SEO is destroying the car business. 

Its an awkward thing to write as the president of an SEO company that serves car dealers. Inherently, SEO should be a good thing...nay...a great thing. A core marketing practice that benefits consumers by allowing them to find the products and services they are looking for -- YOUR products and services! A good thing indeed!

The problem is, it seems there are thousands of companies practicing Search Engine Fraud and calling themselves SEO companies. In most verticals they are fairly easy to spot. They offer $99/month services and "work for very established executive firm with 600 professionals in India." But in automotive retail, the problem is much worse. Sure, you might get emails from the overseas spam companies too, but they're likely not the ones ruining your business.

The problem with automotive SEO, is that the people who have already earned your trust seem to have no problem taking a little more of your money, telling you they've got you covered and then destroying your online presence. I'm talking about your website provider. Yup, your website provider -- no no... trust me, yours too.

The problem is two-fold, and sadly, car dealers are also partially at fault. It’s not so much that they are to blame, its just human nature. When you find out you need to spend money on something new, naturally, you don't want to add an expense -- and if you have to add one, you want it to be cheap and easy. Duh! Right?

There is nothing cheap and easy about SEO, though. Sure, there was a time when it was. But that time has come, gone, passed and is barely even a glimmer in the sea of what SEO has evolved to become. The other issue is the desire for one-stop shopping; the vendor-do-it-all approach. In some cases, a really ancient and useless business model plays a role as well -- "the ad agency." Where you get to pay someone to find people to charge you money. Seriously? Why is anyone still doing this!? Pay to pay?

What has happened is that you have asked people with no expertise to provide expertise -- BUT cheap. SEO is an online thing right? So the online guys should handle it! And if they're already in your website, what better way? MAKES PERFECT SENSE! Except that automotive website providers don't do custom -- and SEO is all about custom. (I know, every website provider talks about their custom approach and customizability and lots of words that are just like the word custom. There's no custom.)

For the automotive website provider its all about scalability. Understand, that’s not a bad thing. Most of the websites that car dealers use would cost $100,000 or more (2-3 times more in some cases) if they were retaining the services of a custom provider. So website providers are doing you a favor by taking on the R & D to make it all scalable and able to fit in to a nice affordable monthly package. 

The problem is they've mistakenly tried to apply that mentality to a service that does not scale in that way. The - make it quick and easy and automatic - may be what the dealer ordered, but its killing you. Marketing isn't quick and easy. There's a reason only 18% of TV ads are successful at producing ROI. The same applies to online marketing. Its about quality. Its about connecting your brand or products or services or whatever your message is that make you - just you - special. You can't automate that. You can't write an algorithm for success. That takes the expertise and ingenuity of... dare I say... EXPERTS!

Naturally, you'll wonder why this is just become a problem now. For simplicity sake, I'm just going to talk Google for a minute. It’s all about Google. "It" gets smarter every day. At this point, it’s really smart. Scary smart. Not perfect, but really frighteningly smart. It’s not about keyword density and links anymore. Sure, those things still matter too, but Google can "look" at your site now. It "sees" a site like a person. It recognizes ease of use and ease of navigation. It understands written language. "It knows" when you just crammed a keyword in a paragraph for the sake of the keyword or if it fits within the context of the sentence, the paragraph, the article, related articles that link to the article and so on. Scary. Smart. 

What’s worse, "it judges" and ultimately punishes. That’s where the scalability problem comes in. Many of the older techniques website providers have used for scalability and to offer SEO services the quick and dirty way are now direct violations of Google's Webmaster GuidelinesLet me say that again, YOUR WEBSITE PROVIDER IS VIOLATING GOOGLE'S WEBMASTER GUIDELINES. Yes, yours too.

There are no plans for these vendors to change what they are doing either. The saddest part is that most if not all could make the necessary changes with little to no cost other than minor code modifications. BUT, they would have to stop their "SEO package" and that would cost them revenue. 

Therein lies the rub.

I've worked really hard to get any website provider to acknowledge the problem. The bottom line is, they think you as a dealer are too stupid to realize that you are paying extra to lessen your exposure. And, they have too much invested in R & D to abandon it for the "good of the dealer."

This is why SEO will N E V E R be a realistic service for a website provider to offer. It will always directly conflict with their business model. SEO is constantly changing. Website providers do R & D to produce duplicatable, scalable options that can be rolled out globally and last for a period of time to recoup the R & D. It doesn't work.

