SEO & SEM in the Competitive Automotive Space – Pubcon Liveblog

greg gifford and ira kates at pubcon
Greg Gifford and Ira Kates at Pubcon

The automotive industry is incredibly competitive when it comes to search engine marketing. To rise to the competition requires in-depth local SEO knowledge and PPC know-how. This session offers strategies for search marketing, both paid and organic, that all marketers can use. Our speakers are Ira Kates, who will speak to paid search, and Greg Gifford, who addresses organic local SEO.


  • Ira Kates, Senior Digital Business Strategist, 360i Canada (@IraKates)
  • Greg Gifford, Director of Search and Social, DealerOn (@GregGifford)

Ira Kates: Automotive Search: Lessons from the Kitchen

Ira cooked for 10 years and he’s noticed that lessons from chefs in the kitchen have application to search. Today he’ll use lessons from chefs he admires to illustrate ways to compete in PPC. It’s a crazy competitive time to be in the automotive PPC industry, Kates explains.

“Perfection is lots of little things done well.” –Fernand Point

basics of ppc marketing

Is the structure of your account contributing to the theme you want to tell your prospective car buyer?

The lifeblood of paid search is match type. You don’t want to compete against yourself. Funnel everything toward best performing keyword.

conversion funnel for auto ppc

If you break this funnel down, there are funnels within funnels.

  • At the national level, you’re looking at people viewing galleries, comparing specs, taking an action that they’re very interested in what the car is offering.
  • For dealer associations, ask questions of what the purpose of the organization is to support the funnel.
  • At the dealer level, he explains to customers that “these are the actions” we’re looking to get (book a test drive, contact dealer, search inventory).
  • “Aftercare” is a new area in the funnel that Ira’s added to this visual aid since last year’s presentations. Why not focus on this, especially with remarketing available?

If you’re acquiring a new PPC account, take the campaign down for a couple weeks and scrub the account to apply the fundamentals. Implementing a simple, revised negative keyword list, for example, can result in lower CPA and CPC and you can take that new funding to reinvest in winners.

Ad Copy

A meal tells a story of how it came to your plate. You eat with your eyes as well as your other senses. Your ad needs to tell the story of why someone needs to do something.

consumer micromoments

Write your ad for the moment. A year-long test across multiple competitive nameplates show the following (and the author’s take is that facts perform better than brand claims):

brand claims and nameplates

You can see a huge gap of almost doubled conversion rates in the results. Use the geo-gating built into AdWords and focus on people a mile or two within your lot. That’s how you can test claims like this.

Creative ads on competitor brand queries:

  • “Don’t Go Rogue – Escape the Mundane” – a search ad on the query “nissan rogue”
  • “Did You Mean Ford Focus? – Phew, Dodged That Bullet” – a search ad on the query “hyundai elantra”

These are fun headlines. For a national brand to do this adds character to the SERP. Don’t be afraid to test.

Testing and Learning

Start small and prove something with a little test on one ad group.

“Good food doesn’t come from following a recipe to the letter. It’s about having the confidence to experiment.” –Marco-Pierre White

This is especially true at the dealership level because 90% of competitors aren’t testing and experimenting; they aren’t rotating their ad creative out enough.

A year ago, his big takeaways was:

automotive ppc takeaway

Pay attention to things like “ga(require, displayfeatures)”. Build up audiences and bucket them. Now you can test your ad copy and speak to these people again.

Test remarketing audiences for search. He tested Remarketing Audiences in Google Analytics over a two-month period focusing on non-brand keywords.

remarketing for search

The conversions they’re driving are dealership leads.

Favorite research method: Use SEMRush to find competitor’s top SEO keywords that aren’t super competitive and focus limited conquest dollars against those keywords.

full scale RLSA slide

Jump on Google Customer Match – announced 2 weeks ago – to be ahead of the curve.  You can use this to stop your customers from going to a third-tier oil change business. The most powerful use case for Google Customer Match is you know exactly what customer is ending their lease in 3 months. Why not talk to them when they’re starting their research on search?

Finally, here are flags to watch out for if someone comes to your dealership and says they want your digital business. They should be able to speak to all these things.

Flags to watch out for:

  1. No examples of work
  2. Price slashing with no offer of how
  3. No clear vision of what your success is
  4. Not asking questions about the business
  5. Only PPC concern is bulking up accounts
  6. Can’t define CRO, new extensions or how they measure success
  7. Require you to purchase a website or any other service just for them to run PPC

Greg Gifford: SEO Lessons Learned from the Competitive Automotive Vertical

Or: You Suck at Local SEO

Get his full presentation here

These local SEO tips will help your dealerships. Check out the weekly Wednesday workshop video on the DealerOn blog. Local SEO is a tough puzzle to crack. You can’t skate by because otherwise you’re blending into the background and will be invisible to customers. He’s going to show us the code behind the Google algo.

The automotive niche is crazy competitive, second only to maybe payday loans, bankruptcy attorneys and divorce attorneys. Every major market has 300-600 dealerships (used and new) competing for top SERP spots. No one understands that local SEO is different from web search SEO.

A dealership called up complaining he wasn’t showing up in Google but really he meant Google Maps. He didn’t understand how Google works. Every dealer thinks they should be #1 and that SEO is “instant on.” Everyone thinks they’re so unique:

  • “We treat our customers like family.”
  • “We’re family owned.”
  • “We have a state-of-the-art showroom.”
  • “No haggle pricing/up front pricing.”

