Has your Google search traffic been declining in 2023? If so, you’re not alone, and you’re not the only dealer who has noticed. So, what’s going on? Is your marketing vendor falling behind? Did Google change something? Is the site broken? There are some pretty simple explanations for what’s happening, and it is a real problem that started sooner than you probably realize.
The most common explanation you’re probably getting is that the market has pulled back. You may have been told that it’s no big deal and every dealer is experiencing this same thing. There’s some truth in this, but it shouldn’t be an acceptable excuse if you’re paying for SEO (search engine optimization). If your SEO vendor is getting the job done, you should at least be holding even in a declining market, if not continuing to increase in the areas that matter.
The typical issue here is that your SEO vendor is actually your website vendor or your Dig-Ad / SEM vendor, and SEO is just a cheap bolt-on offering that they don’t put serious resources behind. A good rule of thumb is that if your SEO is OEM-approved or if it is performed by a vendor that offers many other things, the SEO service is usually an afterthought.
Alright, your traffic is down, and your vendor always has a reason why. How do you know if their explanations hold water or if they’re just excuses? The key lies in the keywords your vendor says they’re optimizing for and where on a map you rank. Bear with me here; this will be easy to follow…
The keywords and pages that your vendor is focusing on need to be low-funnel if they’re going to impact your new sales, used sales and/or RO count. Low-funnel keywords are those containing “dealer,” “for sale,” “near me” or other transaction-intent words. Examples might include “Ford Dealers,” “Silverados For Sale” or “Used Trucks Near Me.” If these types of keywords are the focus, that’s good, but we’ll come back to a secondary concern in a moment.
Keywords you should not be seeing are high-funnel or even irrelevant topics. These might include pages or blogs about towing capacity, trim levels, EV ranges or local attractions. Examples might include “Sierra HD Towing Capacity,” “2023 Camry Options,” “2023 Mach-E Range” or “Top 5 Parks in Seattle.” These topics will only attract consumers doing research (or looking for a park…) and will attract traffic that does not convert, if they attract any at all.
RANK OVER DISTANCE
Assuming your vendor is focusing on the low-funnel keywords, they’re probably showing off where you rank for those keywords. A rank report shows the keyword being measured and where on Google you rank. They also typically show how that rank has improved over time, but they usually don’t say anything about where (geographically) you rank.
That’s right, where you rank is as important or more than how highly you rank. This is because ranking at your store’s location is comparatively easy, and ranking even five miles away is exponentially more difficult. Google changes the ranking order dramatically and over distances as little as a fraction of a mile, based on where the consumer was when they performed the search. In other words, you likely rank number one for “Car Dealers Near Me” if you search at your store, but you’re not even on page one for that keyword if you search from a mile away.
There are objective ways to audit your rankings over distance rather than just at your own location. There are free tools you can use to check this yourself, but your SEO partner can easily do this for you.
The key to organic growth is a strategy based on low-funnel keywords, which produces ranking improvements not just on your lot but at the population centers and competitor locations that matter to your bottom line.
Traffic is down in spite of those rosy vendor reports because they’re not showing you the full picture. Your SEO service hasn’t stopped working… It never worked to begin with, and you’ve just been riding the market tide. When the market is good it feels like you’ve gained. When it pulls back, so does your search traffic. Challenge your vendor to prove more tangible gains against the current market. Those gains are possible, but most SEO in automotive is just snake oil.