Even though standard advertising channels persist in the Internet age, digital marketing is rapidly growing as brands recognize the ease in which they can reach their audience. Car dealerships can’t rely solely on the old standbys of 30-second TV spots, 60-second radio, and weekend print ads anymore. As consumer shopping habits continue to evolve and more people turn to the Internet, car dealerships need to understand and utilize the digital landscape. Digital marketing includes not just display advertising and search engine marketing, but search engine optimization, user-friendly web design, online reputation management, and online reviews tracking. To drive more customers to your location you need to implement proper local automotive SEO.
Prior to my current role, I spent two years managing marketing efforts for nine dealerships, and it was evident to me that strategic online advertising and search engine optimization was an essential component for attracting new customers. In my experience, leaving the TV to the OEM’s (Original Equipment Manufacturers) was evolving to be the best practice. Why fight for costly airtime when your money could be better spent on website updates, improving search engine rankings for certain local keywords, and working with local organizations to increase your visibility and trust in the community?
Over time, our dealerships’ marketing focus began to center around all things digital: PPC, Display, SEO, and online reviews. TV and radio were “necessary evils” that became increasingly difficult to tie back to positive ROI.
Digital efforts are essential for Local Car Dealerships for the following reasons:
- On average, car buyers spend about 12 hours searching the Internet when looking to purchase a vehicle. The Internet remains the #1 source for new vehicle research.
- Car buyers look at approximately 10 dealership websites before they become a qualified lead.
2015 market spending trends show that 28% of marketers reduced their advertising budget to fund more digital marketing while TV ad spends have remained flat, if they haven’t been cut back. Newspapers have also been hit by a 10% average decline in ad spending. Local news has been the hardest affected, experiencing an 11.6% decrease in 2014 vs. 2013. Meanwhile, in 2014 alone, the digital media spending in the U.S. jumped 15% to account for 30% of the market share.
Results from the August 2015 CMO Survey indicate that companies expect to increase spending on digital marketing 12.2% over the next 12 months, while traditional advertising lags with a growth rate of -2.1%.
Need more proof of the power of digital? These trends are projected to continue over the next five years. Unlike digital, traditional ad revenues will remain flat, and analysts estimate that the total annual growth rate will only be around .04%.
As customers continue to shift more of their research and purchasing online, companies are following them. For instance, take Google’s continuously growing ad revenues and significant increase in mobile usage. The digital consumer doesn’t seem to be slowing down, and neither is the digital marketer.
So, what does this mean for car dealerships?
Historically, car dealers could just list their inventory in local papers or run a few gimmicky TV commercials and expect foot traffic and phone calls. Now, shoppers start their search on websites like EveryCarListed.com or TrueCar. Buyers compare dealerships, pricing, and online reviews before ever calling a dealership, contacting them via a web form, and most definitely before walking through the doors. Therefore, car dealership marketing efforts need to change to keep up with the times. Your presence online and in your local community can bear more fruit than any TV spot ever will.
If you’re are stuck running outdated marketing tactics, the following local automotive SEO strategies can help you push your local car dealership ad efforts into the future. While these tips will work great for car dealerships, any business serving a local area can implement these as well.
10 Tips for Local Automotive SEO
1. Your website matters
“You only get one chance to make a first impression” they say, and your website is the only first impression that over 90% of your potential buyers will get – so make it a good one! As of March 2015, there were close to 18,000 dealerships in the US. With the ease of purchasing online and the reach that each dealership has outside of their designated market area (DMA), more than ever your website needs to rank well to stand out against the competition. The goal is to have a website that is purposefully designed and maintained in such a way that you can rank high within Google’s search results.
Here are some quick tips:
- Aim for at least 400 words on your homepage
- Be sure to include your address and phone number on all pages of your site as well as all of the cities you serve
- Be sure your pages include a title tag, H1, meta description and image alt text and title if applicable
- Add a search bar and social sharing plugins
2. Provide content that’s useful
Search engines love fresh and relevant content. Digital content marketing efforts should focus on creating relevant and unique content that your customers will find valuable.
Does your dealership provide new and interesting content? Most dealers’ website changes are limited to updating inventory or listing any monthly specials. If your site’s content is limited to these routine updates it will be difficult for you to outrank your competitors.
Instead, create a blog or news section of the site with information about the cars you sell so you can add value to your potential customers. A good way to create local content that people in your DMA will want to read is by having someone in your IT department or social media team (if you have one) write a weekly blog post between 350-500 words. Remember, it isn’t all about you. Be a good steward of the community. Topics should include information that people actually want to know about. This could include:
- local events
- upcoming model launches specific to your brand(s)
- charity or fundraising opportunities
- local neighborhood news
- community construction that could impact residents and/or traffic
Car topics should also be written about regularly. Consider including tips on seasonal car maintenance, new model launches, current specials, holiday events, etc. Each post should be locally optimized, which means they include city and state information, along with title tags, alt text, and meta descriptions. Also do not forget to include an embedded GMB (Google My Business) map to your blog posts or the homepage of your site.
Of course, it’s important to include high-quality and unique images and/or videos with your car listings to help increase potential customers’ interest in your vehicle. Keeping the site fresh with daily or weekly updates and including unique and valuable information can set you apart from your competitors and will lead to improvements in your website’s rankings in search results.
3. Claim your Google My Business page
If you haven’t already, you need to claim your business listing on Google My Business. It is a fast and easy way for businesses, products, brands, artists, and organizations to manage their online presence with Google.
A Google My Business page that contains the right information about your business can have a positive impact not only on your online traffic, but can make your business easier to find for individuals to view your inventory.
