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Lately there has been significant buzz about a statement that Matt Cutts made at SXSW in regards to a project that Google has been working on. This project, is designed, according to Cutts, to level the playing field for websites that don't do any SEO but have good content.
If I interpret his statement correctly, Google is trying to give Page One ranking to the most relevant content to the person searching regardless if the author had a budget or knowledge about proper website page formatting, links, keywords, and/or social signals.
Whether this can be done, will only be seen over time. White Hat SEO strategies are working well today. It is clear to me that social signals can influence search rankings today just like White Hat SEO tactics in the past. Companies or authors with strong social followings can already "game" SERP's with social influence and instant traffic.
I think the cheese has already moved and this clean-up is for old-time abusers. Both JD Rucker and I have be advising dealers to update their Automotive SEO strategy because what worked in the past is not working as well today.
The Google project, announced by Cutts, is designed to identify websites that are "overly optimized". His statement has many dealers scared. For most dealers, they do not need to be worried.
When I first heard about Matt Cutts statement, I asked "What Does Overly Optimized Really Mean?".
Fortunately, SearchEngineLand.com posted a transcript of the audio presentation created by Rob Snell and added some color commentary.
Here is the piece that gets at the heart of my discussion today.
And so that’s the sort of thing where we try to make the web site, uh Google Bot smarter, we try to make our relevance more adaptive so that people don’t do SEO, we handle that, and then we also start to look at the people who sort of abuse it, whether they throw too many keywords on the page, or whether they exchange way too many links, or whatever they are doing to sort of go beyond what a normal person would expect in a particular area.
The two top "clues" Matt gives for sites that are overly optimized are too many keywords on the page and too many links being exchanged on a page. In both cases he presents, the problem lies with the activities on the website in question and not due to any outside efforts.
Meaning, these penalties are happening because someone with access to change website content and/or place links on a dealership website is doing something "overly optimizing" to Google. I'll get back to this point and a term called Google Bowling.
If a dealer is ill advised to stuff a website page with dozens of keywords in boldface, hyperlinked, or formatted to create SEO weight, it looks that they WILL be on Google's new watch list. Do I see it often on dealership websites? Yes.
Where do I see keyword stuffing most often? Right on the HOME PAGE of dealership websites believe it or not.
The keyword stuffing is often at the bottom of the home page. It can be visible, contained in a scrollable region, or it can be hidden. The hidden text can be found on some platforms by clicking on "More Information" link in the footer.
At one point this actually helped with Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but now it looks like this should be removed from dealership websites. Make sure you check your website today.
Keyword stuffing on dealership blog pages is also a common practice where zealous content writers think that they need to optimize ONE blog post for 10 keywords. Normally, I recommend that each blog post be optimized for a single keyword goal.
You can spot a keyword stuffed article pretty easily when you try to read it and it doesn't flow correctly. The SEOing of the text makes it clumsy and the content often has too many boldface words or hyperlinks into the content body.
If a dealer decides to participate in the thousands of link exchange emails that come to their email box a year, they are at risk. Link exchanges ask dealers to place a link somewhere on their website to another website in exchange for a link back form them. 99% of the time, these links have NOTHING to do with the automotive industry.
Link exchanges dilute the value of a dealers website because they "leak" PageRank to websites that have no relationship to the automotive industry. Dealers should take an audit of their website to make sure that they do not have any "Link" pages that have dozens of offsite links.
Blog Posts Using Links Properly
A well written blog post that references the 2013 Mazda CX-5, is perfectly within recommended guidelines if it includes a link to the Mazda USA website. The article can also link to a Mazda dealer's inventory page that lists in stock CX-5's.
Google sees these links as "supportive" of the article content and it enhances the reader experience. Google KNOWS what type of content is on the sites you link to! Keep that in mind when you pick linking sites.
Also keep in mind that most dealers are optimizing their content for the cities they actually serve and/or the state they live in. They are not trying to optimize for the country which forces them to use extreme or questionable strategies. I think this is also a factor in Google's review of content and SEO.
Blog Posts Using Links Improperly
Using the same post from above let's discuss what can happen when a dealer participates in a link exchange network. The Mazda CX-5 article now has multiple additional links going to various websites of questionable value.
For example, when the article talks about leather seats, the word "leather" is hyperlinked and points to an eCommerce site selling leather jackets. When the article talks about the ability of the car to secure the passengers, the word "secure" is hyperlinked to an ADT alarm signup page.
This type of practice is exactly what got JC Penny in trouble. They had people writing "helpful tip" blogs that were filled with hyperlinked keywords going to JC Penny product pages. If the blog post recommended to college freshman to bring a warm set of flannel pajamas, the words "Flannel Pajamas" was linked to the eCommerce page on the JC Penny site.
There is a term called "Google Bowling" used by Black Hat" SEO companies that claim that they can hurt your competitor's website using aggressive and unethical SEO techniques.
The term refers to the "Black Hat" SEO company's ability to "knock" (bowl over) the competitor off page one for your top keywords. So they attack the competitor website with links from Poker sites, porn sites, International sites, and perform mystical practices to ban the competitor from Google. It is supposed to work.
So ask yourself a simple question. Would Google allow that to happen on any grand scale? Absolutely not.
I bring this up because what Matt Cutts referred to was activities ON the dealership website. He made no claim that links from outside websites could hurt a dealership website. That would imply Google Bowling works.
Inbound Links Are Good and Common
For example, if a large dealer posts all their cars to Craigslist every day and builds thousands of links to their website from Craiglist, is that bad? No. Craiglist is a valid inventory syndication website.
If a Nissan dealer is active on NicoForum.com and over time has hundeds of links back to their website from posts, is that bad? No. The links are in the context of a conversation about Nissan cars within a Nissan community.
Can a dealer have microsites that have links back to their primary dealership website? Of course, because the microsites are relevant, should have unique content and are clearly marked in their purpose. If these microsites also have inventory, then they can generate hundreds or even thousands of links.
Keep in mind that popular sites like Cars.com, Autotrader.com, EveryCarListed.com, GetAuto.com are all virtual microsites with dealer inventory when you consider that a portion of the pages belong exclusively to dealer inventory.
Dealers don't have the perspective I have that has seen so many gross abuses of the Internet.
The key message is relevance and appropriateness. Stay away from offshore SEO companies that have no experience with automotive SEO. Find an experienced partner that you can trust and that is keeping up with the changes in Google search.
If you are getting quality one-way links from automotive websites, inventory classified websites, news websites, reputable blogs, you will not be part of this Google cleanup. This is not about you.
Also keep in mind that since Google Bowling does not happen, if your old SEO company signed you up for link exchange programs, all you need to do is to DELETE the links on your website that go to these questionable websites.
Google is cleaning up questionable blog networks, article networks, and news sites that are overly optimized. Google will likely de-index these websites NOT your dealer website. So, continue best practices for building great content and use the appropriate titles, tags, and links that generate the right visibility for the right audience.
I hope this post sheds some light on the topic. Is SEO still important? Yes. It's what constitutes good SEO is what is changing. I've dedicated much time to this topic and have tested time and time again the strategies I recommend to dealers.
If you have specific questions about your website that you do not want to discuss publically, send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org, otherwise let's discuss them right here.
I will also be participating in an SEO roundtable at the 2012 Automotive Boot Camp with JD Rucker and a number of top SEO strategists to further delve into this topic.
Details on the conference can be found at: 2012 Automotive Boot Camp (Yes, that is an inbound link that I created!)
Bian Pasch, CEO
PCG Digital Marketing