Connect with your Local CARS Rep 855-870-9746 right-arrow

August 2020

Staying on Top of Search

With The Connected CARS SEO Strategy

We all know we need SEO to drive traffic and make the most of our websites, but if we’re being honest … do we really know what it is 😬? And how are dealership teams with limited time and resources supposed to stay on top of changing algorithms and trends to do organic search right?

Despite its importance, many still find SEO to be a mystery with constantly changing rules. It can be difficult to stay on top of (literally), and for some it can be even more difficult to see the impact and results relative to low-funnel campaigns.

Fortunately, the experts at CARS brought the combined SEO brilliance of Cars.com, Dealer Inspire, and DealerRater together to help you better understand what exactly SEO is, why it matters so much, and how to develop a connected SEO strategy that delivers long-lasting results. This guide will help you master the fundamentals of SEO to dominate the SERP (Search Engine Results Page), just when you need it most.

Why SEO is So Important Right Now

It’s no secret that 2020 has been a challenging year for dealerships on all fronts. The pandemic has changed the landscape and made what was already predicted to be a down year even more difficult. New-car sales are projected to fall 26%. Now more than ever, you need cost-effective marketing solutions that help your business meet these challenges head on and drive traffic to your digital lot. SEO is just the thing.

Consider this:

  • Consumers are still searching: The landscape certainly looks a bit different in 2020, but search activity is skyrocketing. While traffic did take a dip at the start of the pandemic, automotive searches have rebounded to all-time highs with interest in OEM deals, buying online, and dealerships close to home all on the rise. According to Google Trends, search interest for “is it a good time to buy a car” grew more than nine times between January and February 2020 and March and April 2020.

When the pandemic hit, many dealers were forced to make hard choices about their marketing budgets — but those that were able to continue their SEO plans with Dealer Inspire saw significant results. Dealer Inspire clients that continued to invest in SEO services saw a 10% increase in sessions and a whopping 114% in conversions, while those that paused SEO missed out on more than half those opportunities. If you can, now is the time to shift your goals and focus on organic opportunities that will help you win in the current market.

*These results are not guaranteed for individual clients and are shown only to represent the average performance for Dealer Inspire clients. Results are showing the difference between clients with SEO services and those who paused SEO services on the Dealer Inspire platform.
  • SEO drives consistent, long-term traffic: Unlike other types of digital marketing, SEO will pay dividends well into the future. The efforts you make to optimize your site and performance today will impact your performance for many months and years to come, helping you to weather what is likely to be a rocky year ahead. Even if search traffic sees declines again, your dealership’s rankings will hold. As consumer patterns stabilize, traffic will return and you’ll be ready to capture organic visits. Best of all, organic results never run out of ad budget.
  • SEO fuels your entire business: SEO gives you the ability to build your brand and all aspects of your business. From new- and used-car sales to parts and service, a  comprehensive SEO strategy will drive results across the entire dealership at a pivotal time. With new-car sales expected to decline, now is the time to prepare an SEO strategy that will help you drive traffic to other revenue streams. 

Demystifying SEO

Now that we’ve established why SEO is critical to your digital marketing strategy, let’s get on the same page about what SEO really is. We too often see SEO viewed as the gaming of keywords and pulling of wizard strings. While there is certainly some behind-the-scenes magic that goes into managing the more than 200 factors Google’s algorithm uses to rank websites, great SEO can actually be quite simple.

SEO success all boils down to one key thing: offering an amazing consumer experience.  At the end of the day, consumers turn to search engines for answers. If you can get them the best answer in a straightforward, simple way, search engines will recognize and reward you with traffic. Consumers also want to turn to websites they can trust, which means building your authority and reputation is also important.

Dealer Inspire SEO Director Mary-Grace Wilson breaks down SEO, and explains how her teams use a holistic strategy to drive big results for dealers.

SEO Isn’t Just For Google

While we’re clearing up some SEO misconceptions, it’s time to tackle a big one. SEO is not just something you do on Google. Sure, Google has become the Kleenex equivalent of search, but it’s hardly the only engine in town. It’s important that dealers have an optimization strategy that spans both pure play engines like Google and Bing, AND takes into account auto specific engines like Cars.com.

If you only optimize for Google, you are missing out. Be sure to plan and optimize your presence to align with car-shopping behavior.

  • Automotive search engines: Cars.com is an SEO powerhouse in its own right. It drives millions of organic visits with rich content and a top-notch site experience. Every month, more than 22 million in-market shoppers turn to Cars.com where they conduct more than 35,000,000 inventory searches. That’s some pretty powerful reach. Not only is this a huge amount of search volume, these are serious shoppers with high intent to buy. Just like you would on Google, optimizing your listings for performance is key. We’ll get to how in just a bit.
  • Alternate search engines: While Google gets the lion’s share of searches, other major engines deserve your attention too. As of January 2020, Microsoft sites handled a quarter of all search queries in the United States. Those are eyeballs you don’t want to miss.
  • Voice search: When we think about optimizing for search, we usually think about how shoppers are typing questions into a search bar on their computer or mobile device. That’s quickly changing, and voice search is expected to explode as it becomes further embedded into our homes, cars, and devices. Increasingly auto shoppers are turning to voice search, asking Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant, “Where’s the best place to service my car?” Optimizing your website SEO strategy for voice search can boost your presence in these crucial moments when consumers are asking where to go.
BrightLocal, Voice Search for Local Business Study, 2018

Build a Connected Search Strategy

Now that we’ve settled the why and the what, it’s time to get down to business and do what we do best … show you how. This guide will give you the advice you need to build a connected search strategy that amplifies your presence across multiple platforms to dominate the SERP and drive even more traffic to your digital lot.

