Google’s Panda Update Hits Press Release Effectiveness

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Many small businesses, including car dealerships, use press releases as a way to add to their search engine optimization. In fact, 3 years ago, DealerOn even recommended dealerships use a press release strategy. However, with Google’s recent algorithm changes, press release sites no longer have the search engine benefits they once did, unless and until they are able to fix some pretty big flaws in their design.

press releaseDuring Google’s Panda update, the search engine giant used human reviewers to determine the quality of a set of websites. They took that data, plugged it into their patented machine learning technology, and used that to update their algorithm. Google provided these examples of questions their testers were answering about websites:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  • Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
  • Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
  • Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
  • Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
  • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  • How much quality control is done on content?
  • Does the article describe both sides of a story?
  • Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
  • Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
  • Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
  • For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
  • Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
  • Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  • Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
  • Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
  • Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
  • Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
  • Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

So how does this impact press release publishing sites? Search Engine Land and Seer Interactive both conducted studies showing major press release sites have seen a major dip in traffic following Panda. Moz.com recently dove into a couple of the biggest issues PR aggregators could be having with the “test” questions above:

Does This Site Contain Insightful Analytics?
Typically, users don’t go to a press release website to find information. Often times, press releases are considered a necessary evil for SEO purposes, so the content isn’t thoughtful or insightful. PR websites may struggle to combat this issue as part of their appeal is lack of editorial edits to content.

Do You Consider This Site an Authority?
Because PR aggregators have a lot of information about a lot of different things, it’s difficult for them to rank high for this question.

Would you Share or Bookmark This Site?
Chances are, unless your press release is exceptionally newsworthy, it’s unlikely to be shared or bookmarked. Consider the amount of non-newsworthy press releases gathered on PR portal sites, and you can see why they may not rank well for this question.

If your dealership or SEO agency continues to use press releases as a part of your SEO strategy, consider adding graphs, charts, and images to help increase the “insightfulness” of your content. Release information when it’s truly newsworthy, and provide information that people may want to share with their friends and colleagues. Also, industry specific press release portals may have less of a chance of being affected by this Panda update, and thus giving your content a better chance of ranking well on Google’s SERP.

Take a look through the questions provided by Google. How would your car dealership website do? Use these as a guideline to providing quality content to search engine users. This is the direction Google is headed.

Google Helps Your Dealership “Settle the (Quality) Score”

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Google Adwords is probably one of your dealership’s biggest and most important online marketing investments. Even if your dealership has hired an agency to manage your investment, you should spend 15 minutes to read the information Google just put out on Quality Score.

Quality Score (QS) can be one of the more confusing aspects of Google’s Adwords algorithm, but its critical to optimizing your dealership’s Adwords account. As a part of their AdWords Best Practices Series, Google released “Settling the (Quality) Score” white paper to help small businesses understand QS.

Google repeatedly states that the Quality Score number that appears in your Adwords account is not actually used in the real-time ad quality calculations. The Quality Score figure is a simplified representation of three factors: 1) ad relevance, 2) expected Click-Through-Rate (CTR) and 3) landing page experience, that Google does use in its calculation. According to Google, the Quality score is the “warning lights in a car: something that alerts you to potential problems.”

Anyone who is familiar with Adwords already knows that for every Keyword in your account, Google provides ratings (Above Average, Average, and Below Average) for each of these 3 elements. Ideally your keywords will be “Above Average” for all of them. In the Quality Score White Paper, Google even provides specific actions you can take to improve your score for any of these three factors.

Another interesting part of this whitepaper discusses a few things that DO MATTER and those that DON’T MATTER when it comes to Quality Score.

DOES MATTER:

  1. The User’s Device – it matters to Google that you are giving users a good experience, and that includes catering to the device they are using to view your ads. Make sure your website is optimized for mobile users. Try separate ads and pages for mobile visitors.
  2. Relevance to a User’s Intentions – Google believes this is the “heart of ads quality.” “Focus on delivering relevant ads” instead of trying to game the system for a higher QS.
  3. For Newly-Launched Keywords, Performance on Related Keywords – Google will see how well the ads and pages are performing on related keywords if you’re starting out with new keywords. This prevents them from having to measure from scratch, and gives you an opportunity to start off on a good foot.

DOESN’T MATTER

  1. How You Structure Your Account – Your AdWords account should be structured in a way that makes sense for you and your dealership. Outside of that, moving a keyword into a new ad group or campaign (without changing the ad text or destination URL) will not have an impact on your Quality Score.
  2. Running Your Ads in Other Networks – Using the Google Display network or other Google search partners won’t affect the quality of your ads on Google.com.
  3. Your Ad’s Placement on the Page – Having your ad in a high position on the page is great, but it doesn’t increase the expected Click-Through-Rate of your ads. The expected CTR shown is normalized for your actual position.

This white paper is a great resource for those dealerships that manage their own PPC accounts, and even for those trying to understand how their vendor is earning their ROI. I highly recommend reading through the ten page document when you have time. The biggest takeaway? “Give your users what they need, and a great Quality Score should follow.”

How to Build Trust With Service Customers From the Start

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The fixed operations department in the average dealership generates over 50% of a typical dealer’s  gross profit, according to NADA. Since this is where you make most of your money, it’s important that you do everything you can to turn each and every visitor to your service lanes into loyal, return customers. While your fixed ops staff may have a game plan once those customers visit your service department, how can you influence their opinion of your dealership from their first interaction online?

Whether you have a dedicated service website or are making the most of the service pages on your traditional website dealership site, here are some tips to use the online presence of your service department to help instill trust before customers get into your service lane.

