We have been using dealer.com as our website provider for the last couple years.  In October we upgraded our site from their V8 to their V9 Platform and since the upgrade we have seen a large drop in our organic traffic.  It has been 3 months since the site release, and while we have seen a slight increase in our organic traffic, it is no where near what it was before the upgrade.  After countless phone calls with dealer.com's support staff, the company still has yet to provide us with a solution to the issue.  They believe that the drop in organic traffic is not due to the upgrade (even thought the drop in traffic coincides with the launch date of the upgraded site). 

Our SEO provider (we do not do our SEO with dealer.com) believes the drop in organic traffic is largely related to the excessive use of H1 tags (Header1) in the code of the new template.  He believes that if these tags were changed to P1 tags (paragraph1) our organic traffic would return to what it was.  He says the header1 tags for words like "About Us", "Welcome", and "Inventory", dilute our important keywords like "Cadillac", "Buick", "GMC", and our town name.  Dealer.com does not agree that the H1 tags are negatively affecting our SEO, and since it is a templated site, they will not change the code to the P1 tags.  They believe our site had dropped in rank because of the hundreds of landing pages we created for towns in the area that have similar content, ex. "Hartford Cadillac", "Bridgeport Cadillac", "Enfield Cadillac", etc.

I'll admit I have a limited knowledge of SEO, but it has been my knowledge that having landing pages such as these helps to bring more traffic to our site.  In addition, Google has cataloged these pages, which our SEO provider says is a sign they do not think of them as duplicate content, and they should not negatively affect SEO.

In your opinions, are these landing pages negatively affecting our SEO?  Is the H1 tag problem the real issue?  Or, is dealer.com on track here and our SEO provider off base?

In the midst of this ongoing clash of opinions, our Internet Inquiries have dropped, and, in turn, our internet sales.  I am looking for a solution to help get our sales back to where they were, and, in the long term, increase them.  So, while considering both dealer.com and our SEO provider's analysis of the situation, I have also started looking at other website providers.  

Our dealership recently signed on with VinSolutions as our CRM tool, and now we are considering switching to their website as well.  Do you think this would be a wise decision?  I am concerned about the drop in traffic when we change website providers.  Are we better off sticking the course with dealer.com?  For those of you who are familiar with VinSolutions websites, are they a better alternative to dealer.com?  How is the site performance?

I really am looking forward to hearing some opinions outside of dealer.com, our SEO provider, and VinSolutions on this one! 

      

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Jackie,

I can offer this, we recently moved to VIN at our six locations, we were using a local company along with Mfg. controlled sites. Colbalt, Dealer.com, Dealer socket. It is a workout to get though the process, but early results with VIN have been good. Just understand no matter what Vendor you choose,you have to fit in their box, and then work through the process to get what you want on the site for your store. And we have chosen VIN for Website and CRM.

Hi Jackie. Wow! This is quite a dilemma! I can certainly empathize with your situation having switched to a number of different web solutions providers over the years when I was an internet manager for a dealer group. Having fired dealer.com on more than one occasion I can relate to your frustration all too well.

That said, I would consider dealer.com and VinSolutions two of (if not THE two) the best web solutions providers in the industry. The problem with dealer.com is their own success. The customer service experience is so heavily reliant on your dealer rep. The good ones get promoted and you are ultimately left with someone who will do the minimum and act as a message handler, but not actually work on your behalf to get what you need done.

Their technology continues to be some of the best in the industry. As a digital marketing company, Wikimotive works with clients using dealer.com all the time when it comes to our SEO service. 

I am also a huge fan of VinSolutions and their technology as well. If you chose to make a switch, you would not be sorry. 

However, the solution to a drop in traffic is rarely to change providers. In fact, a switch would likely cause your traffic to plummet even more (in the beginning). Based on the vague description in your article, I would be likely to support what dealer.com is telling you regarding pages with duplicate content. 

Since I do not know your website, and can't see these landing pages, I can only speculate with very limited information. But I can say that if the landing pages use the same verbiage over and over and only change keywords like geo targeted keywords, then you are definitely being penalized by google for this.

It is highly unlikely that H1 tags are bringing your traffic down to any significant degree. Again, this is speculation. I would need to see the actual evidence to properly advise you. That said, I would be happy to take a look at your situation and help if I can. No strings, of course. Hope this helps.

tim@wikimotive.com

Thank you so much!  I really appreciate the advice!

Hi Jackie, if you are considering changing providers I would suggest reading this checklist of information you should be aware of before making a provider switch. 20 Tips for Changing Website Providers

The first thing I would suggest would be to find out who has access to Google Webmaster Tools for your current site. WMT will provide you with a wealth of information about how Google sees your site. I would focus first on any messages that Google has posted in the account. Once those are addressed if any take a look at the Crawl reports. Is Google crawling my site more or less since the change. Are you getting any Crawl Errors and why? Also in the Health tab check out the Index Status information.

The next area I would focus on is the Traffic section. Check the Search Queries reports for impressions, ctr and keyword diversity. Have any major keywords declined or disappeared?

Under the Optimization Tab make sure your Sitemaps are submitted, indexed and are not returning any errors or warnings. Also, in this section check out the HTML Improvements section. This is where you will probably see a lot of duplicate title tags and meta descriptions. You won't be able to fix many of them like the VDP pages and some of the Blog pages but try to fix as many as you can.

I would be more than happy to discuss with you any of this info on the phone. 

Hi Joey,

Thank you so much for the reply!  Our SEO provider just granted me access to WMT so I will take a look into those areas and see what I find!

Jackie

Hi Joey,

So we have had a few Crawl Errors (500 and 503 errors).  All of which are after the new site launch.  