We’ll show you how to optimize your website, your listings, and your reviews to outrank and outperform the competition. This is the triple threat of SEO, and it will maximize the potential for in-market shoppers to find and choose your dealership, wherever and however they search.

1 Optimize your website to capture and convert organic traffic

At every step of the car-shopping journey your potential customers have questions — and each of the answers they find online ultimately lead them to what car they want to buy, for how much, and most importantly, where. Your website is the foundation of your entire digital presence. If it’s not streamlined, easy to use, and answering those questions with relevant content, it’s not delivering customers.

Let’s take a look at five ways you can make sure your website is optimized for success.

  1. Start with a healthy website. The first step to a well-optimized site is to audit your website’s technical health on a regular basis. Technical SEO improves your site’s crawlability and indexability while simultaneously providing a superior user experience that gets people to the info they’re looking for as efficiently as possible. Some common errors you should look out for in order to maintain the technical health of your website include broken links, too many redirects, duplicate title tags, and meta descriptions. You’ll also want to ensure your site has a clean XML sitemap, well-planned internal linking, proper meta robot directives, and that your images all have descriptive alt text.
  2. Remember: relevancy ranks. As you develop or rethink a content strategy for your website, it’s important to remember that relevancy ranks. Before you publish a single piece of new content to your website, make sure it speaks directly to car shoppers’ needs and answers the questions they are really asking. A great place to start is to think about the questions your sales and service customers ask on a regular basis. Chances are if they are asking you these questions, there’s hundreds of others asking Google the same questions too. 
  3. Don’t let your web platform stand in your way. To implement a holistic SEO strategy, you need a platform that makes managing your website easy. Think about your platform’s backend interface — does it give you direct access to critical areas where you can implement solid SEO best practices on your site? You shouldn’t have to make multiple phone calls or jump over ridiculously high hurdles to keep your website healthy and optimized. You need a partner that makes executing these action items easy on your own, or with the guided hand of subject matter experts, without the hassle. It was through the challenges of performing SEO services on other web platforms that directly led Dealer Inspire to create its own platform. Whether you work with Dealer Inspire or not, make sure your platform is up to par for today’s SEO demands. 
To overcome the challenges it had with difficult platforms, Dealer Inspire built its web platform from the ground up to meet the needs of users and search engines.
  1. Use links to build relevance and authority. Links to and from your website are a vital part of a great SEO strategy that signal your site’s authority. Think of a website linking to yours as a vote of confidence that you’re a reliable source of information. The more “votes” you get, the more confidence Google’s algorithm will have in your website, which in turn leads to greater search engine visibility. Local links can be particularly helpful for dealerships. We recommend building local links to boost your relevancy in the area surrounding your dealership.
Want help optimizing your website?
The Dealer Inspire SEO team is here to help!

2 Optimize your inventory to match

You may not think of marketplaces as search engines, but that’s exactly what they are — except 100% of the people using them are in the market for a vehicle. When you take into consideration how and what consumers are searching on Cars.com, you can optimize your inventory to drive more impressions and conversions on your Cars.com VDPs.

  1. Price it right. You already know how important your pricing strategy is, but you may not have considered how it factors into search results. It’s important to keep popular price points in mind as you are setting your prices. For shoppers that use price as a filter to narrow down vehicles in their consideration set, the most popular price points are $15,000, $20,000, $25,000, $30,000, and $10,000. While this should not drastically change your pricing strategy, it is important to note the thresholds consumers use to search. Among all aspects of a listing, price is the most important to make sure you include. On Cars.com, used vehicles with a price received 8.5 times more VDPs than those without (July 2020, Cars.com site data).
  2. Use photos and videos to engage shoppers. Photos are the most important component of a vehicle listing. If a shopper can’t see a car ahead of time, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll submit a lead to see it in person.
Cars.com Internal Data, July 2020

Not only do vehicles with photos get better placement in the search results, they also generate more consumer interest and engagement. It’s best to include multiple shots per listing to give shoppers the full picture. Here’s a shot list to get you started:

  • Each exterior angle
  • Dashhboard
  • Front seats
  • Back seats
  • Trunk or Cargo Area
  • Engine
  • Wheels
  • Any dents, scratches or imperfections

Providing a tailored video of the vehicle will also amp up your results, maximizing the time users spend on your listings and improving their performance.

