It really depends on who you ask and what day of the week it is. Depending on what's buzzing, any of a number of automotive marketing gurus will call SEO dead, dying, or on its way out, and yet somehow it still continues to deliver results.
What gives? Why is it that fewer companies are even offering SEO today, but those who do swear by it? Is it just a smoke and mirrors concept? Is it really that hard? Is it evolving too quickly? The answer to all of these questions is "yes", but there's also an asterisk next to them. The answers simply aren't that straight forward. Let's dive a litter deeper and discuss five of the reasons why search engine optimization is still alive and well in the automotive industry.
#1 - It Still Works... When Done Right
The asterisk attached to the semi-correct answer that "SEO doesn't work anymore" is this: most of the techniques utilized by automotive vendors really did stop working in the last few months. That has what has spawned all of the recent declarations in our industry that SEO is dead. It's not dead. Their SEO is dead. Great SEO is alive and well and thriving more than ever before.
Here are some of the things that truly are dead:
- SEO Automation. Vendors who are still building multiple variations of pages so they can automate thousands or tens of thousands of "content" pages are finding that their strategy is not only ineffective, but it can also be harmful.
- Low-Quality Links. Despite the SEOpocolypse of 2012 when Penguin killed off bad links and made them damaging to rankings rather than beneficial, there are still agencies out there trying to do it and wondering why it's not working.
- Boilerplate Content. So, your vendor says they build "custom" content. Check it. Do a search in Google for a paragraph or two that appears on your pages. Before searching, take out any unique identifiers such as the dealership's name and address. Does it appear that your content is truly "custom" or is it boilerplate content with a little uniqueness thrown in? Now, I am not one of those who preaches that every word on a page must be unique. There are indications that Google views dealer websites under a different lens than other industries, but it's still clear that truly unique content rules.
- Schema Cures All. No it doesn't. It's nice. It helps with proper indexing. It helps with proper placement. It is not the magic bullet that many (myself included) thought that it would be when Google started pushing it a few years ago. It's something that should be done, but if that's all your SEO company is doing, they're really not doing anything at all.
#2 - Savvy Dealers Still Want It
This goes back to the first one. SEO still works when done right, so aggressive dealers still want it. This is why so many companies are offering premium SEO services to dealers even when they don't know how to deliver it.
The toughest thing for dealers to do is to determine based upon presentations which SEO company knows what they're doing and which ones do not. I always point to Google itself. One would think that if a company is good at optimizing dealers, they should be good at optimizing themselves as well, right?
Ask for examples. Check them on Google for terms like "Automotive SEO". Just about all of the pitches sound the same, but the ones that are truly effective rise to the top and help their clients do the same.
#3 - Google Loves Proper SEO
The biggest misconception about SEO is that Google is against it. That is absolutely not true. Google is against blackhat SEO. Google is against tricks and techniques that are intended to fool them. Google is against cheaters.
True SEO has nothing to do with anything blackhat. True SEO is encouraged by Google because it's built on three basic concepts:
- Make the search engines aware of exactly what the website and each individual page is going to deliver.
- Make it easier for the search engines to crawl the site and understand which pages are most important.
- Deliver incredible content that their customers (the searchers) are going to find valuable when they visit the page.
Optimizing a site is not about fooling Google or Bing. It's about giving them the ammunition they need to serve their searchers. If vendors would stop trying to beat Google and start trying to give Google what it really wants, they'll find much more success long term.
#4 - Changes Are Almost Always Good
I mentioned earlier that search is evolving quickly. This is a good thing. It means that they have found what they believe to be an improvement in their algorithm or the way they present search results.
Do you know how you can tell a whitehat SEO from a blackhat SEO? When Google makes a big change, the whitehats get excited and the blackhats get worried.
They mess up sometimes. They always want the changes to be positive, but every now and then they put out a dud. Thankfully, they seem to correct their errors quickly. In 2011 I wrote an article about how Google makes changes to its algorithm every 17.5 hours. One would have to believe that the changes are more frequent today.
#5 - SEO Won't Die Until Search Does
There's a difference between SEO techniques and SEO strategies. Techniques change constantly, which is why so many companies in our industry abandon SEO as a valid option. The bigger companies have a hard time changing their products yearly, let alone monthly or even over weeks. Strategies, on the other hand, are only changed when the game itself changes.
The search "game" has only changed a couple of times over the years. One example is the rise of mobile/local searches, making the maps section much more important than it was just a few years ago. Otherwise, the strategies remain pretty steady.
SEO by its definition is about making it easier for websites to drive traffic from the organic sections of search engines. As long as there are search engines driving traffic to dealer websites, there will be a need for search engine optimization.
Changes are coming. It could be a year. It could be a decade. Eventually, search engines will die, at least their current use and situation. When they do, SEO will die along with them. Thankfully for my business, that day is not here yet.
Those who say that SEO is dead often point to the prominence of search traffic for a dealer's name. The reality is that the prominence of search traffic for a dealer's name is a result of bad SEO. If they say that it's dead, it's because they aren't capable of doing it for you.