OK, so you convinced the Dealer or GM to invest in a new dealership website as the main featured site for the dealership... Or, you are due for a new site design (redesign) from your current supplier. Either way, providing high quality and unique content within a dealership website is the key to success with automotive internet users and in getting better search engine rankings. Amongst the many strategic digital marketing areas that an ISM or dealership website manager should understand are the ways consumers find information they are seeking when they are ready to spend money on automotive stuff, how search engines look at website content structure and the ways search engine spiders crawl your website's goodies... After looking at far too many articles, books and blogs, here are a few of my recommendations for the top priorities for organizing your dealership's content within your site's design. For the purpose of this article, I am going to focus primarily on the objective to better optimize your site for search engine indexing and its rank on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP). Focusing on serving up content in ways that better engage and satisfy automotive consumers is worthy of its own article, heck it deserves several books... And, since it is a holiday weekend and SEO is just soooooo much easier and "poindexter" simple than actually pleasing automotive consumers in ways that engage them with you and your dealership, let's tackle SEO issues first and leave the tough stuff for another article... OK? (NOTE: you will soon see that I cannot resist the good stuff)
1. Have a Consistent Process for Organizing Your Website's Content
It is easy to fall victim to the exciting presentations that automotive website sales professionals make, and then to get caught up in the features and functionality of your new website. Stay focused on the concept that the actual content (especially vehicle inventory), its accuracy and how often it is updated is what will attract automotive consumers, keep them on your site longer, bring them back for another visit and convert them into showroom traffic, phone calls and completed web forms. If you are getting a new website, or working on a redesign with your supplier, get started by making a list of which pages will be designated as "Targeted Landing Pages". These are the pages, other than the home or index page, that will be designed as entry points into your website for both paid and organic search listings, as well as for special URL's to be used in advertising campaigns. OK, now your probably thinking "geez Ralph, you told me to do that with microsites?" and you are right, but just for right now, let's think about your new website, or redesign project as if you are only allowed to have just ONE website... Or better yet, think about your primary website as the "Commercial Business Center" of your online marketing efforts, forget about new models, special sales events and anything even remotely social or relationship based... Focus on your primary eCommerce website as being simply the place that provides the easiest way for people (who are ready) to spend money on buying cars, service, parts, warranties, financing, etc. from your dealership (online). For everything else, we will use microsites of various types, including online communities for social media marketing... So, for right now let's start by listing all the specific content you’ll want highlight for search engine ranking and discovery by automotive consumers. By going through this listing process first, you’ll be able to answer questions about content strategy, and it will help make your design decisions a little easier. While making your "eCommerce Content Manifest" for your site (STOP with the social crap for right now!), create content category buckets for grouping pages together in sections... Usually this is done by department, such as "New Cars", "Used Cars", "Finance", "Service", "Parts" and so forth. But, this is also an opportunity to get better aligned with the ways customers think... For example, in the Service category, how about "Dropping Your Car Off" and "Picking Your Car Up" from Service? Or, how about something like "Where's My Plates?" or "Get More Trade-In $" where you give customers a "Trade-In Value Appeal Request" process and form that gets sent to the GM? C'mon, your supposed to be a Car Guy (I call both men and women Car Guys), get creative and think about people who are ready to spend money and what topics, tools and processes will get them to go "Yeah, that's what I want!". Also, when creating your content buckets, think about using them for site navigation will allow customers to drill down into the daughter pages quickly.
2. Go Texas On 'Em - Use Bold Fonts to Emphasize Key Words
By bolding the font for keywords in your site's content, you can emphasize certain text sections as users skim through a page. Judicious use of bold font for important keywords also helps your SEO objectives by alerting search engines that these are the words you consider important to the primary subject of your page's content. Don't be an idiot about the bold font tactic... Avoid bolding too many words like some Used Car Managers use exclamation points in their vehicle descriptions. THINK ABOUT THIS; every time you bold a word on a page, you dilute the importance of all the other words that are in bold font until you are basically telling the search engines that none of them are more important than the others!!! (like those exclamation marks?)