Whats the solution? Where do you go from here? First, prove to yourself that I am right. This is very easy to do. I'll give you a few simple steps:

1) http://marketing.grader.com - This is a free online tool. Plug in your website address. It gives you a grade on a 0-100 scale. If you have a real SEO service, your grade will be at least a 75 or higher. Make sure you see that it’s the SEO section that is giving you the score and not social media or some other aspect.

2) Click on some different pages of your website. Look at the title of your browser window its the bar above where you type in a web address in the container of the window itself. Does it look like this:

ABC Nissan | Nissan Dealer in Anytown | 2014 Altima 2.5S in Anytown

If so, you're paying to destroy your SEO.

3) Log in to the back end of your website. Go to the part where you can add or edit pages. There is probably a section for "Meta Data" (or worse there isn't one because they're hiding it from you). If you can see it does it look something like this:

[Dealer Name] | [OEM] [Vehicle1] [DealerCity1] | [OEM Cars for sale in [DealerCity1]

If so, you're paying to destroy your SEO.

If you can't see your meta data, ask your rep to turn it on. Do they refuse or give you a run around? ALL of the website providers have the ability to turn this on for you, but most will try their hardest to keep this feature away from you so you don't "mess it up."

4) Do you have Google's webmaster tools configured for your dealership? IMPORTANT: THIS IS NOT THE SAME AS GOOGLE ANALYTICS THIS IS ENTIRELY DIFFERENT. Again it is called, Google Webmaster Tools. If not, ask your website provider to configure it. You should use the same account you use to access your google analytics. 

Once in Webmaster tools choose your site and select "Search Appearance" from the left sidebar navigation. Within section choose HTML improvements. That will bring up a page that reports on the various forms of meta data on your website. Are they all zeros? If not, your website provider is destroying your SEO...and now Google is telling you they are doing it. 

OK now you believe. Whats next?

1) Stop them! Stop paying for something that is a lie. It’s not SEO and it’s not a service. Its an automated process that is ruining your website and your ability to rank in search.

2) Get educated and/or get help. Either dedicate internal resources in the training and ongoing education of a staff member to manage the digital marketing of your dealership or hire a company that does only that without conflict of interest. Sure, I'd love it if everyone just called my company to do it, but there are a handful of good SEO companies out there who can undo the damage your website provider caused and then provide a real SEO service that will benefit your business. 

OK forget about my soap box for a moment. The best part about the reality here is that 90% of dealers will do nothing about this. But...you could! That would give you an INCREDIBLE competitive edge against all of your competition who will either never read this or not do anything about this. 

Think about it this way. The site quality among dealers is so low (because web providers have been doing this for so long) that even a little improvement would give you an edge to rank in search. An edge that other dealers wouldn't be able to compete with without taking the steps mentioned here. Isn't that worth trying what I suggest?

OMG! You're still saying it? "Not my website provider!" No really, yours too! The one with all the awards? Yup! That one! Even the one that got awards given from that SEO company thats supposed to be so great? YES! Even the awards I saw them get at that conference where I learned so much?! YES! THEM TOO! 

Don't take my word for it. Check. Now sound off! What did you find out? Post your results.

Views: 736

Tags: company, digital, engine, marketing, online, optimization, search, seo, wikimotive

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Comment by Timothy Martell on September 3, 2013 at 7:25pm

Mr. Natural. No question that process is another area of opportunity to focus on in auto retail. Be careful though, by your own statement, the same could be said for any form of advertising, not just SEO. Hell, why even have a website if you're going to direct consumers to sales people who tell an interested consumer that their trade is worthless and they'd do better to put a for sale sign on it than bring it in for an appraisal. 

Dealers still need to advertise. You can pay TrueCar, AutoTrader, Edmunds, Cars.com - add vendor here - to send you leads and give them to 5 of your closest competition or you can ensure your brand is the one consumers find when they search. 

In terms of online marketing, SEO should still be first on the list. But one needs to know if they're actually getting SEO or snake oil. Sadly, there's a ton more snake oil out there. And its coming from places it shouldn't be at this stage in the game.

Its certainly terrible if you're getting leads submitted by spam bots trying to sell scam SEO services. There is a special place in hell reserved for those people, I am sure of it.

Comment by Mr. Natural on September 3, 2013 at 6:51pm

Great stuff Tim...I love it.  As with all discussions about SEO and it's kin, the issues you bring to light above are brought into the light you cast by thousands of dealerships who's staffs do not understand the very basics of internet marketing and sales.  For most dealerships, spending money on SEO is like buying Perilli tires for your 1998 Ford Escort... 

