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Gas MileageGas mileage is a hot topic to automotive consumers. Search engine optimization (SEO) is a hot topic to automotive dealers. With today’s economic conditions, getting the most mileage out of a vehicle has many parallels with getting the most out of your SEO.

In both cases, we want more for less. Search engine marketing is becoming more expensive, so smart dealers must position themselves on the organic section of the search engines to get the most bang for their buck. Here are some tips to help achieve the most possible clicks for the least amount of money.

Buy a Hybrid
Just as hybrid vehicles are rolling off showroom floors at record rates, hybrid SEO campaigns are becoming more popular for car dealer Web sites. A hybrid SEO campaign is one that properly utilizes both onsite and offsite optimization techniques.

In the past, having proper SEO on a Web site itself was enough. Today, the search engines like to see more in the way of relevant, high-quality inbound links from other Web sites to your own. These links act as “votes” for a site, and search engines are counting these heavily.

For example, if a blog about an auto repair has a story about getting quotes, the search engines will consider this relevant to auto repair in general. If there is a link to a dealership’s service department page within a blog post and the anchor text of the link is “Auto Repair Richmond VA,” the search engines will take this as a ”vote” for that page as the authority for that service department.

Quality inbound links are far more powerful than any onsite SEO. Having a gas-guzzling, onsite-only SEO campaign will hurt you in today’s ultra-competitive market.

Avoid Unnecessary Weight
Up until very recently, bigger was better, both in vehicle sales and in SEO. The full-size pickups and SUVs people used to love are becoming less valuable as gas goes up. Similarly, car dealer Web sites with hundreds or even thousands of pages, a trait Google used to love, are now hurt by the bulk.

Google still loves relevant, content-rich pages. Google just doesn’t look at inventory details pages the same anymore. There are two problems with having indexed inventory pages:

  • The pages normally aren’t loaded with good content. If they do have content, it’s normally duplicated across several pages. For example, if a dealer has 15 new Honda Accords, chances are the pages are almost exactly alike except for VIN, stock number and price. These pages will get indexed quickly, and then be removed from the index just as quickly.
  • Inventory pages are temporary. As vehicles sell, the pages they were on either become a redirect or “404 Page Not Found.” One of the things Google does not like is to index a page, list it on their results page, then have the page change to a redirect or 404 page.

There are advantages to a high number of indexed pages, such as long-tail rankings, but in the auto industry, the negatives outweigh the positives. If your inventory pages are indexed currently, have your provider either set the robot.text file to “noindex” or simply frame in inventory.

Change Your Oil
While most drivers are diligent about changing their oil, very few dealers are diligent about modifying optimized keywords. A good SEO campaign will monitor keyword rankings and make adjustments when keyword goals are met.

If your Web site is ranked #1 for a particular keyword, you can’t move it up any higher. Why waste optimization on that keyword? Instead, new keywords should replace those that are considered “victories” while the ones in the #1 spot should be monitored. If they start to fall in the rankings, they should be added back to the active keywords to optimize, but as long as they are #1, they will be able to coast for a while in that spot under normal circumstances.

True optimization is an ongoing process that requires constant monitoring and adjusting. The average dealer Web site ranks for 15 to 25 keywords per make. A well-optimized site will rank for 50 to 120 per make. With properly monitored and adjusted optimization, it is possible for a dealership to rank for hundreds of keywords per make.

Keep Tires Properly Inflated
Sometimes, it’s the little things that make a big difference. Having the right amount of air in your tires can have an effect on your mileage. Having the right amount of content, meta keywords and meta descriptions can be that little edge your Web site needs to reach the top.

Content on a Web site should be around 250 words per page. Because the search engines look at saturation of keywords as a percentage rather than a tally, having too much content can dilute your onsite SEO. Not having enough can make it less valid.

A proper meta description will have its greatest effect on clicks from the search engines more than on rankings themselves. The search engines use the meta description as the primary source for the description in the listing; having this well-worded can compel people to click on your listing over a competitor’s.

Meta keywords have a very limited positive effect on SEO, especially for Google and MSN, but they can have a negative effect if they are “stuffed” with too many keywords. Keep it clean, lean and relevant. Just as every drop of gas counts when prices are approaching $5 per gallon, every bit of SEO is important in a competitive market where every click counts. Applying these tips or finding a company to apply them for you (properly) can be the difference between scraping along for Web site traffic and having an explosion of traffic and leads.

(Originally Published in AutoDealerMonthly, Vol 5, Issue 8)

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