• christineyeela

Introducing New SEO Best Practices For Auto Dealership Sites

Updated: Apr 22


I was brought on by a company in Pacific Palisades, CA called FusionZONE Automotive to broaden the scope of their existing SEO practices to include the latest developments and trends in SEO.


I worked on analyzing existing challenges and introducing new practices for long term SEO success, while creating specific, trackable processes for executing upon these strategies.


The focus of my approach was based around the creation of high quality content as the most reliable way to optimize SEO performance. But this isn't just my opinion, search engine optimization through the creation of consistent, high quality content is recommended by top leading industry experts.

An article by Search Engine Land, SEO Guide: Content and Search Engine Success Factors, gives these words of advice, "Get your content right, and you’ve created a solid foundation to support all of your other SEO efforts."


Additional articles include:


Why SEO Is All About Content Marketing - Kissmetrics

The Importance of Quality Content For SEO - Yoast


Also, according to Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, "Content is one of the most important Google ranking factors."

In their article, 2017's Four Most Important Ranking Factors, Search Engine Journal elaborates, "content has been an important ranking factor for a while — but in recent years, we’ve seen a shift away from keyword-focused content towards more relevant content written in natural language."


Learn more about my content-centric approach and the secondary tactics I recommended to help FusionZONE clients benefit from a holistic SEO strategy that accounts for the top Google and Bing ranking factors.


FusionZONE: Company Background


FusionZONE specializes in the development of responsive websites for car dealerships. However, they also provide additional offerings such as SEO, social media and Adwords account management.


Limitations of existing SEO Practices:


  • Much of their existing SEO results were being achieved through technical optimizations alone

  • The on-page set of factors that they had been implementing included basic (generic) content, H1/H2 headers, SEO title and primary keyword usage within the url.

  • The entire area of off-site SEO (e.g. backlinks) was missing from their offering set. The challenge here had to do with finding safe, but effective sources of backlinks.


FusionZONE was interested in expanding their SEO practices beyond these basic areas.


Old SEO versus New SEO


In the past, SEO was strongly contingent on the number of backlinks pointing to a site. However, because this was being used to manipulate search algorithms, Google started penalizing poor quality backlinks through their Panda update.


Now, it is more essential for brands to create top quality content in order to generate authentic forms of signals which demonstrate that their online presence truly meets the demands of users.





Google is ultimately designed to meet (informational) demand with the right supply.


The search engine company has a vested interest to do so since the success of their ads depends on getting people to use Google, and not other search engines.Therefore, site features and design alone are oftentimes insufficient for achieving long term search exposure.


Content and user experience must be developed to produce a solid sense that the site offers exactly what users are hoping to find. And there must also be tangible indicators in the form of quality backlinks and even social signals which communicate this message to Google.


Offsite SEO - Formulating a Cost and Resource Effective System For Safe Backlinking





Google continues to rely on backlinks. This signal allows the algorithm to understand the quality of a site page as well as it's value and usefulness to users. Google then uses this information to assess the quality of the entire site.


A Natural Backlinking Profile of Do-Follow and No-Follow Links


Whether the links are do-follow or no-follow, also matters for backlinking strategies. While do-follow links carry direct SEO benefits, it is important to include no-follow links as well.


No-follow links contribute to a more natural looking backlink profile. They also help to alert search engines of content that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.


Google continues to rely on backlinks. This signal allows the algorithm to understand the quality of a site page as well as it's value and usefulness to users. Google then uses this information to assess the quality of the entire site.


A Natural Backlinking Profile of Do-Follow and No-Follow Links


Whether the links are do-follow or no-follow, also matters for backlinking strategies. While do-follow links carry direct SEO benefits, it is important to include no-follow links as well.


No-follow links contribute to a more natural looking backlink profile. They also help to alert search engines of content that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.


Social Sites - Simple Tools, Big Objectives


Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication- Leonardo da Vinci


Due to the need to have a safe source of high quality backlinks, I came up with the strategy of identifying respectable social sharing/curation sites to be used. These included the following:


  • Blogger ( A Google product which is crawled very frequently by the search engine). Offers do-follow, direct link

  • Tumblr - Offers do-follow, direct links

  • Google Plus (Another Google product which has been known to index new content rather quickly)

  • Pinterest

  • Flickr

  • Slideshare


This list may strike some as being simple and thus unimpressive. But their value cannot be underestimated. Using these sites, a backlinking campaign would benefit from high domain and page authority sources that are known to be reputable by both humans and search engines.


