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Did SEO Ever Really Help Sell Cars?

ed.brooks

Boss
Jan 15, 2010
1,113
661
First Name
Ed
One of the smartest guys in the automotive marketing world, Eric Miltsch, wrote, “You don’t need to hire an SEO professional, you need to hire a team of marketing professionals who also understand data science, shopping psychology and user intent” under the heading Standalone SEO Gets Assassinated in his outstanding piece, “4 Predictions in 2016 for Car Dealerships”.

I’m curious; did SEO ever help dealers sell cars?

I know, I know, a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money has been devoted to automotive SEO, but my question was serious; did SEO ever help sell a substantial number of cars? Here’s the problem; shopping for a car is what marketing professors call a high-involvement purchase.

Here’s a definition, “High-involvement purchases include those involving high expenditure or personal risk – for example buying a house, a car or making investments.” High-involvement purchases almost always involve extended problem solving and extensive research. The 18+ sources discussed in ZMOT, Winning the Zero Moment of Truth is a great example of the extensive research that consumers undertake when they are looking to make a high-involvement purchase. Auto marketing folks hoped, dreamed really, that they could short-circuit the research by ranking high enough for this or that keyword on Google. The fervent hope was that they could control shopper behavior and, in effect, make the purchase lower involvement.

Of course ZMOT argued just the opposite; that the Internet was making consumer behavior more like shopping for a car even when consumers were shopping for less expensive, less consequential, products.

Was that ever a realistic hope?

When I’m in a new town, I don’t Google “restaurants”; I tend to use Yelp or TripAdvisor – simply because I’ve learned from experience that those two sites will come up at the top of a Google search anyway (and I have the apps installed on my phone already). I then conduct some quick research and then make a decision. And this is a much lower involvement decision than the ones stemming from shopping for a car.

I’m not arguing against all SEO at all. You want to show up for your own name. You want to show up for ‘Chevy dealer in my town’. Basic SEO should have already accomplished those things for you. But would that have helped you sell a car?

And I understand the dream;
  • A customer thinks about buying a car
  • They perform a simple Google search
  • They click on your dealership
  • They buy a car
All in a few easy steps. And again I ask, was this ever realistic?
 

Tallcool1

Boss
Mar 17, 2014
352
211
First Name
Clint
@Ed Brooks , you bring up a good point.

I personally believe that SEO is much more important for dealers like me "Independent Dealers", than it perhaps is for Franchise dealers. Even in a relatively small market, its possible to end up on page 2 or 3 if you are an Independent with no SEO efforts to speak of. Now that is not to say that our SEO is something that I have had to pay a specialist to handle. I believe that most website providers do an adequate job providing that the website is getting a respectable amount of traffic.

I realize that some metro areas could potentially have a franchise dealer showing up on page 3 as well, but I don't believe it would be as common given the smaller number of (ex) Chevrolet dealers or (ex) Toyota dealers in a given market.

The majority of our organic search referrals are people searching some variation of the dealership name, and very few are looking for "car dealer Columbus Ne" or the like.
 

Mark A Hoffman

Full Sticker + Prep
Nov 10, 2015
22
15
First Name
Mark
Eric is spot-on. It should be expected that any platform the dealer uses adheres to basic SEO principles, and the more human aspects of SEO should just be handled as part of a broader marketing effort. Knowledge is a commodity; the internet has seen to that. Any "SEO skills" have an amazingly short shelf-life. Remember back in the 90's when anyone that could cobble together a few HTML tags could call themselves a web developer and make a ton of cash? How's that working out today? That narrow skill set was absorbed into the larger world of software development with a much larger required skill-set. Likewise, SEO "experts" will also see themselves commoditized and absorbed into a larger, broader marketing world. It's already happening.

Google is getting better and better at showing relevant content. Honest SEOs will tell you that the best way to rank higher is to create compelling content that people want to consume. And that's the truth. But you don't need expensive SEO companies to do that for you. It should be part of your everyday marketing efforts.
 
Oct 28, 2012
408
279
First Name
Chris K
for some reason SEO has been placed on a pedestal.

  • Content marketing is not Seo.

  • Landing pages are not Seo.

  • Seo is not what you think Seo is.


SEO is structure.
 
