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Four Keys to Automotive SEO from a Guy in the Trenches

By JD Rucker on Dec 27, 2012

Men in the Trenches

The other day I was in a meeting with a potential client. We were discussing automotive SEO best practices and the way that the search engines are changing the way they rank. We talked about the best ways a dealer can stay ahead of their competition for their current keywords while moving up in the competitive keywords in the area.

It was then that he made an interesting observation:

“I know that you keep on top of this stuff from a theoretical level, but I want to hear from the guy in the trenches that is actually doing the SEO for dealers.”

It was a great point. I’ve personally worked on the optimization for a couple dozen of our clients, but I’m not the guy that works on hundreds of dealers at a time. That guy is Ron Fortier, our SEO manager, so I posed the question to him. Here is what he put down as best practices for dealers, straight from the mouth of the guy leading the team that’s doing the work successfully…


Develop or Buy Tools that Help You Make Keyword Decisions Monthly

Priorities for your dealership change based on time of year, inventory levels, competition and conquest strategies. We are all resource constrained whether it be time or money, so we need tools that help us to make the best use of our investment in time. You need to have a tool or process that allows you to identify the most important keywords to work based on your monthly priorities.

Looking for more overall visitors? Your priority would be on keywords with larger impression counts. Looking to convert more of your visitors? Your priority would be on keywords that have high PPC costs and competition. Looking to conquest local dealers or make-model combinations? Your priority would be to view your rankings relative to your competitors. Want a great mix of all of the above? That is typically where we end up. Having a tool that helps you identify the best keywords to work based on your priorities allows you to spend 100% of your content and SEO efforts on tasks that are in line with your stores most immediate priorities.


Beware of Thin Content

Google rewards effort, plain and simple. Google’s quality rating guidelines are filled with how to identify low quality, useless content. Their best definition of spam is when you remove all of the template and spam elements from the page, there is nothing of any value remaining. If you are copying content from other sites, or slightly modifying keywords and thinking that you’re fooling Google, you’re not. Google rewards effort. Google rewards typing and content.

Low keyword counts may win here or there in the short run, but every change Google has made over the last 18 months has been an effort to remove thin, low quality pages from its index. Take the time to create content that is of value to a consumer when they get to a page and you won’t have to worry about the next animal-based update released from Google. Content is king and quality, useful content for consumers wins every time.


SEO Works Best in a Holistic Approach

Now that you’ve decided what to work with your time, be sure that all of your SEO efforts work in concert.

What content are you going to add to your site that works the keywords you’ve identified? What modifications will you be making to your website’s architecture and internal linking structure that signals to Google the significance of your content change? How will you support your keywords through offsite content and linking? What is your strategy to getting the content crawled and indexed quickly? If you only use one technique then you won’t be working all of the SEO signals and the effectiveness will be lessened. Does your content say one thing and your links another?

Sending mixed messages will also inhibit the effectiveness of your work. Take the time to ensure that all of your monthly SEO efforts are working in concert for maximum effectiveness.


Low Sales Funnel Keywords are Big though Small

Everyone wants to find that hidden keyword that will get them a thousand new visitors. We understand and often join the pursuit, but we also chase the keyword combos that will get you 5 visits a month. Insanity? No!

Many of these keywords are very low funnel or “right next to the money” as we like to say internally. Think of someone on a Friday night at 6:00 on Yelp searching restaurants. That search is right next to the money. That individual will eat tonight; they are just deciding where. The same thought applies to many keywords we go after. Consider a year make model search. They know what they’re going to buy. The only question is where and when. Don’t be afraid to mix in the low funnel keywords even though you know that they will be statistically insignificant in overall traffic volumes. That five visitor a month keyword could be the goose that lays the golden egg for years to come.


JD, thank you for encouraging Ron to share his insight - Ron, thanks for taking the time!

I hope everyone who is either working in the trenches like Ron, or simply managing SEO activity, takes the time to soak these items up, helpful tips that can help you!

Love the last tip too - especially as consumer search behavior changes between desktop, phone and even tablet searches.

Dec 27, 2012

I agree about the last point. It's a tough sell sometimes to dealers who really want to see dramatic increases in traffic when in reality what they're wanting is an increase in leads and sales. A keyword low in the funnel that gets 10 visitors a month might produce more leads and sales than a keyword higher in the funnel that generates 50 visitors.

Dec 28, 2012

While many, including Google, are claiming less emphasis on content and back-links, Ron continues to share their importance - and I agree. At the end of the day, Google has a computer-driven algorithm creating search results, with little human input for evaluating content. Keywords, content, and back-links will always be key components of the algorithm driving search results. Fundamentals folks!

Dec 28, 2012

Absolutely, Kevin. The social signals component as well as attributes such as "author rank" which weren't discussed are the parts where Google and Bing are attempting to crowdsource the human element of the algorithm. It's in a constant state of flux, just as the keyword, content, and link components are, but they're getting closer every day to truly understanding how to apply social signals properly while not leaving a gaping hole through which spammers will be able to manipulate the rankings artificially.

Dec 28, 2012

Great read JD. I especially like how you've gone out of your way to not over-complicate with words like short-tail and long-tail. I really enjoy how you explain the keywords as they relate to funnel. Auto dealers (in particular) are difficult, because they are all about the big numbers, and tend to be impatient. I would like to hear more on how social signals are currently being measured and where that area of SEO will be going in the next 6-12 months. Overall, SEO takes time and effort, and people should be focused on quality over quantity.

Dec 29, 2012

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