Deep Dive: Local SEO for the Automotive Industry

We are excited to have Greg Gifford from DealerOn join us for a discussion about Local SEO in the automotive industry.  There are definitely some unique challenges to be had with this vertical that might translate to other categories - so worth a listen for everyone!  Enjoy!

We'd love to hear your feedback - so chime in on Social Media or by commenting below!

Carrie: Hi, everybody. Welcome to "Deep Dive" with Local University. I am here today with Mary Bowling and Greg Gifford from DealerOn. Hi, Greg and Mary. We're going to talk a little bit about local SEO for car dealers today, so we're going to get a little bit specific, but I think it's going to be a great conversation about, going to what are some of the opportunities and challenges. There's nobody better in the business when it comes to automotive SEO than Greg, so we thought, why not combine that? Greg is going to be at Local U Advanced in February with us. We're very excited to have him join us in Santa Monica. If you don't have your tickets yet, get them soon because we're down about 10 seats left. It's going to be a great group of people, lots of great information at Local U Advanced this year.

So, let's jump into it, Greg. going to one of the things that I think people want to know off the bat when we talk about niche-specific is, what's the biggest opportunity in 2019 for local SEO for car dealers? What can happen, what's new that they can really take advantage of?

Greg: The biggest opportunity is actually just doing SEO at all. You laugh, but automotive is, I would say, a little bit behind the rest of what most of us are used to. We all have a lot of friends that do SEO for eCommerce companies, or big, multi-location enterprise stuff, or attorneys, and they're all pretty advanced in their tactics, and there's a ton of car dealers that still don't even do SEO at all. So, in a lot of markets, you can come in and just do some really basic SEO and make a massive difference in the visibility of sites.

I mean, I've got some dealerships that...we were just looking through some reports the other day, and we have 5 dealers, and 2 of the 5 dealerships have over 120% year of year growth in organic SEO and the other ones are all above 60%. So, I mean, just us coming in and doing some basic...I mean, obviously, we're going a little more than basic, but coming in from a dealership that wasn't really doing SEO, or several dealerships not doing SEO, to then having a really solid strategy and knowing what to do to hit all those basics jumped them up from being not visible to they're just dominating page one for just about anything related to dealership, and their traffic is insane.

So, I think a lot of dealerships just need to realize still, you've got to do something with organic because... For a long time in automotive, you had all the third-party lead providers like Autotrader and cars.com, and dealers would spend all this money to get leads from these other providers that showed up really well in search because they're these massive companies that have huge SEO teams, but I think a lot of dealers are starting to realize that the third-party provider leads are not as good as first-party leads that you get on your own site, but for some reason, they still don't invest in SEO. So, I think as people realize, "Let's put our marketing effort into getting people to our website," that's the biggest opportunity.

Mary: So, a few years ago, I tried to help out a small bunch of dealerships in a second-rate city. The competition wasn't terrible there, and the thing that frustrated the heck out of me was the marketing groups for the big companies like Ford, and Chevy, and GM, the dealers were bribing the dealers to use their websites, websites they were creating for them, and that the dealers were not really allowed to do very much SEO on. Is that still going on in the dealer space?

Greg: Well, it's not so much that they're not allowed to do SEO, it's just some of the platforms don't give you the ability to optimize the things that you should be able to optimize. But yeah, that's still very much in place. All of the manufacturers in automotive have a list of vendors that are allowed, so you have to use the manufacturer-suggested website whether... For example, GM. So, Chevrolet, Buick GMC dealers, they only have a single choice for a website vendor. They have to use CBK Global for their website. They don't have a choice.

Now, if you don't like that platform, you do have the ability to go out and get another website, so what a lot of dealers have done in the past, across all vendors...most of the OEMs are opening it up and at least giving the dealers choices between website platforms now, but in the past, a lot of them were locked in to a single vendor. And if they didn't like that vendor, they would just get the absolute base website package with that vendor, and then, they would go get another website from someone else and get all the bells and whistles, and then put all of their marketing effort into their third-party website so that they're technically compliant with the manufacturer's guidelines of, "You have to have a website from our approved proprietor," but they put all their marketing effort into another website that they can fully optimize and do everything they need to do that's going to convert better. That's not as common anymore because, again, most of the providers have opened up and you now have at least three or four choices of website providers between all the different manufacturers, except for...there's a few left, but it looks like those are probably all going to open up this year.

