has been working in the advertising industry for the past 10-plus years, primarily in the digital space, helping local dealers get more ups. Adam and 814 Interactive have helped hundreds of small businesses create bulletproof marketing strategies that bring in new clients, even in the worst of markets. Curious how your SEO stacks up? Run a free SEO audit for your dealership at im814.com. Adam is married with three beautiful children, and lives in the western suburbs of Philadelphia. He is an author, public speaker, and self-proclaimed “data geek.”
With more than a decade of experience in the auto industry as a dealer, Russ Chandler has seen firsthand the problems dealerships face every day. As a product marketing manager for PERQ, a marketing technology provider that boosts website conversions by creating and delivering interactive experiences to the right consumers at the right time, Russ combines his expertise with powerful technology to provide his clients with increased response and conversion on their marketing. Founded in 2001, PERQ and its solutions are now used by more than 1,000 businesses across the United States. PERQ’s brands have been named to the Inc. “500 Fastest-Growing Companies in America” list on three separate occasions.
[dropcaps]Q:[/dropcaps]What are the unique challenges that automotive dealerships face regarding search and SEO compared to other types of retail businesses?
Galloway: The first thing that comes to mind is the competitive landscape of the automotive market, not just with new car sales, but with used car sales, parts, accessories, and services.
For example, if you Google “oil change near me,” you’ll likely have to scroll through three-quarters of the first page of organic search results until you find a local dealer in your market.
With such a crowded and competitive space, it’s often hard for local auto dealers to know where and how to start when it comes to search and SEO.
Oftentimes, they rely on their website provider, which can be an effective strategy as long as there is a very clear plan in place that has one-month, three-month, and six-month benchmarks tied into analytics and real business objectives.
Roseland: Sadly, most dealers I speak with let their website company handle their SEO.
Without criticizing the web companies, their specialty usually lies in integration of your inventory and your website, and making it look pretty. They usually put someone on the SEO, PPC [pay-per-click], etc., but the level of personal involvement from these huge companies is often very small.
Too often, they have a very cookie-cutter approach to on-page SEO, and if you page through your site and look at the page titles, you will often find the exact same titles (subbing out make and city) as other clients of your web company.
When was the last time you spoke with the person handling your SEO?
Chandler: I think a lot of the challenges dealers face when it comes to SEO for their own websites has to do with the complexity created by all the various entities in the industry—which include not only competing dealerships, but also OEMs and third-party brands like Kelley Blue Book, Autotrader, CarGuru, etc.—that are all optimizing for similar (if not exactly the same) terms and inventory that dealers themselves are optimizing for.
It makes SEO a challenging environment that can find the dealer’s position being usurped on search result pages by the entities that they are also contracted with to send them business and traffic.
And, given the huge marketing spend and resources some of these entities have combined with the value of per-unit sales, there’s clearly a lot at stake, which makes this issue pretty unique to the auto industry.
[dropcaps]Q:[/dropcaps]How is the average dealership doing in terms of optimizing its website for search, and what are the most common SEO mistakes dealerships are making?
Galloway: Some dealerships are actually doing a decent job in terms of optimizing their website for search because they see it as part of their overall marketing strategy.
They know that search marketing is directly tied to website traffic, and can be executed through both paid and unpaid efforts. Additionally, they have it tied to real business objectives and are measuring those objectives with a third-party tool, like Google Analytics.
With that said, one of the larger mistakes dealers make is thinking that getting traffic to the site guarantees results. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in most situations.
Successful dealers are constantly monitoring and tweaking their website, paying attention to where they are sending search traffic and knowing the conversion rate of their destination pages. With this more holistic and evolving approach, they have a good sense of what’s happening in terms of conversions, and can evaluate if visitors are qualified leads that are turning into car sales or service appointments.
Roseland: The most common mistake by far is the lack of preparation dealers make when it comes to SEO.
As I mentioned before, many dealers just allow their website company to handle much of their online marketing . . . which is much better than doing nothing, but rarely gets you ahead of the competition.
As you know, car sales is about as competitive as it gets. When you allow your SEO (or PPC) to be generic, or similar to other dealers, how do you expect to stand out to Google or potential ups? You can’t.
Take the time to speak with your SEO team. Strategize page titles, keywords, etc., together—don’t just let them handle it for you without making a few calls to make sure the strategy is sound.
Chandler: In comparison to the past, there’s no doubt dealers are really coming to grips with common SEO challenges.
There’s a huge amount of focus paid to SEO within dealerships, and it’s paying off. However, there’s a long way to go, especially as Google continues to change and raise the bar.
One huge opportunity we’re seeing for dealers that I believe could make them stand apart from competitors and third-party sites is optimizing their sites for moments within the complete buying funnel—all those micro moments that help consumers make decisions (be it researching their ideal vehicle, pricing out their trade-in, etc.), rather than optimizing only for the very end of the funnel.
This could be a quick SEO win for forward-thinking dealers.
[dropcaps]Q:[/dropcaps]What recent developments or challenges in SEO and Google’s algorithms should automotive marketers be aware of?
Galloway: One of the most drastic changes is mobile.
Even though mobile isn’t a new medium, dealers still haven’t updated their thinking, their online website strategy, or their search marketing strategy around the fact that more than half their website traffic may be coming from a mobile device. In fact, research from Facebook found that about two in five survey respondents prefer to book a test drive from a mobile device.
To get started with mobile, there are several places where dealers should verify their business and location so they appear as a reputable organization in all relevant searches.
Further, as Google “Near Me” searches become more popular with today’s mobile shoppers, dealerships should be investing in Google Map Pack, search marketing using Google Location Extensions, and Google Local Search Ads to ensure they’re getting in front of—and converting—these high-intent customers.
