It’s not news that most of today’s buyers shop for new vehicles online long before they think about which dealership to purchase from. A 2015 study by Autotrader/IHS Automotive revealed that three-quarters of car shoppers use the Internet as a source of buying information, and spend an average of 12.5 hours researching via online searches, visiting nearly eight different sites in the process.
These are all important numbers, but here’s another from the same study that should matter to dealers: The average online shopper visits 3.4 different dealer websites during the process. That means that if your dealership is one of them, all things being equal, you’re getting about 29% of that customer’s attention.
But all things are not always equal. If your dealership isn’t managing and optimizing its website’s performance in online searches, you may not be getting found in searches, meaning you’re not getting anything close to 29% of the average buyer’s time. That’s why search engine optimization (SEO) is crucial to any dealership.
Dealer Marketing Magazine has featured extensive coverage of automotive SEO techniques and best practices over the past year, particularly in the July 2015 article, “Take Control of Your Web Search Traffic With SEO.” So instead of presenting a primer on the topic, we asked two experts on search and online consumer behavior—Tina DiSerafino, SEO team lead at Stream Companies, and Hannah Whitten, marketing coordinator at GoFanbase—to go deeper.
Thanks to both for sharing their insight into how dealers can be doing more than the basics in their SEO strategy by better utilizing conversion paths, social media, link building, online reviews, and more.
Dealer Marketing Magazine: How well do you think auto dealerships are now doing in terms of utilizing SEO best practices on their websites?
Tina DiSerafino: Most dealerships recognize the importance of SEO, but there’s more to it than updating your meta titles and descriptions. Where we see the most opportunity for dealerships to improve their on-page SEO efforts is building and executing a holistic strategy that both Google and car shoppers love.
That means creating resourceful, unique content that targets shoppers at every stage of the funnel, optimizing your internal linking strategy to ensure the most effective browsing experience, and of course, streamlining conversion paths—making it as simple and enticing as possible for prospects to convert into leads.
Hannah Whitten: Fairly well, but there is definite room for improvement.
DMM: For dealerships that are not doing such a great job on their SEO, what are the most common problem areas, and how should they be addressed?
TD: The most common problem area I’ve seen is dealerships not owning their own digital backyard. By having an effective content strategy that targets the competition and is properly optimized, the better [the dealership’s] chances of being found in search engines.
HW: We see lots of dealerships that list their inventory in a haphazard way—especially brands with long model names, like Mercedes-Benz. The best practice would be to match names on inventory to names on the brand’s website as closely as possible.
Dealerships should also be linking to their social media sites, linking pages on the site to each other, and making sure that information (hours, etc.) matches across all listings: Google, Yahoo, Facebook, etc.
DMM: What are some often-neglected factors in obtaining better search results, and how can dealers employ them in their SEO strategy?
TD: For dealerships to really start seeing results, it’s imperative to have a holistic, on-page and off-page SEO strategy. Many times, it’s not just the opportunities on the dealer’s website we find, but is the serious lack of off-page efforts—which are critical when driving results for local SEO.
One of the most effective tactics to include in an SEO strategy is link building: the more relevant links pointing back to your website, the more likely Google will see your site as an authority.
Additionally, another strategy is to keep a close eye on your competition’s digital efforts. Review and audit their websites—what keywords are they ranking for? What high-quality links have they built? How can you capitalize from their successes to drive your dealership’s organic results?
HW: Online reviews! Your Yelp and Google scores are some of the first results a customer will come across when searching for you. Not only will maintaining these listings increase your SEO, paying attention to your reviews will make sure what your customers are finding in their searches reflects favorably on you.
DMM: What role does social media play in improving a dealership’s search results, and how can dealerships better take advantage of it?
TD: Today is all about social media networks, and I highly recommend using it to your advantage. Social media can drive targeted traffic to your website, boost SEO results, and even strengthen customer relationships.
Above all, social media networks will help spread the word about your dealership. Customers you didn’t know you could have will find you and potentially be your next lead.
To strengthen your social media strategy, stay active on your accounts and share the SEO content that is being posted to your site to be viewed, shared, and visited. Interact with your customers and spread the word about offers and sales to help pull traffic in.
HW: The more sites you can use to get your name out there, the better your SEO will be. You should be on as many social media sites as can be successfully managed [and] creating consistent, quality content, moderating comments, and interacting with fans.
Third-party companies can handle the setup and management process for a fraction of the cost of one social media manager.
DMM: Should dealerships focus primarily on local rankings over organic rankings in their SEO strategy, or is it necessary to strive for both, and why?
TD: Both are important, but when it comes to driving quality, relevant traffic—local rankings are key. As a local business, the primary focus is on your backyard and competitors’ locations. Owning page one rankings for your core, local keyword phrases is critical to driving traffic that’s likely to convert into sales.
HW: Since nearly every dealership’s customer base comes from their immediate region/city, striving for organic results would have almost no impact on business. Local SEO provides the most relevant results for customers that have decided they are ready to step foot on a lot.
The best course of action for turning those buyers into your customers is to ensure your business ranks on Google’s first page and has a stellar online rating to display when making your first impression.
DMM: How much change in the current SEO “conventional wisdom” do you anticipate from the increasing use of artificial intelligence, such as Google’s RankBrain, in search results?
TD: Although Google doesn’t reveal much about RankBrain, recently it was revealed that it is the third-most important signal within Google’s Hummingbird, which is Google’s newest algorithm, which returns results to those using the search engine.
I believe that artificial intelligence such as RankBrain will continue to advance and become even more influential on delivering search engine results.
HW: While it is impossible to know what Google has in store for the future of its algorithms and ranking signals, we know that RankBrain and the other moving pieces of the Google puzzle serve to present the best possible content and results to people searching online.
Google’s Panda update signaled a very clear change in how the search giant operates, and what they feel gives their customers the best experience when using their search engine: Websites that offer relevant, useful, and engaging content that keeps users clicking for more. Follow those guidelines when deciding what goes on your dealership site, and you will be set up for long-lasting success.
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