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For dealers trying to make sense of SEO, Online Reputation Management, social media, or online ‘piracy’, it can get pretty confusing, pretty fast. Across the blogosphere (the ‘techie’ and dealer media) there are firestorms of articles/posts that really function as conversations BETWEEN tech vendors to educate, and mainly argue, with each other. I work in the search industry and may find (… from this week) “Diving Into Cloud-Based Search” or “ACAP Versus Robots.txt For Controlling Search Engines” a good read…but it’s hard to think of ANY industry…ANY marketing platform ever…more dominated by complex, nitpicky, mind-spinning discussions than SEO. DrivingSales’ core base/mission is dealers, and as an industry you’re all brothers and sisters in arms, trying, in this lousy economy, to reduce your spend and reach/sell more customers by MAKING SENSE of why you should tackle new search and social media realities. …So, I’m taking a big step back to re-sketch a ‘bigger picture’ - not what’s best from a vendor or even a dealer standpoint, but what’s best in search from a CONSUMER point of view. The SEO and Online Reputation Management horizons get much clearer when your focus is actual consumers: what those MILLIONS are actually seeking, those 4 in 5 that use search engines while car shopping or selecting dealers - those 3 in 4 that now read online dealership reviews. A simple mantra: Deliver what the consumer wants to find/values when they’re searching for either your trade/dealership name or your specific brand. What do they want to see? Same exact thing search engines want to deliver: Relevancy. Base your search strategies from the consumer up, and the Googles will reward you. So, for the remainder of this post, I’m taking off any SEO vendor hat – and adopting a consumer point of view… 1) Roughly 60% of all local/geo-specific auto searches are of the generic make/model variety. (Typically further up-funnel, these consumers are seeking diverse types of info.) Viewpoint of that Searcher: When I’m searching for something generic like “Honda Santa Fe New Mexico,” I want/expect to see general Honda information. I want multiple dealer sites, OEM site(s) and, yes, review sites. I recognize/value information-rich, third-party sites like an AutoTrader.com or Edmunds, but not some other ‘quasi-third-party’ sites that pop up. I’m gathering info. And remember, if I find what I’m looking for I won’t change/redefine my search. If you’re a dealer within reach, your website should be right there. Are review sites really that important to me? I assert they’re as important as your (nice) website. As I said, I’m just beginning to zero in on the brand I want to buy, and where I will buy it. If your site isn’t there, I had a chance to find out about you from consumer reviews. In fact, I’m likely to narrow down whom I think I might purchase from before I ever leave my desk. What I find in this generic search, on these diverse sites, is shaping my opinion of your dealership. What don’t I want? The same thing dealers don’t want. I don’t want to see a different brand competitor in the organic results—Ford when I’m searching Honda. Anything irrelevant may mean I redefine my search. And, no, I can’t be fooled into clicking on a Toyota site when I just searched for Honda, or a business in Baltimore when I’m clearly in Santa Fe. 2) 40% of all local auto searches specifically involve a dealership's name. (These consumers, typically further down-funnel, have isolated potential dealers.) Viewpoint of that Searcher: When I search for “John Smith Honda” I want to find relevant information for John Smith Honda. Period. I want immediate, top-of-page access to their website, I want to see reviews, maybe their Facebook page. I’m so used to seeing reviews (in top results) for everything I search (and I value them so highly), that if they’re missing – I’ll probably simply add ‘reviews’ to my query. I’ve already narrowed my choice, decided to investigate your dealership, and it would be great if I could firm this decision up before I leave my computer. I’m doing this before I make a call…and if I have the convincing info I need, I may only make one. If you’re presented richly and positively, and your info aligns with what I need to know and want to hear about you (given this scary, expensive purchase), you may have made a sale. When I do a dealership search like this I don’t want to see your competitors in either the paid ads or organic listings. In fact, being the savvy searcher that I am, I view this as sleazy on your competitor’s part. I understand now how search engines work. What I used to think was a mistake, I now realize is intentional. When I search “John Smith Honda” and “Joe Brown Honda” flies up, I won’t be ‘accidentally’ tricked into switching to Joe Brown. It basically confirmed what I thought: ‘John Smith’ seems pretty cool and the bad review I just read about Joe Brown, when I searched for ‘Honda Santa Fe New Mexico,’ was probably true! Ok…I’m back. There are multiplying ways to spread news of your dealership online - from microsites – to blogs - to Facebook and Twitter – to traditional third-party sites. Each consumer leans towards different mediums, and all can prove important. But your meat-and-potatoes (for both major categories of search) will always be strong SEO (the best organic website placement) and an indisputably solid online reputation. This is your digital foundation, and other blanks can be filled in… (And, yes, you can tell I’ve MORE to say about search piracy…to be taken up in my follow-up posts.) Making sense of the new search/review world is understandably daunting. Please feel free to contact me with any (and all) questions firstname.lastname@example.org or 866.994.2613.