Mary: Is there any one or several that you could recommend out of that bunch? I understand if you can't.

Greg: No, I can, because the company I work for is on the vast majority of those lists. Any manufacturer that has multiple options of website companies to use, our company's always one of those options. Obviously, I would recommend our company. Even if I didn't work here, I would recommend our company because a lot of the providers out there have pretty old technology. We have an entire team dedicated to just doing constant A/B testing to enhance the conversions on the site, make the sites as fast as possible, looking at everything related to mobile first, so we're very forward-thinking in making sure that our platform is as bad-ass as possible. The back end is also very robust, and if you want to, you have the ability to do all your own SEO. There's nothing you can't touch or optimize on the back end of the website. So, I would definitely say go with DealerOn.com if you have the option.

Mary: Greg works with DealerOn.com, so definitely check out that platform if you work with auto dealers.

Carrie: So the 50,000 foot point is just do something. Do SEO. Like, there's no new gimmick. And if you don't have the basics in place, it's really hard to take advantage of the new things. So, Google Posts came out, yay, but if you're not actually taking advantage of all of the other pieces of Google My Business, Posts is not going to move the needle for you. It's not going to make a difference.

Greg: And like I said earlier, doing SEO is the big thing because, between all of the website providers, it's not like you're a business and you're going to a marketing company and you're like, "Hey. I need a website," and you're a brand new business, they create a brand new WordPress site or whatever platform site and give you all of this content. Across all of the automotive website vendors, unless you bring your own content to the table, you're going to get boilerplate content, because when you're paying for your website within automotive world, you're paying for the site that houses your inventory and does all the conversions, but you're not paying for all of that content. So you end up with a situation that you have a lot of dealerships that have, if not exact duplicate content, then very, very similar, very generic content.

For the last several years, there's been an argument, both in the forums and at conferences, about the responsibility of that. A lot of people are complaining that, "Hey, my website company should do this," but all of the website companies and marketing companies say, "Hey, look. They could do that, but then your website is infinitely more expensive because you've gotta pay for that service. You can't just get somebody to write free marketing content for your site." So, that's a thing that a lot of dealers...going to five, six years ago, when everybody was just realizing, "Hey, I need to get a website," and they're finally starting to jump on the website, you could be in your market and hey, you get a website and you're fine. But now, finally, every dealership's got a pretty decent website, so now it's an even playing field and you've got to be doing digital marketing to rise above the rest of everyone else that just has generic websites.

Carrie: So, that actually leads me into another question. So, have we talked about this one enough? Because I want to ...

Greg: Oh, yeah. Sure.

Mary: Yeah, keep going. Keep moving.

Carrie: Okay, so how do you handle proximity? It seems like when you go to a car dealership, it's not just like, "Okay, here's this Chevy dealership at this address." There's Chevy, Ford, Honda, Toyota, and they're all, like, within a quarter mile of each other, crammed together. Is that a big deal for you guys?

Greg: It can be. And going to it really gets confusing for dealers, because most of the time, when dealers are doing their own little checks on how they show up in Google, they're doing it sitting in their office, and typically, with a proximity of zero, you're going to show up at the map pack for everything, but then they go home for the weekend or they're out somewhere else and they check it, and they don't show up at all, and they lose their minds. They start calling their website company or their marketing company going, "Oh, my gosh. What happened? I'm not showing up in Google," and it's not that, it's just, you have to realize that the proximity is such a huge factor.