3. FLASH IS GOOD, FLASH IS GREAT, FLASH MAKES YOUR PENIS/BREASTS BIGGER!
Although Flash content is not as “SEO-friendly” as plain text, if I have to listen to another moron muttering something along the lines of "Flash is all that is evil about dealership web sites and people who use it should have their faces peeled off and their children sold into the sex slave trade..." I am going to submit their names to my favorite Sarah Palin creation; "The Death Panel". Now listen up, and try to come out of that hypnosis induced fog of stupidity that makes people in the car business think that Flash is in the same category as Crack, Heroin and Child Molesters:
--------------- FLASH DOES NOT HARM SEARCH ENGINE RANKINGS
Now, stop shaking and close your mouth before the drool escapes... If you have led an isolated life and this is the first place you have seen anybody say that Flash is NOT the destroyer of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), it is understandable given the propaganda pushed forth by those selling websites to car dealers who either don't know how to use Macromedia's billion dollar success story, don't want to pay for the software, don't know how to modify Flash content as part of the SEO services they provide for exorbitant fees, or simply see it as something gullible car dealers will believe that they can use to eliminate a competitor from consideration. Please understand that you should properly segregate Flash placements, as well as other non-text website content so that it does not block, interfere or in any way prevent your text based content from being indexed by search engine spiders when they come to visit your site. But, YES it really is true (can you hear angels singing?) Flash content that engages consumers and increases Visitor-to-KBA conversion rates DOES NOT
HAVE to be avoided at all costs if you want your dealership's website to show up higher in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). Many of the highest search engine ranked automotive websites use Flash content, including dealerships and car companies... Here are a few examples from a variety of different automotive web site suppliers:
Drew Ford in La Mesa, CA at www.DrewFord.com
- When you search for "Ford Dealers in La Mesa, CA
" their site commands top organic placement in Google.
Rizza Chevrolet in Bridgeview, IL at Chevy.Rizzacars.com
When you search for "Chevy dealers in Bridgeview, IL
" Rizza Chevrolet is prominently at the top of the SERP.
Herb Chambers Honda in Burlington, MA at www.HerbChambersHonda.com
When you search for "Honda dealers in Burlington, MA
" Herb Chambers Honda is all over the SERP
Maples Ford in Warsaw, MO at www.MaplesFord.com
When you search for "Ford dealers in Warsaw, Missouri" despite the poor optimization of this site and regardless of the site's Flash content, it has good SERP.
I could list plenty of examples, the point is that if anyone tells you that the use of Flash based content detracts from a dealership website's SEO, they are quite simply WRONG! Keep in mind that Flash content, as is so aptly explained by the people at TK Carsites, is created and used to engage consumers, drive conversions and genrate both satisfaction with the dealers site and more return visitors... Flash is not used for SEO, that is not what it was created for... The key to SEO success with when making use of Flash, application scripts (payment calculators), images, videos, mapping tools, and most of anything that actually makes a dealer's website a place people want to go OTHER THAN PLAIN TEXT, is to balance it out with well written, meaningful and relevant text content. Yes, other than some of Google's "special" Flash indexing capabilities, it is the written words that appear as text on your website pages that gets indexed by search engine robots (spiders), and can be deciphered by browsers and various website crawlers that generate a wide range of lists and indexes. The next time some idiot passing themselves off as somebody who knows something about dealership website design and content says "oh-my-god... like, dontcha know that Flash is bad, flash is evil and flash will make it so you can never sell another car again!!!" just nod your head politely and ask him (most women are too smart to say something that stupid); "I've heard about the dangers of both Flash and masturbation, but what would happen if the web designer used alt attributes to describe all the cool stuff in our site like the Flash animations, video clips and our logos and other images using keywords that would inform the search engines when their spiders crawled our site what all the content other than plain text was about?' Trust me, it will be worth listening to the hemming, hawing and gibberish that comes out of the idiot's mouth. Hey, if the only thing that mattered about a dealer's website content was what search engine spiders could index, you would see dealer websites without any images, animation, video clips, logos, payment calculators, mapping tools or used car pictures... Do you really want a website with nothing but plain text on every page? If that were the case, the worst thing that could happen would be when people actually did find it using a search engine! As soon as they saw page after page of words... blah, blah, blah and GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS!
