Regardless of whether you’re a national car dealership or a small independent car dealer, chances are you will, at some point, need to focus on improving your website’s visibility to attract new potential customers. Local SEO applies to customers who either perform a Google search in close proximity to your business, or customers who conduct a location-based search query; i.e. used cars for sale in [ location ].
Local vs Traditional SEO
For those who are not sure how traditional SEO and local SEO differ:
Traditional SEO is about optimising on-site and off-site elements to influence your website’s relevancy in search engines, making sure your website shows up in the search results for your chosen target keywords or search queries.
However, local SEO is about optimising both on-site and off-site elements to improve your website’s relevancy in search engines, ensuring that your site shows up when users search for certain keywords in a particular geographical area.
Google’s Local algorithm
Google released their first major local based algorithm (since Venice) called Pigeon back in August 2013 (US) and December 2014 (UK). Its main aim was to tie local search closer to their web algorithm to improve ranking parameters based on distance and location.
This meant that Google now had the ability to determine a local business’ distance and location from that of where the search was being conducted, and return those to the user. One of the key changes that came with the pigeon algorithm was that only three businesses are shown on the map where there had previously been seven.
That alone, combined with the many updates since, has made ranking for local keywords more difficult, but also much more important.
On-Page local ranking signals
The most important local SEO ranking signal for local relevancy is content. As with any website, the content should follow the rule of quality over quantity. You should consider a couple of things when planning local content for your website:
- Is the content helpful for users?
- Does it provide a better user experience than your competitors?
- Is it useful, relevant and unique?
- Does it have a legitimate reason to be there?
- Is the content easy to navigate?
The content must not only be unique but also useful. Here are a variety of ways in which you can create legitimate content for your blog around local events:
- Top 10 Lists
- Local Recommendations
- Event Guides
- Sponsor Events
- Share interesting news relevant to your customers
Avoid writing content for the sake of writing content. The main aim here is to show search engines that you are an authority on what’s happening in your local area.
Consider the following when producing on-site content:
URL: Make sure your page URLs include local keywords within them.
NAP: It’s important that the name, address and phone number of your business are clearly displayed on each location page in the text body (use the NAP schema mark-up). Also, use Google maps to pinpoint your location, which can be embedded directly from your ‘Google My Business’ account.
Meta Data: For location pages, make sure your meta data is optimised for local keywords. Include the location within the <title> tag and prioritise keywords first before your car dealership name.
The same can be said for the H1, but vary the keywords targeted and consider latent semantic indexing (LSI) when targeting local keywords to include semantic relevant keyword variation throughout the meta data (H2,H3,H4 etc…).
Images: Further optimise the images for local search using image alt text. Be as specific as you can regarding location and keywords, as this will help Google image searches which could potentially drive further traffic to your website.
Internal Anchor Text: Consider including ‘geo terms’ within linking anchor text when internally linking to location pages within local blog content. A strong internal linking structure to the location pages will help their local relevance massively.
Utilise your Google My Business Account
As Google moves towards a more ‘self-contained’ experience that keeps users within the search results, it’s important to optimise elements of your website such as a Google My Business (GMB) listing. See your GMB listing as a second homepage.
Q&As: You don’t necessarily have to wait for a user to ask a question before answering. Add the top 10 most frequently asked questions about the business/service you offer and include with answers in your GMB listing.
Create Posts: Creating posts in GMB is a good way to get your promotional offers in the knowledge graph and, ultimately, the search results. This is a good way to drive more traffic to your website and increase the click-through rate from your listing.
Reviews: Research shows that 97% of people read reviews for local businesses. Use this information to encourage customers to leave reviews on Google.
Review signals are an integral part of the local search algorithm and can play a huge role in a customer’s decision to visit your dealership over a competitor. According to a study, 88% of people say have been influenced by an online review when making a buying decision, and 90% of people said they’d trust an online review the same way they would trust a review from a friend or relative.
Positive reviews are a major ranking factor in local SEO, but they also reflect the type of service you offer. If it is shown that previous customers had a good experience at one of your car dealerships, future customers will be more trusting of you as a business/service.
To encourage positive reviews, familiarise your staff with approaching customers who had a great experience to leave feedback. The more positive reviews you get, the better you’ll rank for local searches. On the other hand, if you get a negative review, respond to it – sometimes, potential customers want to see how a business handles negative reviews and unhappy customers, so some negative results can actually help if handled in the right way.
Google’s local algorithm and review strategy:
According to industry research, the following list of local review ranking factors carry the most weight. From high priority to low priority:
- Number of reviews with keyword
- Number of reviews with city
- Google Reviews
- Average yearly reviews
- Number of reviews not responded to
- New reviews over the past year
- Average weekly reviews
- Average monthly reviews
- Total review responses
Understanding this is crucial, as reviews carry a large weighting within Google’s local algorithm when ranking one dealership above another in the map pack.
Off-Page ranking signals
Although on-site local signals are the most important element to focus on, off-site signals can easily be a deciding factor for Google to rank one dealership over another for a given number of search queries.
Googlebot relies on links as a way of navigating around the web when discovering, crawling and indexing your website’s content. After Google first introduced the ‘Penguin Algorithm’ in 2012, and then when Penguin subsequently became real-time in 2016, the focus shifted onto the quality of links over quantity of links. This still rings true with local SEO, but link building strategies differ from those of traditional SEO.
In traditional, organic SEO strategies, links from websites with a high domain authority, or those which are industry relevant, carry the most weight and link equity. However, this is not the case for local SEO.
In order to succeed with local SEO, though, you need to acquire links from local websites to the location pages on your website. For example, a link from a local radio station website to one of your website’s location pages would carry more weight, from a local SEO perspective, than a link from an online news website, no matter the domain authority, etc. This is because Google uses a different search algorithm to determine local results.
Location specific links to your business’ location pages make a huge difference in your relevance to Google and improve your local SEO signals massively, so should be a priority. These types of links are also generally easier to get than those of national publications, such as the BBC or The Guardian.
One place to start is to look at what local websites are linking to on your local competitors’ websites and go after those links first. You should do this for two reasons:
- Easy quick win opportunities, and if they have linked to a competitor, they will likely link to you.
- Unique links tend to be more valuable, therefore you are singlehandedly de-valuing your competitor’s local links if their link is no-longer unique.
Some quick ways to attract local links:
- Host a community event
- Sponsor a local event
- Get blogged about
- Interview a local figure
- Sponsor a local sports team
- Get recognised in your city
- Share resources/data
When considering local link building opportunities, as with any link building campaign, consider the following questions and pointers:
- Are they relevant, either locally or by niche?
- Is the link likely to be clicked?
- Was the link given or earnt freely?
- Is this link worthy of Google’s consideration?
- Don’t worry about the links being no follow, they are still good for local SEO.
- Hyperlocal links carry LOTS of weight.
Citations: It’s important that all local business listings are consistent across all directories. This includes name (spelt correctly), address and phone number. If there are inconsistencies, search engines get confused, which sends bad signals, and local rankings and map pack listings can suffer as a result.
The above image from Moz shows how the local search ecosystem works and how everything is connected. This highlights how citations can get quite messy if they aren’t consistent.
Implement and Monitor
As with most things in the search industry, local SEO is a continuous investment of time and effort. It is important that both on-site and off-site elements work together to strengthen your local proposition and ultimately drive more enquiries/sales from your local potential customers. Putting foundations in place, to implement and monitor the tips mentioned in this post, is a good starting point to owning your local digital space.