But a lot of times...it's not so bad when you're dealing with, like, a Chevy dealer sitting next to a Honda dealer sitting next to a BMW dealer because the customer base that they're fighting for is different between the brands. It's a little bit more difficult...in Texas, we run into a lot of times where you've got a Chevy dealership right by a Ford dealership, and Texas is obviously huge for pickups. So it comes into it a little bit more there, but most dealers are still in the mindset of, when they want to see how they show up in Google, they just search "Ford dealer Dallas", or "Ford dealer Denver", or whatever, and when you're doing that from your dealership, you're going to show up as number one. And in most markets, you've got less than 10 Ford dealers in town, so hey, you're going to show up on page one no matter what.

So, it's confusing for a lot of dealers that, "Hey, I'm searching for either my brand or my exact dealership name and I show up great," but they don't show up for used cars in their town and they don't show up for service turns in their town, and that's where the big opportunity is. So, when it comes to proximity of all these dealerships right next to each other, you typically have either a situation that it's a dealership group where you've got five or six stores all right next to each other that may have different names, may have similar names, but they're all owned by one entity. That entity as a whole, they don't really care...sure, they want all the dealerships to be selling cars, and doing service, and doing that, but as the whole, the entity just wants to be moving metal, moving units. So, it's not so much a worry about if one store shows up a little bit better than another, because you may have the top five spots on Google and the top five spots in the map pack with all your stores, so you're not really fighting to get to number one. Or you've got situations where you've got four or five stores right next to each other, but only one or two are doing SEO and the other ones aren't, so those one or two just easily win every time, every day, all day long.

Carrie: Do you think that that's going worse as more and more dealerships start jumping on the SEO bandwagon? Is that going to get harder and harder?

Greg: Yeah, for sure. And the proximity thing has really changed over the years. going to 7, 8 years ago I could blow out some citations and have somebody that's 45 miles outside of a metro ranking number one in the metro, but as Google has gotten smarter and made it more realistic with the proximity factor, you can't do that anymore. But in a really dense market like an L.A., or a San Francisco, or a Denver, or Chicago, proximity's much more of a factor than...going to I work with some dealerships in Wyoming that they're the only Ford dealership in a 250-mile radius, so you could literally drive 250 miles just to get to the next Ford dealership.

And sure, in their town, it's a small town. I've got dealers that sell thousands of cars a month and these guys are selling maybe 30 cars a month. It's a smaller town, a smaller market, smaller dealership, but they still have other used car dealers in town and other lube shops in town that can do oil changes, so you still have to do good SEO to beat out those competitors. But from a brand perspective, the proximity factor for those guys that are super mega rural is crazy because I don't even have to optimize, and you can be 100 miles away and search "Ford dealer," and this guy shows up number one just because there's nothing closer.

Carrie: That's something I didn't think about, going to the competition may not be for a Ford dealer but it might be for an oil change, or brake service, or those types of...I don't know if a dealer would call that a loss lead or maybe another business, another facet of their service.

Greg: Yeah, that's our biggest opportunity. Almost 100% of the time, and it's always been this way, we always talk to dealers and they'll say, like I said a minute ago, "Oh, I look in Google and I show up fine in Google." Well, yeah, because you're searching for the name of your dealership, or you're searching for "Ford dealer," and there's only two Ford dealers in town. But if you count all of the other new car dealerships and all of the used car dealerships, there's 100 dealerships in your town trying to show up for used cars and you don't show up on the first 3 pages of Google. How much better are you going to be doing if you show up as the top number one or number two result for a search for used cars in your city? You're going to sell a ton more cars."

And same thing for oil change, because then the difficulty is, you've got a dealership site that has 300 or 400 cars on it, so you've got 300 or 400 pages of inventory, then they've got 20 to 30 pages of main pages on their site, and then they've got their blog with however many pages, and they may have 1 page that says, "Schedule your service," and that's all it says. So they don't show up for oil change, or tire rotation, or battery replacement, or any of these things.

And then you've got these lube shops like Jiffy Lube where their entire site is optimized around, "Come and get an oil change. Come get your filters changed." And these dealerships get so mad that they're like, "Hey, this crappy little Jiffy Lube up the street is killing us on oil changes," yet you have a smaller site with maybe 15 pages where everything on the site is tightly optimized around 2 or 3 core terms, versus a dealership site with several hundred pages where the terms not even mentioned at all on the entire site, well, of course those guys are going to beat you. Dealers don't always have enough depth of knowledge to understand that that's how SEO works, so it's a big opportunity...