  1. Use seller’s notes to sell your cars’ unique value. Seller’s notes give you an opportunity to provide a unique story for a specific car and pitch its features and attributes. This content is highly relevant to shoppers who want to know all of the details when considering a vehicle. It is important to avoid using generic copy across all your VDPs about services your dealership offers — this section is your chance to tell shoppers why they should consider buying this specific car. Consider answering the following questions:
    • What Is the condition of this car?
    • How well has the car been maintained in its lifetime?
    • What optional features does this care have?
    • Why should I buy this car?
Cars.com Internal Data, July 2020

Both third-party sites and search engines will rank pages with unique seller’s notes higher. On Cars.com that results in a 40% increase in VDP views.

  1. Don’t exclude features and specs. Shoppers are often looking for a specific feature and won’t buy a car without it. They refine their search results to consider only vehicles that match their criteria. So that your vehicles don’t get left out of the SERP, it’s important to list every feature, option, or package with 100% accuracy. Cars.com’s AutoCorrected solution is a complementary feature that will ensure any features missing from your initial VIN-decoder or manual vehicle entry are automatically added to the Cars.com listing.

Beyond your inventory, every Cars.com customer is also given a dealer directory page, which is powerful for your dealership website’s SEO because it’s a backlink from the most relevant authority with rich, unique content. Make the most of your page with an “about our dealership” write-up highlighting your unique value propositions.

3 Show off your stars

And finally: Reviews rule the SERP. According to Moz’s annual “Local Search Ranking Factors Study,” customer reviews are among the top ranking factors. At CARS, we see this firsthand via performance of DealerRater® reviews, which appear on the first page of search engine results and Google Knowledge Graph 97% of the time for dealer name searches.

DealerRater internal Google Search study, January 2019; sample set of 4,726 DealerRater customers

Knowing consumer experience is the foundational principle of SEO, it’s no surprise that reviews have a huge impact on your performance. In addition to being great content, reviews send a strong signal to the search engines of trustworthiness and authority.

Whether you are trying to improve your rank on Google, increase conversions on your website, or drive better performance on sites like Cars.com, implementing a comprehensive reviews strategy will help you achieve better results. Here’s how you can get started.

  1. Generate quality reviews. It’s no question reviews can help your dealership quickly expand your SEO footprint, but securing reviews isn’t always easy. Automating the process can help you build the review volume needed to influence both your reputation and your rank.

    DealerRater’s ReviewBuilder™ syncs with your DMS to automatically solicit reviews from each day’s customers through email or text. Dealers who use ReviewBuilder™ see 5X more reviews*.
    *Based on 736 DealerRater customers between 1/1/18 – 7/31/18
ReviewBuilder makes it easy to secure review content and distribute it across the platforms that matter most. 
  1. Respond to reviews. Just as reviews are great fodder for search engines, so too are your responses to them. Shoppers and Google alike put trust in businesses that listen and respond to online feedback.
Source: BrightLocal, 2019 Local Consumer Review Survey, Dec 2019

In keeping with its emphasis on consumer experience, Google encourages businesses to interact and engage with reviews, rewarding businesses that take the time to respond. Responses build unique content that increases your SEO footprint and build trust in your dealership.

While there is no question responses can improve your rank, it can be difficult to find the time and to train staff to respond to reviews. Tools like AutoResponse™ make it easy to respond by generating real-time, personalized, human responses to every review. Without spending additional hours managing reviews, you can still generate unique content that builds customer loyalty and SEO value.

AutoResponse generates timely and effective responses to customers that build SEO value.
  1. Power your performance with people content. Unique, relevant content is king in the SEO game. And there is nothing more unique about your store than the people who work there. Spotlighting your people on your website and sites like Cars.com gives you yet another piece of valuable, relevant content.

    Using DealerRater’s Salesperson Connect™, dealerships can easily create individual profiles for each employee and use them to enhance their content on both their Dealer Inspire website and on Cars.com. Every salesperson can provide a short bio that gives shoppers a chance to get to know them before meeting them in person. These personal details create a richer shopping experience for the consumer and can positively impact your SEO scores.
Salesperson Connect™ also helps to build even more unique review content with individual reviews of your staff for your website that are also syndicated to Cars.com, DealerRater, AutoTrader, and Kelly Blue Book. 

When you combine a well-optimized website with well merchandised listings and a comprehensive online reviews presence, you’ll find your dealership has what it takes to take over the SERP.

Want to Know More?

With new-car sales expected to stall in 2020, implementing a holistic SEO strategy that helps to fuel all aspects of your business has never been more essential. Attention to the three strategies in this guide will pay long-term dividends for your dealership and put you on the path to more organic search traffic for sales and service.

Still have questions about where to get started? Our expert teams are here to guide you. We can work with your dealership to implement a comprehensive SEO strategy that improves your rankings on search engines and optimizes your inventory for car shoppers. From technical optimization to local search to user-focused content that converts, our team delivers a holistic approach to SEO that delivers long-lasting results to grow your business. Let’s chat about how we can help you succeed.

I Want Help Dominating SEO