Basic Automotive SEO

This is an old article that has been converted into a blog post. The original, for as long as it exists, will be here.

A General Overview of Search Engine Optimization in the Automotive Industry


Having a website found on the search engines is one of the easiest ways for businesses in the automotive industry to improve their sales and service. Here are some basic techniques that will help towards the goal of having an automotive website found by the potential customers who are looking.

There are so many myths about automotive SEO that are circulating across the internet that it became necessary to offer a resource that answers the basic questions.  Before deciding on how to do it or who to hire to do it, here are some things that you should know that should help you make a good decision.

Link Building Makes it Happen

In the past, SEO was just a matter of saturating pages with the keywords for which the page was supposed to rank.  “Keyword stuffing” as it is called relied on meta keywords, meta descriptions, alt tags, title tags, and HTML content that was loaded with nonsensical strings of words and phrases that were often repeated over and over again.

While all of these things have their place in today’s methods of optimization, they are far less weighted than they were and a certain demand for sincerity is the only way to truly, safely utilize them (covered in more detail below).  Today, what happens off of a website is actually more important than what happens on one.

Quality, relevant inbound links are the key to achieve great rankings on search engines today.  As GoogleYahoo!, and MSN index pages across they internet, they take note of which sites a website links out to.  Having websites link to your site acts as a “vote” for your site as the authority on a particular subject.

Having a link itself is good, but having it properly formatted with anchor text is better.  Without going into advanced details, a simple definition of anchor text from Wikipedia is:

The anchor text or link label is the visible, clickable text in a hyperlink. The words contained in the Anchor text can determine the ranking that page will receive by search engines.

There are many places to get links.  Thousands of websites offer ways to generate links.  This is something that is best left up to an automotive SEO expert.  It is possible to do more harm than good if the link-building is not done properly.

Tell the Truth and Nothing but the Truth

In such a competitive industry, car dealers and other automotive vendors are often led to believe that they should try to rank for keywords that they shouldn’t.  They are told that, for example, a Seattle Nissan Dealer can go after keywords for, and therefore steal some business from, Portland Toyota Dealer 200 miles away.  This just isn’t the case.

Every dealership has markets and brands.  It isn’t that they shouldn’t go after other markets that are close by or other brands that are direct competitors.  The important thing is that people in a dealer’s market looking for the dealer’s cars should be able to find that dealer.  Period.  Spreading out to a 200 mile radius is nice, but it’s better to control a 10 mile radius, then a 20 mile radius, and work spirally out from there.

To that end, dealers who are led to believe that they should fill their content with misleading information are being mislead.  There are times when expanding on a market area is a viable optimization technique, but as a general rule, it is important to be completely honest about what you sell and where you sell it.  These tactics can work for a while, but in the end, honesty stands out and wins.

Meta Tags for SEO

A warning flag should lift high into the sky whenever a website company or optimization firm starts touting their abilities to use the proper meta tags for their optimization.  Today’s search engine algorithms barely look at meta tags when ranking sites.

Meta descriptions have their place on a website, but it isn’t in SEO.  Meta descriptions are often the default descriptions associated to search results.  They are an imporant tool for getting people to click on a listing once they’ve done a search.  As far as helping a website rank better for searches, their effects are minimal.

Meta keywords are even less important.  Google and MSN are rumored to not even read them anymore.  While I don’t think that they are harmful as others claim, their value is nothing or next to nothing.

Internal Linking

One of the ways that a website can help itself to tell the search engines what particular pages are about is through internal linking with proper anchor text.  There are many methods to having a proper linking structure within a website.  Some are complex, while others are simple.  It all depends on the overall folder structure of site.

Internal linking helps in many ways.  It aids the sitemap in helping the search engine index the proper pages.  It transfers PageRank and BrowseRank properly and distributes it in ways that will help both the homepage and individual landing pages achieve relevancy and rankings.  Some things in SEO can be done by just about anyone.  Proper internal linking structures should be handled by automotive website providers with strong emphasis on SEO techniques.