Carrie: So, would you call that the biggest omission or opportunity, or is that not the biggest one?

Greg: Oh, no. I think for sure the biggest opportunity or the biggest omission is just creating content that is about your dealership and about the local area. So when I say that that's not just...most dealerships are going to go in and just shove a city on the page where it doesn't make sense. Like, they're going to.... for instance, "Dallas," 50 times on each page, and it reads awful. But it's creating content about the dealership and the service you provide because most of them, it's just so generic, you don't have any of those keywords.

A lot of dealerships freak out about the fact that they don't show up well for used cars, because their website always says "pre-owned vehicles" because dealers think that "pre-owned vehicle" sounds better than "used car." Which sure, it does, but the problem is, nobody searches for a "pre-owned vehicle." People search for "used cars," so if you don't have the phrase "used car" on your site, you're screwed.

So, it's just the fact that you need to have pages for concepts, and most dealers, if they even have a page for that concept, it's so incredibly generic and basically duplicate content of hundreds of other dealerships. The biggest omission is, care about your content. Go in and put content that's actually about your dealership, and it makes a massive difference.

Carrie: Well, and use the words that your customers use. We talk about that all the time. Talk to the people who answer your phone. When they say, "Hi, I need to talk to somebody about this pre-owned vehicle on your website," that's not what they say. The people who answer your phone are going to say, "No, they ask about the used Honda." Those are the words they use, so I think that's super important in any niche, in any category, definitely.

Greg: And Google My Business is another really big omission. You'd be surprised how many dealerships we still talk to that have an unclaimed Google My Business profile, which is shocking, because you would think...I mean, reputation management is huge within automotive. There's whole companies that exist just to do reputation management for dealers. So, everybody knows you've gotta respond to reviews, you've gotta take care of that, and the fact that you've got people that don't respond to reviews because they haven't claimed their profile is crazy.

And then, going to I guess it was GetFiveStars when they did it, but Mike at GatherUp did the whole thing about Questions & Answers last year, and the automotive vertical is the second most active vertical for people doing Questions & Answers, and no dealers know it's even there. So, they don't know that, they're not using Posts, they're not uploading images, so it's whatever...

Greg: So there's just nothing optimization-wise around that Google My Business profile, so again, it's just super generic and they're not standing out.

Carrie: The hours are wrong 9 times out of 10, too. I was trying to buy a car not too long ago, and every time I'd be like, "So, you're open till 9?" and they're like, "No, we're open till 10." I'm like, "Well...okay."

Greg: Well, it gets difficult too because you have the different business centers of the dealership. You've got the sales side, which is going to be open for one set of hours, then you've got the parts side that's going to be open for a different set of hours, and you've got the service side that's open for a third set of hours. That's always been a huge headache, and then finally, about a year ago, last January, Google pushed the department listing feature out to automotive that used to only exist for the big box stores. So now, you can have your primary GMB profile for the store, and then, you can have a secondary one for parts and a secondary one for service.

For a lot of dealers, Google went and just added them automatically, so there was a whole big deal last year where dealers were freaking out because, all of a sudden, they've got all those phantom listings that they didn't put in there.

Greg: So, yeah. So Google added all these listings in that people were like, "Oh, my gosh. Now I've got these listings." For certain vendors, they didn't add them in, so for example, you would have a Ford service and Ford parts listing that was automatically a department listing, so it said it was located inside of the main dealership. But that didn't happen for any Chrysler dealerships because you always have Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, and I guess Google determined that that was too long to say, Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram parts and Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram service, so they just didn't get them.

But now, we can go create those listings independently and then just get with the Twitter support, and Twitter support will force the department setting so that they all show up as separate listings. But the benefit is now, on the main knowledge panel business profile, if you've got those separate department listings, it will show all three sets of hours instead of just the hours for sale, so it's been a huge benefit for dealers to be able to have that now so that the hours are much less confusing.