Also, due to their popularity, these sites are also crawled more frequently by search engines. This is important for getting links discovered in a more timely fashion.


Outreach - For Press And Quality Backlinks




In a Forbes article, He Built Multi-Million Dollar Revenues By Beating Google, First Page Sage CEO, Evan Bailyn explained how he is able to beat all the other sites to the top:

"What it all comes down to is getting links from other websites." And to do this, it is essential to have quality, top-notch content that other people would want to link to.


Crawlable Descriptions That Are Descriptive

Therefore, posting urls and cursory text is insufficient for having the links actually be noticed.


I made it a priority to invest small amounts of time to create original short snippets of thoughtfully written, informative copy. Not only is does this add interest for the reader, it also provides a searchable context for the links.


Furthermore, the original hand created descriptions created could then be repurposed into additional content for future use. This can be achieved most efficiently with the help of high quality spinning software (capable of understanding and reproducing natural human language patterns).


One rule to remember when it comes to backlinks is that the harder it is to attain, the more valuable it is.


This statement doesn’t just apply to the type of site that the link is placed, but also the context around the link.


While it might be easier to simply add the url into a field, a simple well crafted description does add greater value to the process.


Simple Process For Indexing Backlinks


Simply posting a backlink is just the first step. It is important for the posted link to be indexed in search engines. Thus it became necessary to keep a meticulous record of the backlinks and their index status.


This was achieved by creating a tracking spreadsheet to include information such as: date posted, the exact url, which page of the client site was targeted, and the indexation of the backlink


When revisiting the backlinks posted, I found that Blogger's content was the quickest to be indexed out of the set. Therefore, this site was to be used as a reliable tool for indexing our backlinks.


While pinging tools and social bookmarking tools do exist for this purpose, their results are not always guaranteed.


Writer Guidelines for Richer, Better Quality Website Copy and Editorials





Quality content is not a "nice to have" in SEO. It's a must have. Google loves authoritative content and penalizes thin content.


The primary job of it's algorithms is to help users find the best answers to their questions. Therefore, superficial, word-filling content offers little to no value for search engines.


Additionally, it should be noted that length also matters. Controlled studies have shown a rather strong correlation between content length and actual ranking performance.


One of the key challenges for the writing team was to continuously meet deadlines for numerous ongoing assignments. The strong emphasis on timeliness often compromised the quality of information being offered.


The writers did not have time to gather the facts they needed for the most optimal content.


However researching information to produce the best possible content is not something that can be ignored.


Google does compare content to others within the same niche. Therefore it becomes important to strike the right balance between quality and quantity.


It became important to find answers to the question of how the team could create better, more informative content in a time efficient manner.


I came up with the solution of drafting guidelines for specific forms of content . This was to be used as a resource for creating the richness of information that was needed.


I was able to quickly compile necessary facts, designating some as mandatory and some as optional.


And furthermore, I provided an overall structure with a clear, logical flow that would help answer the types of questions asked by regular people.


These pre-made guidelines helped writers quickly access facts and information they needed. Thus they were able to focus on simply refining the information into a clear, well written final piece.


Although social sharing sites serve as a safe source of backlinks, it was still necessary to acquire other types of links.


For local SEO purposes, acquiring links from influencers within the same region as the dealerships became important.


I decided to focus on nearby colleges and local newspapers for this purpose.


Links From Local Colleges


Since .edu domains offer particularly powerful inbound links for SEO, it made sense to reach out to local colleges near the dealerships.


For this initiative, I generated outreach letter template. The messaging requested that a link to the dealership site be placed on appropriate resource pages offered by the school.


Students could then learn more about the year round college grad rebate program maintained by the dealer.


Furthermore, I also requested content opportunities on behalf of the client, having to do with the topic of business and career advice for aspiring young adults.


Articles published in the school’s newspapers would be most ideal.


