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3 Reasons to Fire Your Website Vendor Today

I'm writing today because a serious fraud is being perpetrated on virtually all car dealers, the scope of which seems to be far greater than any I've encountered before.

What seemed at first to be merely a bad SEO practice, now seems to amount to copyright infringement, a willful attempt to harm dealers while profiting from them, and perhaps even collusion by OEMs and vendors to control market performance between franchise owners. I'm not going to name names at this point. I have included screen shots and examples which would certainly allow someone to search and figure out for themselves who the culprits are and what, exactly, they are doing.

This all began when two new Wikimotive clients sought our services due to severe drops in search performance. They are both clients of website vendor A. The larger dealer group had received a web spam penalty from Google while the smaller group experienced the following performance over the past year:

What could cause two thirds of this dealer's client base to disappear in 7 months?

Google's latest algorithm update? Negative SEO? A new dealer that caught SEO fire? What we found is much, much worse. Duplicate content, like we've never seen before. Now, I know what you're thinking. Wow, big deal. SEO crap. But this is much different.

What we've found is that many, many website vendors have engaged in a form of deception and fraud. What's worse, I believe some have simultaneously left their dealer clients in violation of copyright infringement. Here is the proof:

Website Vendor B

Pictured above is a page on Dunning Subaru's website about brake repair. This site is built by website vendor B. Below are the search results generated by searching for examples of this text. This search generated 1,540 results, and this was one of the smallest infractions we found. Upon closer inspection, we found that most of the websites listed here were built by website vendor A, but Jansen Chevrolet and Chevrolet of Puyallup were built by website vendor C.

Now, if you visit sites by each of these vendors you will notice something at the bottom of each page: Dunning SubaruJansen Chevrolet, and Toyota of Santa Barbara.

Notice that the Toyota dealer has a copyright mark. Now, not all vendors publish the mark for all of their clients. So some of these dealers are theoretically in copyright violation of the dealers that have marks. Of course, this begs the question, "How do you determine who first used the copyrighted content?"

I suspect the answer is a lot of billable hours to a good law firm.

In this next example, you'll notice 865,000 results for the same page. You might wonder how this is possible with less than 25,000 dealers in the US. We found that not only was this page duplicated across 4 website vendors on this one SERP page, but there were even instances of the text appearing on other sites as well.

Try this: using the quotations, enter this text into Google search, "has an experienced and reliable Service and Parts departments that are open extra hours to help fit our customers' hectic schedules, and as always,". 

When I ran the search last week I found 1.9 million results.

Why is this so outrageous?

When the dealer enters into an agreement with a website vendor, there is an expectation of expertise. It's the vendor's job to be aware of practices or procedures that could harm their client and they should be dedicated to never harming their client.

In 2005, Google publicly announced that web masters who used duplicate content would see their websites penalized. While many SEOs would agree that this didn't take place early on, there isn't a (competent) web master on the planet that is unaware of the Panda update released by Google in February 2011.

"Google says it only takes a few pages of poor quality or duplicative content to hold down traffic on an otherwise solid site, and recommends such pages be removed, blocked from being indexed by the search engine, or rewritten.[11] However, Matt Cutts, head of webspam at Google, warns that rewriting duplicate content so that it is original may not be enough to recover from Panda -- the rewrites must be of sufficiently high quality, as such content brings "additional value" to the web. Content that is general, non-specific, and not substantially different from what is already out there should not be expected to rank well: "Those other sites are not bringing additional value. While they’re not duplicates they bring nothing new to the table."

"Only a few pages of poor quality or duplicative content." As we continue to research this issue, we're finding that virtually every page (we're talking hundreds and even thousands of pages in some cases) on most dealer websites is duplicate content.

To make matters worse, in most cases, the primary offenders of this content plagiarism are also selling "SEO services" in conjunction with their websites. In almost every case, we've found that not only do these website providers NOT provide any form of SEO service, most of the time they are actually charging the dealer for creating more duplicate content and copying it to all of their other clients' websites! That means that they are actually doing more damage, faster, and charging a premium for it!

