Dealership Marketing

Is the death of SEO coming soon?

We are approaching a fork in the road for organic search.  Search engines are either going to become more powerful, or they’re going to shed enough leaves to make us ask whether sustaining our current investment is sound.

Google released Realtime search, Yahoo and Bing are merging, and facebook is jumping into the search game.  Those are big things, but what do they really mean?  Let’s take a few steps back for a minute.

Search engines, traditionally, look for a few things when deciding which website to serve-up in the results:

These are things that are technically done and can be quite complex depending on who you speak with.  There is a big problem with this model though:  it is highly corruptible.  Not pointing any fingers, but as an example of the corruption, SEO “experts” and “gurus” make their livings by taking advantage of this model.  For the pure fact that this model is corruptible, it will never be the true long-term ruler.  Corruption is one simple and logical reason why we’re approaching this fork.

But let’s jump down the rabbit hole a little further and talk about social media.  Yes, I know, we’re all sick of hearing about how wonderful social media is and blah, blah, blah.  But I would advise you to not stop reading just yet because I’m not here to praise it.  Social Media is not ruled by a technical system.  There is no algorithm for results.  The content is completely provided based on judgement by the people you have chosen to hear from.

Want to buy something?  Ask your friends on facebook what they think.  That is a lot trustier than some review from a stranger you might find on Yelp after being directed there by Google.

This is technology simply getting to the roots of human nature.  We place more value on the things we hear from people we know.  And we seek that higher-valued system over any other.  The big search engines see this and they’re trying to position themselves to have a future by reorganizing and adding new features.

To all our DealerRefresh readers I am sorry to say that we have watched the plight of the newspaper, the radio, we’ll see the drop of TV ads as we know them today, and we’re starting to find that this other advertising source we are just beginning to really capitalize on could find itself as an advertising “has-been”.  We are approaching a fork in the road.

The fork might be closer than I’m letting on….

From the Nielsen Wire on Top U.S. search sites for July 2010:

The number of searches conducted in the U.S. over the last year has decreased by 16% from 10.5 billion in July 2009 to 8.8 billion in July 2010. MSN/Windows Live/Bing was the only one of the top three engines to have experienced an increase in search volume – a 28% increase from 0.9 billion to 1.2 billion.

Why do you think this is?

Who knew an argument with Jeff Kershner, in 2005, would lead to Alex becoming a partner with him on DealerRefresh. Where will the next argument take ...
I spent quite a bit of time last fall learning about Social Media as a real marketing implement and I was waiting for this to "happen". Love your take. In my mind, we're so far past the SEO/SEM question now that if a dealership hasn't gotten it dialed, it might not really matter. Just my opinion of course. :)
Great article, Alex. You bring up great points on the changing landscape of SEO and how this plays out with organic search results. A few thoughts:

1) Do these figures take into account mobile searches, i.e. Safari, etc.? There are more mobile savvy consumers relying more on their mobile devices for research, information, directions and purchases. 72% of US population have phones capable of web browsing. This shift in consumer behavior will continue affect how people search for information.

2) Google randomly changes their algorithms - is there a possibility their formulas will change to accommodate the changing consumer search patterns?

3) As we've seen, social media is here to stay and as you commented, people are more likely to trust feedback from Facebook friends than random reviewer on Yelp, etc. Geo-modifiers and long tail searches are playing an increasingly critical role in consumer searching and displayed results, including local listings which are increasingly "pushing" organic listings below the fold.

What do you see happening with social media, geolocation based apps (i.e. Foursquare), SEO and search results?

I love the title! Your future vision for the search and social markets is thought provoking. Consumers have always sought out good information and reliable recommendations and social media is part of that equation now.

Good Automotive SEO strategies have always relied on educating dealers that good content will be rewarded in search and by reader clicks. Today this content needs to be both on websites and on social media sites.

Regardless of how search and social pans out, the heart of good SEO has always been relevant content. Many

dealers are currently not equipped to create and engage consumers with good content. This also applies to content management strategies on Facebook.