When setting up your account, be sure to have all of your contact details listed correctly, categories selected, times listed, a profile and header image as well as a description of your business. Ensure that the name, address and phone number (also known as NAP) associated with your business is listed in the exact same format on your Google My Business page and your website. You should always use the exact same NAP layout on all sites mentioning your business.
4. Implement Schema Mark-up
Schema mark-up has been around for years, but is still being utilized by only a handful of websites. Integrating schema mark-up into your website can give you a leg up on your competition.
So what is schema?
Schema mark-up is an addition of code to your website to help search engines and site crawlers better understand the content on your site. It tells search engines not only what your data says, but what it means. For example, schema mark-up can be used to help search engines understand that the number listed on your website is a phone number. Or, it can help convey the difference between new and used inventory. It can also be used to identify user reviews and their rating of your business on a 1 – 5 scale. Schema is also used by Google’s Knowledge graph.
Below is an example of schema markup influencing Google’s Knowledge graph for a local car dealership:
Schema can also power Google’s knowledge graph, increase user click through rates, and assist (even if indirectly) in improving search rankings. Studies have shown that websites using schema mark-up, on average, rank four positions higher than those that do not use schema mark-up. This higher ranking improves click through rates due to visibility. In short, websites that implement schema markup help search engines serve users higher-quality search results.
Pro Tip: Great schema mark-up options for car dealer websites include ‘hours of operation’, ‘address’, ‘reviews’, and ‘telephone’, to name a few. If you don’t have AutoDealer schema you should definitely add it to the backend of your site.
5. Get Citations
Mentions of your business’s name and address on other websites help validate your credibility in a community and establish trust with search engines and potential customers. These citations are important to help you rank highly in search engines such as Google and Bing. You can work to get your site listed on your local chamber of commerce website, reputable business directories, Facebook, and Yelp to name a few.
Using an aggregator tool is the easiest way to get more citations. When you use tools like Moz Local or Yext, your dealership’s details are published across a wide variety of directory sites in a way that ensures your Name, Address, and Phone number are listed consistently.
A visual example of how these aggregators push your information out can be seen below.
6. Increase the number of local organizations linking to your website
Inbound links from trusted websites are important if you want to improve your website’s ranking. Obtaining links from local websites and organizations can improve your site’s ability to rank highly for location-based search queries like “Car Dealers in Washington DC.”
To obtain these local links, car dealerships should think about all of the sponsorships and community events they participate in throughout a given year. These are great starting points for local links. For example, if you are donating to a local children’s charity, be sure you’re listed as a sponsor on the charity’s website. Many dealerships are already involved with local non-profits, sports teams, and car meet-ups. Obtaining mentions and links from these local groups can be as simple as requesting to be acknowledged as a sponsor or participant on the organization’s website. It never hurts to ask!
7. Mine Your Analytics
Maybe you don’t see yourself as an analytics buff, but website analytics can help your business in many ways. Analytics can help you identify your most popular content, top landing pages on your site from search engines, top website referrals, and discover which marketing efforts lead to the most conversions. A weekly review of your website analytics can keep you on top of which marketing efforts are working and which should be dumped.
8. Protect Your Reputation By Earning Positive Reviews
92% of consumers read online reviews and 40% of individuals form an opinion about a product or service based on just 1 to 3 reviews (Jones, Ross. SEO Meetup Presentation.(2015, October 29). You may be losing measurable leads if your online rating is lower than 3 stars. Only 13% of individuals will do business with an organization that has an average review ranking of 1 or 2 stars (Jones, Ross. SEO Meetup Presentation.(2015, October 29).
To begin protecting your reputation by earning positive reviews, you’ll want to capture any low-hanging fruit by getting in touch with your existing customer base and inviting them to provide feedback on your business. Existing customers can help you identify if your business needs to make improvements or adjustments.
Next, after each sale, send an email to the customer asking if they were satisfied with their service/purchase. Most dealerships have very detailed questionnaires after a purchase. There are vendors that provide a service to dealerships that include a questionnaire and allow positive reviews to be automatically posted to social media and auto review sites. However, if you choose to not go through a vendor and your customer claims to have had a positive experience, you can ask them to leave a review on sites like Google My Business or Yelp. Other great sites for auto reviews include Cars.com, DealerRater and Edmunds.com.
Make it easy for your customers to leave reviews online. Greg Gifford recommends creating a page on your website that gives instructions to your customers on exactly how they can review your business (i.e. yourwebsite.com/review-us/).
9. Make Your Website Mobile Friendly
Mobile devices are changing the way people search for products and make purchases on the Internet. This is especially true for location-based search queries. Of the 30 billion mobile searches a year, 12 billion are local.
Having a mobile friendly website is required to help you stand out from your competitors and make it easy for users to interact with your website on their mobile devices.
When redesigning or updating your site, speak with your web team to ensure that your site will be mobile friendly.
10. Kill Home Page Sliders
Finally, stop using carousels or sliders on your web pages. My firsthand experience with slider tests found that the click-through rate of the first slide is abysmal. Even worse, only 3% of people actually clicked on the second slider. Need more evidence of the pain that sliders cause? This site highlights why carousels and sliders should be obliterated.
Digital efforts are essential to dealership survival. So, if you and your team are ready to move forward in the digital age of marketing, these local automotive SEO strategies and tips can help you push your local car dealership efforts into the future. Even if you cannot afford to hire a SEO company to help with your digital focus, these tips can be done in-house. It is also wise to remember that these strategies will not yield overnight success, local automotive SEO takes time. However, maintaining a consistent strategy, updating an outdated website, building up trust signals and ensuring your information is consistent among all outlets can help ensure success.