Even though they are a competitor to the company I work for (ADP) in regards to selling websites to dealers, I gotta give kudos to, and commend the people at TK Carsites
for having the courage, and obviously knowing what they are talking about, by placing the following statements on their company's website:
"Our professional design team has expertise in all areas of website design including custom website design, custom flash design, ecommerce, SEO - Search Engine Optimization and SEM - Search Engine Marketing services.
Our design team is based around the best professional website designers, programmers, search engine experts and flash animation developers. We offer a wide range of custom layouts and themes at affordable prices starting from small business presentation sites to advanced ecommerce solutions.
If you are running a small car dealership or a large automotive dealer group and are seeking the best design available, expert programming and high-end flash, TK Carsites will provide a solution for your dealerships needs.
TK Carsites Website Design Company provides expert website design services and a detailed approach to each and every client. The creative web design, reliable programming solutions, simply the best flash animation that our professional team offers along with strong SEO - Search Engine Optimization and SEM – Search Engine Marketing techniques will help you establish a unique company image and presence on the Internet..."
In reference to changes in the way people access the Internet and how it impacts using content created with Flash, TK Carsites goes on to state:
"It is a fact that an attractive, interactive website will have a higher conversion rate than a plain one. It isn’t that people want to be dazzled; they just want to know that the company with which they are dealing is professional and progressive.
TK Carsites in Orange, CA has won the prestigious : Auto Dealer Monthly Dealers’ Choice Award for best website design five consecutive years: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009. Not surprisingly, the awards coincide with the “turning point” of late 2004 when the shift from dial-up internet connections to broadband first started to become common. Today, even smaller cities in the Midwest region of the country have over 70% of the internet population on broadband.
Either way, today’s flash technology is built to accommodate even the slowest connections. Sites such as those provided by TK Carsites are quick to load, quicker to impress, and quickest to convert visitors into leads, leads into appointments, and appointments into sales.
Generic sites have the look and feel that simply doesn’t impress. Making that lasting first impression is imperative, not just for those who surf and make contact, but also for the more common customer who checks several sites before sending in a lead."
You know, it is painful to be quoting one of my competitors in an article I am posting on a popular automotive website I created, but if I had chosen to quote similar statements made by the company that employs me, covering the same topic... How credible would that be? I learned a log time ago that when more than one company, each of which fiercely competes with the other, make similar statements about a general design principle, best practice or marketing concept, there is probably some truth to it... Unless they are amongst the army of idiots out there telling car dealers that any content built using Flash will kill your site's SEO capabilities and cause cancer!
If you want to see some pretty cool automotive Flash website template examples from another source I have zero personal interest in, check out the site below that i just stumbled across by clicking in the image, and then clicking ion the Flash automotive site thumbnail images to open up the full template in a browser... Very cool special effects that command attention:
4. Do Not Use Content Duplication to Generate More Pages for Search Engine Indexing!
Let me confess right here and right now that I, along with a lot of other people, many of whom are a lot smarter than me, fell into the same trap of thinking that more pages indexed by search engines must be better... And, along with the "More is Better" insanity that many of us got caught up in regarding dealer website content, came the pondering of "What can I do to increase the number of pages that search engine spiders index when they crawl my dealer's website?"
. Of course, it doesn't take a genius to figure out where every dealer has a mother lode of content... YES, the dealer's inventory!!!! (used car manager use of exclamation marks is OK when I do it!) Yessssssssssssssss, we can be friggin' SEO geniuses! We'll generate a seperate web page for every single damned new and used car in the dealer's inventory and make sure the search engine spiders can find them... Oh my God, I am so f&^%ing BRILLIANT! Now, it gets worse... Yours truly, yes me, has fallen for this "Fool's Gold" automotive digital marketing road to Hell not once, but twice in my career... Both in my previous life at Reynolds and Reynolds (Reynolds Web Solutions) and in my current life at ADP's Digital Marketing group... But, even your dog gets smarter over time, and so have I.
