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New Automotive SEOFor most dealers, search engine optimization and pay-per-click marketing are the primary methods for driving traffic to the dealership Web site. It is targeted and localized, and the return on investment is amazing compared to other forms of marketing.

Establishing a stronger presence through Web 2.0 can drive traffic to a Web site and greatly improve a dealer’s search rankings on Google, Yahoo and the other search engines. The social Web revolution has been taking the Internet by storm for a few years now, but has only recently become a buzzword in the automotive industry. Blogs, social media and social networks are all excellent forms of traffic-drivers if applied properly.

If mishandled, however, they can actually have the opposite effect.

Dealership Blogs
Blogging is something that many dealerships want to do, but often do not know how to start. Those who are able get rolling are sometimes overwhelmed by the amount of time required to maintain a good blog. A true, quality dealership blog must be built with an appropriate theme, optimized in and of itself, and have fresh content added two to 10 times per month.

They can be used to highlight different aspects of the dealership from a perspective that isn’t necessarily sales-driven. There can be articles about employees of the month, charitable sponsorships, local events in which the dealership participates, manufacturer news, exciting new models coming out, spotlights on special customers, etc.; the possibilities are endless. There are three keys to remember with a blog:

1. Blogs should have personality. They should be interesting and not just a series of articles about the latest sales or incentives.

2. They should be optimized, first for the dealership name, then for the city and brand. When a blog takes up a spot on the front page of the search engines, other search results like competitors’ sites and negative reviews are pushed down.

3. Use the blog for optimization of the primary site. It shouldn’t be loaded with links, but a few strategically-placed links pointing to the parts department or used car inventory every now and then will benefit the primary Web site.

Dealers can do it themselves. There are free resources out there such as Wordpress and Blogger that offer ways for people who are not tech-oriented to start a blog. For a small amount of money, dealers can purchase a domain, find a free or inexpensive theme, and make a more professional-looking blog.

Unless a dealership is prepared to invest the time and energy required to maintain a fresh and impressive blog, they should either hire an expert or not blog at all. A bad blog with old stories can turn a customer off just as quickly as a good blog can turn them on. Ask your Web site vendor how they can help you put out something you want people to see.

Social Networks
There is a multitude of pros and cons to be considered when a dealership looks at social networks like MySpace and Facebook. While pages on these networks can be tremendous marketing tools for reaching people, they can also turn into eyesores and embarrassments if not handled properly. As with blogs, tread carefully before jumping into the big social networking sites. Having nothing at all is much better than having a poorly-done page representing you.

Another option is to use the personalized social networking sites. Ning and GoingOn are two of the most popular entrants into this segment. They are part blog, part social network and part forum, all rolled into one. Personal social networks like these have amazing results if handled well. An additional benefit of these sites is that they can be set on autopilot once they are built up.

Social Media
Web 2.0 sites like Digg and Propeller have had extreme search engine optimization benefits for over a year. Because they promote news stories, videos and pictures, dealerships and their optimization companies have had a difficult time applying the SEO power of social media into the dealerships’ Web sites.

The solution is to use social media as a secondary optimization push. While submitting a dealership’s Web site to would be pointless, writing an article on a blog that discusses and links to the dealership and then “digging” that blog post can help. This secondary layer of link-building is too advanced for most automotive SEO vendors. If they aren’t using these tools (or worse, if they are using them improperly and spamming your link across networks), then you should find a vendor who does use these tools and, just as important, uses them correctly.

Optimization 2.0
Optimizing an automotive Web site in 2008 is very different than it was last year. Throughout this year, it will continue to change, but Web 2.0 will still be an enormously important aspect of optimization for a long time.

A properly-run Web 2.0 optimization campaign is difficult to find. It takes time to research and more time to implement, but it is the gasoline that drives your Web site. You can have the best meta-tags and content in the world, but without the high-octane links to drive your Web site forward, you’d better hop out and start pushing.

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Originally published in the print publication Auto Dealer Monthly.  Read more SEO Advice for Car Dealers on this blog.

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