If you were to ask someone who love spaghetti what makes it special, the majority would say it's the sauce. Google is no different. No, the search ranking algorithm doesn't actually eat spaghetti, but it does devour the internet and then critiques the "sauces" that it likes the most, rewarding those extra-special sauces with strong rankings in search.
Most in the automotive industry are at least somewhat aware that content is the biggest key to improved rankings in search, but few realize that it takes more than putting words into HTML format on the page. The standard thought process, at least what's promoted by search and website vendors in the industry, will fall under certain categories:
- More is Better - You should have as much content as possible on your website
- Mostly Unique Content is Fine - They love to tell you how unique their content is despite the use of "content spinners" (aka boilerplate content) and other worthless techniques
- Their Brand of Sauce is Awesome, Even Secret - This is one of my favorites because it promotes the idea that they have some amazing content secrets that they stole from the dungeons at Google HQ
To a tiny extent, these are all valid statements, though they're really mostly wrong. There is no secret sauce other than a handful of rules and some strong creativity. The "rules" are simple: content should be unique, it should be written for humans rather than for search engines, and it should be very specific to the page it's on. Everything else is just fluff.
With this being the case, how can a dealership improve their "sauce" in order to rank better? You have to add the spices...
Garlic, Oregano, Onions, Peppers, Mushrooms, etc.
With humans, we have tastes that must be met. Some like garlic. Some like peppers. Some can't stand either. Google isn't that picky. They just want to see that there's flavor added to the sauce, and this flavor comes in the form of inbound links. Now, before anyone starts throwing penguins at me, you have to understand the way that the algorithm has been updating since April 24, 2012.
For those who didn't catch the penguin reference, it was an algorithm update from a couple of years ago that devalued low quality inbound links. Our industry was hurt badly by companies that were utilizing automated content to generate hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of inbound links to pages. As a result, so many dealers and vendors have grown gun-shy when it comes to utilizing inbound links, but here's the thing. They still work. Google might not want them to work, but they do.
The reason that they still work is that Google still needs to gain an understanding of authority within a page and a domain. These ingredients added to the sauce, these links pointing to content on the dealer's website, act to enhance the authority. They add flavor. They give Google the understanding they need in order to trust a particular page or domain.
The concept of "link-building" is, for the most part, dead. Yes, there are still SEOs that can do it well, but most of them are outside of the industry and charge way too much. Rather than building links, the new method that Google rewards the most is in the form of link-earning. In essence, if you create high-quality content about a subject within your expertise (yes, cars) and you expose this content through multiple channels such as social media, the content will provide the value necessary for people to be willing to link to it. The science is far from exact and in many ways it has become more of an art than a science, but the process is the same. Make incredible content and expose it. That's how you roast your garlic to add to the sauce.
Wine, Vinegar, Olive Oil, etc
Since spaghetti sauce is made from a tomato base, most do not add additional liquids to the mix. However, with the right mix and utmost quality standards applied, it can be the difference between being a good sauce and a great one.
These liquid flavorings added to the sauce are the easiest way to understand the growing need for social signals. Again, there will be those who are about to throw something at me... "but Google said social signals don't work!" I always cringe because it's not an argument I like to have, particularly with people I respect, but it's an important one.
Yes, Google has said that social signals don't have an impact on rankings. Yes, Google is lying. The testing is clear. The results cannot be denied. It's important to understand why Google would fib about this important component. At this point, they can't control it. They can't even understand most of it, but they're trying to figure that out. They need to be able to separate good shares from the bad ones just as they can separate good links from bad ones, but until they have a "Penguin for Social Signals" algorithm component in place, they must rely on inaccurate but important data to drive their rankings.
This is why they lie. They know that if they don't discourage SEO people from using social signals, that they'll spam it just like they used to do with links. The Penguin update helped them shut down a problem that had plagued them for years. They learned from that mistake and now they're scrambling to get an understanding of social sharing quality before they reveal that social signals play an important role in ranking. In fact, they might never admit to it. That's their prerogative.
With all of that out of the way, let's discuss the wine. Not everyone adds it. Adding bad wine or even too much good wine can spoil the sauce. However, in moderation, it has proven to be very effective. The problem that dealers face is that the majority of the content on their websites is not shareworthy. Nobody's tweeting about a dealership's specials page. Nobody's sharing a service scheduling form on their Facebook wall.
It takes real content to make the signals work. In other words, you have to have a great sauce in order to allow it to be enhanced by the wine. You have to have great content in order to get it shared on social media.
If you ask a website vendor, it's all about how wonderfully "SEO-friendly" their platform is. It makes me cringe when I actually look at the code and run most websites through tests. Here are the real things that the actual website platform can do to affect SEO:
- Speed - The faster the pages load, the better the rankings
- Mobile Accessibility - Google is smart enough to be able to look at a page as it would appear in a mobile browser and determine if it's user-friendly for the small screen
- Ease of Adding/Editing Content - Does a platform have a proper CMS or not - that's all that they can do to make it more "SEO-friendly"
Some will point to the technical nature of microdata formatting and clean code on pages, but these have proven to be miniscule. It was a disappointment, really. There was a ton of hype about the technical side of SEO making a comeback, but the results were minimal. You can spend dozens of hours fixing code and the resulting improvement in rankings would be equivalent to a couple of hours of content writing.
So, if the website platform cannot do much to improve rankings, then it doesn't matter, right? Wrong. Nobody ever says, "wow, these spaghetti noodles are amazing!" They might mention that they're cooked properly or that they have a good texture, but it's the sauce that makes it taste better.
A dealership's website platform is the noodle. It won't make rankings better if it's good, but it can certainly ruin the meal (and your rankings) if it's bad. We've seen multiple occasions where the platform itself had some deficiencies in it like canonical fallacies or mobile rendering problems, but most can be remedied.
What cannot be remedied is having a platform that does not use a proper CMS. Thankfully, as we approach 100 clients, we've only worked with one vendor that fails miserably on the CMS front. Sadly, they tout their SEO/PPC expertise. No, I'm not going to name them.
The noodle can't make the spaghetti better, but it can definitely make it worse. Focus on making a great sauce, make sure you don't overcook the noodles, and you'll come out on top.