How can you tell if you are being plagued by duplicate content? 

The easiest way to determine this is your "about" page. If you didn't write your own content for your dealership about page, start there. Try selecting a large portion of text that doesn't include your dealership name or geo information. Copy and paste what you copied into the Google search bar and then put the text in quotation marks. Do you get a list of lots of other car dealers? Chances are yes, you do. If you're not sure about how to do this, you can e-mail us at questions@wikimotive.com and we'll be happy to walk you through it. And before you suspect that we have ulterior motives, we are not an automotive website vendor. We DO NOT have a dog in this fight other than looking out for dealers.

My content is all over the web! What can I do?

Remember, what Matt Cutts said, "Rewriting duplicate content so that it is original may not be enough to recover from Panda -- the rewrites must be of sufficiently high quality, as such content brings 'additional value' to the web." 

In most cases, this means a real need to start from scratch.

BIG IMPORTANT POINT TO TAKE AWAY

If you are a client of one of the website vendors in the results here, there is no immediate fix short of finding a new provider, and unless you have the knowledge and expertise to understand what differentiates one provider from the next, there is a real likelihood that you will trade one bad vendor for another. So far, we've only found a single website vendor that is not building sites this way and does not use duplicate content on their websites. If any other vendors are out there listening and are digging what I'm saying and wondering why no one has ever called this out before, please give me a call. We'd love to find more great solutions for our car dealers.

My website rep/seo guy/gal etc says that the content is unique because my name is in there and there are different geo modifiers in the content and that makes it unique. What is he/she talking about?

They are L I A R S or they were trained to say that by LIARS. Google SPECIFICALLY looks for content that is the same with minor changes like proper nouns and geo modifiers. It's the worst kind of duplicate content because it tries to be deceptively manipulative.

Well they said that Google allows for duplicate content for businesses because product information like inventory is all the same and can't be unique. Is that true?

Not exactly. This allowance is for e-commerce platforms and is suspected to be applied to the inventory on dealer websites. BUT there's a catch. The webmaster must include code on those duplicate pages that signals this to Google. Its called the rel=cannonical tag, and most of the website providers DON'T USE IT FOR INVENTORY! That means your inventory is duplicate content too!

I tried to include the regular spin you'll likely hear if you research this, but understand, one of the website providers listed here recently sold for nearly $1 billion. These are massive companies who's primary client is the OEM not you the dealer.

Why would my OEM want my website provider to hurt me?

Maybe it wasn't originally intended, or by design, but I have to believe that the most digitally savvy people working for OEMs realize that by devaluing the authority of the dealer website it makes it easy for the OEM to rank in the dealer's backyard which then gives the consumer choice. Remember, if you're a Honda dealer the best place to increase your sales efficiency is by taking deals from the nearest Honda dealer you compete with. The OEM doesn't want this because they still sell the same customer the same Honda. They want you to take deals from the Toyota dealer and the Nissan dealer. How can they ensure this happens? By controlling the level of competition in search.

We are still researching this issue and will continue to update the community on our findings. Our goal is to see these website vendors face the reality of the continually evolving digital landscape. You've known this was coming and if you haven't prepared for it, shame on you.

Its time to do whats right and serve the dealer.

 

Original article by Timothy Martell on Wikimotive's blog.

Views: 5180

Tags: Google, OEM, SEO, Timothy Martell, Wikimotive, dealer website, duplicate content, supplier

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Comment by Timothy Martell on January 16, 2014 at 8:03am

The problem is ambiguity as a practice. The majority of dealer's know they need SEO, but they don't necessarily know what that means. And that is where the deception begins. What these vendors are calling SEO is, in my opinion, deceptively unethical. 

Most often these "SEO" up-sell's consist not even of spun content but mere syntax codes applied to all pages on site. The result of this is frequently site-wide duplicate meta data. Thats it. Thats the entire service. 