Let me explain... During most of 2007 and 2008 my team at ADP Digital Marketing and BZ Results kept "getting our clocks cleaned" every time one of our salespeople went into a dealership to propose one of our website products to a dealer where the fine folks at Dealer.com had been... It seemed like on a daily basis our salespeople would call or send me an email after leaving a dealership with their tails between their legs, explaining their collapse during a sales presentation by saying something along the lines of:
"Uh, hey Ralph have you ever... like, did you know... MMMmmm, how do I say this without being disrespectful, OK here goes... Have you ever heard of doing a Google Search and putting the letters S-I-T-E followed by a colon, and then the dealer's website URL after it, and uh, hitting the enter key??? Cause, uh, well, dontcha know I just lost a 5 billion dollar sale to a 5,000 rooftop dealer group because the Dealer.com salesperson showed that to the dealer, and then he had one of our website URL's to put into Google that way, and had the dealer write down how many pages Google showed... Then, that rascally Dealer.com salesperson gave the dealer one of THEIR dealer websites to do the same thing with and, uh, your not gonna like this... but dont get mad at me, its not my fault! that darned Dealer.com site had like a bazillion more pages showing up in Google than ours did.... Oh my god... Do ya' think they might be hiring at Dealer.com?"
Here's an example of what the website salesperson was so flustered about:
Now, there is nothing that gets me more riled up than when the competition smacks down the morale of salespeople on my team... When that happened to me in a dealership, I would do everything, including taking stupid deals that would prove to my salespeople that we would not allow deals to be poached by Down The Road Motors
! So, right away, I thought back to the days when I worked with Stuart Lloyd and Ray Meyers after Reynolds purchase Third Coast Media, and how those guys came up with what we called "SpiderMAZE". Which was basically a dealer website technology that rendered separate web pages for each and every vehicle in stock... Yes, that was it! So, me and about half a dozen other people started rallying the war cry from within ADP... Several of our SEO gurus wrote "Development Requirements" and resources were poured into the project to create a new dealer website inventory listing application that would render search engine spider friendly dealer inventory detail pages. And, we were successful, and now we have dealer websites that show up with that same "SITE:abcmotors.com" Google page counts that are off the charts... Only, ADP has this really annoying habit of doing something called "Quality Assurance". And you know what? It turns out that indexing 50 identical Chevy WorkTrucks with their own web pages for each one creates something that Google and other search engines look at as "Duplicate Content". So what you say? More is better, right? WRONG!
Duplicate or redundant content has never and will never be a good thing when it comes to SEO
. Stay away from providing duplicated, repeating or similar enough to be redundant content across multiple dealer website pages. The Duplicate Content hammer comes down on a dealer's website when a search engine spider indexes a web page, and there is text based content on the page that is considered contextually redundant to other pages previous indexed... And, I learned the hard way that "But the VIN numbers are totally unique!" is no defense for what looks like the same page content, vehicle after vehicle for every Chevy, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Nissan you have in stock. Listen up all you chumps (like me and everyone else who fell for this trick), when you create page after page of essentially the same content in a website, the content gets purged from the search engine's indexing database... This might take a couple of hours, days, weeks or whatever, but at some point in time Google determines that a website with page after page of overly similar content is loaded with "Content Spam" and the site's quality score for consumer search results is reduced... A lot. Worse yet, if Google's artificial intelligence equipped indexing computers determine that the content duplication has been intentionally done to "fool" their system into raising the SERP position of the site, what many people call "Black Hat" or "Gray Hat" SEP tactics, the website is punished by knocking it down in the SERP listings... By as much as 30 positions! When it comes to artificially inflating your dealership website's page count by generating a lot of pages that are essentially the same... Just don’t do it! And, if you have a website that already serves up every vehicle in inventory, even if they are 90% the same, then use your site's Robot.txt files to block the essentially redundant content from wasting the search engine spider's time and hurting your site's SEO.
Think of it this way, if there were any value to be gained by having more web pages, rather than less, and the issues around duplicate and redundant inventory were not such a kick in the head, all the boys wonder out there peddling web sites would take each owners manual out of every model that a dealer sells, and then create a web page for every page in every owners manual, and voila... The SEO wars would be over! The fact is that boring, repetitious and irrelevant content do not give you some sort of express ticker to SEO super stardom... The search engines do not reward dealer websites for bullshit redundant and repetitious content like creating a web page for every single vehicle that is in stock, or ever came through the dealer's DMS... Think about that! You want a lot of web pages? More pages is better? Just go out and get one of these sites that renders a separate web page for every unit in stock, and then set it up so that no sold inventory is ever deleted... Yeah, that's the ticket! Hey, boss we got this SEO stuff all figured out... PLEASE, you are supposed to be digital marketing professionals, did you every really think that a bunch of identical pages with a different VIN number was really going to be what it takes to "Dominate the Search Engine Results? Because if you did, how about we forget about selling you a dealership website, because i have a deal on a bridge that connects Manhattan with Brooklyn, NY that is going to make you so much money you will forget how much I charged you for it...
