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Rant Alert - let's talk about SEO and Website Vendors

EmilyJSpellman

Full Sticker + Prep
Apr 11, 2019
20
16
First Name
Emily
So I have been blessed to have a varied technological and marketing background and therefore have a basic understanding of most aspects of the digital world.

Sometimes I wish I didn't.

Every time I look into an issue I feel like I am opening Pandora's box. Then I have to spend weeks teaching my vendor how to do the job I pay them to do. Example:

I recently managed the build of our new website and it's a nice site. First, I had to spend months in development to get everything working correctly and looking good. Apparently, many dealers are not super particular about things and cookie-cutter is a-okay for them because these people were acting like I was fresh off the bus from crazy town when I said I wouldn't launch the site until everything was 100% right. I mean do other dealers just skim things and push "go"? Seriously, I'm asking because I don't know.

Now I opened another Pandora's box full of idiocy. A couple months ago my GM and I noticed numbers slipping in certain categories where we should excel. He jumped into his end of things and I jumped into mine. After noticing some big drop offs on certain ranking keywords for those underperforming categories after the site migrated, I did a little SEO/Site audit and started asking questions. After I made a lot of noise, my "website advocate" (who I'm pretty sure couldn't even manage a Wordpress blog on her own) set up a call with their SEO "expert". Most of his responses consisted of phrases like "well that is just how the platform was designed" and "that won't effect your ranking". Personally, phrases like that annoy me because they indicate that someone is either lazy or technologically incompetent. I decided to brush it off in the moment and dig deeper myself. I dug deep into analytics, ads, PageSpeed insights, search console, and even had a third-party do an audit for me. Ya know, so I could prove that I'm not taking crazy pills. I mean I've been doing this for over a decade but apparently, that can't compete with the expansive knowledge base of their automated zen desk....... so I digress.....

In doing all that digging the amount of issues I found was staggering. I found everything from basic issues like dead links, duplicate content, meta garbage and 404 errors to more complex issues like a lack of a budget.json file, not utilizing the font display CSS feature and high TTFB. At first, my frustration was entirely directed towards my web provider but after that, I audited three of our top competitors to see where they were out playing us the most. What I discovered is almost the most frustrating realization of them all- they all have the same crap website structure even with different providers. Actually, ours was better even with all of our issues. In that moment, I finally realized that this is just the substandard stuff that the auto industry is accustomed to.

If I were the average owner or GM, I wouldn't even know what that stuff is let alone be able to detect a problem. I would see numbers slipping and probably start throwing money at things like SEM, display and whatever the flavor-of-the-month is. Even sadder is that I am having to hold my vendor's hand in bringing these things up to any kind of reasonable standard. They seriously don't seem to know what to do- at least the customer-facing people don't and the tech support people claim they "can't" do anything. In the 10 months I have been in the auto industry, I have encountered this issue with vendor after vendor. I have shopped vendors a lot and feel like I have some of the best but I still feel like a babysitter. What's worse is that I feel like unless I have a b****fit about these things, no one takes it seriously or it gets swept under the rug. It's exhausting.

Don't get me wrong- I love my job. I love what I do and I work with great people but good Lord, I feel like I need to start having some of my vendors pay me a consultant fee or something!!!!

See? Just a rant. Nothing educational to see here LOL

Please tell me that I am not the only one!
 
Last edited:
Jan 26, 2014
1
0
First Name
Brodie
Sometimes the cheapest vendor isn't the best. If you don't want to do all the heavy lifting get a better partner. Not sure what else I can say about picking the right dealer partner.
 

Adam Thrasher

Full Sticker
Dec 3, 2011
13
15
First Name
Adam
Unfortunately, this is commonplace with nearly every automotive website vendor. I hope you were at least able to have your existing Google analytics account added to the new site and make sure your goals and events are properly setup.
 
Jan 3, 2019
186
129
First Name
Marc
Hi Emily,

this is a great question and I'll try to answer it the best I can. I spent a total of 6 years in a dealership website agency called
D2C Media in Canada. Too bad you're in the States, they have a very strong product. During those few years, I onboarded between 100-150 dealers.