Build Trust From the Start – When a potential customer interacts with a call to action on your website, make sure your dealership staff responds in the way that is promised. Did they request a service appointment? Ensure the email/phone call references the information your potential customer has already volunteered.

Show Them Your Staff – Let service customers see a familiar face when they come into your service lane. Maintain your dedicated staff page and add a little bit of information about each technician. This could include their certifications and years of experience. This may help visitors build a connection with your staff before they walk in the door.  Another benefit of posting your service techs certifications and qualifications on your website also builds value for using YOUR service department as opposed to one of the national service brands that don’t have staff with comparable levels of experience and expertise.

Give a “Walk-Through” Online – Post pictures of your service department as well as what to expect from a typical service appointment. Help potential customers feel more comfortable choosing your dealership’s service department by showing them around online.

Help Keep Them on Track – Does your website have scheduled maintenance information readily available? This type of information helps set your dealership website apart from the national service brands, and helps build trust with potential consumers. Try adding videos explaining what will happen at each interval for added benefit.

Make It Easy – Reduce as much friction as possible through your website. Are your service hours accurate? Does your service scheduler work properly if your dealership offers one? Do you offer loaner vehicles or is there a shuttle service? Try to answer typical questions online.

If your fixed ops website can make your service customers comfortable before they visit your service department, you’re one step ahead in converting that quick oil change into a lifelong service customer.

Have Google Check Your Mobile Site for Speed & Usability

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In Mobile

Google’s announcement yesterday about the launch of their new PageSpeed Insights’ User Experience rules is really driving home the importance of usability and site speed on your mobile website.  They’ve previously discussed how important the speed at which your website loads (both desktop and mobile) is to their algorithm – site speed can impact the ranking of a website on Google’s SERP, as well as the likelihood of visitors to leave your site.  But at the end of the day, a fast loading site can only take you so far, especially when it comes to mobile devices.

Google is quick to point out that it is not enough to have a fast mobile website if your mobile site is not configured appropriately.  That means that users shouldn’t “have to spend another 5 seconds once the page loads to pinch-zoom and scroll the screen before they can start reading the text and interacting with the page,” because “then that site isn’t really fast to use after all.”  In other words, your mobile site needs to automatically adjust to each device.  One of the easiest ways to solve this problem is to make sure your dealership has a responsive website.

To help web developers improve the user experience on their sites, Google has launched the new PageSpeed Insights’ User Experience rules that identify and provide suggested fixes for usability issues for mobile sites.

These rules cover such things as:

  • Font Size – make sure users can read your content without having to enlarge or diminish the screen.
  • Plugin Use – since most smartphones don’t support Flash, make sure mobile users can see the most important parts of your site. If plugins carry the value and content of your dealership website, your mobile users will miss the most important information.
  • Scrolling – mobile website visitors are accustomed to scrolling vertically, not horizontally. If you aren’t using a responsive dealership website, make sure your mobile site fits the width of the device it’s designed for.

You can use the PageSpeed Insights tool to test both your desktop and mobile pages. Stay ahead of the curve (or make sure you’re caught up) by checking your mobile pages now. Many dealerships are already seeing the majority of their traffic come from mobile devices (tablet, smartphone, etc), so it’s especially important you’re presenting those visitors with the best experience possible.

While having a responsive dealership website will solve many of the usability issues your site may have, it won’t fix them all if you have a bad design. Check your mobile website regardless of the technology it is built upon.

The Difference a Combination Can Make

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In the seven years I’ve been in the automotive industry, I’ve noticed that much of the thinking tends to be segmented – Internet Dept vs. Showroom, New vs. Used, Sales vs. Service. A lot of times, this way of thinking rolls over to the advertising and marketing your dealership does, including that of your vendors – Paid vs. Organic, Digital vs. Traditional, Print Vs Online.

 

Many industries suffer from this either/or mentality, but the more you can think in terms of “and” (especially in your marketing), the more successful your dealership can be. A recent Marin Software study explored the differences in online marketing campaigns that separated their search and social advertising and those that combined those marketing efforts.

 

Google’s “The Customer Journey to Online Purchase” found that social interactions in the path to conversion “assist” other digital channel conversions twice for each time a click on a social ad directly contributes to a conversion.  This stat alone gives cause to manage digital marketing campaigns together, not in a vacuum.

 

In fact, in Google’s “Digital Drives Auto Shopping” study in November 2013, they found that the average consumer has 24 research touchpoints (including Digital and offline media) in their purchase process.   The increasingly fragmented (and often lengthy) road to sale means that when you’re not tracking and managing social and search ads together, you could be missing opportunity and your true ROI.

 

The Marin study found two key takeaways:

  • Customers Who Click on Search AND Social Ads are More Likely to Buy
  • Customer Who Click on Your Search AND Social Ads Spend More

In fact, those that clicked on both search and social ads had a click-through rate 4X higher than those that only clicked on social ads and approximately twice the . More and more car shoppers are using search and social to find your dealership and to help choose their next vehicle.  Encouraging shoppers to interact with your ads across multiple platforms means better conversion rates and ROI for your dealership. Try parroting your social ads with search ads and vice versa; present the same branding message across both platforms to increase click through rate. Retargeting is a great example of this type of combined, cross-channel marketing.

 

Change your marketing focus from the medium you’re using to advertise, and combine mediums to focus on the consumer. How can you best reach your potential customers using all of your advertising options?

 

Interested in learning more? Check out the white paper from Marin Software, The Multiplier Effect of Integrating Search & Social Advertising, and talk to your digital marketing vendors.  Make sure that your Google Analytics accounts are set up to track multi-channel conversions.  Find out what they are doing to help your dealership reach your target audience, not just what platforms they’re running your ads on.