Strategic SEO for Car Dealers 

Many of the digital marketing strategies we talk about require making decisions. With targeted display ads you have to choose an ad type and ad content. For email campaigns you have to come up with messaging and identify a market segment. There is decision making involved in car dealer SEO too, but more of the focus falls on executing a series of technical steps. So we have some dealer SEO best practices to share. 

It’s time to walk through SEO strategy for car dealerships. First, we’ll briefly cover where automotive SEO fits into the bigger picture. From there, we’ll discuss car dealer Search Engine Optimization (SEO) best practices related to website design, keyword selection, local listings management, and voice search. 

Where does car dealer SEO fit into the bigger picture? 

According to Google, a typical car buyer’s journey can include around 900 digital interactions. These interactions can run the gamut from watching VLOGs on YouTube to asking Alexa where the closest dealership is. 

It is highly unlikely that a car dealership’s website will be the best resource for everything a car shopper might want to know about their next purchase. The fact that the dealership is in the business of selling cars means that it has skin in the game and will therefore have a hard time positioning itself as an objective or critical source of information about makes and models. Furthermore, the average dealer website won’t have any incentive to be a transparent source on all local pricing – unless it markets itself as “the best value in town.” For this kind of information, the customer will need to look elsewhere. 

That said, the dealership is the place the customer goes to assess, drive, and ultimately purchase their next car. SEO matters because when the car buyer’s search activity zeroes in on the things that the local dealership does, it’s important for the dealership to show up in a clear, coherent way. 

Car dealer SEO from the ground up. 

Getting found on a search engine involves a series of technical steps commonly known as “SEO best practices.” While the specific algorithms that Google, Bing, and other search engines use are trade secrets, you can apply these best practices to give your site a boost. Here are some of the big ones related to site design. 

  • If order to be SEO-friendly at all, search engines need to be able to read your webpages. There are several key pieces to the right general design here  – using sensible page names, adding alt-text to images so search engines know what the content is, and a good internal linking strategy to name a few. The SEO journal Search Engine Land breaks down several of the basics here

  • We go into mobile-friendliness in greater depth here. The key point is that you should design your website to work as well on mobile devices as it does on a desktop or a laptop.  

  • Speed has long been a factor in tabulating organic SEO results; and in 2018 Google updated their algorithm to emphasize mobile speed as a ranking factor. Content still seems to be a more dominant factor, but investing in a good webhost and making sure your pages load at a reasonable clip of speed is a smart move. 

Choosing the right keywords. 

When most people hear the phrase “SEO” they think keywords. What people think about less often is who, or what, these keywords are geared toward, what the user intent is or how they are using voice search. There are three basic audiences that keywords can be geared toward. 

The first audience is the local market. Just like you’d kick back with a can of “pop” in South Dakota and a can of “Coke” in Mississippi, local markets have different vernaculars that they might use to ask a search engine the same basic thing. More importantly, local conditions affect what is searched for. Consumers in South Florida should face a different set of basic ownership conditions (heavy traffic, rain) than those in Fairbanks, Alaska (longer driving distances, winter); and are probably using different keywords to address ownership questions related to cars. Your car dealer SEO strategy does well to hit on these differences. 

The second audience is people who face a common scenario. Regardless of whether a customer is in Fairbanks or Fort Lauderdale, she may have occasion to do a voice search for “car dealerships near me.” Local automotive SEO keywords need to address common scenarios like this. 

The third audience is the search engine itself. The search engine doesn’t live anywhere and has no reason whatsoever to go car shopping; it only wants to connect the user to the most useful resource. To do this the search engine looks at a mix of signals – including keywords – and uses algorithms to figure out how helpful a given website might be. The search engine combines what it knows about the searcher (including their status as part of a local audience) and the likely scenario that motivated him or her to consult a search engine and matches the searcher with the best resource. 

A good keyword strategy gives all three audiences what they’re looking for. Consumer data comes in handy here because it can answer essential questions like user intent and exact phrasing. 

Accurate dealership local listings are essential. 

Your dealership local listing, or local citation, is any online mention of your dealership’s name, address, phone number, website, business hours, and other basic information. Your local citation is what comes up when a user types in a search term like “BMW dealership Hawaii,” what they see in the contact info when they visit your Facebook page, and even how a third-party source like an online news website has your information listed.  

The customer obviously needs this information to get in touch with you. Search engines use citations to verify the quality of your website, and to a certain degree, your business.  If, say, a used car dealership in Stephen King’s fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine shows a business address of “1313 Pet Semetary Road, Castle Rock, ME” in some key directories and “133 Pet Semetary Road, Castle Rock, MA” in others, search engines may treat the dealership page as “less reliable” and ding it on the results page. In some cases, a search engine may not even show your business at all. A bad local listing also creates direct problems for customers when they navigate to 133 Pet Semetary Road and find a creepy old house instead of a car lot. 

With around fifty relevant directories out there, managing this on your own can be a challenge. A good local listings management tool should help. 

Get your site ready for voice search.

By 2020, fifty-percent of all searches will be voice search. Voice search incorporates a range of technologies and platforms – Google speakers, virtual assistants like Apple’s Siri, the voice access app on an Android phone.  Voice searches on mobile devices are three times more likely to be local searches – meaning searches for local businesses like car dealerships – than they are on other types of devices.  

This means that your previously mentioned keyword strategy will have to account for natural speech and user intent. 

Natural speech is the way people talk in contrast to the way they use text. If a car shopper in North Georgia is sitting in front of a desktop computer pondering the latest Tesla, he might type “Tesla Atlanta” into a search bar. If he is driving around on a Saturday afternoon, he might do a voice search where he asks “Where is the Tesla dealership in Atlanta?” or “Tesla dealership near me” 

What makes the second query natural speech and the first one not is that we wouldn’t be able to walk up to an Atlanta local standing on Ponce de Leon Avenue, say “Tesla Atlanta,” and expect them to guide us to a dealership. We’d ask a longer question that includes an interrogative word like “where.” We’d also ask it in a straightforward way, rather than say something like, “Might you know which streets and/or highways to take to arrive at the nearest Tesla dealership from this location in Atlanta?”  

In SEO parlance, “Where is the Tesla dealership in Atlanta?” can be considered a long-tail keyword, or a multiword phrase that asks a more specific question. The phrase “Tesla Atlanta” is a simple keyword. 

User intent is related, but it involves delving deeper into the meaning beneath natural speech. Let’s say a car shopper asks her voice assistant “what safety features do I need for a family car?” Seat belts, headlights, and a windshield are all safety features that a family car “needs,” but chances are that our car shopper is more interested in back up cams, lane-centering assist, and other sophisticated safety systems. SEO optimization for user intent involves getting to the bottom of why a question like this is being asked and choosing keywords accordingly. 

Need help hitting all the steps? 

Car dealer SEO can be a lot of work and if you need help here, or general guidance on how to create a digital marketing strategy, just say the word. We know SEO front to back and would love to get you started. 


Contact us to request a free Dealer Scorecard analysis for your dealership or Auto Group. 


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