Mary: So, before we have to go, can we talk about reviews for a little while? I know that car dealers were famous for...

Greg: Cheating?

Mary: Well, going to at the time, nobody said you weren't allowed to do it, so they did whatever they could do to get reviews, and then Google said, "No, don't do those things."

Are there specific review platforms that you would recommend for car dealers? I know I had a situation not long ago with a car dealership where they would asking me about DealerRater, and when I looked into DealerRater it's like, those reviews show up everywhere. If you're doing that little brand score thing that we have on Local U, you see all...like, CarGuru and the different aggregators, Autotrader, they all have DealerOn stars in the SERPs.

Greg: So, the big ones for dealers are, you absolutely have to do Google because that's the first one that customers will see. You absolutely have to do Facebook because that's just a big one that the search engines look at. That's also a really huge one, usually one of the first review platforms that customers will see. Beyond that, it depends.

DealerRater is a paid service, so if a dealer uses DealerRater, it's an awesome tool and you can get, like, individual ratings per salesperson so the salesperson can have a page on the website that shows just ratings that were for that independent salesperson or service tech, which that's really cool. But some dealerships, they don't want to do that. They don't want to pay for that service, so they don't necessarily have to. All the third-party lead sites, CarGurus, Autotrader, cars.com, will all have review platforms. Cars.com is a pretty big one. Edmunds is another one that's pretty big.

So, there's a lot that are all over the place, but really, if I was going to say a dealership really needed to concentrate on the best three for automotive, I would say that would probably be Google, and Facebook, and Yelp, because of the issue of Yelp feeding the stars on Apple Maps, and there's so many people that will look up directions to the dealership on Apple Maps. Then, if you're going to move beyond that, I would say DealerRater and cars.com would be the next two most important ones.

Carrie: Hold on. Awesome. How do dealers deal with inventory issues on the big sites? Like I said, I was trying to buy a car a few weeks ago, actually, at the beginning of the year. I would call about a vehicle I see on cars.com and it was sold already. Like, it seems like the inventory doesn't update very often or something like that. I don't know.

Greg: A lot of the third-party sites, the more you pay, the more often your inventory will update there, but typically, they'll update once or twice a day. So it could just be the nature of the fact that if you're calling in the morning and their inventory feed updates at 11:00 Central Time...I don't know that that's the number, but for the sake of example, let's say that the cars.com inventory feed updates at 11:00 in the morning and you're calling at 10:00, there might be something that was sold yesterday that still shows on the site.

But you're not really going to run into a situation where you're calling about a vehicle that was sold a week ago. It's usually, when you're calling and something's been sold, it's either being sold within the last couple of hours or sold within the last 24 hours, and that site just hasn't updated as quickly. Dealership websites are always really fast about updating, but a lot of times, on those third-party sites, you might see it be just delayed by half a day or so.

Carrie: There's a car dealership. They're not like a Ford Lincoln, it's a used car dealership but it's a big one and they have a lot of inventory. I actually just went to look, and there's a car that we wanted to look at that had been sold, and it's still on there on cars.com. It shows up for query for, like, a month.

Greg: Well, depending on the state that you're in, a lot of times, the independents will leave a really popular model up.

Carrie: It's a Highlander and they didn't have any, so that's probably why.

Greg: So, basically, they don't mark it as sold, and depending on what state you're in, that may not be against advertising laws, so their hope is that if they leave a really popular model up and they know that they only had one but it got sold, that if you submit a lead on it then, potentially, "Oh, hey, you know what? We just sold that, but I've got this really awesome other SUV over here that's a great deal that you might be interested in."

Carrie: That was exactly what they did then because it was a Highlander and they didn't have any more, they still don't have any, but they really wanted to sell me a Honda Pilot, bad, so.

Greg: Right. That will happen. In a lot of states, that's bait-and-switch advertising and it's against the last and they can get into really big trouble, but in some states, it's still legal and you'll see that happening, and unfortunately, you know... Most dealers out there want to fight the negative stereotype that car dealers are shady and snake oil salesmen, and they're all wonderful people, and they'll do everything they can. They'll bend over backwards to give you a great experience buying that car, but there's still some dealers out there that they'll do whatever they can and say whatever they can to make a sale, unfortunately.

