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Money TermsSearch engine optimization is not an exact science. One web site may rank well for certain keywords, while another, similar web site may rank well for a completely different set of keywords. Car dealers must be able to identify the "money terms" for each search engine if they want their web site to be as successful as possible.

What are money terms? In short, they are keywords that have the proper mix of relevance and search volume. By relevance, I mean the terms that fall within a dealer’s geographic reach, as well as fit with their product offerings. Search volume is the number of times a particular keyword is typed into the search engines. The question now becomes: How do dealers identify their money terms?

For this exercise, we will look at Hoffman Ford in Harrisburg, Pa. In June 2007, they had a nice, new web site, but they weren’t seeing much traffic. After a quick review, it was apparent why: nobody could find them. They were virtually invisible on the search engines.

Paul Smith, business development manager at Hoffman Ford, talked to his SEO company. They defined goals and identified targets to go after, ranking them by priority. This list has become a blueprint for proper search engine optimization, as Hoffman Ford has joined the ranks of Ford Motor Company’s “National E-Commerce Elite” for three consecutive months as a result of these efforts.

Here are the priorities that they outlined:

  • 1st Priority: Own Your Name

Regardless of how well a dealership ranks in major search terms, their best set of terms will be related to their own name. Those actively seeking you should be able to find you. They are your very best traffic sources.

Examples: “Hoffman Ford”, “Hoffman Harrisburg PA”

  • 2nd Priority: Own Your Backyard

While owning your name is an absolute must, the best way to increase business is to be found by the people looking in your immediate area. There are nine Ford dealers within 15 miles of Harrisburg serving an area with a total population under one million. When these people are in the market to buy a new Ford, most will type in “Harrisburg Ford” or “Ford Harrisburg PA.” Why? Because people are becoming aware of what will get them the best results on the search engines. They know that if they type in what they want and where they want to find it, they’ll get the most relevant results.

Examples: “Ford Harrisburg”, “Harrisburg Ford”, “Harrisburg Ford Dealers”, “Ford Dealerships in Harrisburg PA”

  • 3rd Priority: Presence in Competitor Cities

Once a dealer owns their backyard, they can start projecting their presence outward. Their primary targets should be cities where they have competitors. While Hoffman is on the east part of Harrisburg, they have a couple of competitors in Mechanicsburg, a suburb just to the west of town. Being listed first would be nice, but as long as a dealer can get on the front page of their competitors’ cities with terms like Mechanicsburg Ford Dealers, they will generate leads.

Examples: “Ford Mechanicsburg”, “Mechanicsburg Ford”, “Mechanicsburg Ford Dealers”

  • 4th Priority: Specialties

Most dealers have something they can boast about. Some have the newest body shop in town, while others sell more accessories than anyone in the area. For Hoffman, their claim to fame was being the only Roush dealer in the area. Still, they didn’t rank for “Harrisburg Roush Dealers”. Today, they rank No. 1 on Google for “Harrisburg Roush Dealers” and “Pennsylvania Roush Dealers.” They also rank No. 3 in the world for the term “Roush Dealers,” which has yielded distant sales that they wouldn’t have had before.

Examples: “PA Roush Dealers”, “Pennsylvania Roush Dealers”

  • Other Priorities: The Long Tail

The biggest “smoke and mirrors” sales technique used by many SEO and Web design companies is the long tail. Search terms that are very specific fall into the category of high relevance, but low search volume. If someone types in “2004 Chevrolet Cobalt Baltimore,” they are probably great candidates to buy your vehicles that match. The problem is that if only two people a year type that in, it isn’t worth much focus.

Dealers should consider the long tail keywords, but it should definitely be an afterthought. Focus on the money words first. The long tail keywords will naturally follow.

The most important advice in this column is that if a company approaches you touting their abilities to get their sites ranked for terms like these, they probably aren’t very good at what they do. These terms should be optimized naturally without the assistance of an SEO firm. The words convert, but they are too low volume to focus on and too easy to rank well for to be considered part of their “resume.”

Focusing SEO efforts on the “money terms” will increase traffic. The goal should always be to generate enough traffic, leads and sales to require a larger department. Proper SEO is a key factor in achieving these goals.

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Read more tips about Car Dealer SEO on this blog.

This article was originally published in the print edition of Auto Dealer Monthly, Vol 5, Issue 2.

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