All right, dealers…
Search Engine Optimization is the process of optimizing the various signals generated by your online presence with the goal of increasing the quality of traffic to your site. More high-quality leads means more sales. So, let’s talk about ACTIONABLE steps. In other words, what are the top things YOU can do TODAY to help with your SEO.
NUMBER 1: MAKE SURE YOUR SITE WORKS
Seems like a real no brainer, right? But I can almost guarantee that some of you have broken pages and/or tools on your site RIGHT NOW.
Modern auto dealer websites are a collection of one-off pages, third party tools and vestigial tags that linger forever and all these things add up to frequently broken experiences. These make for a bad user experience and they’ll hinder your efforts to be seen as an authority in the space. Remember that user experience (or UX) is more important now than ever in the eyes of Google – and getting yours straightened out isn’t all that difficult. It will, however take time, effort, and a willingness to troubleshoot problems on a regular basis. So how do you do this?
Go through your site in a methodical way and use every single tool. Yes. Every Single Tool.Use your sitemap to guide the search (it’s typically linked at the bottom of your homepage) and make a checklist for yourself. Some big things to look for are:
1. Error Messages
Go through each page on your sitemap. Do you encounter any general errors like a 404 or 505? A 4XX error typically means that the problem is on your site provider’s side of things, while a 5XX error is your site hosting. Both of these result in a dead page, and that’s BAD NEWS when it comes to keeping users engaged.
2: Display Issues
Do your pages render correctly on both mobile and desktop? Does anything look great on Chrome, but bad on Explorer? If so, that’s problematic. Remember, certain demographics use specific browsers and devices more than others, and you don’t want to alienate any prospective customers by giving them a lousy experience.
3: 3rd Party Tools
If there’s a contact form – USE IT. Send a test message, and make sure you know where the messages end up. If there’s a chat feature – try it out, you might find the experience to be really lousy. If there’s a service scheduler? Well, you get the pattern here… (note remove dissolve) The problem is…all too often we end up relying on the group that provided the tool to tell us that it’s working – or if it’s NOT. Is it their responsibility to fix it? Sure. But don’t count on them to identify any and every problem that might frustrate a customer, waste their time, or lose you a sale. It’s your responsibility to audit those tools regularly. If one isn’t working to your liking, contact the tool’s creator and get them to fix it.
Unless your site is seriously messed up, these things shouldn’t take more than an hour a week. Like many things about SEO – it’s not that it’s hard to do, it’s that it takes time and dedication.
Okay, let’s move onto the next highest priority SEO item that you can perform yourself.
NUMBER 2: CONTENT
Content is the big bugaboo in SEO right? For more than a decade SEO professionals, including myself, have been going around saying “Content is King!” The biggest problem with that is the creation of content SUCKS. There’s no way around it. So, here are some pieces that anyone can create that have value for both you and for your customers.
1: Compile an FAQ page
Customers have questions – LOTS of them – which makes them a feeding ground for content. If they’re asking it in person, chances are they’re THINKING it while they’re on the site – so why not just serve up some handy answers? The easy part is putting together the list of questions – the hard part is putting together thoughtful answers. Here are some ground rules to help you out. – “Call Us” is rarely a helpful answer. Instead try out “There are many variables to consider in this question so we recommend reaching out to us so we can get you the most thorough answer possible.” Keep your answers evergreen. This means it’s not an answer that will change with time. Otherwise you’ll have to keep revisiting and updating the answer. It’s a good practice to revisit content, but if you don’t feel like you’ll remember, don’t set yourself up to be outdated.
Include necessary info. If questions are about specific models you should definitely consider having specific model pages that include your answers as well as other pieces of helpful information about the vehicle. For example, if you sell trucks it would be smart to have a chart to quickly discern the load and towing capacities across different trim levels and equipment.
However, if the best answer to a question is a form on another page, make sure you provide a link IN THE ANSWER to that page. In other words, make navigation easy.
Moving onto the next kind of content you can create…
2: Model Pages
I already mentioned this, but specific model pages work really well and don’t require a whole lot of creativity. Many times the manufacturers provide basic model pages anyway, so you can use that as a starting point and make them less generic (because…well…model pages are SUPER generic and every other dealership has them). So, how can you make YOURS stand out?
Add some local flavor. Located near lakes or recreational areas? That Chevy Silverado page sure could use some content about how it’s great at towing toys to the local boat landing – and the new camera system makes it easier than ever to get your jet skis into the water without looking foolish. In a more urban setting? Safety and technology comes to the forefront in busy parking garages and hectic stop and start traffic.