Every dealership says this. Automotive SEO vendors are just as bad. Things shady SEO vendors do:

  • Junk duplicated content (same content for every trim with year/make/model replaced)
  • Outdated SEO strategies (keyword stuffing meta description, multiple city names stuffed into a title tag, hidden text in a “read more” link)
  • Go 6 months without touching a site
  • X pages of content per month without a strategy

Local SEO is an easy win because no one is doing it. Do the extra stuff and blow past everyone not doing it. It changes all the time so it’s important to keep up to date and update your strategy. See our extensive Checklist for Local SEO for even more help.
Recent big updates important for local SEO:

  • Pigeon update (July 2014)
  • GMB Quality Guidelines update (December 2014)
    • Most importantly don’t include a descriptor in your GMB business name
    • Choose only the most specific categories (he suspects weight/value given to category choices)
    • Different departments with different pages must choose unique categories
  • New three-result local pack (August 2015) (read the BCI blog report of for the latest on this change)
  • Local Search Ranking Factors Study 2015 (released by Moz two weeks ago)

The restgreg-gifford-local-ranking-factors-pubcon of the presentation covers the findings of the newly released study Local Search Ranking Factors Study (LSRF). What’s changed since Pubcon 2014? See the image to the right.

  • Big drop in GMB pages
  • Drop in link signals
  • Drop in on-page
  • Increase in behavior and mobile

On-Site Signals – 23% of the LSRF

The most important question to ask is why do you deserve to rank? Content matters but don’t take that the wrong way. It’s quality of content and not quantity of content. Don’t push out so much junk.

This stuff sucks:

  • No home page content (like all jpeg images)
  • Only a few sentences on a page
  • Default page text – this is a pervasive problem in auto right now because an OEM like Audi requires all dealers to use a certain platform and the dealer never customizes the content so their site is made up of default content
  • Blatant keyword spamming
  • Awful title tags – this is the most important SEO element

Stop trying to fool the nerds at Google. Write your content for people, not search engines. For local search, when you put anything on your site, do it to make your website better for your customers. Be unique and useful.

PRO TIP: read your content out loud to someone else. This is how you can hear if the content is helpful.

Optimize content for local:

  • Include City, ST in
    • title tag – don’t put company name first (you don’t need to optimize for it)
    • alt text
    • body content
    • URLs
    • Meta description
  • Embedded GMB map (from GMB page, not from Maps)
  • Consistent NAP
  • You must have a blog (not a luxury)
    • You need to post things people will actually want to read. Write posts about local topics.

Want to rank in nearby cities? Use local content silos

Link Signals – 20% of the LSRF

  • Thanks to Penguin, links are no longer simply a numbers game
  • Get local links (example: small church websites) to local content pages (not all pointed to home page)
  • Take advantage of sponsorships, events, things you’re already doing in the community
  • Pay attention to internal linking!

GMB – 14.7% of the LSRF

  • The most important thing you can do is claim your GMB. If you’re having trouble getting the postcard or it’s claimed by an ex-employees personal account, use GMB phone support
  • Choose the right categories
  • Upload custom user and cover image

Citation Signals

  • It’s your mentions of your NAP on other websites
  • Most dealers have a ton of citation problems. Your citations have to be 100% consistent.
  • Do a quick check of major citations with Moz Local
  • Use Whitespark to check all your citations

Review Signals – 8.4%

  • 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as reviews from friends or family.
  • 4 out of 5 people will decide not to do business with you if you have bad reviews. You can’t fake good reviews. You can’t fake caring about your customers. He turns down business from shady car dealerships. You have to be legit before you do SEO. Don’t ignore Yelp; it powers the stars on Apple Maps.
  • Read up on review strategy
  • Make sure you have more reviews than your competitors. You need five before you get the aggregate star ratings. Get more reviews but not too many more; customers will think you’re faking results.

Bonus tip: Don’t tether Facebook and Twitter. Use any of the many tools that you can post to both at the same time without it looking to the user like it’s out of place in the native environment.

While you’re here, Bruce Clay offers industry-leading PPC and SEM services. Get in touch today!

Virginia Nussey is the director of content marketing at MobileMonkey. Prior to joining this startup in 2018, Virginia was the operations and content manager at Bruce Clay Inc., having joined the company in 2008 as a writer and blogger.

See Virginia's author page for links to connect on social media.

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6 Replies to “SEO & SEM in the Competitive Automotive Space – Pubcon Liveblog”

Well information, I’m so excited about this thing, I prefer also search engine marketing thought a reviews signals and ofcourse onsite and link signals. Lot of marketer getting help from brucelcay blogs, ofcurse me too :)
Thanks Virginia Nussey

Virginia Nussey

Glad to hear it! Thanks for reading, Chalat.

Yelp has had some dark days where they had questionable business practices. I think they have moved beyond that now.
However, they are like the IRS. They can not be ignored. You need to claim your listing, fill it out as completely as possible with lots of pictures and get as many good reviews as you can. Yelp reviews can show up on Apple, Yahoo and Bing.
I do like the information on Silo’s. I have not heard that term before.

Virginia Nussey

Siloing is site structure and linking that clarifies themes and topics of a site so you can best communicate your expertise. A topic worth further research, as we’ve seen clients multiply their traffic many times over after putting solid siloing in place. Thanks for reading, eCreations.

yelp is a terrible place to get reviews , they need to be sued

Virginia Nussey

How do you really feel about it, MRC? ;)


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