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Steve Stauning

3rd Base Coach
Mar 15, 2012
First Name

Car Dealer SEO: Same Old, Same Old

I’ll keep this one brief. And, to answer the question you’re going to have while reading this article: No, I do not sell search engine optimization.

I’ve written and spoken about the waste and fraud in automotive search engine optimization for at least a decade. Because it’s digital, a website’s search visibility is measurable; and because good SEO requires actual work, the efforts to improve search visibility are as well. Given this, we should be way beyond ether and smoke being sold to dealers by now, right?

Not yet, apparently.

Okay, but given how simple it is to track the efforts and impact of SEO, you’d think (at a minimum) the “experts” at the OEM level would’ve grasped some of this, right? Well, you’d be wrong in the case of at least one unnamed domestic brand.

One my clients in a medium-sized market with multiple stores pays for the OEM’s approved SEO on only one of their websites (solely because it’s 100% co-opable). They pay for no external search optimization for their other stores. The competitive landscape of their stores is fairly equal, with the one paying for SEO facing relatively the same number of same-brand, in-market competitors as their other locations.

I conducted a cursory dive into the group’s search visibility after noticing a 13% drop in organic traffic from non-branded keywords YOY in December for one store, while their other store on the same campus enjoyed a 222% YOY increase in organic visitors from non-branded keywords that month.

You guessed it, the store paying for SEO was the one down 13%; while the store doing no SEO was up 222%.

Of course, organic traffic alone is not a clear indicator of good or bad search visibility. The dealer’s Make and the dealer’s own branding (including any offline marketing) can do more to deliver organic traffic swings than even the best SEO.

So… I asked for their SEO logs.

What Are SEO Logs?

SEO logs are simply the detailed notes of every change/improvement your SEO provider completed for you during a given period. Every SEO company maintains a log of what they complete because without a log, the SEO provider’s team would have no idea what to work on this month or the next – and they’d invariably repeat work from previous months. (Assuming they did any work for you in those previous months, of course.)

In a nutshell, the SEO logs for my client revealed very little actual labor exerted (in my opinion) to improve my client’s search visibility. Moreover, some of the webpages the provider built appear to have no impact on search visibility. For example, the only webpage they took credit for building in May (and the page they reportedly improved in August) has delivered exactly zero organic clicks in the first eight months it’s been live.

In my opinion, the page took a couple of minutes to construct, and the content they added to the bottom (likely what they worked on in August) has little SEO value. However, to be fair, while search visibility is like science (it’s measurable), search engine optimization is more like art (it can be very subjective). Others may look at this webpage and applaud the SEO work… of course, there’s no denying it’s delivered zero organic clicks.

You Cannot Serve Multiple Masters

With SEO, you simply cannot serve multiple masters. (Save your angry comments if you’re an OEM-approved SEO provider.) Someone must win the “Widget Dealer City Name” searches in each market and someone must come in second (or third or fourth or fifth).

If you’re a dealer paying for SEO, ask your provider if they do business with any of your direct competitors. If they do, you may want to look at other options. But… and this is just my opinion based on years of experience… you may want to avoid the providers on your OEM’s approved list.

In my opinion, OEMs shouldn’t even have an approved list of SEO providers; and they should never co-op SEO. Seriously, what do the OEMs think their dealers are optimizing for? Like PPC, nearly all dealer SEO efforts are focused solely on stealing share from other dealers of the same Make. A circular firing squad OEMs should avoid creating.

Good selling!

Get a copy of my latest book - Assumptive Selling!

George Nenni

3rd Base Coach
Apr 13, 2012
First Name
Great post Steve, I agree, this is an area of abuse for many dealers. As you point out, the results are incredibly easy to measure. The great news today for SEO is the impact of Google My Business. I know people debate whether you should have single vs multiple listings, it is easy to find examples of dealers winning with multiple page one map results for non-branded, category (fixed ops especially) search.
Feb 5, 2020
First Name
I agree with what you’re saying, however, just because a page doesn’t see a lot of organic clicks doesn’t mean it isn’t having an impact on your GMB listing.

For example let’s saying you build out content and your page isn’t performing great organically but you see an increase in your GMB insights for search queries associated with that page, I would say it’s working, but the clicks will automatically be attributed to the homepage (unless they click GMB posts/products).

At this point I think SEO efforts should be focused on getting your GMB listing in as many local GMB 3 packs as possible. I would say though that most efforts of a typical SEO provider has little impact, or the queries they show improvement for don’t have much affect in the grand scheme of things.
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Reactions: Steve Stauning

Steve Stauning

3rd Base Coach
Mar 15, 2012
First Name
For example let’s saying you build out content and your page isn’t performing great organically but you see an increase in your GMB insights for search queries associated with that page, I would say it’s working, but the clicks will automatically be attributed to the homepage (unless they click GMB posts/products).

Correct... to an extent. GMB pages and map results don't populate for many of the keyword searches the SEO is trying to attract. For example, searches like "ford f 150 versus chevy silverado" don't (as of this writing) result in GMB pages being presented.

Jeff Glackin

Lot Lizard
Feb 14, 2014
First Name
Good post Steve. I always stress the importance of vendors showing their work. We learned this as children in school. It's still a good rule. We have OEM approved vendors calling things SEO that is completely duplicate content and framed in but they get away with it because they are OEM approved. There are awards in our industry for stuff like that. Exclusivity??? Forget about it. If you choose it off of the OEM list, so can everyone else. They are no serving the dealer. The OEM is their client.
Jan 19, 2018
First Name
The reason I left agency work was the overall lack of accountability the agency I worked for had. The SEO manager was shocked and appalled that I would want to keep a log of the work done. It was gross and criminal the lack of client education they did.

Glad to be in house these days.
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Alexander Lau

Feb 11, 2015
First Name
What does Google want? They want relevant, real content on the internet that people want to read and tell other people about. If Google doesn’t bring you the most relevant content when you search, they aren’t doing their job. So by definition, even the word Search Engine Optimization (SEO) means to “game” the Google search engines (and others) to get your valuable content ranked higher than it would be if left alone to the forces of the Web. The bottom line is that all external SEO efforts are counterfeit other than: writing, designing, recording, or videoing real and relevant content that benefits those who search, within a quality user experience.

We can sit around and act like we're not trying to take advantage of Google's algorithm (would be a lie), but the fact of the matter, they change it up because SEO groups get VERY GOOD at manipulating it for organic ranking purposes. Google (I was just out there) is quite happy fiddling with their algorithm for "best practice" reasons, but in reality, they just want to convolute the ranking equation process in order to get you to BUY more of their PAID AD space. Now that the space (itself) has been limited, it's even more competitive.

BTW, don't get me wrong, there is NOTHING wrong with fundamental SEO work and choosing quality web platforms (Dealer Inspire, Dealer Fire, DealerOn, DealerX, fusionZone, etc.). However, let's not lie to ourselves about the manner in which many SEO groups attempt to get ahead of competitors through gray and dark gray hat SEO techniques outside of core fundamental work and quality platform provisions. I am not saying anyone here does that, BTW. :)

Sorry... I'd rather be honest.
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Reactions: Brittany