When you can't make use of the leads you get already, how the hell is getting your Dealership Name up higher on some list gonna help.  Take the money you were going to spend on SEO, and divert it to phone and follow-up training.  H.S.A. training would be infinatley better.  (How to Set Appointments)  Better yet, get each internet sales person a water cooled Etch-A-Sketch to keep track of their follow-up.

Worst of all, these SEO marketers pester me with advertising disguised as internet inquires.  I think I might even be paying for some of these.  I call them back and read them the riot act.

Comment by Timothy Martell on September 2, 2013 at 2:21pm

Thanks, Jim. As always, I value your feedback. Thanks for taking the time to read. Good luck with surgery. You'll be in our prayers.

Comment by James A. Ziegler on September 2, 2013 at 2:14pm

Great article Tim, skillfully written and thought -provoking...

Comment by Michael Hills on September 1, 2013 at 12:58pm
Tim, thanks for your response. You make a lot of great points. Justin Brun and Ben Koller are very talented and I am lucky to work with them. By the way, at the footer of the homepage you will see website by Dealer.com, "Fueled by Dynamic Beacon".
As you point out, a website is never complete, it's always evolving and a work in progress. There are always areas to focus and improve on. I hope you enjoy continued success with Wikimotive.
Comment by Timothy Martell on September 1, 2013 at 11:11am

Mike, maybe you can direct me to the right website then. When I visitactontoyota.com it says website by dealer.com. Perhaps I am missing something or there might be another website that you built for them? I'd love to take a look.

Also, Mike, over 72 is fine for SEO alone, but the picture needs to be completed by a synergistic social media initiative that connects the dots from seo, ppc and ties it all together with what it means for the consumer. Looks like no blogging has been done since last december.

Also, (and this is no fault of dynamic beacon's) the issue my article addresses is evidenced by the flags raised in the SEO section of the marketing grade report. This largely speaks to the issues with website providers and since dealer.com does exactly what I outline in this article, its not surprising that there are duplicate title tags and meta descriptions throughout the site. 

That said, with a MozRank of 7.1, and 678 linking domains to the site, someone has done some level of credible SEO for this website. If thats dynamic beacon, then great job. But only half of the issue is being addressed. A lot of the issue regarding meta data centers around the improper way website providers (dealer.com in this case) handle inventory. This could be easily fixed, but has to be fixed by the provider - its not something a dealer or a SEO agency has the power to fix externally. 

Mike, if dynamic beacon builds full functioning dealer websites, I would definitely advise moving away from the dealer.com site and implementing one of your own where you can control all of the parameters. If you handle inventory the right way and are building sites within googles webmaster guidelines, I would expect an immediate boost in traffic and leads upon implementation.

Happy to hear you are having success at dynamic beacon. Ben and Justin are incredibly talented. I'm sure you will have lasting success. 

Comment by Michael Hills on September 1, 2013 at 9:28am
Actually, Dynamic Beacon not only built and manages Acton Toyota's website but about 25 others around the country. I was pleased to see that Acton's website grade was over 70.
Comment by Timothy Martell on August 31, 2013 at 11:47pm

Actually, Mike, I started out at a Nissan store. Though, since I've left, they're not doing much better from a digital standpoint than the sister Toyota store you mention. Similarly, Acton Toyota's website grade could use some help: http://marketing.grader.com/report/actontoyota.com

Wikimotive doesn't work for Woburn Toyota or Marlboro Nissan. Our clients however all have marketing grades above 80. Though, that should't really be the singular metric for success either. It does seem a bit strange, though, that you wouldn't use a website built by dynamic beacon for your own dealership. 

Comment by Timothy Martell on August 31, 2013 at 11:31pm

Steve, you bring up a great problem that has an easy fix from the provider level, but is almost impossible from the dealer level. Using simple code structure called rel=canonical, website providers could literally eliminate this problem overnight. In the process they could create centralized pages that would always remain fresh and relevant to consumers who land on them causing them to rank for the various models dealers sell. 

Unfortunately, it seems no provider is even interested in admitting the inventory problem, much less doing anything about it. 

Moz rank of 7 is nice, but whats the rest of the picture look like?

Comment by Michael Hills on August 30, 2013 at 8:58pm
Tim,
You are right virtually no web provider is really doing any SEO even if they have their dealer clients on a "enhanced SEO" package. That is why dealers need consultants and agencies like Dynamic Beacon which Justin Brun, Ben Koller, and I started.
Incidentally, the Toyota store that you started out of has a score of 50 using Hub Spots system; their website could use some help.

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