Automotive SEO in the future may rely less on things like META descriptions and Page Titles and more on content, number of pages visited, number of likes and time on site. These may be better measures of content that consumers find useful

So, like anything SEO will not die but evolve to provide dealers with a better on-site experience and social media engagement for consumers. This should equate to better traffic and search rankings as well.

As we have discussed before, the #1 search phrase for any car dealer is their own dealership name. Since this is the case, dealers should inspect what appears on Google Page One for a search on their name.

Active dealers will see their social media sites like Twitter and Facebook on Page One which puts the dealers social media strategy right in the bullseye of consumer click paths. It better be brand enhancing!

The other results that appear on Page One often are not brand enhancing and in many case would deter consumers from selecting that dealer to purchase or service a car.

So until major shifts happen, dealers still need an effective SEO strategy at least to ensure that their #1 search phrase for driving traffic to their website is not being diluted by competitors, negative press or lead collectors.

In my estimates, 80% of car dealers have no formal policy for content development or social media engagement. If your prediction comes true in the next 5 years, we'll need to educate dealers on the steps they need to truly engage consumers online.

I'm betting that SEO and Social Media will be part of that formula.
  • B
    Bruce Novicky
  • August 30, 2010
Call me crazy but I would say there are less searches because everything just works better now.

People are finding what they want on the first try rather than needed 4 different searches.

If I am right, it would actually mean that SEO is becoming even more important.

This was just off the top of my head though, so I could be totally wrong.
I am in Bruce's camp. Search is working better, look at the way they "suggest" phrases for keywords prior to the search.
@Brian P. As always, I so appreciate your opinion on this subject. My earlier comment was really focused on the "old think" regarding SEO, which you much more eloquently described in your response. The Automotive sector is very fortunate to have your group and you "out there" banging the drum regarding and facilitating the generation and proper distribution of relevant content. I like your evaluation - that we're experiencing evolution, not death. Hopefully the dealer body hears and sources you! Thank you!
Can SM replace search? Ten Questions to ask yourself. Take the test!

What platform would give you the best answer?

Social Media -or- Search?

-I want a great Pizza:

-Looking for a great Movie:

-How do I heat my garage?:

-Best Golf Instructor:

-Best Friday Happy Hour:

-HD projector for Home Theater:

-Car Financing:

-Car Buying:

-Car Servicing:

-Info on Tree Illness:

-Need a Arborist (Tree Surgeon):

-Info on Pet Illness:

-Need a New Veterinarian:

Copy n paste & Fill out your answers. What platform did you pick and do you see a pattern???
Social Media (SM) -or- Search?
-I want a great Pizza: SM
-Looking for a great Movie: SM
-How do I heat my garage?: Search
-Best Golf Instructor: SM
-Best Friday Happy Hour: SM
-HD projector for Home Theater: Search
-Car Financing:Search
-Car Buying:Search
-Car Servicing: SM
-Info on Tree Illness:Search
-Need a Arborist (Tree Surgeon):Search
-Info on Pet Illness: Search
-Need a New Veterinarian: SM

Social Media: 6
Search: 7

The score above is less relevant than is the profile of the scores. SM is little more than old school social networking, done via FB. We all have a pet, but few have a HD projector or experience dealing with a sick tree. If my Vet sucks, I'd look for SM referrals for a new vet.
Bruce brings up a great point - users are conducting more specific, long tail searches to find what they want. And because more specific keywords results in a faster more relevant delivery, consumers find what they want with fewer searches.

What's important to note, as Joe states with his examples, is that the search source and search words will vary depending on need and person. With the fragmented media choices - traditional and non-traditional - the focus is targeting the most relevant audience, geo- and psycho-graphics for each dealership/ business.

The end result will be the same for the consumer - finding information - however the game (SEO, social media, mobile, etc.) is constantly changing which means how the data is monitored and reported will change as well.
Ha ha - I knew this article would get some heat. Sorry about that Joe - I know this stuff is exactly what you want to hear.

I'll tell you where all of this came from. I was in a meeting Friday when someone mentioned the Nielsen report. It got me thinking that people were getting smarter about search, but after having that thought over the full weekend I had to say no. That is probably part of it, but I just can't buy that people are 16% better at it when so many are still searching so blandly. It got me thinking that something more significant has to be at play here. During that same meeting Social Media was brought-up as the reason for the decline in searches and I didn't want to believe that. But that is a little more buyable; however, I have a hard time giving social media 16% as well.

