When the topic of inventory management is brought up to car dealers, certain things always come to mind. How should it be priced? How often is it updated? How many pictures should you take?

While these are all important, one aspect that is regularly forgotten is how to drive the right traffic to the specific vehicles that people want to buy. Some would say that PPC advertising is the way to go, and that can definitely be effective if you have the extra budget, but we're going to talk about the proper optimization techniques that will drive your inventory to the top of the search engines organically.

From the Top Down
When optimizing an inventory page, the first thing you should look at is your URL structure. Is it keyword-rich?

Does it look like this: yourdealer.com/chantilly-used-2009-acura-mdx-vid64161934-aah520548a

Or does it look like this: yourdealer.com/used-inventory/details.htm?vehicleId=9302a9800a0a006401d63e96e6745f54

Notice in the first URL there are four key components to the string:

1) The target city is in the URL.

2) The year, make and model are in the URL.

3) It specifies new or pre-owned.

4) The keywords in the URL are just after the “.com,” making this page as close to the top level of the domain as possible.

These simple components are exceptionally important in helping your vehicles rank for terms such as “Used Acura MDX Chantilly.” A term like that is low-volume, but the quality of the visitors from it cannot be mistaken. If they type in a search phrase like that, they know what they want and where they want to find it. Will your inventory be found like that?

Proper Titles
This part is easy, but often overlooked. The title of your page (and therefore the title tag as well) should clearly state what vehicle you are selling, where it can be found and what you want to do with it.

Sounds straightforward, right? If you have a 2010 Acura MDX for sale in Chantilly, that's exactly what your title should be: 2010 Acura MDX For Sale Chantilly

That's it. No need to make it complicated. The title tag serves two purposes: it helps with search engine optimization and is presented to people on search engine results pages. As such, you want it to be found with the right keywords and you want to compel a click-through from the search engines. If you keep it simple and include everything you need, you're on the right track to success.

Unique Content
You may have 35 Acura MDXs on your lot right now. Each one will have a similar URL and a similar title tag, so how do you differentiate them?

Using on-page content, you have the opportunity to make an impact in the search engines. Talk about the cars! Make sure the content in the description, both visible on the page and in the meta descriptions, is unique and different from the others you have in stock. Ideally, this will be done manually with proper, compelling, individually-written descriptions. This isn't practical for most, so having a system that does it automatically is acceptable.

After the Car is Sold
The biggest flaw with having a search-engine-indexed inventory piece on your site is what happens to the page after the vehicle is sold. The vast majority of Web sites simply remove the page and use a “custom 404” to take people back to the home page when they click on the vehicle’s URL. This is bad.

A 404 is an error. The last thing you want is to present a page to the search engines, let them get the page ranked, then “embarrass” them by having that page removed soon after. This makes the search engines lose trust in the site and can hurt the overall rankings.

Once inventory is sold, make sure the URL is still working in some way or another. You can keep a “This vehicle is sold but view similar vehicles below” page up, or you can use a proper 301-redirect which tells the search engines that the page has been moved or replaced.

An ideal situation is to do both. Keep the "Sold" page up for a certain period of time to keep it ranking well until you have other vehicles that move up into that position. Then, have the page redirected.

Be warned; many Web site providers claim that they use 301-redirects. This is something of a half-truth. Other pages may have 301-redirects, but inventories are almost exclusively converted to custom-404 errors once a vehicle is sold.

What Else?
There are other things you can do to make the search engines love your inventory, but if you start with these you’re heading in the right direction. Use social media to promote certain specific inventory items from time to time (but do NOT automatically feed them to your profiles). Drive other links to your pages. Make sure you have your inventory in a proper sitemap.

The list can go on and on, but know one thing: people love to look at inventory. You will never realize how your leads can increase if you don’t do what it takes to have the best inventory available to your customers and the search engines they use.

Vol. 7, Issue 8