If you have 150 pages with duplicate titles, you lose the ability to make that page unique to the search engines
With 80% plus of both new and late model used shoppers using Google in the search process, you could be losing market share if you rely strictly on your web company for direction with SEO. Stronger search results with Google will lead to higher unique visits, which will lead to increased retail sales. Strong Google search results can accomplish what multiple full-page color ads did in the major papers twenty years ago. To a lesser degree, you should also be focused on other search engines like Yahoo and Bing. Progressive operators are focusing more of their time on understanding the basics with SEO to at the minimum, question their web provider on concerns related to this area. As one general manager from Portland put it, “I know that it is important but who do you call for help?”
The first step according to Michael Donovan from Lia Auto Group is to use the free resources made available by Google. It is critical to know where you are at in the eyes of the search engines. Set up a Google Webmaster Tools account (GWMT). It will take five minutes to drop a meta tag, from the GWMT, into your web site. You can also send the meta tag to the web site provider and allow them to add it to the home page. Some web companies allow you to use their backend tool to add the meta tag yourself. A similar step can be used with Yahoo and Bing, but as previously mentioned, the main focus should be with Google. The use of the meta tag will authenticate ownership of your site and allow you to access the full suite of tools and very valuable data and information needed for a comprehensive SEO strategy. If you’re managing more than one site, it’s very simple to add additional URLs to the dashboard.
The first order of business once your site is verified will be to expand the diagnostics menu and view the HTML suggestions. This will show you an overview of duplicate meta descriptions and titles. Many web site providers apply a default for the meta data which ultimately will show duplicate content to search engines. Google doesn’t like duplicate content so you lose page value and visibility with the search engines. The basic rule is to have different titles and different descriptions for each page. Some retail Internet directors have suggested that some web company may use duplicate titles to simply launch a new web site. This is a problem. If you have 150 pages with duplicate titles, you lose the ability to make that page unique to the search engines.
Google reads for relevancy from left to right, just like us. The most relevant information should be on the left side. Dealers have been trained to focus on the name of their dealership with traditional advertising. The opposite is important with titles for the search engines. An example would be “Toyota Dealer serving Albany, Colonie, Schenectady NY | Lia Toyota”. Here is a breakdown of this title: brand, dealership, cities, state and last, the name of the dealership. There are character counts for both the title (65 including spaces) and descriptions (150). Using the GWMT report can help you to determine the web company’s effectiveness in managing this process. You may also be able to increase the number of relevant core website pages to a higher number, which will help with SEO. The key with the description is providing a brief excerpt, specific to each page. If all the descriptions are the same, again, you lose rank since nothing is unique.
The second major step is to submit your Sitemap to Google in an .XML format. This can be accomplished by searching Google and adding XML at the end of your URL. For example, if you are the manager of Frank Smith Chevrolet, with a similar URL, you would type in franksmithchevrolet.com/sitemap.xml. If you can’t pull the sitemap, request it from your webmaster at no charge. Google will then check your site daily for problems.
When a prospect is using Google to search for a specific model, “spiders” crawl the web looking for relevant matches. If you have missing pages that can’t be crawled, you miss opportunities. The Sitemap in this specific format will ensure there’s not a single page of your site that Google won’t find and crawl. It will also help you to identify broken links. Most often broken links are buried on a site, usually in hypertext. If you’ve recently moved from one platform to another and brought your content with you it’s very likely you brought some broken links along. Another common example is when dealers add service scheduling and CRM tools to their site. The old page is usually taken down but may be linked to from text on the home page. If a “Google Bot” crawls that link and ends up on a dead end your site is devalued. If this happens frequently throughout your site you may not rank well in searches for service.
Once you make certain that the site doesn’t have issues with broken links and the titles and tags are not duplicates, focus on the following:
- Onsite content on your web site: current products should be added as quickly as possible, even if you need to create content (new model releases, current model line-up). Identify and post what the differences are with the 2012 models from the 2011. Michael Donovan, for example, was able to add the 2012 Civic to the Lia website forty five days before it was released. Michael included information on MSRP, fuel economy and other content relevant to gain search with the Google search engine.
- · If the 2012 model isn’t out yet, it is okay to link out to OEM site in the earlier stages, but you don’t want to consistently send people away from your web site. Building pages out before your competition will give you an edge. Get it cached early.
- Use directory listings: Online business listing like Google places, Yellow pages, Yahoo and Bing are critical to gain search results. Build it out with links back to your dealer website. Tie two Google tools together…Google’s “URL shortner”, goo.gl. Logged into a gmail account while you are using the URL shortner so that all the URL’s have tracking (number of clicks). Yellow pages are also important with the dealership’s phone number, address but this listing should have unique content and be different than what was placed on Google pages.
- Test and create a blog site: The blog site should be linked back to the web site. More and more people are reading blogs, an 80% increase from three years ago. Example: The Superior Ford Chronicle – Blog about events and new models. If you manage it, the blog will rank and help drive search results.
This article will hopefully encourage dealers, general managers and Internet directors to take action by providing steps to increase the visibility of your site. You can then challenge your rep for your website company to develop a plan to increase organic search results. Remember that your web company works for you. Be willing to say, “I don’t understand what you just said and I want you to simplify the language that you are using with me.” Catherine Martinez, Internet director for the Ed Morse Group, was very frustrated with her SEO results. She reminded her web company that she was the client and she made SEO discussions a major priority over a series of discussions. You should take the time to understand how back links can help with driving search results. Finally, consider hiring an SEO specialist or using outside resources to increase the visibility of your SEO strategy. Wayne Ussery, Internet director for Jim Ellis, elected to take over the SEO function by hiring his own person. He significantly drove search results. Wayne’s belief was that he could do a better job of making his site more unique if he focused on the SEO aspect. The key is being willing to dive in and work on these initiatives. SEO can appear to be a mystery but like any area, the more you understand, the easier it becomes to influence results.