My answer is I really don't know. I doubt anyone does. I wrote this article to see what others thought and to bring to light an interesting phenomenon: searches have dropped.

Brian Pasch gave the response I was looking for. He had one little word that makes the difference no matter which way you fork down the road: CONTENT. Good quality content will always prevail. And that was what I was hoping someone would say in this comments stream - thanks Brian!
People have been saying SEO is dead for as long as I can remember. It is alive and well and not going anywhere soon. Joe, 9 for Search, 4 for SM.

I was dead wrong in my SM Shopping ratio. I have a new test that is a better SM tell.

For all you SM crusaders out there, I ask you one SIMPLE question.


#1). Count ALL your FB posts this month.
#2). Count all FB posts that solicited opinions about finding a product, service or professional.

My FB Wall for August 2010
450 posts. Of those, I counted 1 request for a solution for a dog that itches too much.


Whats your FB ratio?
If I could, I'd short FaceBook. It's a bubble that's reached its apex.

FB is one wrong mis-step from a free fall. For example, You can upload a picture of you or your friend and tag the name of the face in the pic. Now we've created a record connects your FACE to a machine language record.

It brings a new meaning to "FaceBook". ohoh... not good.

You can't tell me that this isn't a firestorm of epic proportions in the making. There's no way I'd ever want that data out in the cloud.

You can&#039;t tell me it cant happen, We&#039;re really not that far away: <a href=";hl=en&amp;rlz=1B3GGGL_enUS346US346&amp;tbs=isch:1,itp:face&amp;&amp;sa=X&amp;ei=TQN9TJyeM4P58AaMv7zmBQ&amp;ved=0CCMQBSgA&amp;q=jeff+kershner&amp;spell=1&amp;biw=1366&amp;bih=546" rel="nofollow">;hl=en&amp;r...</a>

I think your 450:1 is about right. I did a quick scan through my Facebook stream and found some sellers, but no buyers.

Facebook seems like a fine Branding, Brand Management and Community Relations tool, but I don&#039;t think it&#039;s gonna get many customers on the lot tonight, tomorrow or this weekend.
Social media won&#039;t replace search, though it may alter the percentage of traffic that comes from search. What is far more likely, in fact I would say nearly certain, is that search engines will figure out a way to use social media mentions/links in their ranking algorithms.

The other thing you&#039;re forgetting is that the best SEO strategies are simply good things to do REGARDLESS of the search engines. Good titles get people to click... it&#039;s simple copywriting. Links from popular, relevant web sites bring traffic outside of the search engines. The same thing goes for basically any piece of good SEO... after all, that&#039;s the point of the algorithms for the search engines: to give you the best results for your search.
The SEO you are talking about in this article is pretty much already dead. Google was the one that changed the way SEO works, and META tags have been on their way out for a while - being replaced by off site factors, such as authorities linking to your site/blog/etc. I don&#039;t see that changing any time soon.

Social media, although I think it can be harnessed for some businesses, probably doesn&#039;t work as well for others. I am fairly convinced that facebook and twitter, although nice, aren&#039;t going to make a huge difference in the way I sell cars.

Personally, I am trying to focus on creating content that reaches the attention of our online shoppers and their searches. Long tail searches. I would rather ranks for &quot;Red 2004 Toyota Camry NJ&quot; than &quot;Toyota NJ&quot; because I am reaching my target&#039;s needs. I can&#039;t do that through social media quite as well as I would like.
When we hit that fork in the road, will SEO ever die? I personally can&#039;t see it, the focus may shift away from Google, but with all the information on the internet I think it&#039;s safe to say that some type of SEO will always be around. I think we&#039;re way past the point of no return. I also think that if the shift went to SM the money and the brains would and literally the SEO would shift there and find a way to convert leads.