A long time ago, I also ran a very simple website agency, plus I also worked in car dealerships. I'm saying all this because these experiences got me to understand the whole thing a little bit better.

Every time I look into an issue I feel like I am opening Pandora's box. Then I have to spend weeks teaching my vendor how to do the job I pay them to do. Example:
I recently managed the build of our new website and it's a nice site. First, I had to spend months in development to get everything working correctly and looking good. Apparently, many dealers are not super particular about things and cookie-cutter is a-okay for them because these people were acting like I was fresh off the bus from crazy town when I said I wouldn't launch the site until everything was 100% right. I mean do other dealers just skim things and push "go"? Seriously, I'm asking because I don't know.

You have to understand management, with the amounts of moving parts a car dealership has at all times, changing website was either A) something they want to get done ASAP B) something they don't want to deal with I understand that.

Now I opened another Pandora's box full of idiocy. A couple months ago my GM and I noticed numbers slipping in certain categories where we should excel. He jumped into his end of things and I jumped into mine. After noticing some big drop offs on certain ranking keywords for those underperforming categories after the site migrated, I did a little SEO/Site audit and started asking questions. After I made a lot of noise, my "website advocate" (who I'm pretty sure couldn't even manage a Wordpress blog on her own) set up a call with their SEO "expert". Most of his responses consisted of phrases like "well that is just how the platform was designed" and "that won't effect your ranking". Personally, phrases like that annoy me because they indicate that someone is either lazy or technologically incompetent. I decided to brush it off in the moment and dig deeper myself. I dug deep into analytics, ads, PageSpeed insights, search console, and even had a third-party do an audit for me. Ya know, so I could prove that I'm not taking crazy pills. I mean I've been doing this for over a decade but apparently, that can't compete with the expansive knowledge base of their automated zen desk....... so I digress.....

In doing all that digging the amount of issues I found was staggering. I found everything from basic issues like dead links, duplicate content, meta garbage and 404 errors to more complex issues like a lack of a budget.json file, not utilizing the font display CSS feature and high TTFB. At first, my frustration was entirely directed towards my web provider but after that, I audited three of our top competitors to see where they were out playing us the most. What I discovered is almost the most frustrating realization of them all- they all have the same crap website structure even with different providers. Actually, ours was better even with all of our issues. In that moment, I finally realized that this is just the substandard stuff that the auto industry is accustomed to.

If I were the average owner or GM, I wouldn't even know what that stuff is let alone be able to detect a problem. I would see numbers slipping and probably start throwing money at things like SEM, display and whatever the flavor-of-the-month is. Even sadder is that I am having to hold my vendor's hand in bringing these things up to any kind of reasonable standard. They seriously don't seem to know what to do- at least the customer-facing people don't and the tech support people claim they "can't" do anything. In the 10 months I have been in the auto industry, I have encountered this issue with vendor after vendor. I have shopped vendors a lot and feel like I have some of the best but I still feel like a babysitter. What's worse is that I feel like unless I have a b****fit about these things, no one takes it seriously or it gets swept under the rug. It's exhausting.

Don't get me wrong- I love my job. I love what I do and I work with great people but good Lord, I feel like I need to start having some of my vendors pay me a consultant fee or something!!!!

See? Just a rant. Nothing educational to see here LOL

Please tell me that I am not the only one!

So I have been blessed to have a varied technological and marketing background and therefore have a basic understanding of most aspects of the digital world.

Sometimes I wish I didn't.

Every time I look into an issue I feel like I am opening Pandora's box. Then I have to spend weeks teaching my vendor how to do the job I pay them to do. Example:

I recently managed the build of our new website and it's a nice site. First, I had to spend months in development to get everything working correctly and looking good. Apparently, many dealers are not super particular about things and cookie-cutter is a-okay for them because these people were acting like I was fresh off the bus from crazy town when I said I wouldn't launch the site until everything was 100% right. I mean do other dealers just skim things and push "go"? Seriously, I'm asking because I don't know.

