Dealership Marketing

Optimizing Local Search for your Dealership

Guest Posting by Rebecca Lieb

Everyone’s Local Somewhere

As far back as 2004, local search accounted for up to 25 percent of commercial activity on the Web, according to a Kelsey Group study. No wonder large and small players alike have been striving to build a better local search mousetrap. Of all the large and small search verticals out there, local is the fastest-growing and probably, most important.

It’s not hard to understand why. A dealership in Des Moines may have a Web presence, but it’s unlikely he’ll be selling cars in Cleveland. If your engine needs a tune up in Denver, a mechanic in Pittsburgh isn’t what you need now. The major search engines know this, in fact. Various geolocation technologies are baked into their algorithms. So when someone shopping for a Honda Element in Des Moines searches for a “Honda dealership,” one of the Big Three search engines is likely to figure out where she is (IP addresses are one indicator) and shove that local dentist’s site to the top of the results.

Pretty neat, right?

Well, it works for the dealer the search engines knows is in Des Moines, and therein lies much of the wisdom when it comes to optimizing for local search: defining locality.

It’s not only local service providers, shops, and tradespeople who benefit from local search optimization. So too do national brands. You don’t just want to visit Land Rover, you want to visit the nearest Land Rover dealer. You don’t research financing at Mercedes corporate headquarters, but at the local franchise. Local search is important to every business, organization and service with a localized customer base — or bases.

It’s a pity more businesses don’t know about and take advantage of local search, which can level the playing field considerably between large national businesses and small local providers. Given a degree of search savvy and a Web presence, a tiny neighborhood auto parts shop could have just as much visibility and clout only as NAPA. It’s a matter not only of knowing how to play the game, but also of knowing the game exists in the first place.

A down-and-dirty (as well as highly effective) technique to optimize for local search is not to rely of a single “Contact” page for local information. A local business can add a footer to every single page of its web site that contains its street address, city, state, Zip code and local phone number, including area code. Quite possibly, it’s appropriate to use a degree of location in title tags as well, e.g. Joe’s Auto Parts, Dallas/Forth Worth TX.

Locally oriented keywords and phrases are also critical, and should take into account the various terms people use to refer to localities, which can be broad as well as specific. Here’s a hypothetical example with local keywords highlighted:

Chicago’s premier Ford dealership serving all regions of the Chicagoland area. We offer Ford Vehicle Sales and Service in Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Wicker Park, the South Side, Old Town and the Near North side of Chicago. We also serve the Chicago suburbs of Evanston, Glencoe, and Highland Park.

No one in the Chicago area ever refers to the region as “northern Illinois.” But if they did, you can bet our fictitious Ford dealer would have cobbled the state’s name into his keywords as well. He’s betting on the fact his customers aren’t just searching for a “chicago ford dealership” in a town that big, but are winnowing their searches down to a more localized level, such as neighborhood.

Also bear in mind that local is as local does. A New Yorker in Zip code 10019 may want to order a pizza. New York is a large, but concentrated urban area. Few residents of the city would be willing to travel more than a handful of blocks for a pizza. In Montana or New Mexico, by contrast, a customer may be willing to drive miles for the same pie. Yahoo Local knows this, and sorts results by distance.

When coming up with a local optimization plan, it’s critically important to understand what local is for the area in question.

A first step in local search optimization ensuring your business is listed with the major search engines as well as with the Internet Yellow Page (IYP), the source of much of the local data used by search engines as well as other online directories and listing services. Do they have the correct information? Is your listing linked to your web site? Businesses with multiple locations in a single metro area can benefit from having separate directory listings for each and every location.

Don’t overlook local listings on popular directory services. Citysearch, Yelp, Superpages, Judy’s Book, Yahoo Local, travel guides, regional Web sites such as and (both run by major newspapers), ShopLocal, Chambers of Commerce, and local trade associations and other business groups.

For many local businesses, user-generated content and star ratings are a critical component of search results. The more — well, the more positive ones — the merrier. Ratings and reviews create additional relevant content associated with a business or listing, deeper descriptions, third-party authority, and can often be sorted by rating.

There’s no reason not to get the ball rolling by asking friends and family to begin reviewing or rating your business. A hairdressing salon in my neighborhood has a sign on the counter politely asking clients to add their comments about the business to Citysearch. In addition to creating greater search visibility and content, third-party reviews amount to a form of word-of-mouth marketing, one of the most persuasive and influential types of persuasion out there. It’s worth spending time developing ratings and reviews, particularly in a local context.