People are way to lazy to not use a search engine for answers now that we&#039;ve seen the internet/information revolution.
When we hit that fork in the road, will SEO ever die? I personally can&#039;t see it, the focus may shift away from Google, but with all the information on the internet I think it&#039;s safe to say that some type of SEO will always be around. I think we&#039;re way past the point of no return. I also think that even with a shift to SM there would still be SEO to be had within that platform.

People are way to lazy to not use a search engine for answers now that we&#039;ve seen the internet/information revolution. SEO will never die, ever.
Keep your eyes on the new kid on the block.

<a href=";q=blekko&amp;sourceid=navclient-ff&amp;rlz=1B3GGGL_enUS346US346&amp;ie=UTF-8" rel="nofollow">;q=blekko&amp;amp...</a>

blekko Goal: Great Search Results with total transparency into how it all works (from a webmasters POV)
I think that the recent article in Wired sums it up

Web searches are dead!

Look at this graph from their article:
<a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>

Web searches have dropped to under 23% of all &quot;Internet&quot; usage. So what is happening?
(from Wired Article)
&quot;You wake up and check your email on your bedside iPad &mdash; that&rsquo;s one app. During breakfast you browse Facebook, Twitter, and The New York Times &mdash; three more apps. On the way to the office, you listen to a podcast on your smartphone. Another app. At work, you scroll through RSS feeds in a reader and have Skype and IM conversations. More apps. At the end of the day, you come home, make dinner while listening to Pandora, play some games on Xbox Live, and watch a movie on Netflix&rsquo;s streaming service.

You&rsquo;ve spent the day on the Internet &mdash; but not on the Web. And you are not alone.&quot;

This is our future... the Internet is coming to your cay buyers in the form of an app or service... the consumer is not going to it.
Read this article in depth. (Push Technology all over again - but this time it is taking hold.)
<a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>

(Chris Anderson- the author is the inventor of the term &quot;Long Tail&quot;)

Auto Dealers need to understand that the consumer is totally changing the way they do things and searching the web is now only 23% of that activity....

These walled gardens are like the CompuServe and AOLs of the past.... and now they are taking control of our customers time...

Got an App for that?
In response to Torrey, what percentage of cars that you sold last manth came from facebook, twitter, myspace, youtube, digg, etc, etc.?

There are fun things to do on the internet more than ever before. And it is free. People can connect from all over the world. It is sharing and communication. But, how does that relate to selling cars?

How many people are searching for cars on facebook or youtube? As far as I can tell, not many.

Now, let me ask you, do you remember the last time a long time customer came in for service with a car you didn&#039;t sell them - only to find out they bought it elsewhere for some other reason? Yes, I think we all know that person... In fact we all know those people.

There is no loyalty in the car business. I can have every customer be my friend on twitter and facebook - and yes, they will take advantage of my service coupons - but how do I make them trust me enough to buy from me without shopping online and at competitors. I can&#039;t.

Now, where do those people go. They type in google &quot;Honda Civic Best Deal&quot; or they go to edmunds and request a quote, or they type in google &quot;2004 red Camry Le NJ&quot;. Why? Because search engines still do what they were meant to do, search the internet. They consistently do it better than social media. How many people ask their facebook friends where to find a 2004 red camry le? And why don&#039;t they? Because it isn&#039;t the right forum for the question.

SEO and search engines aren&#039;t dying, but people are finding places where they like to &quot;hang out&quot; - which is completely different from where they like to do their research.

I apologize for the long, stream of conscious comment here, but I don&#039;t have time to proof read right now...

Nice attention grabber, love it.

Here&#039;s my thought as to why searches are dropping - the lack of the need to search.

Why? Apps are replacing the need.

I just bought my movie tickets for tonight on Fandango before I opened this page - via their app.

Customized, personal niche specific apps will eventually take over your own personal dashboard. Who knows - maybe we&#039;ll have personal tablet devices that, wait - we already

Search will still be around for a while though - just in more targeted, real-time modes. Look at the recent patent Google was awarded for their link strategies technology. All point to bigger and better things for those looking to rank higher.

Oh, and Joe, I&#039;d be long on Facebook for a while still:)
Alex and All Commenters:

This is perhaps one of the best overall articles/threads I&#039;ve read regarding automotive in a while. Great job, all.

