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Search engine optimization is an ever changing proposition, but it will never die. As long as there are ways for people to look for information on the internet businesses will have to look for ways to be "optimized" to be relevant so people can find them. If search becomes completely dominated with paid advertising, people will look for other ways to find the information they want.
SEO in automotive is simple as the bucket of keywords that dealers should optimize for is relatively small to get the most ROI. To go after the avalanche of traffic that a well done SEO campaign can deliver depends on many variables from location of the dealership, to budget and purpose of the campaign.
The problem that I have seen, SEO is such an ever evolving art form and so many have been "burned" by cheap SEO that the confusion is compounded and the lack of information that SEO firms are willing to share with their clients or potential clients.
1. Your, the clients, keyword wishes are worthless. If clients choose the keywords they want to rank for it inherently makes the job of the SEO company easier. The can either completely discount the clients request and say what you want is unreasonable or realize that you handed them a list of keywords that requires little effort to accomplish. Unless the client has done the research chances are they do not know the true value of their wish list. Then again if the client is doing the keyword research they are doing the job of the SEO company, making recommendations based on value and budget.
2. Localization his highly defined. Optimizing for "Major Metro Ford Dealer" is pretty much wasted effort unless your address it "123 Main Street Major Metro, State 00000-0000" unless you have a page optimized really well showing consumers why doing business with you is worth their effort if you are not located in the defined area. With localization that is being offered by search now major metro searches are returning results based on the search engines users location and radiating from there. "Brand dealer" searches are even tighter. If you are trying to capture traffic based on searches from users not in your direct market area go for it.
3. A well designed content strategy would remove the need for paid SEO. Content is KING and you need a lot of it. A few paragraphs on the home page in hidden divs is not going to help you get the mountain of traffic that a well planed content strategy will deliver. To capture the "long tail" you need to be adding content on a regular basis to your website. Best accomplished by a blog with relevant content about your business, it's employees and the products you represent.
4. Social media does not enhance SEO, at least for car dealers. Not in the ways they would have you believe. If you have a viral content strategy in place social media can drive you traffic and the "freshness" of your topic and social sharing will help drive search traffic but once it is no longer in favor the social references no longer matter. Social can help index new content fairly fast but the same thing could be accomplished posting a link on Craigslist.
5. Directory and search engine submissions still count. The recent Penguin updates have a many SEO companies discounting links from directories due to the fact that many directories have been removed from the index. Directory links do still impact search results in Yahoo and Bing plus they can deliver traffic to your website. Any link that can drive traffic has value which makes local directories even more valuable. It has to be the right directories, ask if they are getting their clients into DMOZ and paying for BOTW. If you're not in Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools (also powers Yahoo) you need to be in there ASAP on accounts the dealer controls not the SEO firm, You can give them access but not control. (Whole topic in and of itself)
6. Their Google Partnership means nothing in regards to search optimization. Many vendors in the marketplace like to tout they are "Google Certified" or "Google Partners". Google's partner programs are for Adwords, Analytics and Apps. There is no "Search Optimization" certification or partnership.
7. Every link they build violates Google's guidelines. “Any links intended to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme.” Google would like to see a web where every link was given editorially. I have provided millions of links for dealers and website vendors. Some completely organic "looking" and others varying shades of gray. I would not recommend any of that at this point. Blog networks for link building now provide zero value. Your dealership should concentrate on getting links from automotive resources and other business in your local market. If you have a blog like discussed in number three above and are providing good content that others see as valuable you will get the natural links that Google loves. Link request should be made thinking about the traffic they would provide not the SEO value of the link. If you keep those two points in mind your link building efforts will provide dividends and never place your website at risk.
8. They won't ask for your input. If your SEO firm is not continually communicating with your dealership on how to best represent your brand online and in the content they provide they are you doing you a disservice. They don't know your culture or local business climate. You are being set up for failure. If you are paying for "cheap" SEO then they can't afford to ask for your input. but then again they probably are not doing much for you anyway.
9. They have never failed. If your SEO firm cannot tell you about failures they have had or test that they have done that did not prove worthwhile they are not top shelf providers. SEO is a data driven and opinions need to be put to the test. They may can reference authority figures in search but they really don't have any original ideas and if they do they can't execute them.
10. We don't want your business there is a conflict of interest. There is no way any web marketing vendor paid, organic, agency or website can ethically represent clients in the same market area. Even if they are different brand dealers they can't do it ethically unless one does not sell preowned vehicles. They can try to poke holes in everything else said here and may convince you otherwise but they can't provide a reasonable justification on how they can represent two dealers in the same market trying to accomplish the same goals. It is just a cash grab.
The primary functions of your SEO firm should be to market your dealership off site and to improve the user experience onsite. If you are providing an awesome user experience and creating content others are willing to link to you may not even need to pay for SEO. Maybe all you need is someone to help guide you through this process.
Paul Rushing is the Search Marketing Manager for iMagicLab. He brings over 15 years of automotive experience to iMagicLab and stays ahead of the curve on search marketing and social