This buyer's guide overview is designed to offer insight and advice for those who may not be familiar with this category, as well as help dealers in their decision-making process. It is not designed to endorse or influence readers, but simply to educate.
What is SEO?
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) involves the optimization of both on-site and offsite signals to affect the relevancy of a website when a user searches a particular set of keywords in a search engine. In other words, the optimization of a website's online footprint to enhance visibility in the “free” (non-paid) organic results in a search engine. SEO includes both the creative and technical elements required to improve rankings, boost visibility, increase awareness, and drive website traffic.
Importance of SEO
The majority of your website traffic is driven by Google. Although social media and third party sites can send traffic directly, search engines account for the vast majority of dealership website traffic. SEO is important because it helps the search engines find your website and understand its relevancy to the searches that users perform. The search engine has to find every dealership in the local area, crawl each site, and determine which site is the most relevant to the search that's being conducted. There are a limited number of organic spots on page one of search results, and in most markets, there are far more dealers than that limited number of available organic spots. SEO helps your site stand out and gain more visibility in searches, so you're able to get more traffic and acquire more leads.
Considerations in Choosing a SEO Provider
There are many options when choosing a SEO provider. While it's easy to say that price is a factor, the reality is that SEO only works when it's done properly. There are many companies – both inside and outside the automotive industry – who offer SEO services and pricing can range from the hundreds of dollars to the tens of thousands. Search engine optimization is a manual process. It cannot be automated and be effective. SEO also takes a certain level of expertise and commitment on the parts of the company and its employees operating in the company's SEO capacity on behalf of clients to keep up-to-date and current on trends and algorithm changes. Google has made many algorithm changes over time and will undoubtedly continue to do so in the future. SEO strategies that work well today may hurt a dealership in the future if Google so chooses. Proper SEO takes many man-hours of time when done properly which will always translate into a higher investment. In this category, an inexpensive solution will invariably not be a better one. Take that into account in your considerations.
While simplified SEO may sound easy, effective SEO takes expertise and knowledge of current best practices, search engine algorithm changes and the client in-depth. SEO is not a cookie-cutter solution. For any SEO vendor to properly service a client and maximize the results, the provider needs to talk to the dealer and understand what is unique about them. Regular communication is key to having a vendor partner that will be effective in this area. A question that all dealers should ask of a prospective SEO vendor partner is how often there will be contact and consultation. Just as with any vendor, all successful relationships stem from partnerships. SEO can be confusing and many dealers won't understand how certain efforts or activities are benefiting their dealership. A dealer who needs help understanding these activities as well as the results from them will want to inquire as to the availability of their account representative as well as his or her willingness to spend time educating them and answering questions when they arise so that the dealer can get an accurate understanding of how the provider is helping them.
Search engine optimization is more than simply creating blog posts or model research pages. Dealers should inquire as to what SEO services a vendor is including in their proposal specifically. Search engine optimization includes many off-site signals as well. Dealers will want to know if a vendor includes citation work, link building and reputation management in their services. In addition, dealers will want to inquire whether any content created for their dealership is duplicated across other clients or if it's all unique to the dealer's website. This is extremely important to know as a website can quickly lose favor with search engines if it's found to be using duplicated content.
Search engine optimization is platform agnostic, meaning that SEO services can be performed for any website regardless of the website provider. All SEO providers can function and execute effectively regardless of whether their company also offers websites to dealers. Dealers should inquire as to whether a company's SEO services require the dealership to switch to the provider's website services and, unless a new website was already under consideration, understand that an SEO provider can provide their services to any dealership regardless of who the dealership's current website provider is.
Of course, results matter as well. Dealers should always expect to receive regular reports on key activities and metrics from any vendor partner – SEO included. Dealers should inquire as to the regularity and consistency of reporting from their vendor. At the very minimum, dealers should expect to receive regular monthly reports from their vendor partner. Those reports should never be only keyword rankings. Every search engine user sees different results thanks to personalization and localization, so ranking reports are not accurate gauges of success by themselves. The facts are that a dealership investing in search engine optimization is doing so to see a return on revenue. Because of that, reporting should be relevant and tied to the dealership's bottom line. An example of a good report would be one that includes organic traffic, leads from that traffic and trends of those over time. This will allow a dealer to truly assess how their investment is performing and tie that directly back to sales.
Search engine optimization can be very complicated and requires many man-hours by people continuously staying on the cutting edge in a world of ever changing rules and algorithms. Proper SEO can't be automated and must be personalized to the dealership. By taking into account the answers received from the above considerations, a dealer can be more confident in securing a vendor partner that will service them properly. Choosing the right vendor partner in the area of search engine optimization is extremely important. The wrong vendor using outdated tactics can very easily do a dealership's digital footprint more harm than good.
Dealers should take time when considering who to partner with and use the SEO vendor ratings on page 19 as factors when making a decision.
Search engine optimization can be very complicated and requires many man-hours by people continuously staying on the cutting edge in a world of ever changing rules and algorithms.