With that said, I would like to sum up some of the points made as well as add some others.

Search numbers are down because:

1) Social media and apps eliminate/replace the need for many, many searches. Things that we once searched for are now presented to us through other means. I ate sushi last night in Santa Monica that we found on Yelp. On my Droid X, I get movie listings and reviews, directions/GPS, local information, etc.

2) It is the search engines&#039; goal to make us search LESS. The whole reason for having an algorithm is to present the most relevant data possible on the first try. This is why they use quality score or a variation to help rank PPC advertising. Otherwise, they would go with the higher bidder. For organic listings, to optimize a site is to make it as relevant to particular searches as possible. Is it being corrupted? Of course! All data is corrupted at some level. Even in social media, entire companies are built around making clients more attractive on Web 2.0. More on this later...

3) I would not underestimate the experience of the searcher. The more we search, the better we get at it, and the last 2 years have been a real tipping point for improved &quot;search skills&quot; by those using the search engines.

None of these things, however, point to any change in the need for solid Automotive SEO and SEM. Social media is a luxury (this coming from the guy who preaches social media every day). Automotive SEO is a necessity and is showing now signs of dying.

Let&#039;s look at the above reasons for a decline in searches through the lens of how it affects car dealers.

1) Social Media/Apps - The influence of social media on car-buying decisions is there, but not even close to the influence it has on other reduced searches such as restaurants or entertainment. There are no popular &quot;Where do I buy my next car&quot; apps out there. Where social media DOES influence searches is at the brand level. People are more likely to have their decision influenced by social media when deciding which brands to consider. Once they make that determination, they hit the search engines to find the right dealer.

2) As Pasch, Miltsch, and others indicated, most of the old school factors that once manipulated the search engines have been reduced in strength. Content and authoritative links are still greatly trusted by the search engines because they yield results that normally make search listings more relevant. One important factor that search engines look at is bounce back. If enough people click on the #1 listing, click back, then click on the #2 listing and stay on the site without going back to further searches, #2 will eventually be #1. This is the &quot;corruption-beater&quot; that search engines use. They know there is corruption. They know how to fight that corruption - by watching how searchers respond to results.

3) For car dealers, keyword selection is HUGE. I often get yelled at (not literally) for the number of hours we spend with dealers simply getting the right keyword lists going and maintaining those lists over time. People are better searchers than they&#039;ve ever been and that is going to be more pronounced in coming years as the tech-savvy kids of today become the car buyers of tomorrow.

Alex, this was a wonderful, thought provoking discussion. I cannot wait for a followup!
  • E
    Eric Miltsch
  • September 3, 2010
@JD - To your point about more sophisticated searchers, I read recently where Google said that every 30 days, up to 19% of the searches conducted contain 4 &amp; 5 word phrases THEY HAVE NEVER SEEN BEFORE.

Knowing that makes a very strong case for even greater focus on your SEM/SEO KW lists.
There are posts dating back to 2002 that have the same title as this one. It&#039;s actually funny to see this on DR as I have seen it so many times outside the auto industry. SEO is dying... SEO is dead...

JD is right on the money in that things are evolving but SEO is alive and well. There is no death to SEO coming soon. As long as there are algorithms, there will be optimization. By the way, the sky is not falling either.
  • A
    Alex Snyder
  • September 4, 2010
Richard - seems like I offended you in some way with this article. You are taking it too literally. Read my other comment.

I want people to start talking more about content than the old SEO tricks. The right approach, that wins every time, is smart content mixed with the proper keywords. With the right content, it shouldn&#039;t matter whether Google is in the lead or facebook.
Not in the least bit Alex. Just trying to make a point that people have been saying this for years. I do agree that smart content is a winning approach. However, without a good link building strategy, you will not rank for highly competitive keywords.
Great article! Certainly a thought provoker and has done well to generate a lot of response. I recently brought up another thought provoker following in parallel to this line of thinking which you can see on <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a> .

I think that one of most common... &quot;themes&quot; (I won&#039;t call it a mistake) that effect our paradigm when we discuss these topics is that many of us tend to look at these issues from a microscopic vs macroscopic level.

