Automotive Digital Marketing

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SEO is ruining the car business. 

Its an awkward thing to write as the president of an SEO company that serves car dealers. Inherently, SEO should be a good thing...nay...a great thing. A core marketing practice that benefits consumers by allowing them to find the products and services they are looking for -- YOUR products and services! A good thing indeed!

The problem is, it seems there are thousands of companies practicing Search Engine Fraud and calling themselves SEO companies. In most verticals they are fairly easy to spot. They offer $99/month services and "work for very established executive firm with 600 professionals in India." But in automotive retail, the problem is much worse. Sure, you might get emails from the overseas spam companies too, but they're likely not the ones ruining your business.

The problem with automotive SEO, is that the people who have already earned your trust seem to have no problem taking a little more of your money, telling you they've got you covered and then destroying your online presence. I'm talking about your website provider. Yup, your website provider -- no no... trust me, yours too.

The problem is two-fold, and sadly, car dealers are also partially at fault. It’s not so much that they are to blame, its just human nature. When you find out you need to spend money on something new, naturally, you don't want to add an expense -- and if you have to add one, you want it to be cheap and easy. Duh! Right?

There is nothing cheap and easy about SEO, though. Sure, there was a time when it was. But that time has come, gone, passed and is barely even a glimmer in the sea of what SEO has evolved to become. The other issue is the desire for one-stop shopping; the vendor-do-it-all approach. In some cases, a really ancient and useless business model plays a role as well -- "the ad agency." Where you get to pay someone to find people to charge you money. Seriously? Why is anyone still doing this!? Pay to pay?

What has happened is that you have asked people with no expertise to provide expertise -- BUT cheap. SEO is an online thing right? So the online guys should handle it! And if they're already in your website, what better way? MAKES PERFECT SENSE! Except that automotive website providers don't do custom -- and SEO is all about custom. (I know, every website provider talks about their custom approach and customizability and lots of words that are just like the word custom. There's no custom.)

For the automotive website provider its all about scalability. Understand, that’s not a bad thing. Most of the websites that car dealers use would cost $100,000 or more (2-3 times more in some cases) if they were retaining the services of a custom provider. So website providers are doing you a favor by taking on the R & D to make it all scalable and able to fit in to a nice affordable monthly package. 

The problem is they've mistakenly tried to apply that mentality to a service that does not scale in that way. The - make it quick and easy and automatic - may be what the dealer ordered, but its killing you. Marketing isn't quick and easy. There's a reason only 18% of TV ads are successful at producing ROI. The same applies to online marketing. Its about quality. Its about connecting your brand or products or services or whatever your message is that make you - just you - special. You can't automate that. You can't write an algorithm for success. That takes the expertise and ingenuity of... dare I say... EXPERTS!

Naturally, you'll wonder why this is just become a problem now. For simplicity sake, I'm just going to talk Google for a minute. It’s all about Google. "It" gets smarter every day. At this point, it’s really smart. Scary smart. Not perfect, but really frighteningly smart. It’s not about keyword density and links anymore. Sure, those things still matter too, but Google can "look" at your site now. It "sees" a site like a person. It recognizes ease of use and ease of navigation. It understands written language. "It knows" when you just crammed a keyword in a paragraph for the sake of the keyword or if it fits within the context of the sentence, the paragraph, the article, related articles that link to the article and so on. Scary. Smart. 

What’s worse, "it judges" and ultimately punishes. That’s where the scalability problem comes in. Many of the older techniques website providers have used for scalability and to offer SEO services the quick and dirty way are now direct violations of Google's Webmaster GuidelinesLet me say that again, YOUR WEBSITE PROVIDER IS VIOLATING GOOGLE'S WEBMASTER GUIDELINES. Yes, yours too.

There are no plans for these vendors to change what they are doing either. The saddest part is that most if not all could make the necessary changes with little to no cost other than minor code modifications. BUT, they would have to stop their "SEO package" and that would cost them revenue. 

