If there’s one characteristic that encapsulates the ranking factors used by the search engines to determine how dealers rank on searches, it’s changing. The algorithm is constantly being reworked. Tests are ongoing and Google has the stated goal of making the best content for particular subjects rise to the top while keeping poor content down.
There’s a component that is rarely discussed in regards to SEO, particularly for car dealers. An intent is a factor in the rankings that is difficult to quantify. I’ve never seen a write up on it that does the topic justice. It’s something that I’ve had difficulty myself putting into words because it can be so engulfing of a topic. Even when training people at the company, it can take weeks before the subject clicks. That’s not because it’s hard to comprehend. It’s simply hard to recognize in a way that puts it into practice. Thankfully, we’re diligent with our ongoing efforts so all of our automotive SEO clients get the best possible attention making keyword intent work for them.
Here’s a brief example: one would think that a search for “New Chevy Silverado Long Beach” and “2015 Chevy Silverado Long Beach” would yield the same results. Today, the two terms mean basically the same thing and can be interchangeable at the dealership, but in the world of search, Google has found different intentions for each keyword. As a result, the different searches produce different websites ranking at the top. We’ll discuss that concept at a later date. For now, let’s break down the ranking factors.
Search Engine Land put out a nice breakdown of the different components of the search algorithm. I’ll admit that it was more basic than I would have liked to have seen, but it does the trick. They broke it all down based upon on-the-page factors and off-the-page factors. This is important because in the automotive industry the vast majority of SEO and/or website vendors in the car business do a terrible job of making this distinction. They’ll discuss why their on-the-page SEO work is great, unique, long, powerful, whatever. They’ll then skim over the off-the-page component with a dismissive, “yep, we do that too.”
For the most part, they do not. The only reason I use the phrase, “for the most part,” is because I have not done an exhaustive study into the issue but at this point, every major vendor that we’ve explored does next to nothing from an off-the-page perspective. There is a handful of smaller vendors who do it, but amongst the big boys, we have yet to find one that even comes close to being able to truly check off that particular box.
In the car business, there’s a shift that has been happening over the last couple of years that has dramatically improved the on-the-page aspect of SEO. I’m happy to say that most dealers have good content on their website. It’s good. Not great. Still, being good is so much better than the state of the automotive website a couple of years ago.
Here’s the thing. It’s perhaps the best-kept secret in automotive digital marketing. Unique onsite content is fine, but it’s not crucial. That’s something that few vendors want to hear and it’s something that has been contradicted over the years. Dealers have been told that awesome unique content is the most important factor. The reality is that Google treats car dealer websites like retail sites. They know that there’s going to be only so many differences between 2015 Chevy Silverados for sale on dealer websites. They don’t expect each individual inventory item to have its own story. They don’t even expect landing pages to be completely unique (though it’s definitely a best practice to do so).
Applying what we know about search to the automotive industry is a matter of checking whether or not your vendors are doing what it takes to truly accomplish excellence in all of the important factors listed below. They all have a place. Let’s take a look at the table itself. Rather than doing a further breakdown of each, I’ll pick out the ones that need highlighting for our industry in my notes below the chart.
- Cf: Fresh Content – There was a blight in the industry a few years ago where RSS feeds from various automotive publications were inserted into websites. This is bad and not the solution to fresh content. For car dealers, content on the site that is timely should be on a blog and should position news in a way that’s relevant to your specific consumers. Don’t write about the new Chevy Silverado. Write about how people in Long Beach will love particular features of the Chevy Silverado.
- Ad: Duplicate Content – Unique content for landing pages is important. For inventory pages, it’s not. Remember, you’re a retailer in Google’s eyes. They don’t expect a story about an individual Silverado any more than they expect a story about Amazon toilet paper.
- Ht: Title Tags – In this day and age, it’s amazing that this, the most important individual on site ranking factor, still gets ignored by many website vendors.
- Vs: Keyword Stuffing – Chances are high that you have keywords stuffed into your content. Look at the words on your homepage content. If you have more than three cities listed, you might as well not list any because it’s being viewed as spam.
- Ta: Trust Authority – This is so overlooked. It’s the #1 factor in ranking, period, and yet so many in our industry have no idea what it means. Trust is built by taking amazing content and making sure that others see it in a way that will make them share it through links and social signals.
- Lq: Link Quality – There are vendors out there, particularly the bigger ones, who get low-quality links to their sites and then check off this box as done. It’s not. Low-quality links are useless at best. In some situations, they end up doing more harm than good.
- Vp: Paid Links – Avoid. It’s the plague.
- Sr: Social Reputation – This is such an important topic, one that requires a new blog post. I guess I have more writing to do.
Understanding the ranking factors is only the first step. Once you have this information, you’ll be able to go to your SEO vendor, your website provider, or your ad agency and start asking whether they’re doing it right and what they’re doing to improve it.