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View From the Top: SEO Signals

SEO Is Not a Project – It’s All of Them

I want to talk about SEO from a bit of a high level. I share a lot of specific tips & strategies for boosting specific signals for your dealership, but today we’re going to take a step back. A lot of people are disappointed in their SEO efforts because they’re thinking of it as a project with a start and an end date – like a radio ad or a billboard – where the costs are predictable and they’re buying something specific.

Instead, SEO is all of the projects that go into maintaining and improving a website’s visibility, with recurring and variable costs depending on how large the projects are.

SEO is Content, it’s Public Relations, it’s Social Media, it’s Community Involvement, it’s User Experience, it’s Conversion Optimization, and everything else combined. Everything digital that you do at your dealership sends a signal, which search engines use to determine your visibility. All of those signals need to work together. A slow website with poor content can get all the links in the world, but its potential visibility will be very low. On the other hand, a fast website with great content will go nowhere if no one knows about it. Good optimization needs a holistic approach that addresses each signal with a purpose.

Now, in order for it to be holistic, we need to find out what we’re working with. The first month of most SEO engagements is spent on audits and research. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution if you want sustainable results. How many times can you hit the bullseye if you’re wearing a blindfold? The audits point us to the board, and the research lets us see the target. There are a lot of moving parts that need to align in order to get results – and we have to know the condition of each one.

Sometimes, people like to just focus on specific areas of SEO, like Content, or only do what they’re good at. A-la-carte SEO can work if you’ve already got resources put into everything else and just need some extra hands. However, if that one piece off the menu is the only thing you’re doing, the results are going to be sluggish and unreliable. Everything needs to be dialed in and working toward something specific. If you’ve got an SEO provider, but you never talk to someone who understands how every channel needs to be aligned with your goals, do yourself a favor and walk away before you spend too much time going nowhere.

It’s also important to keep in mind that even the strongest efforts don’t show quick results. Your site’s organic performance typically stems from changes that were made weeks or even months ago. If you stopped SEO 90 days ago and are starting to see a decline, it’ll take another 90 days to fully recover – that’s 6 months down the drain while your competitors are moving further out of reach.

What Are SEO Signals?

I’ve mentioned signals a number of times – all that really means is the stuff search engines see when they’re crawling the web. These digital signals are what SEO projects are designed to influence.

There are direct signals (or On Site Signals) that are under your control:

  • Your Name, Address, and Phone number (NAP)
  • Your code, like the alt text for an image, or Schema markup
  • Your content

And indirect signals (or Off Site Signals) that you can’t actively control, but you can influence:

  • Reviews
  • News articles
  • Natural backlinks

Each one is used by search engines to help them interpret a page, its purpose, and determine its value.

So at its core, all SEO really means is optimizing the right stuff consistently. Search engines look for two answers for each signal: Yes, or No. A few examples:

Is the searcher’s phrase on the page? Does the rest of the page support it?

Check out this example. If someone is looking for an oil change, they probably aren’t looking for articles on how often fast food places change their oil. How can we optimize for that search phrase? Add some extra context with Service Coupons, Tech Certifications, Oil Brands, or Mileage and Maintenance checklists.

We also have to stay within that context. If we overload the page with references to Buying Used Cars, or Leasing New Cars, and talking about Multiple Cities, we’re effectively diluting the amount of confidence in the page. A higher level of confidence means more potential visibility – don’t make search engines guess what the main topic is. If they’re confident in what the page is about, they’ll show it more frequently in the results.

Does the page have any authority? Does the page matter?

Does anyone else care about the page enough to link to it? Did you make sure search engines could find it through smart internal linking, or is it hiding in the sitemap? If everything else is highly similar to your competition, a higher authority may make all the difference. Get involved with the community – work with car shows, work with charities, and work with other businesses. In general, the more references there are to your site the more authoritative you become. Trustworthy references build trust.

Does the page load reasonably quickly? Is the experience good?

If it consistently takes 15-20+ seconds for the page to load, the searcher has already hit the back button and found your competitor. Search engines can recognize that, and they know how long it took the page to render last time they crawled it.

The click patterns of an unhappy searcher are pretty recognizable: click a link, come back to the results quickly, click on another link, and stay there. After hundreds or thousands of people do that, search engines catch on that the competitor should be ranked higher.

Putting it All Together

SEO is about cumulative action and smart, purposeful optimization to maximize your signal strength. Everything that isn’t consistent is just an anchor that weighs down your site.

Research – what are people looking for, what’s the competition doing? What has or hasn’t worked?

Implement – optimize specific pages to answer specific questions.

Promote – community outreach, social posts, share content, get links.

Patience – trust the research and let it play out. When the strategy changes, the clock starts over.

Convert – this is the whole point. The funnel has to be optimized in order to turn visitors into customers.

At the end of the day, the best SEO strategy is specific, realistic, and data-driven — and that requires understanding the process soup to nuts. A common complaint I hear is that SEO services were paid for, but the results just weren’t there. If that’s the case, go back through your SEO strategy, point by point, and make sure you’re covering the areas I’ve listed here. If you’re not, fill in the gaps.

Happy optimizing!

Author Greg Gifford

Greg Gifford is the Vice President of Search at DealerOn. He has over 16 years of online marketing and web design experience, and has specialized in automotive SEO for the last 8 years, helping hundreds of auto dealers thrive while the industry has struggled during the recession. Greg speaks internationally at both automotive and SEO conferences, teaching thousands of small business owners and marketers how to get their sites to show up higher in local search rankings. Greg also spends his spare time doing freelance website design and SEO for local businesses. He graduated from Southern Methodist University with a BA in Cinema and Communications, and has an obscure movie quote for just about any situation.

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