Therein lies the rub.

I've worked really hard to get any website provider to acknowledge the problem. The bottom line is, they think you as a dealer are too stupid to realize that you are paying extra to lessen your exposure. And, they have too much invested in R & D to abandon it for the "good of the dealer."

This is why SEO will N E V E R be a realistic service for a website provider to offer. It will always directly conflict with their business model. SEO is constantly changing. Website providers do R & D to produce duplicatable, scalable options that can be rolled out globally and last for a period of time to recoup the R & D. It doesn't work.

Whats the solution? Where do you go from here? First, prove to yourself that I am right. This is very easy to do. I'll give you a few simple steps:

1) - This is a free online tool. Plug in your website address. It gives you a grade on a 0-100 scale. If you have a real SEO service, your grade will be at least a 75 or higher. Make sure you see that it’s the SEO section that is giving you the score and not social media or some other aspect.

2) Click on some different pages of your website. Look at the title of your browser window its the bar above where you type in a web address in the container of the window itself. Does it look like this:

ABC Nissan | Nissan Dealer in Anytown | 2014 Altima 2.5S in Anytown

If so, you're paying to destroy your SEO.

3) Log in to the back end of your website. Go to the part where you can add or edit pages. There is probably a section for "Meta Data" (or worse there isn't one because they're hiding it from you). If you can see it does it look something like this:

[Dealer Name] | [OEM] [Vehicle1] [DealerCity1] | [OEM Cars for sale in [DealerCity1]

If so, you're paying to destroy your SEO.

If you can't see your meta data, ask your rep to turn it on. Do they refuse or give you a run around? ALL of the website providers have the ability to turn this on for you, but most will try their hardest to keep this feature away from you so you don't "mess it up."

4) Do you have Google's webmaster tools configured for your dealership? IMPORTANT: THIS IS NOT THE SAME AS GOOGLE ANALYTICS THIS IS ENTIRELY DIFFERENT. Again it is called, Google Webmaster Tools. If not, ask your website provider to configure it. You should use the same account you use to access your google analytics. 

Once in Webmaster tools choose your site and select "Search Appearance" from the left sidebar navigation. Within section choose HTML improvements. That will bring up a page that reports on the various forms of meta data on your website. Are they all zeros? If not, your website provider is destroying your SEO...and now Google is telling you they are doing it. 

OK now you believe. Whats next?

1) Stop them! Stop paying for something that is a lie. It’s not SEO and it’s not a service. Its an automated process that is ruining your website and your ability to rank in search.

2) Get educated and/or get help. Either dedicate internal resources in the training and ongoing education of a staff member to manage the digital marketing of your dealership or hire a company that does only that without conflict of interest. Sure, I'd love it if everyone just called my company to do it, but there are a handful of good SEO companies out there who can undo the damage your website provider caused and then provide a real SEO service that will benefit your business. 

OK forget about my soap box for a moment. The best part about the reality here is that 90% of dealers will do nothing about this. could! That would give you an INCREDIBLE competitive edge against all of your competition who will either never read this or not do anything about this. 

Think about it this way. The site quality among dealers is so low (because web providers have been doing this for so long) that even a little improvement would give you an edge to rank in search. An edge that other dealers wouldn't be able to compete with without taking the steps mentioned here. Isn't that worth trying what I suggest?

OMG! You're still saying it? "Not my website provider!" No really, yours too! The one with all the awards? Yup! That one! Even awards given from that SEO company thats supposed to be so great? YES! Even the awards I saw them get at that conference where I learned so much?! YES! THEM TOO! 

Don't take my word for it. Check. Now sound off! What did you find out? Post your results.

