Car dealers on the wrong side of search

A quick cars for sale search in Google reveals car dealers have a lot to do if they want to rank in organic results. Aggregators seem to have the SEO game locked up, but can it be turned around?

According to Google AdWords the number of specific car buying search terms range from 200 – 450,000 per month, with cost per clicks ranging from $0.25 – $20.00. Google search revenue for the automotive category is predominantly derived from dealers, and you can why in a typical search engine results page (SERP).

SERP Anatomy
Anatomy of a Search Engine Results page (SERP)

Organic results are clearly dominated by by the aggregators – so much so that you’d be pressed to find any car dealer on page one in the natural search results. Dealers, thinking they can’t compete in the organic space, push the majority of online marketing spend into SEM to gain some visibility. But as you can see from the example above there is just as much competition in paid search, with the top three positions being  the most highly sought after.

Manufacturers usually claim top spot for branded terms due to higher quality scores, which leaves dealers fighting among themselves for the leftovers. If you are not in the top three paid spots you may as well forget it. Hardly anyone will look at the results in the right hand column, let alone click on them (dodgy competition being the unfortunate exception). Eye tracking studies seem to support the theory.

Dealers have always been on the wrong side of digital. Either pay for clicks that don’t convert, or pay increasing costs per lead to the likes of Carsales.

So is it possible for car dealers to compete in the organic search space?

Car dealers need an SEO strategy

The good news is “all is not lost” for car dealers. There are opportunities to rank higher up in organic results – you just need to know where to look.

Content is (and always has been) the key to better organic rankings. By creating content rich landing pages, and presenting new and used car inventory in the proper digital format, the more likely car buyers will find their way into the dealership.

Car dealers can achieve quick wins by ensuring all HTML elements are keyword and location specific, so search engines better understand your content.

Are aggregator feeds the answer?

Some dealers integrate aggregator-based listings on their websites, but from a seach perspective this practice generally serves to benefit the aggregator. The dealer generally has no control over its inventory (especially how listings are served up to users) because the car listing is actually housed the the aggregator server.

The only benefit of the existing setup to dealers is listings can be viewed on their website. It doesn’t mean the website will be found via a search.

Location is the key to winning

Budget aside, car buyers want to know two things – what and where. WHAT is the car they want to buy, and WHERE can they get one? The WHERE is a key element of any search, especially with the massive swing towards mobile search. Local dealers have this ace up their sleeves and, when integrated correctly into web strategy, can help win the race to the top of search.