There is a divide in the SEO community between behaviors that are considered unethical and those that are merely pushing the rules to the limit. As a dealer, you have the opportunity to choose who performs your SEO and what tactics they use to enhance your rankings. It’s up to you to make sure that your SEO’s tactics fall in line with Google’s quality guidelines in order to maintain a long term ranking strategy.
As with any industry, unethical behavior is a grey area. Everyone has an opinion about what is acceptable and what is not – the key is to educate yourself enough to be able to make your own judgments. However, I’d like to make the argument that an SEO should know, understand and abide by the quality guidelines set forth by the search engines in performing optimization services. In my book, not doing so quite often constitutes unethical behavior.
Gaming the Search Engines
The quantity and quality of links pointing to your site have a direct impact on your rankings. As a result, many SEOs will attempt to inflate rankings by participating in link schemes. Popular methods include purchasing links from third parties or creating a portfolio of websites solely intended to boost client rankings. The latter method is fairly prevalent in the automotive industry, so I’ll explain in more detail.
In this example, your SEO will have a portfolio of websites that they create/host/manage themselves, which will likely have some sort of “Popular Links” section in the sidebar area of each website. They will build up their portfolio over time, adding more websites to the mix and adding additional highly optimized direct-match keyword links in the “Popular Links” section. They will sell SEO “services” to clients, but a large part of that will include adding links to these sites.
Is this SEO? Hardly. It’s lazily gaming the search engines in an effort to inflate rankings. In the short term, this method has the potential to work wonders – but do you really think that Google will allow this sort of “SEO” to flourish in the long term? Is your SEO doing you a disservice by only providing you with links that violate the quality guidelines? What happens when you stop paying for services from this company – will the links that you purchased remain intact?
As with any sort of advertising/marketing, there are no shortcuts. Good SEO/inbound-marketing takes time, patience, and creativity – none of which are exemplified by SEOs who solely participate in link schemes. They’re out for a quick buck, and you deserve a more ethical approach for the price that you pay. Do your research, explore the previous work performed by your SEO, and use backlink search engines like Open Site Explorer to verify where your SEO obtains their links. Knowledge is power in this field, and we shouldn’t encourage such behavior in our industry.
Will a few directory submissions and paid links kill your rankings? Probably not, but it all depends on the diversity of your link portfolio. In fact, with the current state of Google’s algorithm, it might even be necessary to possess a portion paid links with exact match anchor text to rank for certain location specific queries – so long as you understand the long term risks that those links carry. If your entire link portfolio consists of paid links or links from your SEO’s farm of websites, you’d better think about looking elsewhere before the algorithm changes to discount the value that those links provide.
Long Term SEO
The real key to a long term SEO strategy is to create something of value for the user. Create something that people want to link to. Unfortunately, dealers are at a bit of a disadvantage here largely due to customer demographics and lackluster website solutions like Cobalt (and don’t even get me started on Cobalt’s “SEO” products).
Will someone with the skills necessary to make a website think your Cobalt site is great enough to link to it? I highly doubt it. You’ll need something new, innovative, fresh, and useful. Be the first in your niche to offer a custom “build-your-vehicle” feature or a simple & clean shopping cart solution to save vehicles of interest for return visits. Write a highly informative blog post about the newest offering from you manufacturer with more information, photos, and media than the manufacturer has on their own website and submit the page to Reddit or post it on Facebook. Do your best to provide resources that other websites don’t have, but don’t expect to grab a strong portfolio of links when your website looks, feels, and functions in the exact same way as your competitor down the street – and no, adding your logo to the top of the page doesn’t constitute “innovation.”
The days of set-it-and-forget-it website solutions are over. For a long term SEO strategy, you need to be constantly providing value to your users in an attempt to grab links, attract social followers, and sell vehicles. It’s the future of marketing and customer retention, and if you’re not already on-board, then you’re already losing the race.
How do you feel about SEO in the automotive industry?
Do you believe that paid links are unethical?