We all want to be number 1 at what we do, whether you’re LeBron James chasing down Michael Jordan, Nelly or a dealership outselling its competition. But it takes a lot of work to be number 1 in any field and outrank competitors, especially in the automotive industry, which always invites a healthy dose of competition.
You might assume it’s only your website that determines how well you rank in search (and sure, it does play a part), but there are a lot more factors that determine where your dealership lands in SERPs when you search for a business, question, keyword or phrase and why one dealership may outrank the other. Google’s algorithm attempts to follow what its users like best, and those users like consistent, groomed activity online. Consequently, Google also likes that same consistent, groomed activity on everything it can crawl or interact with, including everything from the technical SEO on your website, your Google My Business profile, citations and external links coming into your site.
If you think your competitors are a little too close for comfort, or you’re wondering why your dealership’s website isn’t performing as well as you’d like, the strategies below outline how you can optimize your business’s online presence for search.
Content Strategy & Utilizing Keywords
The automotive industry is super competitive, especially when you’re going against other franchised dealers under the same OEM brand as yours, who are selling the exact same new vehicles as you. Whether you’re a Ford or Dodge dealer, for example, it takes a lot of work to get to the top of competitive, geo-based keywords like “ford toronto” or “dodge vancouver,” especially if you’re working against much bigger dealerships who already have a lead on you. This means you’re competing with a lot of big businesses for a lot of popular keywords in largely-populated cities. Depending on your current position (and how well you follow the other rules in this blog), it can be hard to maintain the top-ranking positions for popular keywords and search queries. To combat this, you have to get creative with your keywords to find a niche you can tackle and exploit.
Are you regularly adding content to your website? “Adding” doesn’t necessarily mean publishing new pages and blogs just for the sake of having more content. You can also update an old blog or page with more relevant information as well, which is just as good, if not better than mindlessly adding content if it’s not needed. Remember the old adage of quality over quantity? Google likes activity (I know, I keep repeating it, but it’s important!) and so do users. People want to see that the lights are always on and that there’s always someone home on your website, so it doesn’t come across as outdated or spammy—and few things illustrate that better than new, relevant content.
Do you have a blog on your site? Churn out new content you think would be of interest to not only returning customers, but also ones you’d like to attract as well. You should also find out what keyword rankings you’re lacking in, or would want to conquest—that’s where you’ll have to get inventive in using keyword research! Whether you’re using Google’s tools or a third-party one, keyword planners can help you find out how users get to your website and discover what keywords generate user search interest without being too heavily populated, so you can find ways to naturally weave them through your website copy. Understanding your place in keyword rankings and through research, like the entirety of SEO, isn’t an overnight process. You’ll have to chip away at the marble for a while before you can come away with a beautiful sculpture.
No Relevant External Links
An external link is when another website links to yours. This essentially points the user in your direction as an authority on whatever the topic is, and helps you build that authority simultaneously. People and organizations don’t usually link to other websites all that lightly, so you can be pretty sure when they do it’s a big deal, and Google mirrors this significance in rankings as well. As link building is an important ranking factor for Google, you want high-quality, authoritative websites linking to you, and conversely, don’t want any spam sites linking to you. You can use tools to find out who’s linking to you, and if they’re a worthwhile source to receive backlinks for. Want to build out your external links and gain authority where you believe it’s warranted? All it takes is some good ‘ol manual labour on the keyboard. Not only does producing top-quality content that websites would want to link to help you get there, but you can also reach out to current relationships you have online, or foster other websites that fall in line with yours so you can include your links on their content where applicable, and vice versa. Links to and from websites may seem like such a small tactic, but it’s a huge payoff that can produce big gains in building online authority for your website.
Google My Business Activity
If you’re reading this and you don’t have control of your Google My Business profile (or don’t have one), it’s not too late to claim it or create one—seriously, if you haven’t done this already with your dealership, stop reading now and go do it, I’ll wait…
Okay, now that you have one, let’s talk about the two big things to focus on right off the bat:
- Get the basics sorted out. Make sure all of your location, category and contact information is correct, then write up a description for your dealership, outlining what customers can expect if they visit your business, why you’re so special and why customers should visit you and not your competitors.