Links From Local Newspapers


Another outreach target that I felt would benefit the dealership sites included local newspapers. Not only would this serve as a potent source of backlinks, but these articles would also index highly on the dealer’s own search engine results page.


Since the Toyota sites were being evaluated and penalized for the presence of "disfavored results" (e.g. competitor dealerships), including a greater number of highly ranked content associated with the dealerships would help push down these undesired results.


Links from colleges and newspapers would also give our clients a much stronger competitive edge over other similar dealerships in their area.


Automated Backlinking Solution


Although outreach is one way to acquire high valued, content opportunities, it is also possible to automate the process of acquiring backlinks. One tip, suggested by a renowned SEO expert, was to create a free image gallery page.


The idea is quite simple.


Free images could be offered to niche bloggers in exchange for a link posted back to the main dealership site. Everyone likes to receive free gifts and offerings. Thus the incentive of free images would present a more compelling reason for an influencer to post a link on behalf of our dealership clients, than the other route of simply asking them to.


Subdomain Sites





For the Toyota evaluations, FusionZONE was responsible for eliminating disfavored results that appeared when a user types in the dealership's name. This included competitor dealerships.


Content published by local colleges and newspapers is indexable and ranks highly.


But we still needed more sources. Another strategy that I aimed to implement was the use of subdomain sites.


Content To Meet User Intent


The subdomain sites themselves could be quickly generated by the programming team. All that was needed was a smart content strategy.


I analyzed Google results to see what types of car dealership pages were actually being indexed by Google.


Based on this, I noticed a rather consistent trend of content being served which as related to user demand or intent.


It seemed that the search engine anticipates the probable intent of users when they perform a search. Thus, it made sense to provide a stronger set of content which helps meet this type of demand.


Demand for Used Cars


Users typically want to find great value deals on quality pre-owned cars. Therefore a subdomain on the subject of used cars ( i.e. what factors to look for, what to avoid etc.) would then have links pointing to the used car inventory of the site.

Demand for Testimonials


Likewise, users would want to know more about the reputation of the dealership. A subdomain on the customer feedback would not only draw attention to positive reviews, but also offer other tidbits of information on how the dealership relates to their customers:


  • what goes on during a test drive

  • anecdotal details about how the sales staff ensures a quality over all customer experience.

  • meet the sales staff" section


Location Specific Content For Local SEO


Additionally, having subdomains on geographic topics would help benefit the local SEO goals of the dealership.


In other words, they would establish a stronger association between the dealership name, their offerings and their city.


Content would include:


  • popular restaurants and shopping areas

  • sight seeing spots

  • streets and routes for recommended drives and tours

  • landmarks

  • historical tourist destinations

  • beaches

  • local bodies of water etc

A major challenge to pushing down competitor sites was the issue of their longevity.


Older more established sites would be harder to surpass in rankings. Simply publishing subdomain sites would surely not be a quick fix solution.


Therefore, a more realistic goal for this initiative would be to produce an abundance of quality content over the course of time that would rival the informational offerings of competitor sites.


One benefit of subdomain sites is that they are separate from the main site. Therefore, such content is viewed as being more shareable and contribute to better results from backlinking.


On-Site SEO Internal Linking and External Linking


The homepage of the dealership sites gained the most visibility in search engines, while many of the internal pages remained in obscurity.


Thus it became necessary to connect the site pages together.


A solid internal linking system would then distribute the page authority of the homepage more evenly throughout the entire site.


Internal Links




Internal links help Google find, index and understand all of the pages on your site. If you use them strategically, internal links can send page authority (also known as Page Rank) to important pages. In short: Internal linking is key for any site that wants higher rankings in Google. - Backlink.io, Internal Linking for SEO, The Complete Guide



Although FusionZONE had been creating content for dealership pages, the company had yet to leverage the use of internal links in the manner described above. Within the search engine results pages, the homepages of the dealership sites were being prominently listed for the target search query phrases, as opposed to more relevant pages within the site. By distributing page rank authority more evenly across the pages, Internal linking was the answer to solve this issue.


I educated team members, including our staff writers on:


  • the rationale for inserting internal links

  • how to create SEO friendly anchor text for these links, using a combination of exact phrase match terms as well as broad match and long tail phrases.