Now I opened another Pandora's box full of idiocy. A couple months ago my GM and I noticed numbers slipping in certain categories where we should excel. He jumped into his end of things and I jumped into mine. After noticing some big drop offs on certain ranking keywords for those underperforming categories after the site migrated, I did a little SEO/Site audit and started asking questions. After I made a lot of noise, my "website advocate" (who I'm pretty sure couldn't even manage a Wordpress blog on her own) set up a call with their SEO "expert". Most of his responses consisted of phrases like "well that is just how the platform was designed" and "that won't effect your ranking". Personally, phrases like that annoy me because they indicate that someone is either lazy or technologically incompetent. I decided to brush it off in the moment and dig deeper myself. I dug deep into analytics, ads, PageSpeed insights, search console, and even had a third-party do an audit for me. Ya know, so I could prove that I'm not taking crazy pills. I mean I've been doing this for over a decade but apparently, that can't compete with the expansive knowledge base of their automated zen desk....... so I digress.....

In doing all that digging the amount of issues I found was staggering. I found everything from basic issues like dead links, duplicate content, meta garbage and 404 errors to more complex issues like a lack of a budget.json file, not utilizing the font display CSS feature and high TTFB. At first, my frustration was entirely directed towards my web provider but after that, I audited three of our top competitors to see where they were outplaying us the most. What I discovered is almost the most frustrating realization of them all- they all have the same crap website structure even with different providers. Actually, ours was better even with all of our issues. In that moment, I finally realized that this is just the substandard stuff that the auto industry is accustomed to.

If I were the average owner or GM, I wouldn't even know what that stuff is let alone be able to detect a problem. I would see numbers slipping and probably start throwing money at things like SEM, display and whatever the flavor-of-the-month is. Even sadder is that I am having to hold my vendor's hand in bringing these things up to any kind of reasonable standard. They seriously don't seem to know what to do- at least the customer-facing people don't and the tech support people claim they "can't" do anything. In the 10 months I have been in the auto industry, I have encountered this issue with vendor after vendor. I have shopped vendors a lot and feel like I have some of the best but I still feel like a babysitter. What's worse is that I feel like unless I have a b****fit about these things, no one takes it seriously or it gets swept under the rug. It's exhausting.

Don't get me wrong- I love my job. I love what I do and I work with great people but good Lord, I feel like I need to start having some of my vendors pay me a consultant fee or something!!!!

See? Just a rant. Nothing educational to see here LOL

Please tell me that I am not the only one!

I understand your frustration. I know there are a lot of vendors out there cutting corners, on purpose or not.

The main issue I see is that they want to compete on price. They want to be the cheapest and think they'll get thousands of dealers this way and they'll make money. This is a mistake. This race to the bottom ensures the product is not kept at competitive levels. I mean, some charge under $200/month for tools that drive 50% + of the business today and welcome over 10,000 visitors a month. Do you really want to have the cheapest solution around?

Truth is, dealer websites are easy. Making a great website platform is hard. There are non-sense in the best even outside the auto industry (WP, Squarespace, Shopify to name a few) but still.

The next option is to create a custom website. But by the time you're done, you'll have invested A LOT of money and you haven't even started to keep it up to pace yet. The web changes, Google changes, everything changes. The dealers I have seen go the custom route only made this move once, they got spooked after. If you want to ace this, you'll need a strong dev team with a master product manager because it's really hard. And you've guessed it, this is a lot of $$$. Large groups can go this route but a single rooftop can't really do this.

Just like cars, every product has its flaws. You can bet people can find nonsense about the cars you sell. It just the way the world works.

Focus on what moves the needle. What about your site can create SALES. We all get too caught up in the tech stuff sometimes and we focus on the wrong things.
 

Jeff Kershner

Founder
May 1, 2005
3,728
1,295
First Name
Jeff
@EmilyJSpellman welcome to the world of automotive dealer marketing. Thanks for sharing your rant. I would venture to say we have all dealt with these issues and continue to do so.
 

