Search engine optimization is one of the most misunderstood marketing strategies in the automotive industry. Why? It’s because many dealerships limit the scope of their SEO strategy to non-branded keywords; in other words, they ignore search terms that contain their company’s name. Let’s take a look at the difference between these two types of search queries:
Non-Branded Keywords: “car dealerships near me” and “Honda Civic review”
Branded Keywords: “Bill Maxon’s Automotive” and “Ramada VW”
An SEO strategy entirely focused on non-branded keywords, like “Honda Civic review,” won’t improve a dealership’s online reputation. Businesses that have negative reviews must first develop an SEO strategy that protects your online reputation.
Why SEO Matters for Websites You Don’t Own
Many automotive websites are underinvested in SEO because it’s labor-intensive, costly and requires expertise. Asking your marketing team to allocate additional resources to another company’s website seems insane, but there are actually several good reasons to apply SEO tactics to websites other than your own.
1. Crisis Protection
On average, businesses experience a crisis about every two years. Dealerships may be hit with negative reviews, a publicized discrimination lawsuit, or a massive vehicle recall. No matter the cause, a crisis has the potential to slash your revenue. According to Mintel, 81% of consumers read online reviews before making a purchase. If a quick online search for your business turns up damaging content, don’t ignore it. Use SEO best practices to promote positive content written about your company on other websites and social platforms. This strategy will build a digital barrier around your search profile to guard against surges of negative content.
2. Reputation Management
If you hope to earn new customers, the first page of your Google search results must contain your best digital assets. Don’t make the mistake of assuming your search profile is healthy just because it doesn’t contain negative content. Businesses can have a whole host of search problems, including a weak online presence, irrelevant search results, and competitors outranking your business for branded searches. Using SEO for reputation management allows you to sculpt a trusted search landscape that’s curated to earn customers and boost sales.
3. Websites to Target with SEO, and How to do it
There’s a long list of sites you could target with SEO, including your company website, blog, social media profiles, positive reviews, images, videos, or even favorable articles mentioning your business. However, most branded search results only list about six to eight unique domains, so you’ll need to choose wisely. Here’s a list of the most common web assets to include in your SEO strategy and how to optimize them:
Social Media Profiles
Fill out your profiles completely before posting content to social feeds. While social networks naturally rank well for branded search queries, setting them up properly makes them even more powerful. Include your contact information and a business address to reinforce your account’s legitimacy. This will make it easier for customers to reach you and help Google associate your profiles with your brand.
Don’t neglect your accounts after setting them up, either. Establish a regular posting schedule so Google knows your profile is active and relevant to your company. Publishing fresh content isn’t just about rankings; doing so may also attract additional followers and encourage engagement.
With that said, optimization and frequent posting may not be enough to outrank negative content. If this is true for your dealership, your only alternative is to build some high quality backlinks to your social profiles.
Positive Articles & Reviews
Does your dealership practice corporate social responsibility? Let the press know about charitable donations, veteran discounts, and any volunteer work. News websites have strong ranking potential and journalists love feel-good stories. Not only will your dealership earn a reputation-boosting mention on a trusted domain, Google might even include the story in a video carousel.
Pro tip: If journalists do write about you, ask them if they’ll include your company’s name in the article title so it’s more likely to rank for branded searches.
Reviews often rank on the first page of Google for company searches. This is fantastic news if those mentions are positive, so make it easy for happy customers to find you online. While there are many review sites to consider, the most trusted in the auto industry include DealerRater, Yelp, Edmunds and Cars.com.
To optimize these profiles, fill out all available fields and continue monitoring them for activity. Whether it’s positive, negative or potentially fake, respond professionally and kindly to every review. Continue to check your branded search results to see if your review profiles are ranking on the first page of Google after 3–6 months. If they aren’t, you may need to build several backlinks to them.
Company or Employee Blogs
Whether your primary website has a blog or not, start another one on a separate domain. This could be a more casual consumer vehicle blog, or one specifically targeting reviews. Just be sure to include your dealership’s name in the blog title.
If your employees have blogs, ask them to write an article about your dealership. Articles may promote upcoming events, positive customer care stories, or your charitable activity. It’s absolutely fine to pay your employees to write these articles, as long as they include nofollow links and disclose the sponsorship in their post. But make sure to establish your SEO goals before you do. Are you asking them to write the article to rank in your branded search results or to provide a ranking boost to other content the post links to? If you pay for content, then you must use nofollow links which won’t provide any SEO benefit through backlinks.
Doing Everything Means Doing Nothing
When it comes to SEO, everything is your number one priority. Unfortunately, attempting to do it all means doing none of it well. Whether you’re using SEO for crisis management or to build an online reputation, keep your list short and start where you’ll have the greatest impact:
- Optimize your social profiles and use them regularly
- Ask happy customers for online reviews on trusted websites
- Ask employees and journalists to write about the good you’re doing in your community
- Identify your best online content and build good backlinks to it
Once you have a strong branded search profile that lets your dealership shine, you can shift your focus to those valuable organic keywords that bring in even more customers.
Author: Jonas Sickler
Jonas Sickler has a wealth of experience with crisis management, online reputation repair and search engine mechanics. Follow along on Twitter