Roseland: Ever heard of dwell time? Probably not, but it’s really important.
I’m sure by now you are familiar with the term “click bait,” where someone posts outrageous titles or images, with the only goal being to get a website visit. The problem: It works. The bigger problem: Google hates it. Google hates it because most people go to the site, realize it was a trick, and click the back button.
Dwell time is measured by Google to evaluate your website’s content quality. If someone hits their back button immediately after landing on your page, it tells Google that this page is low-quality, and your rankings drop.
Here’s the rub: Your website company is probably pushing to drive traffic directly to your VDPs [vehicle detail pages] and SRP [search results page] in an attempt to increase conversions. When you do this, though, you often reduce dwell time—a major ranking factor. Talk to your SEO team.
Chandler: One immediate challenge that comes to mind is Google’s recent focus on giving search rank preference to mobile sites that load faster and better. This is often impacted by pop-ups windows on dealer sites.
Essentially, Google will negatively rank a website on this issue if its pop-ups are too cumbersome or intrusive, or simply don’t work. This is an easy problem to fix: I encourage dealers to take stock of where their sites appear in Google search results from their mobile phones, and see if a poorly loading mobile site is part of the issue.
An upcoming and growing trend that dealers should be aware is the concept of dense content, which basically means ranking websites that offer the most useful content in the smallest amount of space higher than those that are just littered with keywords.
This is going to be a big game-changer, and dealers would be prudent to start tailoring their content to this new algorithm as soon as possible.
[dropcaps]Q:[/dropcaps]What are must-have components of an effective dealership SEO strategy?
Galloway: I always recommend that dealers implement a very simple, solid, and specific overall marketing strategy that’s tied to real business objectives.
In this case, with automotive dealerships, it comes down to two broad objectives: DISC [does it sell cars] or DISS [does it sell service].
Marketing activities should be set up so they can accurately measure if business objectives are being achieved, and through what tactics.
For example, in the case of search marketing, you can measure various actions your audience is taking that give you a clear picture into their position in the sales funnel: website traffic, form fills on the website, phone calls, etc.
Roseland: Communication, on-page strategy, and links. Let me explain.
You must communicate with your SEO team at least once a month in order to make sure your strategy is being implemented. I have met way too many dealers who don’t have a clue about what their SEO team does.
Your on-page strategy needs to include geotargeting, and the right content and keywords from top to bottom. Meaning that page titles, page headlines, VDP content, etc., all need to have an overall strategy, as well as individualized goals.
Finally, links need to be both inbound and outbound. Wikipedia has about 20 to 100 links on each of its pages—and they rank for everything. Learn from the leaders, and make sure you have quality outbound links. And above all, don’t forget that Google’s core algorithm is still based on inbound links. Get more, now.
Chandler: The top two things that I think dealers should have for an effective SEO strategy are:
First: A full-cycle content strategy, meaning SEO should account for every phase of the consumer journey—the micro moments that make up the shopping process—and not just for the sale of the vehicle.
Second: Effective, digestible, usable, and actionable reports. There’s a big issue out there that plagues every digital marketer, and that’s finding effective and transparent reporting on activities that presents the entire picture.
It’s tough to really understand your spend if you can’t read the reports you’re getting from your team or other vendors and providers. If you don’t feel confident in the reporting you’re getting, look for tools to ramp that up so you have full visibility into which sources are generating leads versus [just] attributing them to the last click-through.
[dropcaps]Q:[/dropcaps]What are upcoming developments or new possibilities in online search that are of particular interest to you?
Galloway: I’ve been following a few things that I think are really fascinating. First, the increasing convenience of voice search (i.e., “Siri, can you find a car dealership near me?”) stands to have a dramatic impact on paid search strategies.
A recent article on Search Engine Land makes an interesting point: With a screen, we can easily scroll through paid results if they’re not of interest, but with voice technology, people will have to wait seconds to listen to an ad. People may get frustrated if they have to listen to an advertisement before getting an answer from their digital assistants.
In addition to voice search, I’ve been testing Google Store Visit conversions to see how ad clicks influence store visits. This can help dealers determine what campaigns are driving the most foot traffic.
Additionally, I’ve been looking at Facebook Dynamic Local Awareness Ads that deliver hyper-targeted ads to people in the dealership’s neighborhood.
Roseland: I had the opportunity to visit Google a little while back, and there were two topics that were critical to Google for dealers: mobile and video.
The takeaway stats included: 69% of people were influenced by YouTube while buying a car. One in three shoppers that used a mobile device as part of the shopping process located or called an auto dealer from their mobile device. And 50% of car shoppers with a mobile device use their smartphones while at the dealership.
So what does this mean for your dealership? Videos provoke buyer intent, so have you been pushing videos onto YouTube?
It also means that people are shopping for cars on their mobile devices, both before they get to your lot and while they are on it. Make sure your mobile SEO is on point.
Chandler: Traditional search was easier to optimize for because it always required sitting at a computer. When we added mobile search into the mix, the complexity increased significantly.
Dealers need to be planning ahead, and optimizing for upcoming new formats of search that will hit the mainstream over the next 12 to 18 months. With the popularity of Siri and Alexa, there has been a significant increase in voice searches, and it’s something dealers should have their eye on.
There are a number of new formats like this to start considering. Another is contextual search, which leverages situational data combined with location.
Contextual search optimization takes into consideration the activity of a mobile search beyond just a GPS location, including what activity a mobile searcher may be participating in, or other apps that are open on their smartphone that can help pinpoint the intent behind the search.
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