A solid internal linking system would enable a greater number of internal pages to appear in search engine results. This was important for number of performance objectives, including the monthly Toyota grading evaluations.


External Links






While it was important to link the pages together, it was also necessary to link out to high authority sites.


Here are a few reasons:


Google recognizes that good sites link to other good sites. And of course, we wanted our clients to be perceived as high quality sites.


One study was performed on a set of ten newly developed sites. Half of them had external links, while the other half did not. The sites with the outbound links out performed the other half significantly in their rankings.


External links connect sites to networks of more powerful sites. So linking to a site like Kelly Blue Book would create a connection to this influencer and their hub. Such links emphasize to Google, the niche that a site belongs to.


Connecting to influential hubs helps smaller sites benefit from this association. Alternatively, search engines see unconnected sites, almost like isolated islands. And it becomes difficult for them to know what niche they belong to.


The writers were given the following rule of thumb to apply. Every page of content on a site was to have:


  • a natural number of links coming in from other pages


  • a natural number of links pointing out to other pages on the site

In conclusion, a solid internal linking structure served to help a greater number of internal pages get noticed. And external links served to contribute to improved ranking performance (among other factors).


Structured Markup





The actual content on a page tells search engine what is being discussed. But it is even possible to add an additional meta layer of information to convey how the page is useful to users. This is what schema markup does.


In a search engine result, additional labels are added. Examples might include:


  • pricing information

  • event dates

  • specials

  • features


Although structured data was being implemented by the programming team on specific car products, I introduced the use of schema markup (through the existing resource offered by Google Webmaster) as a recommended process to be used for ordinary content pages.


This was especially important for those that have a higher potential of indexing in search engine results.


Artificial Intelligence Technology For Content Generation





A huge challenge for FusionZONE (as well as SEO campaigns in general) is being able to quickly produce large amounts of unique, high quality content within a short time frame.


Duplicate content is more or less likely to be penalized by Google. And thus it is a concern for clients.


Although the company has a small team of writers, the overall demand for content was constantly overwhelming.


Combining Machine Efficiency With Human Skill


In my research, I stumbled upon the concept of content generation software. I realize that machines can never replace well written articles created by skilled humans.


However, it is possible for high quality software with advanced algorithms to closely approximate these outcomes. And a writer could then make final quick edits.


Software With Advanced Language Processing


Really basic spinning programs will identify opportunities for replacing parts of sentences with synonyms and closely related phrases.


However, they are not able to process certain nuances They might confuse a car model, for example, with a fashion model. And the final spun results would not make sense.


However, more sophisticated software products using artificial intelligence have been developed to overcome this limitation.


One such program is Word AI. Their site states:

" Unlike other spinners, WordAi fully understands what each word content means. It doesn't view sentences as just a list of words, it views them as real things that interact with each other."


Another example is Chimp Rewriter. On their site, they mention:

" Chimp Rewriter's technology is built upon exhaustive research on Natural Language Processing. This is a huge field of Artificial Intelligence enriched by students and professors at Stanford, UPenn, MIT and more. It has even been sponsored by big players like Facebook, Google and Microsoft. In plain English, that means Chimp Rewriter understands content like a human, not a machine. "


Combining Content Software


Both Chimp Rewriter and Word AI can be integrated as third party API's into a primary software program called SEO Content Machine.


SCM also allows users to specify the number of unique content pieces desired. It also offers the ability to set multiple tasks at once, even when you are away from the computer. Furthermore, it can be used with Copyscape to check for duplicate content.


In terms of projects, there are numerous cases where the subject matter remains consistent across sites and the need for originality is quite strong. This includes:


  • new car inventory pages (general listing)

  • used car inventory pages (general listing)

  • model specific inventory pages (e.g. pages specific to Toyota Camry)

  • research pages on specific models ( general information, such as specs, features etc. that customers would be interested in )


  • model comparison pages (e.g. comparing Honda Civic to the Toyota Camry )


  • "About Us" descriptions, to be used on social sharing sites


  • contextual content for posting backlinks on social sharing sites

Such tasks are incredibly time consuming. Thus it makes sense to first create seed content and making use of quality software to generate natural, well written variations.