In other cases, or in the cases where there are multiple levels of "SEO" service, they might get the syntax plus a pre-determined amount of already used content pages that also use syntax code to change things like dealer name, make, model, and 1 or some geo-modifiers. This is not even spun content as Alex suggests. With spun content you tend to get a re-write of the same information which at least has the possibility (though thin) of being unique or maybe unique enough (cringe). This is what these vendors are charging EXTRA for. They are calling it something it is not because the dealer just knows he needs SEO. 

Its not SEO. By definition, and lets be clear here, since 2005 this is precisely what search engine's have had written policy's warning that this type of practice would be harmful. We can debate about when the effect was or was not felt, but no one claiming expertise and say they just didn't know. They've known for 9 years!

Comment by WheelsTVNetwork.com on January 16, 2014 at 7:49am

Do these vendors offer advanced SEO/content marketing packages wherein you can get unique content written for the site? Or is this included in a basic website package? I'd be interested to see how this is being marketed, and/or if unique written content is an upsell. This doesn't justify the issue at hand... but having content written uniquely for each dealer is expensive. Obviously, vendors are "spinning" content at scale in order to have the economics make sense - good, bad, or indifferent. And prior to some of Google's recent updates, this may of not been such a big issue. Today, it most definitely is. If a dealer has a choice to hire unique content creators, which is what should be done as a short-term fix, that seems like a logical next step, however, as some have already said - a lot of the damage may have already been done.

Comment by Timothy Martell on January 16, 2014 at 7:46am

When one company enters in to a contractual agreement with another company to provide a service and the company providing the service knows that the service will actually provide the opposite of what is expected, I find that to be deceptive and unethical. 

I would think that the company providing the service that causes harm would owe all the money paid plus damages. Just my opinion, I am certainly no legal expert...

Comment by Timothy Martell on January 16, 2014 at 7:43am

Manny, the cat's out of the bag here. I didn't name any vendors in my article because nearly all are guilty of this practice. Certainly its about helping dealers, but you're stuck on SEO and SEO is only a small part of the issue here. This isn't just duplicate content spamming and getting hurt by the results. And maybe its my fault for not stressing this point enough, but... DEALERS ARE AT RISK OF BEING SUED FOR COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT BECAUSE THE VENDORS PUT THEM AT RISK!  

Furthermore, the majority of these vendors SELL AN SEO SERVICE THAT CAUSES HARM TO THEIR CLIENT AND FURTHER EXACERBATES THE DEGREE OF COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT BECAUSE IT IS ALL PLAGIARIZED MATERIAL!

That these practices are triggering web spam penalties is just icing on the cake. SEO is the small potatoes here.

Comment by Alexander Lau on January 16, 2014 at 6:57am

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Article_spinning

Article spinning is a search engine optimization (SEO) technique by which search engine optimizers post a unique version of relevant content on article directories, web 2.0 sites, or other sources for backlinks. It is occasionally used by website authors on their own sites but usually avoided because the quality of spun content will nearly always be lower than hand written content. Spinning works by rewriting existing articles, or parts of articles, and replacing specific words, phrases, sentences, or even entire paragraphs with any number of alternate versions to provide a slightly different variation with each spin. This process can be completely automated or rewritten manually. Many article marketers believe that article spinning helps avoid the feared penalties in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) for using duplicate content. The extent to which Google and other search engines can detect or devalue spun content is not clear. However, most uses of spun content are considered a black hat SEO spam practice. This is because most spun content is produced through automated methods and is considered human unreadable. Such content is only usable for mass posting on non-editorial sites purely for SEO; by definition, spam.

Article spinning requires "spintax." Spintax (or spin syntax) is the list of text, sentences, or synonyms that are embedded into an article. To create an article out of spintax, spinning software substitutes the desired synonym choices into the selected article in order to create a new, unique variation of the base article. However, because each article is created from the same set of spintax, each new spin of that article will be slightly less unique as the number of spins increases.