It doesn’t take a lot of words to really dress up an otherwise drab piece. Call out the most popular trim levels at YOUR dealership. Which ones sell the most? Tell readers why you think that is! Remember, this content benefits local buyers…so give them the info that’s likely to be valuable to THEM. And finally…
Listen, I know that blogging has been around forever, but if you’re looking for a looser format to put some opinions down on a new vehicle coming out in the future there’s no better place to do so, than in a blog. Nobody is going to an auto dealer website expecting a Pulitzer Prize winning piece of writing, and with programs like Grammarly you can avoid most of the punctuation pitfalls that could make you look less than professional. And here’s a content creation pro-tip. You get bonus points for posting your blog posts on Google Business Profiles and social media!
Writing isn’t a ton of fun if you’re not into it, but if you view the end result as the goal it’s not so hard to chip away at it. In the racing world we like to say that “ounces add up to pounds” when lightening a car, and half an hour a day writing adds up to a lot of words at the end of a month.
All right…now…who’s ready to take things up a notch?
NUMBER 3: METAS
We’ve avoided the real technical side of things so far, but you had to know we were going to get there at some point, right? But don’t be afraid! There are a couple Meta tags to worry about, but the one I’d point you to focus on MOST are the Meta Title tags. If you’re capable of stringing together 60 characters (including spaces) then you can handle this…I promise.
Let’s start out by defining what a Meta Title Tag is.
Every page on your website has one, and if you’re looking to see it, just check out the words in the browser tab you’re viewing the page on. That’s the Meta Title tag. There are also browser plugins that make this easy like SEO Minion (we’re not affiliated with SEO Minion. I just like their tool). Consider the Meta Title to be the cliff notes for the page they’re on. Want Google to understand what’s on the page quickly and easily? Make your Meta Title accurate and add in a little optimization.
Ohhhhhh Dave just brought up optimization. Now we’re in the weeds!
Again – not that scary!
If you’ve been looking into your website over a long period of time, chances are you’re aware of keywords that you’re interested in showing up for. Yes, a full on Automotive Search Engine Optimization specialist is going to do a LOT of looking at trend lines and competition levels as well as a dozen other things to direct strategy, but you can get 50% of the way there just by knowing what you’d like to show up for. Is that last 50% important? Yeah, but we’re here to talk about things you can do yourself, not the premise of you spending the next decade becoming an SEO guru. 50% is still way more than 0%!
So, which products and services would you want your dealership to rank for in local search? Make a list. Why? Because the shortest pencil is longer than the longest memory…not that you need to use a pencil. In addition, you have a complete list of the pages on your website thanks to your sitemap. Now, it’s time for an SEOs best friend – a spreadsheet. You can use excel or Google Sheets. DON’T PANIC, you’re not going to need any formulas – this is more about being organized and deliberate than anything else.
So you’ve got your list. From the homepage down you just need to write short things about what the page is ACTUALLY about and include a keyword where it makes sense. For example if you have a Ford dealership in Louisville Kentucky, you might want to write your homepage meta title something like “New and Used Ford Sales, Service and Parts in Louisville | [Brand]”.
Now, remember what I said about 60 characters. That’s the limit. So, where do you make your cuts, if needed? Believe it or not, your dealership NAME isn’t super important here, so if anything is going to get cut for length, make it THAT. This is especially true on deeper pages where you can just ignore the dealership name entirely. Why is this okay? Because Google KNOWS which site it’s crawling and users clicked to get there as well, so having the brand name in the Meta Title when it’s already all over the visible page structure isn’t netting you any special points.
Once you have your document put together, send it to your site provider for implementation. This is an easy ask of them, but if they want a small fee for the job it’s going to be worth it to you.
Now, do it 200 times to cover almost all the pages on your site. Remember I said it was SIMPLE, but that doesn’t make it “fun”. When it comes to SEO you earn a reputation by doing the painful things well…which is also how you earn the rankings.
So, to recap:
- Make sure your site works. This means checking for error messages, display issues and auditing all of your third party tools.
- Create informative content such as FAQ’s, model pages, and blog posts that are tailored to your local audience, and…
- Review your metas every 6 months to make sure they align with your goals.
There’s a reason why SEO companies exist, doing this stuff takes time and some effort. BUT, if you’re in a pinch and want to give yourself a little helping hand, a couple hours a week and some good organization can go a long way.