Car Dealers: Now is the Time for Real SEO

Car Dealers: Now is the Time for Real SEO

First, a few quick Search Engine Optimization (SEO) definitions in layman’s terms:

  • SEO: The practice of optimizing a website to appear higher in the free (organic) search results on sites like Google and Bing.
  • Typical Automotive SEO: A gigantic waste of money.
  • Real SEO: Actual work performed by humans that shows measurable improvements in your website’s search visibility for the search terms that matter.
  • SEO Log: A report that all good (and some bad) SEO vendors provide each month. (Basically, an SEO Log tells you exactly what they did to improve your website’s search visibility each month.)

While it should be time for Real SEO every day, with used car prices plateauing, the end to the chip shortage on the horizon, the normalization of inventory, and the coming decline in new car grosses, dealers who aren’t spending on Real SEO today can expect to spend more on paid search, paid social, and third-party lead-drivers in the coming months.

It’s math.

You’ll have more vehicles to sell and so will the competition. You’ll need to drive eyeballs to your inventory, as well as leads, calls, and walk-ins your team can close. You can invest wisely on Real SEO today and reduce your future reliance on third parties, or you can expect to throw tens of thousands every month at the same marketing vendors as your competition – driving up the costs for the clicks you could and should be receiving for free.

Typical Automotive SEO

I called this a gigantic waste of money because it is. More often than not when I’m assisting a new client with a comprehensive review of their digital marketing, we discover waste and fraud in three primary areas:

  • Paid Search – Also called Search Engine Marketing. These are the pay-per-click and display ads you’re likely overpaying for.
  • Paid Social – Also called Social Media Marketing. These are the ads your agency is placing on sites like Facebook and Snapchat that should be driving real buyers at an acceptable ROI, but often don’t.
  • Typical Automotive Search Engine Optimization.

The waste we find with Typical Automotive SEO budgets usually looks like this:

  • A couple of poorly written blog posts per month. If there is any focus to these (there is often no real SEO focus based on the dealer’s needs), the posts usually just highlight a Make/Model offered by the dealer. While there is nothing wrong with a Make/Model post, most dealers need more help competing for used car clicks against the classifieds’ sites like and Autotrader than they need increased visibility for their own brand. Additionally, these posts are often uninteresting if discovered by a prospect, so they almost never drive conversions.
  • Some random “optimization of meta data and title tags.” While your website’s meta data and title tags should be optimized by your SEO provider, this only needs to happen one time if done correctly. No need to pay a monthly fee for this part of their “service.”
  • “Optimization of GMB Pages.” Your Google My Business pages are the most important aspect of search today, yet most Typical Automotive SEO vendors don’t even take the time to add the proper business categories to your listings. This is something that only needs to be done one time and generally takes about four minutes to complete.
  • Colorful monthly reports. These meaningless reports display colorful graphs that provide zero insight of the results of your SEO spend.

But Our Organic Traffic is Up!

Sure it is. Everyone’s organic traffic is up. With relatively high consumer demand, your offline marketing, and all the bot (spam) traffic dealer sites receive, of course your organic traffic is up over last year. The question you should be asking is, “What did my SEO vendor do to drive any of this?”

In fact, why not ask your SEO vendor a version of this very question? Why not ask them to show you which visitors were most likely driven by improved search engine optimization efforts and why?

I’ll wait.

While SEO is as much art as it is science, your SEO vendor could (if they wanted to) show you with some level of certainty how much of the organic traffic you receive today is the result of their efforts. By properly tracking visits to your GMB page (and subsequent clicks to your website) and by enabling Search Console in your Google Analytics, and then overlaying this data with their monthly SEO Logs, they would be able to show you, for example, how the content they created four months ago targeting “used trucks for sale” was now ranking your site higher for these searches and how you were getting more clicks and conversions.

Real SEO is Not Cheap

Because Real SEO requires humans to do actual work, I haven’t discovered any Real SEO companies that can do this work for less than $2,000 or $3,000 per month. If you’re paying less than this today, it doesn’t mean you’re not getting Real SEO, it just means I haven’t reviewed the work of your SEO vendor. (I’ve reviewed dozens of SEO providers in automotive, and I can only confidently recommend two of these to my clients.)

Of course, paying for Typical Automotive SEO isn’t cheap either – not if the vendor is wasting your budget… or worse.

Worse, what’s worse than wasting my budget?

I’m glad you asked that. How about outright fraud?

Recently, I worked with a new client and discovered something with their Typical Automotive SEO that I had never seen before. I call it fraud, but the legal term might be more like breach of contract. (I’ve anonymized the data below and am only reporting the most egregious infraction we discovered to keep both my client and their SEO vendor confidential. It’s not my job to out this vendor to the rest of the industry – sorry, but they have deeper pockets than me.)

This dealership had an agreement with a vendor to provide SEO services in exchange for a monthly payment of between $1,000 and $2,000. The vendor’s agreement clearly spelled out the services they would provide. Among these, they were to create a specified number of content pages (mostly model reviews) and blog posts each month. For the sake of honoring my client’s desire to remain anonymous, let’s say the total number of content pages plus blog posts in the agreement was five per month.

Over the previous eight months (the period I reviewed), this vendor’s contract indicated they should have delivered 40 total pages of content, yet they provided exactly four. Yes, they delivered only 10% of what this portion of their SEO contract required. Moreover, the content they created for the dealership was poorly written and likely would have no positive impact on the website’s search visibility. Coincidentally, two of the four content pieces were provided immediately after the dealership (at my request) sent a note to the vendor asking for clarification of their SEO package.

Think about this for a moment: these model pages and blog posts were the only requirements in the SEO contract that would’ve been visible to the dealership, and the vendor just skipped 90% of them. This begs the question: What other requirements of the SEO contract had this vendor been skipping?

But the Dealer Should’ve…

I’ve relayed this story a few times and I was surprised that some people wanted to blame the dealer. Their argument was that the dealer should’ve regularly inspected the posts and other content.

Perhaps. But the reality is that dealers and managers already have plenty they need to inspect. Plus, this was not some no-name agency, this was an OEM-recommended vendor. Finally, the monthly spend for SEO was relatively small compared to paid search and social, so you could excuse the dealer if they worried about the larger budgets and trusted this vendor.

Oh, and what would the dealer have inspected, anyway? They were receiving the colorful monthly graphs and being told how great their organic traffic was looking. Even if this vendor was writing the required content, the reporting the dealer received would not have provided any insight into the effectiveness of the SEO efforts.

My advice to this client? When you change providers, demand the new vendor provide a monthly SEO Log with links to the written content each month and demand that the vendor enable Search Console in Google Analytics. Also, let the vendor know you don’t care to see their colorful graphs each month, just a recap of the search terms the vendor focused on last quarter and how those keywords were performing in Search Console this month.

The Choice is Yours

When, not if, the automotive market returns to something close to normal, the choice is yours. You can overpay as you compete for the same clicks and third-party leads your competition is chasing, or you can enjoy increased organic website traffic from real buyers in your market… all because you decided to stop paying for Typical Automotive SEO and switched to a Real SEO provider months ago.

Good Selling!

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