Best PracticesDealership Marketing

Is Your Dealers SEO Strategy Ethical & Long Term?

image of SEO paid links

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?

No Shortcuts

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?

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Paid links are unethical. I've noticed that some of the best links you can get to come inbound are from participating in your community by posting comments on local news sites and other blogs that do not use the "no follow" tags. You get direct links because normally they ask for your website or you can include a link in the comment.
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    Kyle Suss
  • January 13, 2012
I certainly agree. The only thing that I wonder is how do you compete with other sites that are loaded with tons of exact match anchor text links? Its very difficult to get links as easily and some sites have sooo many paid links that you will never outrank them. Is it an appropriate approach to just sit and wait for the algorithm to get better?
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I wouldn't really take out paid links... or spamming/rss feeds from my toolbox. If it is highly competitive market... IMO do whatever it takes to get to top. I rather take a hit in a year from now... and re-work then not show up...



Would you call use of Scrapbox, XRumer, SeoNUKE, Ubots unethical as well... they do the work that you are trying to do manually.

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    Kyle Suss
  • January 13, 2012
@Umer Farooq No doubt those methods still work. In my opinion though, they're a poor way to construct an SEO plan -- especially if you're charging clients for these "services." If you aren't following the quality guidelines set forth by the search engines, then yes, I believe you are acting unethically toward your clients.
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    dealerrefresh
  • January 14, 2012
@Chris Lottman Agreed. 

Have a game plane for sharing and aquiring links from local business, communities and colleges. 

Put together a low/no hassle buying service for these companies and your guaranteed to obtain a quality link. Not to mention sales. 

This is where social, email newsletter and blogging can have a major impact on quality inbound links for your dealership. 

Take time to write about the community on your blog. Attend and Highlight different community events with photos and videos. 

When done with dedication, people will overlook the fact that your a dealership and before you know it you'll start to acquire some great organic inbound links. 

The riches of inbound links are right in your back yard. You just need to decide if your going to go after them. 
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    dealerrefresh
  • January 14, 2012
@Chris Lottman Agreed. 

Have a game plane for sharing and aquiring links from local business, communities and colleges. 

Put together a low/no hassle buying service for these companies and your guaranteed to obtain a quality link. Not to mention sales. 

This is where social, email newsletter and blogging can have a major impact on quality inbound links for your dealership. 

Take time to write about the community on your blog. Attend and Highlight different community events with photos and videos. 

When done with dedication, people will overlook the fact that your a dealership and before you know it you'll start to acquire some great organic inbound links. 

The riches of inbound links are right in your back yard. You just need to decide if your going to go after them. 
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    xstortionist
  • January 18, 2012
SEO is becoming a big waste of time in my opinion. You have companies building links by posting comments on blogs, doing forum posts, link farms, etc... It is a flawed system that is easily taken advantage of. Knowledge is king, and if you are working harder than your competition you will be ahead of the curve. Thinking outside the box is half of the battle when it comes to effective SEO tactics, everyone is doing the same thing when it comes to link building, because it's an easy money maker. If you are providing quality content, then you are giving people a reason to spread the knowledge.
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    Kyle Suss
  • January 19, 2012
@xstortionist I've thought about this -- and maybe I'm just making inaccurate assumptions -- but in the auto industry I don't know if there are enough individuals capable of linking to a site to combat the exact match anchor text links. I work at a Buick & GMC store. Buick's average buyer is a little on the older side still (even though they want that to change) and I can almost guarantee that those customers don't have their own website to be able to link back to me. Even if I have some amazing content on my site, what's the point (in terms of SEO) if nobody links to it naturally?



Granted, there are opportunities to grab links from vendors, industry sites, etc. -- but are those links always going to be exact match anchor text? If not, how are you going to compete with the sites that are buying exact match anchor text links? In a niche like ours, those types of links are still very relevant.
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    xstortionist
  • January 19, 2012
@Kyle Suss I agree that the older demographic is going to link to your site naturally. I just don't understand why people are willing to throw away so much money on people building links that really have no relevance. Lets say your site has 10,000 backlinks pointing to it, out of those 10,000 links how many of those domain names are showing up as a referral in your analytics reports?
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    xstortionist
  • January 19, 2012
@Kyle Suss I ment to say "is not going to link to your site." trying to eat lunch and type at the same time. bare with me!
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    Kyle Suss
  • January 19, 2012
@xstortionist I believe they spend the money because it still works.



Case in point, the #1 rated used car store in my area buys tons of links. They opened another store that popped up on page 1 for these queries in a matter of about 2 weeks.



They don't buy the links because they expect people to actually find them on those directories/sites. They buy the links because they are still valuable in small niches.



