One of the most popular SEO requests we see from dealerships across Canada is to take all of their pages and add groupings of text that list all of the cities, towns, or local areas that they “serve.” Sometimes it’s simply the local areas around them (especially for dealerships that are located in a “greater” area around a major city), and sometimes it stretches far beyond what is logical. I’ve seen dealerships ask to list cities that are hours from their physical location, or attempt to rank in search for an entire province that would take almost a full day to drive from end-to-end. For the love of winter tires, I’m telling you: stop the location stuffing madness. It isn’t helping you, I promise.
Why is this tactic a problem?
There are a number of reasons why this tactic creates issues that we would need to clean up later, but let’s cover the top 3 reasons why you shouldn’t do this.
Irrelevant keywords are against Google’s General Guidelines
This is an outdated SEO tactic that hasn’t worked since the Google Panda algorithm update in 2011 when Google set out to help websites that deliver high-quality content show up more prominently in search engine results than websites that offer thin or spammy content. In the time since then, Google has updated their General Guidelines to include a section about irrelevant keywords, and specified that not only does this degrade the user experience, but that this behaviour may affect your site’s ranking position in search. Don’t do it!
You may be violating your OEM’s advertising policies
Whether they call it PMA (prescribed marketing area), AOR (area of responsibility) –whatever acronym that your OEM (original equipment manufacturer) decides they want to use– you’ve been given a specific area that you’re allowed to market to, relative to your nearest direct competitor within the same automotive franchise. If you put up a billboard in that area, they’d make you take it down. If the text in your paid online advertising used those cities, they’d make you take it down. We are seeing more OEMs begin to take action against dealers who list areas outside of their ADIF (acronym-described imaginary fence) that says you’re too close to their next franchised dealership. Save yourself the time and skip the threat of losing your co-op by not doing this in the first place. In other words, don’t do it!
“Serving” an area doesn’t change where you’re located
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times–Google is wicked smart. They know where your dealership is physically located, and they also know all of the communities that might surround the area. They are also smart enough to know that Sherwood Park is NOT in Edmonton, Surrey is NOT in Vancouver, and Mississauga is NOT in Toronto. You may very well have customers that come into your dealership that live in those areas, but if all other factors about your dealership’s online existence are roughly the same (or with a negligible difference in both relevance to the query and online prominence), they will err on the side of delivering the dealership that is closer in physical proximity to the searcher, no matter how many times you cram that city into your website.
Inherently, we know that just because we saw it on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true. Google told us back in 2009 that they stopped using meta descriptions and the meta keyword tags as a ranking factor. Why did that happen? As marketers before 2009, we* knew that we could control those items and try to tell Google that whatever content existed on that page was relevant to a specific query. But we lied, and Google knows we lied, so they built a machine that could read and understand our on-page content and determine what is actually relevant, and now they don’t need our lies. Let’s give our customers some credit too though–they don’t need our lies either. If they’re from the area we’re targeting, they know they don’t live in our city either. Face it: this won’t work, please don’t do it.
*This is a royal “we;” not every marketer did this, but clearly enough did that “we” all lost our meta keyword privileges. Long live the hyperbole!
Here’s what you can do instead
Let’s cut the crap–the goal isn’t to simply show up in a search result in an area your dealership isn’t located in, the goal you’re actually trying to accomplish is to draw more customers in that will buy a vehicle from you. So let’s talk about a couple options that could accomplish your real goal, and not just one of your strategies to accomplish that goal.
Step 1: Build great on-site content
Fun fact: Google will serve your dealership’s content in a local search result for the area you want to target, but only if it’s more helpful to customers than any other content from a dealership that’s closer in physical proximity. It’s a crazy concept, I know, but we’re trying to help the customer find what they’re looking for. If your competitor doesn’t do it and you do, Google will want to give the customer what they were looking for. So the goal here is not just to do right by the customer, but to make sure you are aware of what questions your competitors are answering –and showing up for in search (presuming that there’s search volume in the first place, but that’s a different topic for a different day)– and do a better job of it than they are. If you need help with Step 1, I know a guy who can help.
Step 2: Help users understand why your dealership is worth travelling for
It’s no secret that customers will go somewhere other than the closest business if they believe that they will be happier with their experience than they would at the closer business. So what will they get if they come to your dealership? What is your dealership’s unique selling proposition? How hard is it to get from where they are to where you are? Will you come to them if it’s too difficult? If we spell these things out in a way that’s easily understood and helpful to a potential customer (and with the correct prepositions, so that we aren’t trying to mislead anyone), Google will also be able to see your content is useful, and they’ll want to deliver it in a search result.
Step 3: Seek out relevant reviews or recommendations, links, and citations in those local areas
If you truly “serve” that community, someone must be able to vouch for that, right? If you support a local organization, sports team, charity, etc., in that community, ask them for a proper citation that lists your dealership’s name, address, and phone number, and a link back to your dealership’s website (bonus points if you get them to link back to a page on your website that talks about that relationship). If you have customers who came from a community other than your own, who can attest that it’s worth the trip, that you treated them well, or that you came to them, ask them for a review that details their experience and mentions where they’re from (if you did that over-and-above kind of job, they’ll usually say yes). If you took the time to do steps 1 and 2, make sure you seal the deal with some social proof.
If you’re looking for other suggestions or assistance in showing up in local search for an area that is different than your dealership’s physical address, don’t hesitate to reach out to your OMM (that’s your Online Marketing Manager), or to firstname.lastname@example.org.