Questions to ask Car Dealer SEO Companies

Perhaps the most daunting task in selecting an automotive website firm or car dealer SEO company is knowing which questions to ask and what answers they should have for them.  Here are some that will help:
  1. What are some examples of websites that you have optimized in the past and where they rank?
    • If they don’t have examples, you shouldn’t be talking to them.  With that said, we can assume that everyone has examples, so now the question becomes “How do we know what is good?”  Every company should have examples of how they rank for the top keywords for dealers, namely “(make) (city)”.  If someone can get a website ranked to the top for “Shreveport Used Cars” or “Honda Washington DC“, then they are probably worth considering.
    • If their samples are long tail keywords, such as “new toyota camry minneapolis mn”, you should be cautious.  The longer the keyword phrases, the easier it is to rank for these.  It isn’t that your dealership shouldn’t try for these, but any SEO company can rank for them.  The searches that hundreds of thousands of people search for a month, such as “toyota dealers minneapolis” — those are the ones that should be examples of overcoming great odds to achieve top rankings.
  2. How would you stack rank the importance of various aspects of automotive SEO that you will work with?
    • There are different variations of answers for this question.  Some may go into details of the different components of building links, creating content, etc, but here is a general overview of how their list should look:
    1. Inbound Links
    2. Title Tags
    3. Internal Linking
    4. HTML Content (text, headers, etc)
    5. Sitemap
    6. Page Indexing
    7. Meta Tags
  3. How much is your service?
    • This seems like a question for after you’ve made the decision to use a company, but their pricing structure will actually have an impact on whether you should hire them or not.  It isn’t the cost — there is no standard rate for SEO, so a good one may charge $299 per month and a bad one may charge $5,000 per month.  You are asking these questions to identify red flags:
      1. Set monthly fees: This is a huge red flag.  They should price based upon the project.  Having a set rate for SEO services regardless of the project is a bad sign.  Optimizing the only Hyundai dealer in Scottsbluff, NE, is much easier than optimizing a New York City Ford dealer.  Companies that have a “one-price fits all” mentality doesn’t understand the true complexities of automotive search engine optimization.
      2. High Setup Fees: One of the big “scams” in the automotive SEO industry is to charge high setup fees and low monthly rates.  In essence, they get their money upfront regardless of when you cancel their services.  This demonstrates a lack of confidence in their ability to deliver results.  For most standard projects, a setup fee equal to the monthly payments is acceptable.
      3. Long Contracts: A good SEO company is confident in their service.  They may offer contracts to reduce the costs, but if they do not offer a month-to-month (or at most a quarterly) agreement, run.
      4. You get what you pay for: Is it possible to get quality SEO for $300 per month.  Yes.  Is it likely? No.  Some of the top companies out there will not look at a project for less than $5,000 per month.  A good range for the automotive industry is $500-$2000 per month, but a little less or a little more should not scare you away.
  4. What do you need from me?
    • Good question.  The primary thing you want them to say is that they want to know where your competitors are and what your area seems to like.  A Dodge Dealer in Oklahoma City will have different needs than a Chevrolet Dealer in Los Angeles.  They should be interested in your area, your customers, and your competitors.
  5. How do you track results?
    • They should offer reports at the bare minimum monthly.  These reports should show where you rank now for particular keywords as well as where you ranked before.
  6. How often do you change keywords?
    • The right answer here is “Whenever we meet goals.”  When your website ranks at the top for a particular keyword, it’s time to move on to others.  No SEO company can make you rank higher than number 1 for a keyword.  There is no point in continuing to push it.  It should be monitored and actively optimized for if it falls out of the top spot, but it’s possible to keep a top ranking without optimizing for that keyword for months.
  7. How do I contact you?
    • If they give you a phone number, this is good.  If they give you a cell number, this is better.  If they don’t give you a phone number at all but ask you to email them, run.

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I’m a Christian, a husband, a father, and a son. I am founder of Soshable and Hasai, two social media marketing firms, and Director of New Media for TK Carsites, the automotive internet marketing division of KPA. You can find me on Google+, Facebook, KPA, Tumblr, Pinterest, and just about anywhere else that’s social.

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