AND YES, COBALT, DEALER.COM, VINSOLUTIONS, ETC. ALL USE THIS TECHNIQUE. I'D LIKE ONE OF YOUR 'AUTOMOTIVE DIGITAL MARKETING' "REPRESENTATIVES" TO PROVE ME WRONG! I'm sure your Reputation Management scrubbing mechanisms are alarming you with that statement.

Let's have some fun guys, we can start posting more of what Britt posted, etc., duplicated spun (re-spun and re-spun and re-spun content). The execs in those companies have their heads in the clouds and have no idea what "writers", *cough spammers, are "writing" for "valued" customers. 

LMFAO!

Comment by Timothy Martell on January 16, 2014 at 6:51am

Correct on all fronts, Cathy. I hope you are bringing this to the attention of your dealership and ensuring that you're not in violation of copyright. What has the management at Harry Robinson said when you brought this to their attention? I bring this up because your vendor is one of the culprits and your sites bear a copyright mark.

Comment by Cathy Nesbit on January 16, 2014 at 6:40am

"You're not wrong Cathy. I actually learned that one of the providers in this example actually had a policy that once the sale was made, the salesman was to never again speak to the dealer unless there was a new product to sell. Can you believe it?"

@Tim 

I can believe it..seen it in action. Sales: sale then gone. CSR: go to person..until you ask about a product. They don't know about it or how much it is..gotta talk to the sales person again. 
Annoying. 


I could have a very different experience than anyone else has had too, but the sales person I dealt with knew NOTHING (and I truly mean nothing) about internet products. Websites, digital advertising, SEO, SEM, nothing....she was totally winging it! She is selling products to people and she hasn't a clue! She is a great sales person though and she's mostly selling to people who aren't educated about those products. Disaster for the dealership paying for the product. Disaster for her to speak to someone who is educated about those things. (I'm a little irritated by this if you can't tell.) I think it is a real shame. Shame on the company for not training her, or keeping her around because she's pulling off the sale, and shame on her for not at least educating herself. This tells me she & the company she works for care about the money & NOT the customer. IMHO (disclaimer :) )

Comment by Timothy Martell on January 15, 2014 at 8:16pm

It is personal, Manny. One of our clients asked about their content writer today. He asked, "Where does Jenn live? I could swear that she must live in Indianapolis." The dealer is located in Indianapolis and that is the greatest compliment we can hope for. That is after only one month of service. 

There is better than what dealers have been forced to accept. It is our privilege to help them navigate the muddy waters. Having grown up in an automotive family and having worked in retail for 21 years pushes me to find and shed light on issues like this. 

One of the vendors in the examples just sold for nearly a billion dollars. I remember when one of the founders pitched their service to me back in 1998 when the company had just begun with a handful of guys. They would have nothing and be nowhere without the sweat of dealers who's backs they climbed on to elevate themselves. They owe far more than what they've proved to have given here. Its unacceptable and this kind of common behavior needs to change in the vendor community. 

Comment by Timothy Martell on January 15, 2014 at 6:24pm

lol Thanks, Brian. I've been aware of this for some time, though I did not fully appreciate the scope until doing my own research. Others in my field have also undoubtedly been aware. That said, I think I am the first to bring it to light. I suspect, the billions of dollars behind the companies involved in this are enough to keep most silent.

Maybe I'm small enough not to be afraid. Then again, maybe they'll try to sue me into obscurity. Time will tell. The thing that gets me is that they (website vendors) took on enormous liability themselves. Either because they figured it would be someone else's problem when they got bought out or were really not thoughtful enough to realize the legal ramifications. 

Maybe most dealers will just skim this and pay no mind and these vendors will feel no consequence. Again, time will tell. But based on what some of my dealer clients are telling me, like one I know who received a massive reimbursement check from one of the vendors caught here, the vendors know what they did and are probably hoping to pay to keep it quiet and prevent future litigation. 

Thanks for all the great feedback. Keep the questions coming!


Influencer
Comment by Britt Hoffmann on January 15, 2014 at 4:50pm

Gotta love corporate greed!

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