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SEO Best Practices for Auto Dealers in 2017

by Lindsey Winsemius 1 year ago

Car Dealership SEO Best Practices for 2017

Are you ready to find out how to improve search engine optimization for your dealership in 2017?

2016 brought us an abundance of changes and manipulations from Google, forever changing the face of organic and paid search engine marketing. These paradigm shifts which are always intended for the better of the search world and simplification of our digital interactions, come at a time when our once simple search box and software interaction has become clouded with layer upon layer of isolated function, numerous sign-in points, and ever-changing passwords.

What ‘s important for you as a dealer to focus on moving forward this year in relation to all of these changes? We can break things down into two major categories which include: Local Search and Voice Search.

Let’s start with the local search.

Local Search

The greatest irony of search engine optimization is that the more we improve the granularity of our targeted search, the more our customers’ searches inevitably become further generalized.

Near Me

A great example of this is, “near me search” which sounds about as general as you can get. Google has taught searchers to become lazy with results that are geo-customized without the need for specific zip code or city in the search query.

The reality is that “near me search” is actually about as specific as you can get. Google uses your exact latitude and longitude (your GPS coordinates) and locates businesses that meet your search criteria nearby. Businesses that take advantage of this search type have seen huge growth in local search traffic moving into the first quarter of 2017.

Google reports that “near me” search has increased 34X since 2011, and doubled from 2014 to 2015. Google says users now submit billions of queries every month for businesses using “near me” “closest” and “nearby.” The largest contributor to this is mobile and voice search which on its own has increased from 20% of all searches to well over 55%.

Dealership SEO for 2017

Through exact GPS Google can tell you where to find the “Nearest Buy Here Pay Here Car Dealer”, “Closest Used Auto Dealership” or even “Nearby Automotive Service Center”. If you are not including these terms and phrases in your website's meta and page copy, your competition is already robbing you of local search business.

By now, we should all understand and know the “millennial trend” which is a large component of the change in consumer search – convenience trumps loyalty

It’s not enough to be a big brand if you want the local business. You have most likely seen the grouping of three featured local business listings both on the desktop and more importantly on mobile search, like in the picture above of a "near me" search in Grand Haven, MI. 

To be invited to Google’s golden triangle of results, you need to deliver a relevant and useful experience with optimized content for each city and neighborhood you wish to target. Because many large brands lack this type of hyper-local content, this has equalized your opportunity to compete with big name brands.

Google My Business 

How do I optimize for local search and the “Near Me” consumer? 

The process starts with Google and your business listing with them, it’s called “Google My Business” or GMB. This hyper-detailed business directory listing now provided by none other than the 800 pound Gorilla is and will continue to be numero uno in the BDL (business directory listing) world. This is a completely free service so I suggest you get your profile setup today if you have not already.


Your next step is reviews and lots of them. This is probably the most touchy subject with auto dealers as the general rule of thumb I hear is that “if we don’t collect and show them, we won’t ever get any negative ones”. This is not just a poor method of thought, but also a process which will hand the win to your competition. 

Google is placing more and more evaluation weight on reviews than ever before as they launch their “Mobile First” initiative placing focus on available mobile websites and the real life content they provide searchers.

The good book says that if you don’t ask you shall not receive so start asking and collecting reviews today. I would suggest that as a dealer you assemble several review coaching cards, each with a simple set of questions related to a topic type to be presented to your consumer at the time of a sale. This will allow you to strategically gather the type of comments/reviews you need most at that time. 

Also keep in mind which online outlet needs the most help at the time... if your website is lacking in reviews, have your customers fill them out there. If it’s your Facebook profile that’s lacking, send them there and so on. As a good rule of thumb, start with Google, then Facebook and then your website.

Google Maps Native App 

Lastly is Google Maps. Users have the ability to search from Google in maps, or directly from the native Google Maps app. Google reports that only 15%-20% of Google searches are conducted in maps, while nearly 70% of Google Maps native app searches are for local business, products, and services. This is a huge number and should not be taken lightly as this percentage is expected to increase. So how do you optimize for Google Maps native app? Well, the answer is in the content we covered to this point. If you don’t tell Google who you are, what you do, about the products and services you provide and what real life users are saying about you, then don’t expect to be competitive in this arena.

Voice Search

From the first time we muttered the words “Hey Siri” to “OK Google” and now “Hey Cortana”  the race to create the talking computer from William Shatner's exploration of space has been a competitive one.

