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.
The Google 10 Pack: What Is It?
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.
Ranking for Local Search Queries
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:
- Content: Do you have sentence-structured content on your homepage? Does your content contain local keywords? For instance, if you are a Ford dealership in Santa Monica, California, make sure you mention this. Try to work in your ZIP code as well. As searchers become more sophisticated, they will potentially search by ZIP instead of city. If you service surrounding areas such as El Segundo or Marina del Rey, also include these cities by name and ZIP code.
- Do you list your complete address on your homepage and contact page, including hours of operation, complete telephone numbers and amenities offered? As far as telephone numbers are concerned, one with a local area code is more effective than an 800 number. A word of caution, if you have multiple dealers, only include the address of the dealer at hand. You don't want to confuse the engines by giving them different addresses.
- Do you have a detailed "About Us" page? While you don't want to have a 500 word paragraph on your homepage, the "About Us" page is intended to let the user and the search engines know everything there is to know about your business and how it serves its customers and the community. (Dirty little secret — you are building your Web site as much for the search engines as for customers.) If the search engines can't find you, no one else will either. Remember, the purpose of your Web site is to drive traffic to your site and ultimately your showroom. Search engines can't read Flash and they can't read text embedded in images. They read HTML.
- Are you including local keywords in the title, meta description and heading tags? If you don't know what I am talking about, call your Web developer and ask them if they did this for you. You may not want to do this for every single page on your site, but you definitely want to include local keywords in the titles on your main pages. Your page title should include your dealer name, city, state, ZIP code and potentially, phone number. As a best practice, your title should contain between nine to 15 words. Your meta description should be between 18 to 24 words.
- Do you have sales and service reviews on your site? For the search engines, there is no such thing as a negative review. Of course, not all reviews will be good but responding to negative reviews will help build customer loyalty and confidence. If you look closely at the Google 10 Pack, you will see a reviews link at the end of each listing. This helps indicate the importance Google gives to user reviews (those that are found on the dealer site as well as those found on external sites). If you don't have any, you can link to the Dealer Ratings and Reviews on Edmunds.com or you can ask Edmunds.com for permissions to reprint a good review from the site. If you don't have any reviews on Edmunds.com, ask your satisfied customers to post some for you.
- Is your Web site updated regularly and/or do you have a blog? Having a blog is one of the best ways to keep your site fresh. You can use the blog to write about local issues, whether they are related to your dealership or not. Remember that search engines figure out how often your site is updated and this determines the frequency of their visits. If Google determines that you only update your site once a month, they may only visit you once or twice a month.Also, if you use a blog, try and integrate the blog into your site by hosting it on your domain.www.mysite.com/blog is much better than blog.mysite.com.
- Do you include video walk-a-rounds of your inventory? If so, make sure you are filling out the metadata with local keywords. Search engines can't read videos; they read metadata about the videos. Are you submitting your videos to YouTube and other video sites?
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:
- Have you claimed and verified your business on Google, Yahoo and Bing? Claiming your business will ensure that all the vital data is correct. Here are the links you should follow for claim and verification:
- Are you included in local business/information directories and review sites? This is extremely important to give validity to your site. Being listed in the major directories and review sites can be the difference between being ranked #1 and #50. Here is a short list of important sites:
- Inbound links from other local businesses with the proper anchor text. Do you have a good relationship with the owner of the pizza place down the block? Does he have a Web site? How about having him link to you? If he agrees, don't just have him link to you with a "Great Car Dealer" link, have him use anchor text that has local keywords in it.
- Submit your site to local directories. Many cities have local directories. Go to Google, Yahoo or Bing and type in "[Your City] Directories" and see what comes up. If you can find directories that have Car Dealer listings go ahead and submit your site.
The one site I would recommend you at least look at is Twitter (www.twitter.com). With twitter you can connect with people at a local level and open up a line of communication. Once this connection has been made, you can send out sales and service specials as well as other dealer updates. Twitter is a great way to build up your brand within your community. You just need to remember that there is a fine line between useful information and spam. You don't want to only send out promotions; you want to be sure to mix in other types of messages as well. One word of advice, Twitter takes some getting used to. It may not make sense at first, so start slowly. See what other people are doing, especially within the automotive industry before you dive in head first.
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