Everything Car Dealers Know About SEO is Wrong
A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous and expensive thing.
Such is the case with SEO.
Especially for car dealers who are using OEM mandated websites, have limited knowledge of how SEO works or how SEO fits into a well-run automotive digital marketing program.
Let me explain.
SEO by itself is a good thing. Organic traffic is usually some of the best, highest converting quality traffic that dealers get to their websites. So logically dealers think getting more of it is worth investing in.
It doesn’t help that there are tons of marketing and SEO “experts” all telling dealers the same thing.
The pitch goes something like this, buyers use search to find the cars they want to buy and a dealer to buy them from. If you rank number 1 or high up in Google’s organic search results, you’ll get tons of qualified traffic and leads.
And the best part, it’s Free!
So, dealers give the SEO experts $3,000 to $5,000 a month and sit back, waiting for the sales to magically appear.
But nothing really happens.
The SEO experts may supply the dealer with fancy reports the dealer doesn’t understand showing what a great job they’re doing. But in many cases the dealers have no way of measuring what they’re getting for their money. So, they keep paying these companies because they think they have to.
Dealers are wasting $36,000 to $60,000 a year, without anything to really show for it.
There’s a number of reasons. Let’s start with OEM mandated websites and their providers.
OEM Websites Suck at SEO
As I stated previously in The OEM Trap, dealers relying on OEM mandated websites are at a huge disadvantage. The OEMs and Website providers sell these sites with built in SEO as one of their main features.
The problem is, dealers aren’t the customers, the OEMs are.
These websites are structured to dumb down the SEO so that dealers don’t compete against one another beyond their PMA. The big boys know this, and they are free to go after the whole market with a website they control.
The truth is that most of the SEO battle for car dealers is won and lost when you select a website provider. All of the on-page technical factors that go into successful SEO need to be baked into the structure of the site.
And since there can only be one dealer ranking number 1 on Google for a given search, how can a website provider that is supplying websites to all the franchise dealers in a larger metro market do an adequate job?
The truth is, they can’t.
They don’t even try.
For example, let’s look at Chevy dealers in Los Angeles. How can CDK optimize all those sites so that all their dealer clients rank number 1 when people search for a Chevy Silverado in Los Angeles?
They can’t. GM and CDK know this. So CDK optimizes their sites for the individual cities the dealerships are located in, as opposed to the larger metro area of Los Angeles.
Even if a SEO expert tries to optimize an OEM website, they run into structural problems they can’t fix because of the way the sites are coded.
Dealers are screwed.
I don’t care how good you are at developing content and marking it up to make it search engine friendly, if you don’t have control over the site, you’re fighting a losing battle.
It also doesn’t help that Google is making $100 billion a year in paid search and continuously forcing organic results further and further down the page where customers will never see them.
Especially for buyers searching on smart phones, which now account for more than half of all traffic on the average dealer’s website.
Let’s go back to our example of customers searching for Chevy Silverados in Los Angeles. It’s highly unlikely that a dealer could even rank on the first page of Google. Those spots are going to be reserved for the OEMs and usually the third-party inventory sites.
In truth, this isn’t such a bad thing for dealers because most people using this search phrase are going to be shopping, not buying, so the OEMs and third-party sites are really more relevant than a dealer’s site at this stage.
You’re Targeting the Wrong Words
Which brings me to my second point, most dealers and their SEO partners are trying to optimize for the wrong terms. It’s logical to do keyword research and try to optimize for the most expensive keywords that get the most traffic.
This is an expensive fallacy.
Dealers are going to spend a lot of money trying very hard and long to rank for a popular search term, and usually never succeed. Even if they do rank and get a lot of traffic, it’s not really qualified traffic that’s going to convert into walk-ins and leads.
Uh, What Was It We Really Wanted?
Which leads us to my third point, from the very beginning, SEOs and dealers are focusing on tactics, not strategy and goals.
SEO is a tactic, not a strategy.
Your SEO strategy should be to generate qualified traffic that is going to convert into walk-ins, phone calls, leads and sales. In order to do that your analytics need to be configured correctly, so you can track the number of walk-ins, phone calls, leads and sales as converted goals generated by your SEO.
This is a huge difference in how dealers are doing SEO now.
Dealers need to pick very specific battles they can win that produce lower funnel buyers that convert.
Focusing on increasing traffic or VDPs, or counting VDPs as goals, is a waste of money.
Now, let’s go back and look at our friend Google again.
To grab the holy grail of a Position 0 and a featured snippet usually requires long form content of over 2,000 words. That’s why Wikipedia dominates. But how many car buyers are going to read that much, especially on a smart phone?
Even fewer are going to convert. And that’s a huge problem. You see, long form content is great for ranking high, but not very good at converting. For phone calls and leads, shorter, very targeted and optimized landing pages work best.
Google knows this and exploits it to sell you paid search through AdWords.
Google knows that everybody can’t rank number 1. They don’t really care if your SEO efforts are rewarded. That’s why about the only SEO tip they’ll provide is to say develop quality content.
Dealing with Google’s never-ending tweaks to its ranking algorithm is a whole other headache.
If you’ve ever had a page that ranked great but suddenly falls off the charts Google will provide such great insight as, “there’s nothing wrong with your page and there’s nothing to fix. We decided to make some changes and as a result some pages moved up and some moved down. Nothing you can do about it.”
If anybody ever tells you that they have ex Google employees working for them and they know how to exploit Google’s ranking algorithm, they’re lying.
The truth is most dealers would be much better off buying lower funnel search terms and directing shoppers to optimized landing pages.
Does this Mean Dealers Shouldn’t Do SEO?
I’m not saying SEO is useless.
I am saying that the way Dealers are doing it will never convert as well as paid search because their sites aren’t built for it, and to rank well you have to build pages that don’t convert well.
Yes, branded search traffic for your dealership’s name converts well, but anybody can get a site to rank well for a dealership’s name. That’s easy. The hard part is getting people to be aware of and search for a Dealership’s name.
And that’s why Google makes over $100 billion a year from paid search.
So, What Should Dealers Do?
Dealers should start with the fundamentals.
They need to have their Google Analytics set up so they can accurately track the effectiveness of their SEO efforts and their costs.
Then they need to focus on the goals they’re trying to achieve, which should be sales, and the intermediate goals and actions that lead to sales like walk-ins, phone calls, and leads.
Focusing on what really matters and being able to accurately measure the effectiveness of what’s driving your sales are the first steps to developing and managing good marketing strategies.
Then I would tell dealers to go into their analytics and find out what’s really driving conversions.
From the left side menu click on Conversions > Goals > Overview.
If your goals are configured properly, this simple report will tell you where your sales are coming from, so you can focus on what’s working and stop wasting money on what’s not.
As to SEO?
I suggest you wait until my next blog post tomorrow when I’ll give you 10 Free SEO Tools Dealers Should Use Right Now.