After all what is so special about SEO? How is a dealer that is proficient with SEO any different from the first dealers who adopted a 4 square selling process? (Not talking about the geo location social network - never thought I would have to qualify that!)

All of these &quot;tools&quot; are just that - tools we use to gain an edge over the competition. I&#039;ve been in the business for 19 years and I&#039;ve learned more acronyms and buzzwords in the last five years than I ever heard in the first fourteen.

While I appreciate the eye catching appeal of the title, even if it is true (which I am not conceding) it just means the beginning of what&#039;s next.

Wether its SEO or PPC or Social Media or whatever is next, there will always be someone out there gaming the system. This is simply the natural order of things. Wether its breaking the sound barrier or breaking the google algorithm - there will always be people pushing the envelope. THAT is the &quot;True long-term ruler&quot;.

So bring on the death of SEO! I am batting 1,000 in being first to the party when it regards the latest greatest marketing technique. I&#039;ll be at the front of the line for the next great wave...
I know I am getting in on this conversation a little late, but are we forgetting that we are still in a down market? Do you think the economy could be part of the cause of the 16% decline in searches? I do think that the search engines and companies in general are teaching the consumer how to search better (e.g. Microsoft Bing commercials are the best example), which has made a difference and so has social media probably, but certainly the influence of a down economy could be part of it too.

Search engines will keep leading the way as Google and the other search engines are adapting their algorithms to put an emphasis on newer content (e.g. twitter), multimedia content and maybe even links from social media sites.

Joe&#039;s question about how you find information, I would answer in all cases with search, because it is simply easier to search quickly. Are you going to link and talk about every business you buy from on your Facebook page. I would think the answer is a resounding Hell No! I think it is more likely that social media is peaking than that search engines are peaking, because of concerns with privacy matters. Joe&#039;s example of the facebook photo being attached to a person&#039;s name is technology that is already available and being used by Apple (it recognizes faces after you teach it a little).
Well, Google Instant sure changed this whole conversation....or at least threw a curve ball.
You earn referrals because of what you do, and it&#039;s usually because you provide quality and helpful referrals.

People who pay money to get referrals usually have to because it&#039;s all about them, ie. they don&#039;t give referrals (PPC).

A real referral from a trusted friend (who&#039;s highly referred to) is worth 100 times more than a paid referral.

You eventually get quality referrals from people who you actually take the time to get to know, go out of your way to help without first asking them for anything, and with lots of work it will pay off.

Referrals = Links
Alex - I am wondering why you believe instant search will change this conversation. According to Google, it will not affect rankings. On the surface, it appears to be very annoying. Google took something simple and turned it into a nightmare even the most ADHD kid would throw up on. I wonder how many people will shut the thing off and be done with it. Maybe I will think different once I have had to a chance to really use it but that&#039;s my first impression.

Timothy - Websites RIP? Now that&#039;s pushing it. By the way, I like Jimmy Kimmel and microwave popcorn.
By the way, Google Instant is exremely slow on my wireless connection. It can&#039;t keep up with the keystrokes. Anyone else seeing this?
Richard, I think that the RIP websites concept is vastly overstated. After all Facebook IS a website (So this would be a rather strange paradox). However, I do believe in the concept that social media in general could greatly impact the significance of ranking individual webpages vis a vis google.

What happens when Facebook begins to rank idea&#039;a and opinions about companies based on likes and the actual sentiment as written by their users?

BTW - While I don&#039;t care for popcorn nor am I a regular watcher of Jimmy Kimmel, I can say for sure that even if I was, it is unlikely that I would leave a good party with free booze and food for that!
Richard - I am starting to see a difference in generations when it comes to opinions on Google Instant. The older folks don&#039;t like it while the younger people do.

Yes, I&#039;m calling you an old guy - lol.

Maybe it is just the reluctance to appreciate change? But anyway, if you want to read why I think Google Instant threw a curve ball at traditional SEO, read on: <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>
  • R
    Richard Valenta
  • September 9, 2010
Alex - Old guys rule! You make some good points on Google instant and SEO. I do not think it will affect our niche industry much though. If it catches on, I see SEO being more important.