Most auto dealerships don't spend a lot of time building links. Therefore, if you take the time to buy links from some crappy directory, then you have X amount more links than your competitor. Google doesn't have much else to judge the rank since building links isn't too high of a priority, so the site with the most (albeit low quality) links will prevail.



Throw a site with lots of natural, reputable links into the mix though, and I believe you will have a different scenario. That's the hard part thuogh ;)
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    xstortionist
  • January 19, 2012
@Kyle Suss I don't know, buying links seems a bit fishy to me, especially considering this is what google says "Buying or selling links that pass PageRank is in violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines and can negatively impact a site's ranking in search results."
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    xstortionist
  • January 19, 2012
@Kyle Suss I can show you a site right now that is a competitor of one of my clients, that has no baclinks, and no content and the site ranks #1 and #2 for many keywords. The site has meta data and a HUGE image screenshot of their homepage that clicks through to their main website. Riddle me that please.
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    Kyle Suss
  • January 19, 2012
@xstortionist Let's see it :)
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    xstortionist
  • January 19, 2012
@Kyle Suss saddlebaginserts dot com
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    xstortionist
  • January 19, 2012
@Kyle Suss we own saddlebag-inserts dot com to match their domain, but still no luck with out performing, I figure domain registration has authority over our domain name. But these guys had like 50 other domain names doing the same thing, luckily I contacted google made a complaint a large number of those domain names were deindexed.
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    Kyle Suss
  • January 19, 2012
@xstortionist Hmm you're right. What a sketch website. I can only imagine that the keyword rich domain is a big factor on this. Like you said, I don't see any links pointing here. They have, however, had the domain for about 2 years longer than you've had yours, which can build some authority.



Keep in mind that meta keywords aren't useful at all anymore:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jK7IPbnmvVU
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    xstortionist
  • January 19, 2012
@Kyle Suss Kyle, I'm not an idiot, I know meta keywords are no longer a factor, I have been in this business for a long time now, probably way longer than you. The problem with these types of sites, is that there were 50 other domain names with all the same content, just different domain name, and they were all showing up in page 1 serps, and most of them still do except for the ones that are deindexed. Luckily, with a little hard work, I was able to get our main site (not our landing pages) to show up #1 in about a year. I do not believe in link building after seeing plenty of other sites that get top ranking without having links pointing to their sites. I believe providing rich content will do you better than buying sketchy links that based from Google will hurt you in the long run.
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    Kyle Suss
  • January 19, 2012
@xstortionist Sounds like you have it all figured out then ;)
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    xstortionist
  • January 19, 2012
@Kyle Suss Haha, if I had it all figured out, I wouldn't be here right now. Just boggles my mind how some of these sites that provide nothing for a user can pop up in the #1 spot of organic listing with no backlinks. Makes me want to work harder! :0)
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    xstortionist
  • January 19, 2012
@[email protected] Agreed! Community sites not only bring you link juice, but they also give you more exposure and credibility.
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    Joe
  • January 22, 2012
I agree, this situation has completely gone out of hand, and the auto industry learns this from the auto service industry, take for example the auto dealer software search, the first 3 pages are all the same compay with diferent names, I know because I have tried to buy, and later realize I am talking to the same salesrep. After three pages of junk I found what I was looking for in leasemaster, they only have one item show up, they are 100% diferent than all the other and mention auto dealer software all over the page but they rank on the fourth page, I checked yahoo. yahoo had them on the first page until Bing bought them out, now they show up on the second page, just in case they get lost forever the page is http://www.leasemaster.com Try looking for auto dealer software vs auto dealer computer pragrams and explain the diference!
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    whatjruthsaid
  • January 24, 2012
What a great article! This article sticks out in so many ways. The linking portion of this article is becoming even more clear with Google's clear motivations to target low quality and paid links. "The days of set-it-and-forget-it website solutions are over." - Absolutely amazing!
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    whatjruthsaid
  • January 24, 2012
What a great article! It's not very often we see anyone talk about the ethical and moral fibers of current SEO practices like this. This article sticks out in so many ways. The linking portion of this article is becoming even more clear with Google's clear motivations to target low quality and paid links. Thank you for sharing this with the Automotive community. "The days of set-it-and-forget-it website solutions are over." - Absolutely amazing!
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    Kyle Suss
  • February 1, 2012
@whatjruthsaid Great feedback, glad you enjoyed :) More to come!
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    Marc Bodner
  • March 23, 2012
Google has been de-emphasizing link quantity in their algorithm for almost a year now. They now focus on quality and authority of links.  You should be seeing a drop in those other companies who participate in link building schemes, UNLESS they employ other strategies that hold SEO rankings.  Content posted often (doesn't even have to be good content), relevant search terminology that matches closely with consumer entered terms, etc will influence the ranking more than links.  Now the Google+ is becoming a big factor, link building is just another black hat option that has seen its better days.
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