We do not have any sitemaps for our site.  I know this is something our SEO provider has been trying to get dealer.com to do for us, but they either won't or can't.  

All of our duplicate title tags are for our vehicles, so I can't change those.

Thoughts?

Are the errors we have errors from dealer.com's side of things or from our SEO provider?

Hey Jackie, look at the 500 and 503's to determine if they are old page urls or new urls on V9. Also, are we talking a few or a few hundred errors. When you click on the URL of the errors you get an option for "Linked From" if those pages are linking from another site see if you can have the link changed on the other site to the current appropriate page on your new site.

Your sitemaps should be structured like yoururl.com/sitemap.xml and I see you have the video product from Dealer.com on your site. Your video sitemap should be something like yoururl.com/videositemap.xml the problem with the video sitemap is that they have the sitemap coded wrong. I have been complaining about this issue to Dealer.com since July. When you submit your sitemaps in WMT just enter the part after the slash in the url.

How did your search queries report look especially the Impressions since the change over?

I understand from some dealers that Joe Verde has a very good CRM tool. Not very expensive and works well.

I think the issue with the H1's can easily be solved if they can be made more descriptive. For example, instead of simply saying, "About Us" it could be changed to "About (Your Dealership Name) in (Your Location)" or something like that. There are solutions out there other than VINSolutions and Dealer.com that allow you the flexibility to make these changes (you or your SEO provider) so that you don't have to conform to the "box". 

Check out AutoVelocity.com - they have a total control solution that I think will impress you.

I disagree with your SEO company.  I'm not a fan of SEO agencies for well-designed dealer sites (they are unnecessary with good onsite optimization unless they are doing off-site SEO and onsite custom content creation for you).  Although there is merit to the theory of overused H1 tags, if used properly (one per page/section) they are absolutely not a problem.  I would not attribute your lack of traffic to that.

Google has come out with 5 Panda/Penguin updates since October.  SEO is NOT the same today as it was a year ago.  Focus on unique content, unique content, unique content and good quality local backlinks.  Not saying the algorithm updates are exactly your problem but the landscape has seriously changed so all dealers should be adding custom content on a regular basis focused around relevant keywords.  Change up your vehicle comments, change the inventory sort order, add new pages, etc.

I'd also take a look at total indexed pages and crawl errors before and after switching providers. My guess is you have lots of 404 errors from off-site links that are pointing to areas on your old site that don't exist anymore.  It can take Google months to adjust for 404 errors in their indices, but if you have lots of hard links all over the Internet specifically pointing to a dead page (links from blogs, forums, ebay, craigslist,inventory feeds, etc.) that problem is never going to get fixed without a 301 redirect, which definitely could attribute to traffic decline.

I work at VinSolutions but have to side with Dealer.com on this one - not an h1 tag problem.

Thanks for your input Caryn, it's very helpful!  I just took a look at our Crawl errors and we only have 500 and 503 errors, but they all happened after the site upgrade.  Any thoughts on that?

Jackie,

Sorry to hear about your situation. 

As the CIO of a full service digital marketing agency, I have some insights but mainly questions that I would love to get the details on in order to be able to further advise you intelligently. 


I clicked on your profile link to find your dealer site and here is what I can tell you right off the bat...

1. your SEO problems go deaper than H1 tags. I only clicked through a couple of pages but I could immediately tell that you are not fully utilizing the most important meta tag elements of your pages. You have keywords repeated multiple time in the title tag which is a horrible use of such valuable SEO real estate. Many of the meta title tag elements are VERY similar or identical with only minor changes on pages within your site. 

You don't have static model pages for your vehicles. The vehicle details pages are great, but inventory comes and goes. You really need to have static model pages for each model you have. You need to load those pages up with relevant content and links to your inventory for all the trims and so forth for each model. The model page should also showcase the specials (both mfg and any you have at your dealership) for the particular model as well.

2. Landing pages CAN hurt you. 

Google did some major updates last year that could be making your landing pages look like boiler plate spam sites, a clear indicator of an attempt to game their system. The links pointing to your site could be toxic at this point. I would like to find out exactly how duplicated the content is on those landing pages. I would also like to find out how "light" they are on content. If it's lighton content and highly dupilcate, there is a VERY high chance that you need to do some customization to each of those landing pages in order to make them valuable again. And if you can't or don't want to make those kinds of change you may need to nix them completely in order to save your main site. 

3. Do real link building

Landing pages and link schemes are old. Google knows about them and is actively penalizing you for them now. You need to be guest blogging on real live active automotive blogs with individual, relevant, and exclusive content deep linking to your site. We have content writers and access to portals where our content is picked up by automotive blog publisher for single use guest blogging to accomplish this.

4. It's not the provider, it's the SEO company.

As a full service digital marketing agency I can tell you that I LOVE our websites. They are built for SEO, speed, and conversion. The problem is that dealers get locked into contracts and vendors give away website for free, or whatever the situation may be. We wind up having to work with optimizing Cobalt, Naked Lime, Vin Solutions, Dealer.com, and just about every other provider out there. Soemtimes it's difficult, but I can assure you that a good SEO team will be able to optimize and rank just about anyone's website given enough access by the provider. In your case it sounds like you do have a problem with a highly templated web platform, however your SEO team is not stepping up to the plate and fixing things for you. They should be doing everything they can and working around the things they can't change, however I can tell you with absolute certainty that they are NOT doing everythign the could to help you rank your site organically. 

Also PPC, social media, and your reputation online all also play factors in the amount of trust customers have to convert as a goal on your site. I would love to take a deeper look at each of those factors and see if they may be impacting you at all. 

I hope this helps!

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