Views: 1466

Tags: SEO, company, engine, optimization, search


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Comment by Timothy Martell on September 22, 2013 at 3:24am

Thanks for ther feedback, Bill. You're right. The standard is, "What is the lowest common denominator?" Its sizzle and no steak. The worst part is that its not just the dealers who are being duped by this crap. You see OEM's being wow'd because they have a fancy powerpoint presentation or a fancy reporting GUI. But no one is taking the time to look at what is actually being measured and whether or not it has any real value.

Again, thanks for your feedback.

Comment by Bill Cosgrove on September 21, 2013 at 3:33pm

Tim, Great article. There are many areas where business needs to wake up and smell the coffee. SEO is not as apparent as some of the topics I address regarding some business practices that I fail to understand.

With digital marketing being one of the driving factors of a successful business today you would think that the the ones at the top would want to educate themselves enough to be able to measure the results they are getting.

If saving money is at or near the top of the list you are going to get sub-standard service and performance in your marketing and your management.

And thanks again for the compliment on my blog-it meant a great deal.

Comment by Sergey Marchuk on September 18, 2013 at 5:49pm

:) I'm not an idiot; I know when I was wrong and am man enough to admit it.

Thanks @ compliment about my blog. I'd link to my automotive stuff in my profile but the company I've built is still in "launch mode" (hit a few speed bumps) so I'm not entirely comfortable with sharing a non-ready website/service :S

Comment by Timothy Martell on September 17, 2013 at 8:11pm

Thanks very much for the honest reply, Serge. My critique was not about keyword stuffing (which is not the case with under 70 characters), though I agree true stuffing is a bad practice. Glad to hear you are joining the forum, I look forward to seeing your posts. 

Serge, have you worked with many dealers that have invested in truly custom websites? I am surprised to hear you mention working with dealers who have, I would expect this to be very rare.

I disagree with your assessment of content for dealers. It is because of the repetitive nature of product inventory, that unique content is typically so lacking on car dealer websites. Yes, Google is pretty good at figuring things out, but it is far from fool proof. Thats why rel=canonical exists. 400 new vehicles in inventory aren't the end of the story. Most dealer website providers create dynamic pages on the fly every time a user runs search criteria. Those pages continue to build, do not disappear, get indexed, get loaded with duplicate content, use no structure to advise crawls and there is no way for a user in the back end to edit or remove them.

The basic bullet points you illustrate might be fine for the casual user trying to rank their blog, but that doesn't scale when you're building hundreds of landing pages to specifically target keywords surrounded by high quality content written for the user designed for conversion. Having hundreds or thousands of garbage pages on the site hurt the global structure. It ruins domain authority. It ruins the proportional nature of product to content pages to the point that it becomes more and more difficult to rank for each additional target keyword. Add a blog in a subdirectory to that and the problem can become greatly exacerbated. 

I'm not saying your simplified explanation is wrong, its just not the whole story. There's a big difference in what it takes to rank a site for a few good keywords vs hundreds amplifying google impressions 5-10 times and tripling and quadrupling website traffic and leads. The larger the scope, the less simple it becomes. The link structure becomes very complex. Creating citation at that level requires a level of expertise that does not fit within your bullet points. 

To truly provide a business class SEO service each one of your bullet points have multiple comprehensive strategies within them. Its not so simple. 

Oh and I believe you now (about the trolling lol!).

Your son, Joshua, is adorable by the way. Nice blog. Glad to know you're a real person and not another disrupter. You'll find that they are a plenty here. Look me up on Facebook: I'd be interested to talk to you at greater length some time. Thanks again for your contribution.

Comment by Sergey Marchuk on September 17, 2013 at 5:11pm

Well, this is awkward. You're totally right: I mainly skimmed over the article (what caught my eye is that SEO is "destroying the car business" and I just had to disagree with that point, so I apologize for not reading through the entire post (I was in a hurry. I've read through it now...). 

Having said that, I rarely deal with dealerships that use a website provider to manage their inventory specifically because of the issues you've mentioned above, so I agree that in many cases, dealerships are throwing money out the window. Website Providers are nowhere near as flexible as a standalone website (even a WordPress one), and that rigidity is killing their ability to gain exposure and make sales.


