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Forward: This is a long article but it is a very important topic.

black-hat-seoThe competition for Google page one placement in the automotive industry is hot! Car dealers are continually bombarded with offers from SEO companies to improve their Internet rankings and dealers have no way to really know how they are doing their work. As an SEO consultant, I urge all car dealers to be mindful that for every reputable SEO company there is an SEO company that will do anything to gain higher listings, even at your expense.

In the SEO community there are "White Hat SEO" and "Black Hat SEO" consultants. These may be new terms for car dealers but this article is should clarify the roles they play. The goal of black hat SEO experts is to manipulate the search engines to achieve higher rankings; the ends justify the means. Oddly enough, I have been noticing some "gray hat" and "black hat" SEO tactics being employed by car dealer platform companies and Automotive SEO companies.

I will outline two examples, which demonstrates a technique that I consider very dangerous. I say dangerous because if this technique causes a car dealer website to be banned from Google, a dealer could suffer from tens of thousands of dollars of damage. Imagine of you dealership website was blocked from organic search listings and your only venue for visibility was Google PPC? Is it the end of the world? No? Would it be expensive? Yes!

The technique I am referring to is creating a "More Information" link at the bottom of the home page of a dealer website that actually hides a codepage of keyword rich text. This text may also include Heading Tag spam designed to target high value keywords and search phrases. For some General Managers or Internet Sales Managers this may sound like a foreign language so I'll try to lay out my concerns to create a call for action.

Google Sets Guidelines for SEO Consultants

These footer hyperlinks in question, actually display a new section of text that was once hidden. In my opinion this text is not something that a car dealer intends a consumers to see. Read the text for yourselves and you will see that its not written to flow.

It's not that the text is bad, it is just hidden text with questionable intent. It is my contention that it is designed only for the search engine spiders. This extra text, in my opinion, is in direct violation of Google Webmaster Guidelines. You have to decide if you agree with me so I have outlined Google exact words on this matter.

Here are the specific sections of the Google Webmaster Guidelines that brings me to write an article to warn car dealers about these techniques:

  • Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines. Don't deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users, which is commonly referred to as "cloaking."
  • Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you'd feel comfortable explaining what you've done to a website that competes with you. Another useful test is to ask, "Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn't exist?"
  • Avoid hidden text or hidden links.

When you click through to the examples I will show you, I would say that this technique violates the Google Webmaster Guidelines.

Abuse of Website Heading Tags

Secondly, in the HTML programming language, you have Heading Tags known as <H1>, <H2> and <H3> tags which are supposed to mark "sub-headings" on a web page to tell Google and a Reader what is important.

Think of a "Table of Contents" outlining the major points on a page. In general the top of a web page would start with <H1> tags and then as the page goes on, you would use <H2>, <H3> and even <h4> tags.

Here is Google's exact guidelines from the Google SEO Starter Guide regarding Heading Tags:

• Imagine you're writing an outline - Similar to writing an outline for a large paper, put some thought into what the main points and sub-points of the content on the page will be and decide where to use heading tags appropriately.

Avoid:

• placing text in heading tags that wouldn't be helpful in defining the structure of the page

• using heading tags where other tags like <em> and <strong> may be more appropriate

• erratically moving from one heading tag size to another

Use headings sparingly across the page - Use heading tags where it makes sense. Too many heading tags on a page can make it hard for users to scan the content and determine where one topic ends and another begins.

Avoid:

• excessively using heading tags throughout the page
• putting all of the page's text into a heading tag
• using heading tags only for styling text and not presenting structure

If an SEO consultant builds a home page that stuffs H1 and H2 tags in a hidden section of home page code that only pops up when someone clicks on a link in the footer of the website, I would feel very confident that this violates the Google SEO guidelines. The fact is that very few, if any, consumers will even click this link at the bottom of a page.

Regardless of what the web designers may say, if this was meant to be seen, they would have included the text in the clear or added the page to the main navigation structure. In my opinion, if it was meant for consumers to see they would also have written the text very differently.

That is my concern. Car dealers may be blind to the fact that someone could be putting the primary domain name in jeopardy.

"Grey Hat" SEO? You Decide

Carmichael Honda

If you go to http://carmichaelhonda.com and go to the bottom left side of the home page you will see a link that say "More Information". When you click on this link, the text area expands to show a series of keywords and targeted search keywords in a list format that I think has no value to a consumer. In my opinion, it was designed for the web crawlers to improve organic search rankings.

This section of text has five <h1> tags and five <h2> tags. There is no reason to MULTI tag a hidden page of text unless you were trying to fool the search engines that this text was for reader use and important. In my opinion, this is not anything but keyword and HTML spam. There are no H1 and H2 tags in the normal readable text on the home page because there is no place for text.

To me, this looks like a work-around for a dealer who wanted a graphical home page Someone told them a way to fool the search engines by providing text that they need for indexing in another way. This is a dangerous choice in my opinion even though it is working now.

John Jones Automotive Group

Take a moment to click through to http://www.gmcity.com and go to the bottom of the home page. In a very similar technique, in the footer of the website, there is a "More Information" hyperlink that pops out a scrolling text window that is clearly designed for high value search phrases that are hyperlinked. Google likes good "anchor text" keywords but this implementation on off-page text smells funny.

In this example, the web developers did not abuse the Heading Tags. However, they created a page of text that is practically not intended to be clicked and designed to feed the search engine spiders. You will see that keyword phrases are hyperlinked. This page is well designed for SEO, but my question is that since it was stuffed in the footer and the text is really not anything a consumer would appreciate, would you agree that it smells of "Grey Hat" techniques.

Would you want to roll the dice with your primary domain name with Google?

The fact that the text has formatting errors is an even greater testimonial that no one ever reads this page or they would have told the dealer to correct the formatting errors.

SEO Cat Fighting?

The fact that I'm an SEO Consultant that is criticizing other SEO consultants is dangerous but this is not a cat fight. I like competition and often praise competing companies fine work; there is enough work to go around. What I don't like is that a dealer may be risking their Internet business on questionable techniques that they are unaware of.

The purpose of this article is to raise the awareness and to bring to the forefront that some questionable SEO techniques could be introduced to car dealer websites.

Buyer Beware.

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