Search Engine Optimization for Car Dealers
What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)? Search Engine Optimization is like picking the right category for advertising your business in yellow pages. Well, in all honesty it's a bit more complicated than that but this is our simple definition: search engine optimization is researching how people search for businesses like yours, adjusting your website content to be found by such searches and using various other techniques to increase the popularity of your website. We will delve into the nitty-gritty below but for a detailed definition, see Wikipedia Search Engine Optimization definition.
Why should I care? Because it means more sales. You may have spent thousands of dollars on building your dealer website and it may look really slick and cool with graphics but it does not mean increased sales per se. You need search engine optimization for your website to be found by prospective customers. You may even have been told by the providers of your website that your website is search engine optimized. The bottom line is, if you do not see increased sales due to customers finding you from your website, your website still needs SEO. Read on for more information on how to do that.
First of all, what is a search engine and which ones do we care about? A search engine is a site where Internet users go for searching things online. There are thousands of search engines out there but really you should care about the top three: Google, Yahoo and Microsoft/MSN/Bing. Google captures about 65% of the searches, Yahoo follows with about 15% and Bing (Microsoft search engine that replaced MSN and Microsoft search) has about 10% share (For more updated results see Searchenginewatch.com). So if you get the top rankings in these 3 search engines, you get about 90% of the searches worldwide. Obviously Google is the most important one.
Unlike some people may lead you to believe, Search Engine Optimization is FREE - if you know how to do it. When an Internet user searches for something on Google/Yahoo/Bing, there are two sections in the search results - one is paid (or sponsored) and the other one is not. You can pay to be in the sponsored area for certain keywords (buying a keyword) but you cannot pay to be on top of the search results. For that, you need search engine optimization. In similar vein, SEO is frequently confused with Adwords and Online Directories. Adwords are typically services that place you on various websites - not search engine results. Online directories are like yellow pages and may or may not be part of your search engine optimization efforts.
So what do these SEO companies do? They help with your search engine optimization - something you can do by yourself as well. You probably want to learn how to do it yourself, considering the average prices here. Even if you decide to use an SEO consultant, you still want to be educated about it. Some of these firms actually are not so reputable and use what we can call "shady practices" (see below).
Here is your SEO plan:
Step 1 - Keyword Research: Find the keywords relevant to your dealership. How do the majority of your prospects search for your cars? For example, if you are a used car dealership in San Diego, chances are they might be using keywords like: san diego used cars, san diego used car, used cars in san diego, etc. To the untrained eye, there is virtually no difference between these terms. In reality, "san diego used cars" is searched about twice as much as "san diego used car" in U.S. and nearly three times more than "used cars in san diego". Google provides a great tool for researching your keywords: Google Keyword Tool. You can research your keywords and find the ones you want to optimize your site for. Select 1-3 initially and you can extend them in the future.
Step 2 - Use your Keywords: Now that you determined your keywords, you need to use them in your website content. How you add them to your website changes depending on how you got your website, so we will not touch that. Contact us if you need help with search engine optimization. There are 5 places where you can use the keywords
- URL: This is the best place to use the keyword. If you can, get a domain name with the keyword. This will get you high up in the rankings.
- Title: Title of the page. This is not the same thing as the title you write at the beginning of the page. It is the HTML title tag.
- Keywords: Keywords meta tag. This is not seen by the human eye and it is meant for search engines.
- Description: Description meta tag. This is not seen by the human eye and it is meant for search engines.
- Content: The actual content of the page.
You want to use the keywords in these places frequently - but not too extensively. Beyond a certain point the search engines may find it too much. The key is to write original, relevant content to your keywords. Search engines have a very complicated algorithm and nobody can tell you exactly what number of keyword usage and in what order would get you the highest rankings (maybe a Google engineer would be able to do it but even if they could tell you, they have a lot of other things to do other than helping a few sites get the highest ranking). In general, you should keep your keywords per page less than 3-4 and use each keyword at least twice.
Step 3 - Get Links: Search engines tend to show popular sites first. Popularity is determined by number of other websites that have links to your website. The more sites and pages link to your site, the more popular you are and the higher you rank with your keywords. How do you get your links? There are a lot of ways. If some of your friends or members of your family have websites, you can ask them to put links to your site. If you have a facebook or twitter page, you can post a link there. If you have other websites, put links from there. Internal links count as well (to a lesser extent). Have your pages link to each other. There are a few online directories you can submit your website to (yellowpages, yahoo, dmoz, Google Local Business Center, etc.) - most of them are free. Besides these efforts, advertising your website in other offline channels like newspaper ads, etc. may generate other links. There are so many ways but all of them take time (at least the honorable ones). In general, your links will increase with time.
Finally, you need to monitor how your website ranks with your keywords regularly. Google has a set of utilities called webmaster tools and they provide information about how Google sees your website. Another service they provide is called Google Analytics. Both of these services are free and you can use them to monitor how your site is doing in search results. One last thing, when it comes to search results, age matters. Older pages tend to be ranked higher. Do not be surprised if your rankings go up as time goes by even if you do not do anything.
Shady SEO Techniques
These SEO methods are generally frowned upon and may cause your site to be "banned" from search results.
- Link Farms: There are some companies that you can pay to be added to a link farm. A link farm is a set of websites that link to each other. Search engines have alerts for such farms.
- Tag Cloud: This is basically a box with keywords in them. It does not look very aesthetic and it is generally not very helpful, either. Search engines typically have a semantic processor (they can detect non-natural juxtaposition of keywords) and filter out irrelevant areas like tag clouds. It may even cause your rankings to decline.
- Invisible Text: Invisible text is text you can put to your page that does not show. Any kind of invisible text in your page is considered bad practice by search engines. Search engines typically do not see the pages as you see it and have a tough time understanding which text is visible and which one is not. When they do detect such cases, they do not award it with high rankings.
How does this help me?
You should utilize the SEO techniques listed above to attract more customers. If you display your inventory in your website, you should not be using frames. Frames are pages inside pages. Some dealer inventory software companies provide inventory display services in your website using frames. For example, if you see a scroll bar in the middle of your inventory listing page, your dealer software company is returning results through a frame. Customers searching for your cars in your area are not likely to find your website if this is the case. Search engines see that frames come from another site, not yours. They are not directly linked to your search results. (You may wonder why they do not like frames - it is because frames can be used for invisible text - see above).
So, what is the alternative? There is another technology called web services. You should be displaying your inventory using web services to connect to your dealer software provider or database. You should use your keywords in car detail pages as well as listing pages. You should probably have a summary section for each vehicle in the listing page for better search engine optimization and use your keywords there as well. Generally speaking, your location + cars is the general keyword formula for dealers. If you are in Dallas and you sell Honda, some potential keywords you may use: dallas honda, dallas honda cars, dallas used honda, dallas honda crv, etc.
Carsinia provides such an inventory listing service. Contact us for more information.