Practicing what you preach: I was addressing the fact that you're essentially saying keyword stuffing is bad in titles, yet your website does it (using the same dividers you brought up in your example).

Responsiveness vs Duplicate Content: I've seen examples where websites with "blog" sections containing nothing but copy-pasted content outranked websites like for competitive terms. Google is smart enough to realize that content might be duplicate and does not grant the website a penalty for it; it simply chooses not to index those posts/pages/cars/inventory. However, if Google sees that each "duplicate content item" is slightly different, it will index it (albeit not as highly as if it were unique).

I've seen this in action plenty of times; SEO Reviews of websites (i.e. the website spits out almost the same wording for each website that it "reviews" yet the separate SEO Reviews rank fairly well), so in that case, duplicate content (different car listings) wouldn't be as big of an issue as when a mobile user can't view the site very easily due to it not being responsive. Google would see that your site isn't very mobile friendly and possibly rank your competitor's responsive site above your's. See this 2012 study if you're unsure of the implications.

Bashing SEO Companies: I didn't realize you were talking about the website providers' "SEO Services", my bad.

Rocket Science: SEO is simple. I stand by that. Google looks for the basics:

  • Content - this would be the cars that are for sale, making sure that on page SEO Basics are taken care of, etc..
  • User Experience - this is how fast your website loads (no one wants to wait 30 seconds in the information age) and how "friendly" it is for the different users (Desktop, mobile, etc.)
  • Authority - This would be your off page SEO, consisting of incoming links, social interactions (likes, +1s, etc.)
  • Ease of Crawl-ability - This is how easy it is for Google's spiders to crawl your website and figure out exactly what it is you're offering. This has to do with creating a sitemap, having follow or nofollow links, using ALT and TITLE tags on your images and links, etc.

As for my profile being void of information; I literally registered to reply to your post. I will be updating and using this website more often now that I've found it. And I really was not meaning to 'stir your pot', but I do find it very ironic that you're talking about title tags and your website has the exact thing you're telling dealerships that they shouldn't be doing.

See you around,


Comment by Timothy Martell on September 17, 2013 at 2:48pm

Thanks for commenting Sergey. Though, I have to say, I find it hard to take too seriously any feedback that starts with, "I'm not trying to troll or anything, but..." That said, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt.

I have to wonder if you read the entire article or just skimmed. The synopsis basically says that the problem isn't SEO, but the BS automation website providers are masquerading as SEO that are killing dealer websites. The example you reference isn't designed to imply that you should NEVER (never say never) use more than one title tag but that the format outlined was that of an automated merge code designed to put the same title tags on hundreds of pages - duplicate title tags.

Car dealer website providers charge money to dealers for this "service" which is most certainly, a contributing factor to destroying their SEO.

The assertion that we do not practice what we preach is wholly unfounded. We do EXACTLY what we preach. 

Furthermore, how responsive (mobile friendly) a website is is not more important than not having 400 pages with duplicate content on it, which nearly all dealer websites are plagued by. 

"I respect your taking the initiative to educate car dealers (it's no easy task) but please don't mislead by bashing other SEO companies."

Please point out specifically which SEO company was bashed in this article.

You are correct, SEO is not rocket science. In fact, the google algorithm consists of more variables than one must take into consideration when putting an object in orbit. So perhaps it would be better said that rocket science is not SEO.

Again, with the context of an ADM profile that is rather devoid of content, it is a bit difficult to take you seriously when you're "not trying to troll or anything..." Assertions like, "I've ranked quite a few dealerships for some competitive [local] terms for fairly cheap in the past." also make it difficult to take your commentary seriously. What does that even mean? How many is quite a few? 5? 10? 100? 500? How do you define "some competitive keywords?" Or "fairly cheap?"

