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There is a debate going on, though few are involved and even fewer understand it. First, the definitions:
Long: Searches that are specific, normally 3, 4, or more words, that are highly targeted by minimal for traffic. They are normally an extension of a primary keyword. Example: "New Honda Accord Shreveport"
Medium: Less specific than long keywords, usually 2 or 3 words, with higher volume and lower conversion. Example: "Shreveport Honda"
Short: Very general terms. High volume, low, low conversion. Example: "Honda"
These definitions are loose simply because the automotive industry is so locally targeted, the traditional definitions of "long-tail" vs "short-tail" don't do it justice. Technically, all relevant automotive keywords for a dealership are long-tail, so it is important to add the middle definition.
With that said, you can throw the "Short" out the door for SEO. With a strong SEM budget, the short-tail are fine because you can target your ads geographically, but otherwise, they are worthless. Getting ranked for "Honda" would be nearly impossible for a car dealer, and if they could get ranked there, it would be served to millions of people, 99% of whom don't care about your dealership because they are far away.
Medium keywords will drive the most traffic to a site because the searches are high volume. "Los Angeles Honda" is searched for hundreds of thousands of times a month. A car dealer definitely needs to go after as many relevant medium keywords as possible. There are a lot, but the real estate is still very precious and exclusive.
Long keywords drive less traffic to a site, but they are more likely to convert once they get there. If someone is searching for a specific vehicle in a specific place, they are probably potential buyers. Here are some numbers taken from one of our dealers. The names and cities have been changed for privacy reasons and the numbers themselves have been evenly scaled, but the picture painted by these numbers is telling:
7 Medium Keywords
1142 Unique Visitors
142 Long Keywords
565 Unique Visitors
It is clear which one is better, right? The answer is, "Yes". In today's economy, you need them both. You need every visitor, every lead, and most of all, every sale that you can get. Having a website that can achieve top rankings in as many keywords as possible is the best way to achieve success.
Curious how well you're ranking. Try this tool: SEODigger. If you sign up for a free account, you can see how well your website (and the websites of potential vendors) are doing as a whole. It will tell give a good representation of how many keywords a website is ranked for in the top 20 on Google.
Any questions about this tool, automotive search engine optimization, or website design, feel free to call or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org - 949-310-1727
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Get more automotive SEO advice on this blog.