Mary: Just like SEO companies.

Greg: Yes, just like SEO companies. Exactly.

Carrie: We ran into that. We almost got sucked into a bait-and-switch situation where they wanted us to pay for their reconditioning fees on top of the list price. So what they put into the car to fix it to up to be able to sell, they were going to add it on to the list price of the car, and I'm like, "I'm not paying that. That's bait-and-switch."

Greg: Was that on the sticker, or they added that later in?

Carrie: They added it later in. It wasn't on the sticker.

Greg: Well, yeah, that's shady. Like, if it's on the sticker, then you know it...you know.

Carrie: Yeah, I know.

Greg: It's an honest thing when a dealership gets a used car and they've gotta make it nice and do some detailing on it, that's a fixed cost for the dealership, so if they want to pass that along to the customer and not just have that as cost of business, then they just need to be transparent about it. If you'd have seen that on the window sticker and known that, "Hey, this is part of what I gotta pay for. No big deal." But when you go back to financing and they're like, "Oh, hey, by the way, we're charging you an extra $500 for this," that's when it's shady.

Carrie: Yeah. A thousand dollars to recondition the car, plus dealer handling, so I was like, "Yeah, I'm not paying that." And I didn't end up paying it, but I'd noticed that a couple, they had it in their fine print that they would add it on the top, and boy, they knew exactly where to point me to tell me that it was in the fine print. So I know that it has come up a lot. They got a mediocre review from me because of it, even though I bought the car.

Greg: And you know what? They'll get a lot of mediocre reviews like that. That's what I don't get is when you've got dealerships... going to on the review side of things...going to when we start to work with a new dealership, we're always going to go do research and check them out, and we'll see dealerships that are...of course, here and there, everybody's going to have a bad review. Everybody's going to drop the ball once in a while. Every human is going to have a bad day and just be grumpy when they come in and not have a great experience.

So, one or two or three bad reviews here and there aren't actually a bad thing; it makes you look human and realistic. But if you've got, in the last 3 months, 20 bad reviews all about your service department, all saying the exact same thing, and you bring it up to the dealer and they're like, "Oh, that's just my competitor trying to do negative stuff to me." Well, going to I don't think so, because these are legitimate. You can tell these are legitimate Google Plus profiles of people in your area, and I seriously doubt your competitor is advanced enough to go create all of these fake profiles and have them around, leaving reviews, bringing up being in your city for the last five or six years all over the place just to wait to be able to do negative SEO on you, all in the space of three months. I think you probably have a problem.

Carrie: And I think that that excuse is a fallback in a lot of categories in verticals. "Oh, it's my competition making me look bad," or, "Oh, it's a disgruntled employee," or it's, "Oh, that's not what happened and this person that all of these reviews complain about is actually awesome."

Mary: Or, "We fired them and you don't have to worry about that anymore."

Carrie: Well, it's still out there, so we sorta do. For sure.

Mary: So...

Carrie: Go ahead, Mer.

Mary: So, we probably need to wrap this up, Carrie.

Carrie: Yep. Anyway. Greg, thank you so much for joining us.,

Greg: You're so welcome.

Carrie: We really appreciate your time and insight into a niche that we don't talk about a lot but I think that is a litmus for a lot of other opportunities in local SEO, and we sure appreciate you being here. Just as a reminder, Greg is going to be joining us at Local U Advanced, so get your ticket, localuadvanced.com.

Mary: He will not be talking about dealer SEO, though.

Carrie: No. What is your topic, Greg?

Greg: I will be talking about Google Questions & Answers and Google Posts, and how to best optimize and use them for success in 2019.

Carrie: Sweet.

Mary: Looking forward to hearing it, and I can't wait to see you again.

Greg: I will see you guys in a couple of weeks.

Mary: All right. Thanks, Greg.

Carrie: Bye, everybody. Thanks, Greg.

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