- Update your business hours regularly. Have you ever looked up a business online over a holiday weekend to see if they’re open and saw a “hours may differ on a holiday” warning and aren’t sure whether you can trust those hours as legit or not? Well, now that you’re the proud manager of your Google My Business profile, you can ensure this never happens with your customers, thanks to the ability to set special holiday hours (see, I’ve already given you your first GMB mission!).
Google My Business is all about helping people understand what your business is all about. Whether it’s directing them on how to contact you, engaging through reviews and questions, sharing news and promotions and more, GMB is only getting more comprehensive and engaging from here, for both the dealer and customer. Google is continually putting more importance into GMB profiles, so jump in while you can, and take advantage of what a lot of dealers fail to grasp in the visibility and awareness of their dealership online. There are loads of dealerships out there, meaning loads of profiles. If you’re competing against dealerships with the same vehicle brand, you need to stand out—and Google My Business is another tool to do just that! All you have to do is know how to do it.
Poorly-Optimized Technical SEO
You can’t just plop all your content on your website and expect Google to easily rank it high in search (if so, I’d be out of a job and wouldn’t need to write this blog for you). Google’s search engine is smart, but it still needs you to format your writing and website information in a way that both users and search engines can easily digest. Think of it this way: if this blog was just one giant wall of text you’d probably be less likely to read it, whereas if it’s in sections like this, you can easily skim it for highlights and find exactly what pertains to you or what you were looking for. Humans are much more likely to read and understand when information is laid out in smaller, easier-to-digest pieces, and search engines are programmed to do the same thing.
There’s a lot of ways you can make both user and search-engine friendly content through utilizing proper technical SEO optimization for your on-page content. For Google to read your website’s content more easily, do an honest assessment of your website; does your website have the following, and are they properly optimized?
- Title tags
- Meta descriptions
- URL structure
- H1, H2s, etc.
- Alt text
These are just a few of the main common areas of on-page technical SEO, and ones you can easily add and improve on right away. Technical SEO on a website is important in maintaining and improving the readability of your website. It’s not just good enough to have one of these elements correct, because you need to make sure all of them are properly optimized and working together for Google to crawl the pages on your site.
A citation is a listing of your business online. Enter your business’s name, address or phone number (NAP) in a search engine and you’ll find just a sampling of the directories, newspapers, and listings for your business. Some directory sites, like Yelp, are obvious answers, while others may not be as evident, and while they all carry their own differing levels of importance, it’s worth making time to ensure all your business information is correct, wherever it may appear across the internet. Maybe this isn’t a big deal for you, maybe you’ve always had the same name, address or phone number, and your presence online reflects that (great, you’re a step ahead a lot of places!). But, if you’ve ever changed your business’s name, moved locations or got a new phone number, chances are some of that old, outdated information is still out there online. How do you fix or update these? You’ll have to roll up your sleeves and reach out to the party with the incorrect information, and kindly ask them to change the information for you. Having correct citations helps you build your authority online, by having consistent and matching business information that Google can trust, making you more relevant to users searching for your business and for search engines to accurately list your website and related profiles.
Reviews on Google are important, and often the most plentiful, but of course you’ll see reviews across a multitude of platforms like Facebook, Yelp, DealerRater and more. Google loves reviews, and better yet they like you responding to reviews. Make sure you’re getting reviews (and, uhhh, positive ones, just so we’re clear). We’re not saying you need to force your customers to give you reviews, but be upfront and ask them if you’ve just dealt with a customer who you know had a good experience—chances are, they’ll want to share their experience if it truly was great. Or, respectfully follow up with your past customers to help encourage them to spread the word about your business and the positive time they had at your dealership. Google consistently puts more stock in not only the number of reviews, but the frequency they are responded to as well, which plays a large part in helping you get well-placed in the local pack, so get responding.
A Wholesale Approach Lets You Succeed in Search
I’ve given you a crash-course on the reasons why your dealership might be lagging in search behind your competitors. It’s not an exhaustive list, but one that covers some primary ways you can improve your search presence. All these techniques may work to a certain level individually, with gains from one or two of these strategies, but they’re best used in concert with each other. Take a wholesale approach on every end of your website and its presence online, so you don’t have to chase the number 1 spot—because you’re already there!