The basis for this article is predicated on data collected from hundreds of dealer websites across hundreds of thousands of indexed web pages. Our services rank dealers for an average of 150 keywords based on conversion CTR and EMT unique to each market and demographic segment all while taking into account the uniqueness of the specific dealer's value proposition.

In short, by all means, provide an opposing viewpoint, but back it up. You assert that statements were made in the article that were not, suggest that the topic was ultimately different than that articulated and begin by "not trolling." Perhaps you'd like to re-read the article to find out what it was actually about. 

I will certainly be interested to read your article once published. Feel free to post a link to it in my thread. I'm not worried about any hijacking... 

Comment by Sergey Marchuk on September 17, 2013 at 1:53pm

@Timothy Martell. I'm not trying to troll or anything, but if you're touting to be the president of an SEO Agency, you should practice what you preach. This is in regards to your statement about Titles of a website:

2) Click on some different pages of your website. Look at the title of your browser window its the bar above where you type in a web address in the container of the window itself. Does it look like this:

ABC Nissan | Nissan Dealer in Anytown | 2014 Altima 2.5S in Anytown

If so, you're paying to destroy your SEO.

Yet the title tag on YOUR website reads:

<title>SEO Company | Internet Marketing Company | Digital Marketing Agency</title>

It's all good educating dealerships on what is good and bad for SEO, but do keep in mind that in order to sell your services [to an intelligent crowd], you need to practice what you're preaching.

I've done SEO for dealerships in the past and I can tell you that having relevant keywords in the title does not hurt your overall SEO.

More important for SEO is how responsive (mobile friendly) the website is, how fresh your content is, and how interactive it is.

I respect your taking the initiative to educate car dealers (it's no easy task) but please don't mislead by bashing other SEO companies. Sure, there are many frauds out there, but SEO is NOT rocket science. I've ranked quite a few dealerships for some competitive [local] terms for fairly cheap in the past.

SEO is not destroying the car business; it's making it possible for dealerships to reach out to audiences that they would not have been able to before (with local ads) for cheaper. What IS destroying the car business is the lack of education in how to properly optimize a website for Search Engines. 

I didn't want to hijack your article (I'll be writing a bit on this myself in the future), but I just wanted to jump in and give my input.

Comment by Timothy Martell on September 2, 2013 at 10:38am

Also, we guarantee brand exclusivity for our clients. So if a Nissan dealer in Woburn, MA were to hire us, no Nissan Dealer they compete with would be able to hire us. We also realize that sometimes your biggest competition might not be the next closest dealer. So while we do guarantee exclusivity by radius, we also allow our clients to name 1 or 2 clients outside of the guaranteed radius (depending on program) to ensure we never have a conflict of interest when representing our SEO clientele. 

(No charge for that link, Mike - lol)

Comment by Timothy Martell on September 2, 2013 at 10:30am

Well said, Mike! While we try to maintain active communication with our clients, we recognize that sometimes, they might not tell us something important, like a website changeover. Thats why we back up every piece of content we create for our clients. This way nothing is lost...ever.

Comment by Mike Warwick on September 2, 2013 at 8:25am

If you have a company that actually does SEO for you, be very careful when you upgrade your website to a newer version.  Many website providers do not bring over the custom SEO you have done in the past.  You need to specifically request that all custom on-site SEO be transferred to the new website.

Great article Tim! I hope people start to realize that if you are paying $500+ a month for "Managed SEO," you would be better off giving it to a salesperson as a spiff.  Don't waste your money paying your website vendor for SEO. Use some common sense, if you and three of your competitors all use the same website vendor and all pay for managed SEO, who gets the good stuff and who gets screwed? The answer is simple - you all get screwed!  The website vendor cannot give one store a competitive advantage so everyone gets one scoop of vanilla SEO.  There's a reason why one major website vendor was closed from Friday to Tuesday - they can afford to with so many people paying $500+ a month for a non-existent service.

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