Final edits can then be done by a writer to perfect the final outcome.


Many of the pages across the dealership sites lacked content altogether. Therefore, it was not even possible to connect pages using internal links or insert external links, as described earlier.


Expediting the content creation process through the use of software would enable the dealerships to finally benefit from these small, but important details.



Outsourcing Local SEO and Cititation Building to a Qualified Provider





It is the primary goal of car dealerships to develop a strong online association with their city name.


For example, A Toyota dealership in Santa Monica would want to rank highly for search queries such as:

  • best Toyota dealership in Los Angeles

  • best Toyota dealership in Santa Monica

  • used Toyota Santa Monica

  • used Toyota Prius Santa Monica


A cornerstone strategy for any local SEO campaign is to build a strong repertoire of citation (directory) listings to help businesses strengthen this association, in how they appear to search engines.


This includes listings and urls on sites like Yelp, City Search and Yellow pages, to name a few.


However, there are hundreds of sites that can be leveraged.


Building too many links, too fast can actually hurt a site's rankings. This rate of link acquisition is seen by search engines as unnatural and a deliberate attempt to manipulate their system.


However, creating citation listings is acceptable, since it is considered to be an expected business practice.

The actual process involved in citation building is time consuming.


And the process includes many small details that are not easily addressed. Therefore, many agencies that offer local SEO services choose outside providers who specialize in this area. However, this will not automatically guarantee results. It therefore becomes essential to choose the right service.


Since I was in charge of many sites at FusionZONE, the use of a reputable service was a logical approach, as opposed to creating business listings myself, while ensuring NAP (name, address and phone number) consistency.


FusionZONE had used similar providers in the past, but with poor results.

In my research on citation building companies, I discovered White Spark, a brand that is backed by amazing real life testimonials submitted by agencies, excited to report real results:


"Life saver, time saver, and gets results. Whitespark's citation submission (very) noticeably improved ranking for both my website and my client's sites. Also excited to try out their ranking tracker to provide more detailed keyword reports to my clients. Both Whitespark's tools/services are awesome" - Google user

"I can't think of a bigger "no-brainer" local optimization service to utilize than Whitespark's Citation Building Service. Just do it! There's no possible way you can lose. The value/reward ratio is unbeatable. In fact, you're losing out by not using this fantastic service! It's the first thing I tell any local business to do if they're trying to improve their local SEO." - Dan Shure


"Whitespark's citation building service has been a great resource for our citation campaigns. Knowing that their team is trained and capable of producing good work allows us to focus on the hundred other things we need to work on during a local SEO campaign, and helps us produce faster results for our local clients." - Kane Jamison


" I started using Whitespark's Citation Service when it was first introduced and haven't questioned that decision since. We work with a lot of SMB's and this service is a perfect compliment to their overall search strategies. Not to mention Whitespark's customer service, which is impeccable." - Mark Kennedy


Whereas other service providers use automation to create directory listings, White Spark has a team of specialists who carefully select which sites to use and hand submit the necessary details. This ensures a higher degree of overall quality that in order to be picked up by search engines. And it is also a key element to their success.


Conclusion


Again, Google's job is to meet user demand with the right supply. Search engine results can be regarded as a type of (informational) buyer's market. The online user is the buyer and the individual site is the (informational) seller.


A good analogy is building a house from the ground up with the intention to sell it. To list the house on the market, you have to first complete the process of building. In the end, it should have the types of features and amenities that would most appeal to any given buyer.


You cannot reasonably expect to receive the rewards of the final sale when you have not finished building the foundation.


The same is true for a website. However, the building process doesn't just involve finishing the website. It also involves the overall set of communication to the end user, optimizing it for both people and search engines. This includes onsite content, as well as social media content.


While on-site SEO is often limited to basic signals of H1 headers, H2 subheadings, urls and SEO titles, the final results of any campaigns must successfully cater to the needs of actual humans in mind.


The final package should clearly offer a most rewarding and enjoyable user experience. This includes offering type of information and content that people would want to read about and further explore. It needs to answer the questions that a user would want to know. And the final results need to demonstrate a superb, job of engaging the user, above and beyond other competitors within your space.


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