Google Assistant 

The most recent development in voice search has come with Google Assistant, the AI backbone of Google Home. Google has been very specific in the naming of this AI as an “Assistant” with the sole purpose of simplifying your day to day life. If you don’t already have the little white speaker that talks to you, you most likely have plans to get one soon or at very least, the younger members of your household are pushing you to get one. From commanding your smart home to helping your child with a school report, or locating products and services for purchase, Google sees this present future with Google Assistant.

It should also be noted in relation to the automotive industry, that not only Google but also Bing now hold major contracts with automakers to include Google Assistant and Cortana as part of your driving experience. Imagine walking out your front door, telling Google to lock up and set the alarm, only to sit down in your Audi and have Google ask if you wanted to pre-order your Starbucks for pickup on your way into the office. This is the future of Google Assistant and the fluid simplification Google is seeking for us.

I’m confident we can all agree “Voice Search” is not just a fad but rapidly becoming the standard for human and computer interactions so rather than resist it, we need to embrace it, and quickly, to stay competitive. 

This then brings up the question, how do I optimize for “Voice Search” and it’s future? Let’s start by splitting voice search into two categories so we can better understand what’s changed, and what changes are still to come for SEO and SEM marketers in the automotive industry.

Voice Search With Visual Results - The first category is voice search with visual results which returns the same type of results we are used to seeing and sorting through with the ease of commanding Google by voice. For now this type of voice search has not been directly affected by any changes, however, it should be noted that Google is looking into ways of monetizing this type of search independently from a keystroke search, but for now we can put this back on the shelf.

Voice Search With Audible Result - The second category is voice search with an audible result which we need to focus on more critically. With this type of search, our results are typically limited to a single result response from Google Home or Amazon Alexa rather than a beautiful page or pages of mixed media results to gaze upon. As awesome as this is for simplifying the clutter of our day to day lives, it turns the entire SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing) world upside down.

On the SEO side - It’s no longer relevant to just be on the first page of Google, as only the first organic result is read back to you. This has caused a mad rush by online marketers to achieve what’s being called “Zero Positioning” or the first position in google. This will become a very messy fight especially in the automotive world which is already so competitive for SEO.

As scary as this sounds, and trying a task it will be to achieve “Zero Positioning”, it is nothing compared to what the SEM world is facing.

On the SEM side - At this time, Google has no method in place and no set plan to monetize paid AdWords for this form of voice search. NONE! This means that all of your fancy campaigns and long hours analyzing your client's search methods is for naught when speaking about Google Assistant. This is crazy to think about, being that Google has built a great deal of its empire through SEM, so for them to take a stance such as this, knowing how rapidly this market is growing, has marketers scrambling for SEO solutions, so things are about to get even more competitive.

What can you as a dealer do? 

I will again point us back to what we have covered thus far. Content, content and more accurate content will continue to be king. And when I say content, I’m not talking about the funny joke you found on Facebook, or the about us page you stole from your competitor only to switch out the names and reuse. I’m talking about creating 5-10, 500+ word, original pages of relevant content per month for your website, and that's on the low side. If you don’t have the time as a busy dealer, or lack the creativity and staff, I highly suggest you hire out for this, because your competition already is.

A great way to get affordable content writing completed is to utilize your local community colleges. Place some local Craigslist ads for literary students that want to eat something other than instant noodles and pay them to write for you. Give them your topics, and provide them with your local keywords to target and presto, you’ve got rich current content developed by the young generation you’re still trying to understand.

What is the takeaway?

Well, when the “Head of Search” for Google tells us that they don’t even know what’s in store for Google Assistant which has snowballed in momentum more rapidly than anticipated, and that “They Are Still Looking At The Data” we know we are not alone in this trying to pick up the pieces. 

What we do know and what I can tell you is that rich content, catering to your local demographic and market share will keep you in the running. It is and always will be easier to compete at a local level with accurate information than on a national or categorical one so focus on your local search. This paired with lots of reviews and accurate BDL’s including GMB will be your saving grace as you reach for “Zero Positioning”.

Good luck out there!

Chris Jackson AST
Chris Jackson is the CEO of Auto Search Technologies, Inc. an ApogeeINVENT company. Chris began his journey into the automotive electronics world in 1996, later joining the elite group and handful MECP Master Certified technicians in the US. He holds a degree in business and communications and has received numerous leadership and sales training awards over his 21+ years in the auto industry. With a passion for innovation and talent for leadership, Chris has played a key role in the notable achievements AST, Inc. has accomplished to date, always taking a hands on approach with company and client.