Jeff Glackin

3rd Base Coach
Feb 14, 2014
44
24
First Name
Jeff
Trusting your website provider to do your SEO is equivalent to trusting Google to do your PPC. Not it all cases but in most. At least your “expert” sounded honest and admitted their “solution” was platformed based fill in the blanks type SEO and no real SEO was being performed. Most are in that same boat but have mouth pieces talking big game and delivering nothing more than automated junk. “We want to be your <insert city> <insert brand>”

Requiring proof of work every month and measuring traffic increases and quality every month is the only way to ensure you are actually getting the results you are paying for.

Dealerships fall for the “SEO is a long term play” which it is but you should still see what is being done to ensure the groundwork is being built for that strategy. Too many sit and wait 4-6 months hoping they are gaining ground only to find out what you found out. NOTHING real happened. It’s criminal.
 
  • 1
Reactions: Miles Orme
Apr 29, 2011
432
204
First Name
Chris
Do you work for Circle Buick GMC? If not - no biggie. If you do - start lobbying someone to get photos on new vehicles. You're in a competitive market and people using the site are doing it to pick out their next car. Even the better color/trim matched stock photos don't cut it. I'd bounce right off the site.
 

EmilyJSpellman

Full Sticker + Prep
Apr 11, 2019
20
16
First Name
Emily
Trusting your website provider to do your SEO is equivalent to trusting Google to do your PPC. Not it all cases but in most. At least your “expert” sounded honest and admitted their “solution” was platformed based fill in the blanks type SEO and no real SEO was being performed. Most are in that same boat but have mouth pieces talking big game and delivering nothing more than automated junk. “We want to be your <insert city> <insert brand>”

Requiring proof of work every month and measuring traffic increases and quality every month is the only way to ensure you are actually getting the results you are paying for.

Dealerships fall for the “SEO is a long term play” which it is but you should still see what is being done to ensure the groundwork is being built for that strategy. Too many sit and wait 4-6 months hoping they are gaining ground only to find out what you found out. NOTHING real happened. It’s criminal.

Believe me- I understand this and do not pay them for SEO. I actually trained my in-house marketing assistant to do much of this because it was clear to me from early on that the SEO teams were not gonna cut it. The issues I have run into stem from implementation- poor structure, poor code, poor QC, etc. Because I monitor and manage things myself with analytics and search console, I saw the issues. The company I am working with are pretty honest and are one of the better quality ones which is why it is so sad to me that I have to do their work for them. I really believe that most of the people I am speaking to were clueless that this issues existed. Really I am not convinced they even understand what I'm talking about half the time!

I suppose it is what it is. It makes me sad as a marketing pro because I can see that other dealers probably are getting hosed and wasting so much money. I hate that. I really do :(
 

EmilyJSpellman

Full Sticker + Prep
Apr 11, 2019
20
16
First Name
Emily
Do you work for Circle Buick GMC? If not - no biggie. If you do - start lobbying someone to get photos on new vehicles. You're in a competitive market and people using the site are doing it to pick out their next car. Even the better color/trim matched stock photos don't cut it. I'd bounce right off the site.
I do and I agree! My GM and I went round and round about the CGI stuff. In the end, he also owns the dealership so he won. I was just talking to him today about changing back because I 100% agree with you. Maybe you can come talk some sense into him for me LOL
 
  • 1
Reactions: Chris Cachor
Apr 29, 2011
432
204
First Name
Chris
I do and I agree! My GM and I went round and round about the CGI stuff. In the end, he also owns the dealership so he won. I was just talking to him today about changing back because I 100% agree with you. Maybe you can come talk some sense into him for me LOL
I'd try to put some engagement numbers together from your site and third party sites you list on. I'd think lead count and any engagement numbers would be down. Same with changes to your bounce rate and time on site. I think you can get away with it more in rural areas or on less competitive brands but if you're selling new trucks and SUV's, especially in your market, getting those merchandised competitively is important. If you're spending considerable money on new car ads, your CPL/CPE is going to sky rocket - so the added expense of doing them I think would ultimately save you money on the ad spend side.

For me personally, I usually say no to the dealer unless it's an exception on that vehicle alone (in transit, photo person not there yet).
 
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