Further emphasize locality by adding a page (or perhaps adding to your contact page) detailed directions for finding your business or office location. Write these out in detail:

Lakehurst Chevrolet is near the Wakeland County Shopping Mall in the Bellevue neighborhood of Lakehurst, MD. To find us, drive west on Hometown Drive past the Grangeville Civic Center, then turn left on Elm Street. You’ll find us at 425 Oak Street, Lakehurst, MD, 12345.

Add a link to a map service (Google, Yahoo, MSN, Mapquest, etc.). And when linking to the directions page, “click here for directions” isn’t good enough. Instead, use “click here for directions to Lakehurst Chevrolet.

About the Author: Rebecca Lieb oversees the U.S. operations of Econsultancy, and was VP & Editor-in-Chief the The ClickZ Network. Rebecca is also the author of a new book The Truth About Search Engine Optimization.

Founder of DealerRefresh - 20+ Years of dealership Sales, Management, Training, Marketing and Leadership.
Rebecca, thanks for the guest posting. It's great to have someone from outside the automotive industry from time to time on DealerRefresh.

Be sure to grab a copy of her new book "The Truth About Search Engine Optimization." Everything you must know to optimize your site, increase your ranking, and help customers find your site.

Some great stuff!!
This is a great article. Local business is always an important piece of the local economy. Local marketing is now one of the most important investment to local business as well.

User rating and user provided content are not all of the picture. Give customer freedom to purchase what they want and how they want is also important. It triggers the shopping desire to make a complete transaction.

Besides those methods, printing local coupons online has become a trend since 2007. Getting rid of local coupons books is inevitable. It lowers the local business advertisement cost and increases the ROI. It makes local business greener.

We would love to see article about online coupons for local business in the future on this blog.

Thank you!

Support Local Business! Shop Local Store!
Digitizing your business information and syndicating it to directories and online publishers is a must and the associated costs are minimal (if any at all, depending upon how you go about it). There are several companies who provide local businesses with this type of service (syndication to several hundred online directories) for $100 or less a year. Great article.
Great article Rebecca! I think we need to follow it up with something about how to optimize the local search sections. That has been a major pain in my butt!
Ditto Alex's comment.
Odered up this book just now.....who would have thought being a GSM included knowing a little about SEO?
This is one of my continuing projects - updating local directories. I have learned the hard way that when you go and correct and incorrect listing, it can reappear a month later what that local site updates from another feed with incorrect info. With that learned, my efforts have been to try and correct the sources where incorrect info about our dealerships is being sent from. Jamie - do you know how to solve this?
Here is a list of sites to add a free local business listing that will help with local search. Often you will see these sites appear on Google Page one for business names so they are value for your automotive SEO program.

Keep in mind that if the site has a "description of service" box or company profile, write a good paragraph or more that includes your brand name, your location as well as words about service, parts and extended warranties.

Service Departments are often not discussed in SEO tactical posts but if you start adding service to your directory keyword strategy you will be surprised to see what happens.

These are tried and true sites:

Here are a few sites that can be optimized for your personal name which can include your dealership name and locale.

Local search is very powerful and all business owners should make sure your free local directory listing are correct.

While you are checking them, take a peek at the review and make sure your customer feedback is balanced and not just filled with negative reviews.

We (ReachLocal) help a couple of hundred franchise clients w/ local directory listings via a partnership w/ Localeze. As I mentioned before - it's a very cheap service and they do a goob job syndicating your correct business information across close to 150 directories. Feel free to contact me and I can put you in touch w/ someone directly at Localeze who can help you out.

[email protected]
Rebecca, nice article. In addition to understanding what local is for the area in question (NYC vs Montana), its important to understand the difference in categories. Consumers will drive further to see a dealership or lawyer, for example, than they will for a pizza. These service areas are based less on proximity. FastCall411 has a few examples of this on the site.
There are too many local marketing companies out that that can't really promise the outcome. Local businesses is losing confidence to pay for all those local advertisement.

Local coupon network is FREE and is hoping to build the largest local coupon network in North America. So all local businesses will be able to share the search engine traffic and acquire more local shoppers.
This is a GREAT article. I'm curious if people have found resources to independently update all their listings as a dealership. That seems to be something many companies struggle with.

As Jamie pointed out, SEM companies like ReachLocal, Performics, Cuneo can help with this but I'd love to be able to direct people to the right resources to do it themselves, because it's such a key item to consider.