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Mark A Hoffman

Full Sticker + Prep
Nov 10, 2015
22
15
First Name
Mark
Chris - Hehe, you should probably inform about 95% of the folks hawking SEO services this then. Because that is largely what they sell. Content, landing pages, setting up citations, fussing over H1 and title tags, etc...pretty much most of the stuff covered on search engine land day in and day out. That's what is routinely being sold as "SEO" to dealers. And it's all basic things that a good marketer should know, and not have to rely on outside experts for. Your definition may be more narrow (and precise) but it's not the definition that most people have of SEO.
 
Jan 18, 2016
2
1
First Name
Amelia
@Ed Brooks, I like the dream you've described, yet it really is not realistic. Dealers need to have so much more than just a successful SEO campaign to sell their product. Though SEO is not an ultimate factor to increase your sales performance, you can't deny it can be a powerful tool for that. Yes, there a lot of useful apps today, but they can't compete with Google as evens. And I guess that high rank position is not a thing to be totally ignored.
 
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ed.brooks

Boss
Jan 15, 2010
1,113
661
First Name
Ed
@Ed Brooks, I like the dream you've described, yet it really is not realistic. Dealers need to have so much more than just a successful SEO campaign to sell their product. Though SEO is not an ultimate factor to increase your sales performance, you can't deny it can be a powerful tool for that. Yes, there a lot of useful apps today, but they can't compete with Google as evens. And I guess that high rank position is not a thing to be totally ignored.
But the question will remain, rank high for WHAT? Rank high for "Billy Bob's Ford"?

SEO doesn't answer basic consumer questions in a high-involvement purchase - "Is this a dealership I can trust?", "Is this the right car for me?", "Is this the right dealership for me?", "Is this right salesperson for me?" the list goes on...
That is the problem, and indeed, the beauty, of selling a high-involvement item.
 
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csabatka1

Boss
Jan 7, 2013
145
73
First Name
Chad
But the question will remain, rank high for WHAT? Rank high for "Billy Bob's Ford"?

SEO doesn't answer basic consumer questions in a high-involvement purchase - "Is this a dealership I can trust?", "Is this the right car for me?", "Is this the right dealership for me?", "Is this right salesperson for me?" the list goes on...
That is the problem, and indeed, the beauty, of selling a high-involvement item.
Rank high for terms searched by the shopper in your market area or SEO market area. This is simple keyword and location research which will help you accomplish this.

SEO was never intended to sell a product or service, it's used to acquire a shopper/customer to give you that chance to answer those questions. Your value props and inventory selection should answer those questions. SEO doesn't directly sell vehicles, but it's an acquisition source to allow that opportunity to present your dealership and product in which you normally wouldn't get.
 

csabatka1

Boss
Jan 7, 2013
145
73
First Name
Chad
The majority of our organic search referrals are people searching some variation of the dealership name, and very few are looking for "car dealer Columbus Ne" or the like.
This is simply false. Looking at last 30 days of non-branded queries for a dealership near Columbus, NE. This is what people are searching for:

3,135 searches performed.

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Tallcool1

Boss
Mar 17, 2014
352
211
First Name
Clint
This is simply false. Looking at last 30 days of non-branded queries for a dealership near Columbus, NE. This is what people are searching for:

3,135 searches performed.

columbus ne car dealerships
columbus ford dealer
ford dealer columbus
ford dealership columbus
used ford columbus
columbus ford dealership
used cars columbus ne
certified ford columbus
used ford dealer columbus
new ford dealer columbus
new ford flex columbus
new ford taurus columbus
new ford fiesta columbus
ford columbus ne
ford columbus
ford service center columbus
used cars for sale columbus
car dealerships in columbus ne
columbus ne auto dealers
anderson auto columbus
columbus chrysler dodge jeep ram dealership 68601
car dealerships columbus ne
used truck dealer columbus ne
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mazda columbus ne
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I was referring to my actual organic search referrals that could be tracked in Google Analytics. I am talking about the customers that actually came to my website, and what their search terms were.

clock tower auto columbus ne
clock tower auto
clock tower auto mall
clock tower columbus ne
clock tower auto mall columbus ne
clock tower auto mall columbus, ne
clocktower auto
clock tower auto sales columbus ne
clocktowerauto
columbus ne used car dealers
used car dealers in columbus ne
www.clocktowerauto.com
auto dealers in columbus ne
clock tower

In that order. I believe that I am going to search some of those non branded queries you listed and see if I show up?

Along the lines of this, why do so many of the organic search keywords show up as not provided?
 
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