Search engine optimization is both an art and a science. While there are factors that every professional in the industry agrees contribute to the success of an SEO campaign, the differences come in how much weight is given to each factor.
Below, I've taken the factors that are agreed upon by many authorities in the automotive realm, and combined them with opinions of many SEO professionals outside of the automotive industry. They are ranked in reverse order from least important to most, and while there are always opinions to be considered, results are concrete. If your Web sites are mastering these factors, you WILL rank well for your keywords.
10. The Basics: You need a sitemap. Robot.txt can help. Friendly (not dynamic) URL structures are strongly recommended. I call these and other smaller factors "The Basics" because just about everyone in the industry is doing them now. If not, it's really not that huge a deal, as these factors are small in the scheme of things. However, every little bit helps.
9. Domain Age and Commitment: This is the one factor where the dealer and Web site provider have less control. The older the domain, the better, and you can't "roll back the miles" no matter what you do. What you do have control over is the commitment aspect. While it has never been confirmed, most agree that Google considers the length of time a domain is registered in their algorithm, especially if it's new. Registering a domain for at least two years is strongly recommended.
8. Inbound Links - Diversity: This is the least important aspect of the most important factor in SEO: link-building. Diversity is when you're getting inbound links from many different Web sites on different Class-C IP addresses. The more diverse, the better, but no matter what anyone tells you, an inbound "spam" link is still worthless even if it's diverse. More on that later.
7. Unique HTML Content: Content is king. It always has been and always will be. The more unique, high-quality, fresh HTML content you have on your Web site, the more likely it will be to rank for keywords (especially long-tail keywords). In many industries, content is even more important. Until car dealers start putting more unique content on their sites regularly, the need is not as high as in other industries. Remember, you're not competing against Google. You're competing against your fellow dealers. If you have quality content and they do not, you have the advantage.
6. Inbound Links - Relevance: Inbound links are, again, extremely important. Relevance of the links and the sources of the links contribute to how effective they are as "votes." Getting a link from someone's basket-weaving blog is nice, but a link from their automotive enthusiast blog is much better.
5. Internal Linking Structure: One thing that often gets lost in the build of a site is the internal linking structure. Look at well-optimized content sites like Mashable.com and Techcrunch.com. You'll notice that almost every story has links in the content that point to other pages within the site. This structure helps to keep Google visiting as many pages as possible while also giving strong anchor text (see below) and relevance to those pages. Linking isn't a mass thing, though. Linking every page to every page is worthless. Make sure your content provider or Web site company is linking with a true strategy in mind.
4. Domain and URL: While it's not as important a factor is it once was, having a keyword-rich domain name is very important. Even if your domain name is the name of your dealership, you can still have a tremendous impact on ranking by naming the pages with keywords in mind. For example, your new inventory listings page should be at www.DealershipName.com/[City]-New-[Make].
3. Keyword Rich Title Tags: As far as onsite optimization factors, nothing beats the title tag. It's the most important factor for ranking, but it also serves a dual purpose. Because it's the title of the link as displayed on search engine results pages, it's important to keep click-through in mind when formulating your title tags. Every page’s title tag should be unique, tell what the page is about, and not be stuffed with keywords. Title tags are weighted by percentages, so while it's a good practice to put multiple keywords in your titles, keep in mind that the more you include, the less powerful each individual one is. Balance is the key to proper title tagging.
2. Inbound Links - Quality: Inbound links are like votes. The difference between traditional voting systems and search engine linking is that not all links are created equal. Getting a link from NYTimes.com has much, much more relevance and weight than one from www.myspamblog.blogspot.com. Any time you can get links from high-quality, high-page-rank sites, go for it.
1. Inbound Links - Anchor Text: When Google sees a link with the anchor text "Shreveport Honda" they believe that the linking site believes the target site is the authority for the term "Shreveport Honda." It sounds simple, but you would be surprised how many people and vendors just don't get it. They continuously build links with the dealer's name as the anchor. If you're not ranked number one for your own name, this is a good practice. Otherwise, go for more keywords. The goal is to get as much exposure and traffic as possible, and good anchor text on relevant, high-quality pages is the fastest and longest-lasting way to achieve this.
Linking is obviously an extremely important aspect of SEO, but remember one important thing. The search engines, especially Google, change all the time. By the time you (or your provider) have the algorithm figured out, it can change. Keep abreast of these changes or make sure your vendors do. Otherwise, the rankings you worked so hard to achieve can slip away.
Vol. 7, Issue 2