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Brian Pasch

Brian Pasch CEO

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The Golden Age of Automotive SEO Is Over

In the past 60 days, OEM compliance inspections of dealer blogs, microsites, and press releases have significantly increased.  From the guideline documents that I have reviewed, it is clear that the OEM marketing teams have been poorly advised on how dealers should be leveraging all marketing opportunities on the Internet.

There is a double standard that OEM's have created in regards to advertising strategies.  Let's look at the Boston Massachusetts market, where many dealers serve this large city, but where only one dealer has an actual Boston address.  The other dealers are separated by 10-15 miles and physically located in a smaller suburb, with its own city name.

Dealers in the suburbs can take out print ads in the Boston Herald, which advertises their services to consumers well beyond their PMA.  These ads can use the words "Boston" in the printed text. and can even show driving directions from Boston to their suburbia location.

These same dealers can also take out radio ads or television spots that cross all PMA lines and saturate the greater Boston market. Both of these communication channels are available for co-op funds and can mention the Boston metro area in the ad script.

Dealers can also create Google Adwords campaigns that have advertising radiuses outside their PMA, and these campaigns are also available for co-op money.  These advertising campaigns can also use the word "Boston" as a keyword or any other city in a reasonable driving distance.

When Confused, Kick the SEO Dog

However, some dealers are now being restricted and penalized for implementing SEO strategies that use the same geo-targeting strategies that other approved channels can utilize.  If dealers can appear on radio, television, and print in towns outside a dealer’s official PMA, why not in organic search as well?

Specifically, dealers are being penalized if any of their organic marketing strategies include:

  1. Including the name of ANY city outside of where their dealership is located in Title Tags, META descriptions, or in body text.  This applies to any website page with their name on it.
  2. If dealers choose to use a city name outside of their physical location in a Title Tag or META Description, it has to be preceded by the word "Serving". 
  3. Hyper-linking words in the body of any page that includes ANY city name outside of their physical location is prohibited.  This means you can't hyperlink Boston Toyota Service if your dealership is in Worcester.  You can't even hyperlink 'Serving Boston Toyota Owners" in a sentence.
  4. Some OEM's have policies that prevent dealers from owning domains that have ANY city name in it that is not your city.  You can't own it even if there is NO competing dealer in that city.
  5. Some OEM's have policies that prevent dealers from owning microsites that don't have your official business name as part of the domain name.

And the list goes on.  So, OEM's have created a virtual marketing wall for the Internet SEO strategies, which in fact only hurts their own franchise dealers.  Someone has an agenda against Automotive SEO strategies at the OEM level and it's only hurting their own dealer base.

Great News For 3rd Party Lead Collectors

This is great news for third party advertising sites and independent used car dealers.  Independents will so have unrestricted access to creating strong used car marketing platforms that are geo-targeted. 

OEM's are forcing dealers to transfer all domains that don't comply into their ownership.  The result of non-compliance is costly.

These OEM policies are GREAT news for third party lead collectors since they do not have any restrictions on domain names, content, or linking strategies.  Third party lead collection vendors must be jumping for joy, and it's even possible that they are the ones advising their OEM community!

These Internet content policies also increases dealer's dependence on inventory advertising sites like Autotrader.com, Cars.com, or Everycarlisted.com or PPC strategies.  These are all valid advertising strategies, but it looks like the OEM marketing teams are trying to limit competition, innovation, and free markets.

For many OEM's, dealers CAN NOT create a second used car inventory marketing site.  They can send their cars to 3rd parties but they CAN NOT do it themselves.  Interesting!  For many dealers, they are told that they can only have one website.  Period.

Since OEM's hold hundreds of thousands of dollars of dealers heads for compliance fines or bonus money, dealers have no choice but to comply. 


Time to crank up those PPC budgets!  Time to hire a few more inventory-advertising partners and increase your ad budgets.  Your days of SEO innovation must move to another area of marketing.


P.S.  SEO still works and dealers need an SEO strategy.  SEO is not dead. Dealers need to have a compliant SEO strategy while we wait for OEM marketing executives to reach out to industry experts on this topic. 

Eric Miltsch
Brian, Nice breakdown. Unfortunate this is bottlenecking dealership efforts. Halfway through reading this, I thought the same thing you mentioned in your last sentence - something else needs to happen here. What other concept is available that would allow dealers, or any business, the ability to connect with consumers? (And not have a negative impact on said compliance laws) Location based platforms may offer that solution solution. Great places for keyword rich pages, image sharing, customer reviews and even coupons/specials/rewards. One simple example: Yelp.
Brian Pasch
Eric Dealers need a comprehensive digital marketing strategy which is what I have been trying to emphasize over the past year. You bring up a great point and most dealers would not know how to leverage this without attending a seminar, webinar, conference, or hiring a consultant. I'd love to see you write a piece on how to leverage Yelp.com. And of course dealers can leverage free sites like http://www.cardealerwiki.org as well.
Eric Miltsch
For sure - I'll post it.
Bryan Armstrong
Eric, Thanks cant wait!
Ed Steenman
Great article, I hope you continue to beat this drum. While OEM's may think they are helping protect dealers against predatory practices, I wonder if there is a risk that a policy of this nature can begin to be viewed as restraint of trade especially when viewed through the historic lens of reducing a market area a dealer has previously served. One would need to see the individual wording of the franchisee agreements to determine to what extent a dealer can be legally prevented (as opposed to discouraged) from selling outside of their immediate market area. This is a interesting case that gets bigger than just SEO very quickly.

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