SEO for Car Dealers

When Bruce Wayne wanted to train himself to be a dark knight with the skills and fortitude to fight crime in Gotham in the first half hour of Batman Begins, he didn’t join a dojo or search the internet for the latest Krav Maga techniques. He went to the harshest places on the planet to live amongst the meanest criminals around to learn his craft.

When it comes to localized marketing, few industries (if any) are as challenging as the car business. Dealers, vendors, lead-generation sites, and manufacturers are all vying for top spots on a relatively-small set of keywords in any given major metro, prompting many to continuously increase their search marketing spends just to stay competitive.

It’s a training ground for those who want to fight against the best and brightest. Like Bruce Wayne, local search and social marketers should experience the challenges that make automotive SEO a perfect arena to toughen up for any battle that other industries offer. Here’s why:


Car  dealers spend a lot more money on marketing than restaurants, barber shops, or other local businesses. They rely on search traffic, word of mouth, and reputation to keep people driving off their lots with their nameplates on the back. In a large metro area, there may be 10+ high-dollar search marketing campaigns running just amongst the local dealers and they’re not alone.

The lead-generation industry is also very lucrative and many companies are fighting dealers in their own back yard to get leads that they can then sell back to the dealers. It’s not pretty, but it’s profitable. Then, you have the manufacturers and tier-2 regional marketing firms all going after the same keywords, often plugging in hundreds of thousands of dollars per month in search marketing in hopes of maintaining their brand identity.

All of these entities are fighting for the top 10 spots on Google; in reality, they’re fighting for the top 5. They all have their sights set on #1 spots, but there can be only one.

Demands from the OEMs

As mentioned, the OEMs are in the game of ranking for local terms, but it doesn’t stop there. Many of them have very strict guidelines regarding design, content, and market area that pose challenges in SEO. A dealer just outside of Los Angeles cannot simply load up content about Los Angeles in hopes of moving up in the rankings. This is prohibited by many OEMs who want every dealer kept inside their own box.

The challenge is greatest for those who are just on the cusp. That LA dealer in Long Beach can realistically draw people in from Los Angeles, just a short drive if it’s not during rush hour. It’s a lucrative keyword, but some manufacturers will not allow onsite SEO for the area outside of Long Beach. As a result, search marketers are forced to “double down” on their link-building and social signal integration to have a chance.

Ever-Changing Inventory

Individual vehicle searches are very important in the industry. People love to do a search and find the exact vehicle they want. When vehicle listing pages pop up, they are often the highest-converting pages on the website.

Unfortunately, the inventory changes constantly. On most automotive website platforms, inventory pages become a custom 404 because of the labor associated with converting them to 301-redirects after a vehicle is sold. This makes getting and keeping rankings for specific long-tail vehicle searches challenging. There are definitely ways to handle it, but many in the industry simply ignore it because most others are as well. It levels the playing field a bit, but then sites like AutoTrader and are able to beat most dealers on the long-tail.

Clients with High-Expectations and Knowledge

There was a time when most dealers didn’t even want a website. A decade ago, many felt that the internet was damaging to the industry and that websites with inventories kept customers from having to come to the dealership at all.

Times have changed and today car dealers are amongst the most savvy local business owners when it comes to digital marketing. There is a constant barrage of online training and conferences that keep dealers at the top of the game. As a result, they tend to know a lot about search marketing, making it challenging for vendors and partners working with them.

To quote the immortal Ricky Bobby, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” That is often the sentiment coming from dealers who will not settle for second-best.

Local and Expanding

It was once just fine to rank locally. It was enough. Dealers were able to do well by keeping their customers happy and coming back for more every 2.5 years.

Times have changed. Brand loyalty is dying and consumers are expanding their own personal market areas by searching far and wide for vehicles. Dealers are finding it necessary to branch out and attempt to reach a wider geographical area to stay competitive. The “local” market is much bigger today than it was just 3 years ago.

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Helping car dealers in search is not easy. It might not be like optimizing for pharmaceuticals or online schools, but it’s challenging nonetheless with working budgets much lower than national and worldwide search marketing campaigns. However, to be the best, one must face the best in the most brutal conditions.

It doesn’t get much more brutal than local search marketing for car dealers.