Shakespeare’s Romeo once suggested, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet.” Since we usually see multiple variations of a dealership’s name strewn across every branded opportunity, car dealerships (and my inner theatre nerd) tend to agree with him. But from an SEO standpoint, this can be confusing to your potential customers. This is why choosing both your dealership’s name and domain name are exceedingly important, especially if you want your website or other online citation listings delivered in one, unified brand name for search results.
What is a domain name?
As a part of a whole, a domain is what a user could type into a browser address bar and be taken directly to your website, rather than to search results. Broken down into full formatting, a domain will always include:
- Host Name: For most websites, this is the “www” portion of your website name. If your dealership uses a subdomain to host some parts of your website, you’d see that subdomain name replacing the “www” in the hostname spot.
- Domain Name or Second-Level Domain (SLD): This is the primary part of the domain that you as a business have control over, and where we usually see car dealerships make the most errors. If your website was www.cardealership.ca, then the domain name is “cardealership.”
- Top-Level Domain (TLD): This is the suffix attached at the end of the domain name. For most car dealerships that we deal with, .COM or .CA are typically used as their TLD. However, we’ve also seen an increase in dealers using variations of .CARS, .AUTOS, or OEM-specific top-level domains such as .FIAT, at the end of their domains.
Are domain names important for SEO?
For SEO, domain names are important from both a branding and keyword standpoint because this helps Google (and other search engines) establish your branded name (if it matches your citations) and your primary purpose for business (or what types of queries you might have the most relevant content for). That’s not to say you should go buck wild and “keyword stuff” your domain name like it’s some sort of assorted meat burrito (e.g. www.cardealershipsalesandserviceforthesesixOEMbrands.ca), but some domain-naming tactics can definitely improve your website’s visibility and average ranking position in search.
How do I choose a domain name for SEO?
There are several important factors to consider when choosing your dealership’s domain name to benefit your SEO, and we’ve narrowed them down to the following 5 recommendations that we’ll go more in-depth with below:
- Use your dealership’s proper franchised branded name, as outlined by your OEM.
- For Canadian dealerships, if all other things are considered equal, use .CA as your canonical top-level domain (TLD).
- Avoid exact match domains (EMDs) or keyword-stuffing unless it’s truly part of your dealership’s proper franchised name.
- Avoid location-stuffing your domain unless it is truly part of your dealership’s proper franchised name.*
- Use a pronounceable domain name, rather than relying on long abbreviations, hyphens, or numbers.
Use Your Dealership’s Proper Franchised Name, as outlined by your OEM
Manufacturers designate each dealership’s franchised name to ensure it meets their internal branding compliance guidelines, avoiding confusion with another dealership (especially in the same local area). There is some flexibility for shortening a particularly long dealership name( especially if your name includes multiple brands), but you should always shorten it to what makes the most sense colloquially. For example, if your dealership’s franchised name was “Strathcom Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram,” the acceptable shortened version would be “Strathcom Chrysler,” not “Strathcom Dodge” or “Strathcom Jeep.” Mixing up two businesses could result in a really bad experience for customers, both in search and in the real world. Moreover, not using your dealership’s assigned name could disqualify you from receiving co-op funding from your manufacturer, leaving a subsidized budget on the table. Long story short, if it isn’t your dealership’s name, then there’s no reason to call it that.
If all other things are considered equal, use .CA as your canonical top-level domain (TLD)
When we say “all other things are considered equal,” we mean it–if you’re a Canadian dealership picking a new domain and have the option to choose between .CA and .COM, choose the .CA, as it further helps to establish your brand as a Canadian entity. However, in situations where you might already be using .COM (which is an open top-level domain, and can be used by anyone) and have built up equity with that domain with a previous website that has performed well in search, then things are no longer equal and you should use the domain with greater equity. Additionally, don’t confuse “equity” with “age”—just because you’ve registered a domain for a long time does not mean it has equity. Bonus: You can always purchase the coordinating TLD and set up a redirect from one to the other.
Avoid exact match domains (EMD) or keyword stuffing
One of the strangest trends we’ve seen is dealerships who have purchased any number of exact match or keyword-stuffed domain names (ie. if your dealership’s primary domain was “www.cardealership.com,” you might also have purchased “www.cardealer.com,” “www.truckdealership.com,” and so on) to improperly occupy those domains, and set them up to redirect to your website. Google recognizes this as a “black hat” (read: dishonest) SEO tactic, and has been actively withholding exact match domains (EMDs) from search results since 2012. In the event someone on your marketing team or SEO agency suggests this is a good idea, please let them know this has been a bad idea for awhile now.
Avoid location-stuffing your domain name unless it is actually part of your dealership’s proper franchised name*
A common trend we encounter often is dealerships is shoving your city name into every orifice of your dealership’s website until we hear it whispering in our sleep at night like it’s Patrick Swayze in Ghost. Domain names have been no exception, and we often see dealership domains with unnecessary locations that are not part of their proper franchised name. At the top of the list of reasons why this is a bad idea is Google’s Panda algorithm update in 2011, which began Google’s crusade against irrelevant keywords to provide better search results for dealers. This doesn’t help you, it hurts you. *The only situation where it’s proven more beneficial in providing a better search experience for users while improving SEO is when the OEM allowed a dealership to have an identical franchised name as another franchised dealership, where both dealerships updated their domain names to reflect the city they’re located in. In situations where one dealership updated their domain name to include the city (and all other things are generally equal), the dealership with the location-less domain name prevailed, regardless of the additional keyword in the other domain name.
Use a domain name that’s pronounceable, rather than relying on long abbreviations, hyphens, or numbers
Domain names that are easy to read, say, pronounce and type tend to perform better than ones with hyphens, numbers, or abbreviations that don’t flow. The reason for this is heavily based in two cognitive psychology concepts: the first is the fluency heuristic, which is a concept that focuses on processing information more quickly or smoothly so our brains register them as “more important”, while the mere-exposure effect is a phenomenon where we tend to like things we are more familiar with. Brand strategy and marketing are rooted in both these concepts, and play heavily into SEO by establishing prominence for your brand’s identity, as well as your domain name. If potential customers are more likely to recognize and remember your domain name to type it in (or inadvertently search for it), Google establishes it having greater prominence, further improving your overall ranking position in search. (Science, amirite?)
The easiest way to test this is to read the potential domain name out loud. Which one is easier to say?
strathcomchrysler.ca vs. strathcomCDJR.ca
“Strathcom Chrysler dot C-A” or “Strathcom C-D-J-R dot C-A”
cardealership.ca vs. car-dealership.ca
“Car dealership dot C-A” or “Car dash dealership dot C-A”
strathcommotors.ca vs strathcommotors2019.ca
“Strathcom Motors dot C-A” or “Strathcom Motors two-thousand-nine-teen dot C-A”
Still not feeling confident?
Choosing the correct domain name to best benefit your dealership’s search strategy isn’t as difficult as it may seem, but if you’re ever in need of a little help, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team at firstname.lastname@example.org.