Many of the people reading this article will recognize the name of an ADM Professional Community member, and who I also consider a friend, colleague and respected SEO professional by the name of Brian Pasch. Brian wrote a complete and through analysis of inventory applications used in dealer websites from the major providers, and in that same report Brian makes several statements regarding duplicated content, such as inventory page titles. Here are a couple of Brian Pasch's comments regarding duplicated content generated specifically by dealer inventory indexing:
"Take a Look at Your Indexed Pages
One of the most eye opening checkups an Internet Sales Manager can do is to list all the pages that Google has Indexed on your website. For many dealers, this is hundreds of pages. The key is to scan through the listing to see if you have dozens or hundreds of pages that have the SAME TITLE. If you do, take this as a warning. Get the matter fixed immediately!"
Brian goes on to state:
"Google specifically warns in their guidelines that each page should have a UNIQUE page title"
Ahhhhh... See any duplicate Page Titles in the snapshot of the Google.com search "site:bradfrancischevy.com" a few inches above? Now, before i get all the phone calls and nasty-gram emails from Mike Dececco, Dean Evans and the other stakeholders over at Dealer.com, let me clarify a couple of things... First of all, I genuinely consider Dealer.com to be a company that provides high quality dealer websites at competitive prices. Secondly, the company I work for has made similar mistakes in regards to duplicated Page Titles, redundant content due to indexing every vehicle inventory detail page, etc. Heck, I was in the same chorus line as so many others at ADP and BZ Results that sang the "We Gotta Index Every Inventory Detail Page" song... However, there are plenty of dealer website companies that commit far greater sins than overly redundant Page Titles!
Besides, I like picking on Dealer.com about this now debunked "feature" of their dealer websites because I always kind of sensed that there was a bullshit odor in the air about their claims related to showing dealers how to "Dominate Google".... PLEASE, did anyone really
believe that a dealer website company based in Burlington, Vermont has discovered Kryptonite for use on Google's Superman search engine cape?
Not only that, but I know several of the people at Dealer.com and they are not only great people to work with, they are strong enough to handle a little criticism based on their salespeople making exaggerated claims related to their product features... Of course, this may be something most car dealers will have a hard time relating to.
Lastly, it wouldn't be fair for me to quote Brian Pasch from his Car Dealer Inventory Modules SEO Ratings Report
without citing his conclusions after evaluating 15 of the top dealership website providers... Here's what Brian stated:
"The only inventory platforms to get a perfect score were eBizAutos and DealerON. The Pasch Consulting Group is not affiliated with any of the car dealer platform reviewed in this article. The Pasch ConsultingGroup has not been compensated for this research by any car dealer or automotive dealer platform."
But, you are saying "waaaahhhhh... I want all my inventory indexed!". OK, quit stamping your feet and whining like an investment banker who has a $500,000 cap on annual bonus payments because his bank took TARP funds... Google makes it VERY easy to submit your entire inventory every single day to Google Base so that it is always updated and available for consumers searching for what you have in stock... It's called Google Base
. OK, stop yawning... Otherwise, just get over it, there is simply no way to use duplicated and obviously redundant content that has little unique value to the consumers using search engines, like listing every single one of your inventory detail pages with its own web page to somehow get the upper hand in your digital marketing strategy... Just try to remember this when being seduced by claims of "Yes, YOU too can dominate Google doggy style like our other dealers by...
" If you really want to use website content to your advantage, start by writing lots of genuinely unique and interesting content that automotive consumers actually would like to see and read... Doh. Wouldn't that be a lot easier then paying for Digital Snake Oil?
Sheesh, why not start building web pages for every part you have in stock, starting with the year, make and model the part is for as the Page Title followed by the OEM part numbers.... OH NO, Here we go again!
This article continues with Content categories 5 through 8 in Part 2 of 2..
located online at: http://www.automotivedigitalmarketing.com/profiles/blogs/optimizing...