SEO in the Auto Industry: An Interview with Greg Gifford

auto industry SEO

We hear and read a lot of SEO tips on several niches, but one I don’t hear talked about much in the SEO realm is the auto industry. In fact, the only person I have personally heard discussing it is Greg Gifford, Search and Social director at The auto industry is HUGE and they have incredible monthly marketing budgets. This is an industry you might want to learn more about and the best person to get insights from is Greg. So, please check out our interview below.

First can you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

Greg Gifford SEOHey, I’m Greg (obviously) and I’ve been in the online marketing game for about 16 years now. I actually started SEO as an unknowing blackhat… I had a Flash website design and hosting company (shut up) and we quickly realized that none of the sites were showing up in Google searches. Since all the content was stored in a database, we ended up serving the text content to search engine bots so the sites would get indexed.

Things didn’t go so well with my partners, so I left that venture a little over 8 years ago and got hired as a Flash designer at AutoRevo, a software company that provides websites to used car dealers. I was quickly promoted to Creative Director, and then to Marketing Director, where I started my legitimate SEO work. After a few years, we wanted to start selling SEO as a service, and I launched that department. As we grew the department, I started speaking at automotive conferences, and then at SEO conferences, and really focused in on Local SEO.

Your website talks a lot about leads and increased conversions; is SEO still an important part of your strategy?

I’ve only been with DealerOn since June – they hired me because they wanted to start selling SEO. Since we’re primarily a software company (providing sites to new car dealers), the website is almost 100% dedicated to the website side of the business. As of right now, there’s only one page on the site about our SEO service. The SEO department has been growing so quickly, I haven’t had time to get in and put more content onto the corporate site. Check back at the end of January and you’ll see a lot more there about our SEO offerings… SEO is going to be a HUGE push in 2016.

How important is SEO for dealers compared to other businesses?

SEO is important for any business – especially for local businesses. If there’s any competition at all, a business wants to show up as close to the top of search results as possible. SEO is the way to get there, so it has an enormous effect on the bottom line of many SMBs.

For auto dealers, it’s even more important than many other verticals. In most metro areas, once you add all the new car and used car dealers together, you’ve got hundreds of dealers fighting for less than 10 spots on page one results. It’s hyper-competitive, so SEO is basically a requirement if you want to stay competitive.

Do you all have a strategy for optimizing each vehicle for sale?

We don’t touch individual vehicles – we’d have to charge an astronomically high price in order to do so. Some dealers are selling hundreds of cars per month, which means we’d have to be notified immediately when a car is added to the system so that we could go optimize the vehicle. Instead, our website platform (and most other automotive website platforms) automates the optimization of the important page elements. Title tags, H1 headings, alt text, schema markup, and meta tags are all automatically optimized, based on the information passed in from the vehicle management system. Sure, it’s not the same as a talented SEO optimizing the page, but it still works.

We do a few things other providers don’t do that help our dealers’ cars stand out even more. We feed in reviews for each vehicle, then we mark the reviews up with schema code – and in many cases, when someone in that local area searches for a specific year/make/model that a dealer has in stock, that listing in the SERP gets the rich snippets for review stars and price range, which really makes that vehicle stand out in the SERPs.

Can you tell us what changes you are seeing in your space in regards to SEO?

SEO in automotive is pretty rough – there are a LOT of providers out there giving SEO a bad name. They’re using outdated tactics, or they’re really not doing anything at all. One of the major providers assigns hundreds of dealers to a single person, so after the monthly reports are completed, maybe 15 or 16 minutes of time is left for any work on each account.

Dealers are starting to catch on, though, and providers are starting to realize that they’ve got to offer legitimate SEO if they want to stay relevant. Local SEO is huge for auto dealers, but there’s really no one else in the space doing the extra elements of Local. That’s great for us, but I’m sure other providers are going to jump on the bandwagon soon.

On a broader scale, the recent changes in local have really frustrated lots of dealers. Most dealers want to target other locations to try to conquest business, but Google is making it harder and harder to show up anywhere other than where you’re actually located. The changes have made our job more difficult as well, as we’ve had to shift strategies to stay effective.

What role do keywords play in your marketing strategies?

They’re huge. Most dealers don’t think beyond showing up in searches for the brand they sell, their dealership name, or the cars they’ve got on the lot. There are huge opportunities if more general phrases are targeted so that dealers can catch buyers earlier in the funnel. Dealers always love to say that they sell “pre-owned vehicles”, so that’s what they have all over their site – but there are basically zero searches for that phrase… ever. The general public searches for “used cars” – just updating a dealers’s site to say “used cars” can be a huge boost. Dealers also typically forget to target service, financing, and parts related phrases as well.

What is the typical fail(s) that you see when working on clients sites?

Oops, just mentioned that. The biggest fail is that dealers forget to optimize for anything other than the brand they sell. Second biggest is that they optimize for “pre-owned vehicles” instead of “used cars”. Third biggest is just general lack of optimization. SO MANY dealers think that all they need is a website, and they don’t understand why they’re not the number one result in local searches.

What should the SEO / marketing industry learn about the auto industry?

Even though the auto vertical is a few years behind the rest of the Internet, there’s still a lot to be learned. Any time you’ve got a niche that’s so hyper-competitive, you’ll find SEO vendors and website vendors who have figured out a few things that other people aren’t doing. The really good SEOs in auto have really latched on to Local SEO and have come up with some pretty awesome strategies to help broaden the reach of a single store.

And more than anything else, there’s an incredibly huge opportunity to sell SEO and PPC to the auto industry. You don’t have to be someone like us who only does SEO for auto – as long as you get a little experience under your belt so you know the industry, you can really rock it for a dealership. Many dealers are just starting to realize that SEO is a necessity, so there’s going to be a huge boom in automotive SEO in the next 12-18 months…

A Big Thanks to Greg!

We really appreciate Greg’s time answering these questions for us. You can find him on Twitter @GregGifford, at DealerOn, LinkedIn, and he speaks at several marketing and dealer conferences each year. He is a wealth of information and one of the nicest guys on the planet. Be sure to follow him on Twitter and find a way to meet him.

About Melissa Fach

AuthorityLabs Community Jedi - Melissa Fach is the owner of SEOAware, LLC that specializes in consulting and training businesses. She is also the Community Jedi at AuthorityLabs, the Social Community Manager for Pubcon, a past Editor of Search Engine Journal and a big cat volunteer. You can find her on Twitter @SEOAware.

Filed under: Strategy, Tips