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Google this, Yahoo that, oh and let's not forget about Bing. Sure you can pay to have your dealership show up for search queries (and you should), but are you taking advantage of organic search? Otherwise known as Free Search — the one that does not cost you anything?
I'm not talking about ranking #1 for Ford Mustang or Chevy Corvette — I'm talking about the golden goose, the ultra-specific local query. The difference is night and day. One is informational (general) and the other is transactional (local). One is at the top of the purchasing funnel and the other is at the bottom.
So the big question is: Where does your dealer rank when a searcher types in [make] [city] [state] or [make] [zip]? Are you on the first page? Are you in the Google 10 Pack? Better yet, do you show up in both? Go ahead and try it. If your answer is "no" to any of these questions, you are missing out on a huge opportunity. If you did answer "no", hopefully this article will give you a better idea of what you need to do to get your dealership to the top of the rankings.
How did we arrive at what is now known as the Google 10 Pack? Here is a brief timeline:
The Google Onebox was introduced in 2006 with Google News.
In January of 2007, Google added a static map and additional informational links to the local OneBox.
Around the end of January 2008, Google upped the ante by moving from three to ten results. This change prompted people to call the new results the "10 Pack".
So what does the introduction of the 10 Pack mean? Basically, if you aren't part of the 10 Pack, you have now been pushed down the page, below the fold (the visible area on the screen before scrolling is necessary).
Another important feature of the 10 Pack is that it is being used on non-local queries. Before, if you typed "Toyota Dealers" into Google, you would get a list of non-local results because you did not indicate a city, state, ZIP, etc. Now, with the recent change, Google appears to be pulling your IP address (which contains your ZIP code) and returns results based on your location.
Your Web site is one of the most important assets you have. But, having a Web site is simply not enough. The most effective Web sites for achieving high rankings are HTML-based. While Flash sites are very pleasing to the eye, they still cause problems for search engines when it comes to accessibility. Do a Google search in your area and see what the 10 Pack Web sites look like. Are they fancy Flash-based or simple HTML-based sites? Although it is visually appealing to see your name animated in FLASH with multiple colors, it's not worth the loss of organic traffic you will suffer. Revise your Web site to be HTML-based and watch your ranking improve. As an added bonus, HTML costs much less than Flash to develop.
Whether it's the Google 10 Pack or getting listed in Yahoo for a local search query, there are a number of things you can do to improve your chances. The following is a list of some of the most important factors:
Off-page factors can have just as big an influence on whether or not you rank for local search queries than the Web site itself. While having a Web site is of the utmost importance, there are examples of businesses (outside of automotive) that rank very well without having a site.
The following is a list of the most important off-page ranking factors:
Naked Pizza, based in New Orleans, actually replaced their billboard with their Twitter account. They credit this move along with other Twitter initiatives to roughly 20% of their sales. Their goal was to focus on people within a three-mile radius of their business.
So there you have it. There is no way to guarantee rankings, and anybody who does, is selling you snake oil. Desired rankings are achieved by hard work, continued testing and continuous updates. Remember, you aren't the only dealer trying to rank #1 for a local term. Not only that, the search engines are continuously updating their search algorithms and changing the rules of the game. Just because you are #1 today does not guarantee that you will be #1 tomorrow.
Achieving top rankings is an integrated effort. There are no quick silver bullets. It is usually not enough to just launch a blog or put up a few videos. You need a well-constructed, user-friendly site with useful information that integrates videos, blogs, listings and social media.
What I can tell you is that if you follow the above recommendations, you will be ahead of the curve. These are the best practices as far as the current local environment is concerned...but remember, YMMV (your mileage may vary).
Scott Skurnick, Executive Director, SEO & User Insights
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† Edmunds.com received the highest numerical score in the proprietary J.D. Power 2014 Third-Party Automotive Website Evaluation Study℠. Results based on responses from 3,381 responses, measuring 14 companies and measures third-party automotive website usefulness among new and used vehicle shoppers. Proprietary study results are based on experiences and perceptions of owners surveyed from January 2014. Your experiences may vary. Visit jdpower.com.