This is a transcript of MM Podcast Episode 007: Local Search Engine Optimization For Car Dealers With Tom Libelt.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode 7 of the Motorcar Marketing Podcast. In this episode’s main segment, I’m going to be interviewing Tom Liebelt. Tom is an expert at search engine optimization and specializes in local SEO. He’s got some really great tips for car dealers that are very easy to implement and can have dramatic results on where you show up in the search engine results pages. So stay tuned for that.
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A couple of quick notes, any websites or links that I mention in the podcast can be found on the blog in the show notes. I also publish a transcript of every episode in case you’d rather read the show or look at something later on. You can find all the podcast show notes at www.motorcarmarketing.com/podcasts. If you’d like to get our free video guide Selling More Cars on Craigslist, just go to www.motorcarmarketing.com and put in your name and email address into the form in the sidebar. This guide goes through all the recent craigslist changes and shows you some actual statistics from dealerships who post heavily on craigslist, both now and last year before the big changes were rolled out. So if you’re wondering if you should still be posting your cars on craigslist or wondering how to get more value out of your craigslist ads, definitely check out this free video.
So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m talking with Tom Liebelt about local search engine optimization. Here’s the interview.
Ashley: Welcome, Tom, to the Motorcar Marketing Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show.
Tom: Thanks for having me.
Ashley: So, to start out, I wonder if you can give us a quick overview of your career and how you got into local SEO.
Tom: My career? I’ve run businesses since I was 16 years old. I have training in big corporations doing inside, outside retails sales so it’s everything that’s oriented to selling to and marketing to clients. After that I started doing blogs and at some sites to kind of learn how to rank websites, and then I just took those skills and moved them to local businesses because that’s really what I like to do and what I like to help.
Ashley: Perfect. So I wonder to start out, maybe we could just define sort of what is local SEO and then vs. just regular SEO.
Tom: Well, SEO really means just ranking your website. When you’re thinking of locally, you’re thinking of ranking something within a city, and that’s quite different from ranking nationally or internationally. So the main difference that I always see is when you’re searching for something and you see Google places with addresses around your area, that will be local SEO. So for example, if I typed in Los Angeles or Atlanta dealerships, some of the pages will show Google places with dealerships in that area. If I’m typing in pet food, for example, I just want to show stores that sell pet food, but they usually will not show places around you; it will just be a big company like Amazon or whatever pet food companies there are online. It’s a bit of a difference in that way. Usually you can drive to something to get a service like a gym, dealership, or restaurant, that will be local. People in Los Angeles don’t care about the restaurant in New York unless they’re actually going there so when they type in restaurant, let’s say Chinese or Japanese restaurant, they want to see things in and around them.
Ashley: Okay. So let’s go ahead and start out. Some of the questions that I have gotten from car dealerships, I’ll kind of throw those out at you at first and we can kind of take those and then move into some more specifics. One of the first things that I have gotten asked is when someone types in like a specific company name like Joe Blow’s Car Dealership, you will oftentimes see in the search results a kind of a big listing that links to their website, and they’ll typically be some sublinks to interior pages of their site. And then on the right side they’ll be like a picture. You might even see store hours, and their address and stuff. What would be a good strategy ju8st to make sure that you’re listed properly in those kinds of results?
Tom: Most of it is making sure that the architecture of the website is correct so that Google can read the main parts of your website such as the contact or some kind of a product or services page, getting listed with Google Places always helps too. That’s usually where they draw the address and those images from so making sure that those two correspond so have the same address on your website that you have on the Google Places.
Ashley: So let’s dig into that. So then what do you need to do to get hooked up with Google Places?
Tom: In Google Places, you can go and put google places listings on Google, and they’ll take you to a page where you can put the information in for your business. If you don’t do that, sometimes Google will automatically just scrape something from your local website and create a listing of their own so you’ll have to kind of claim that for yourself.
Ashley: And how long does it take to just roughly go and claim your listing on Google Places?
Tom: It takes about two weeks. They have to send you a postcard with a small code on it, and you’ll have to input the code into Google to kind of let them know that this really is a business so at least you can get your mail there.
Ashley: They’re confirming that you actually have a physical address there by sending you a postcard. I see perfectly. How complicated is this form that you fill out on the Google Places website?
Tom: If you can send emails, you can figure this out.
Ashley: Okay. So very simple basically. One other thing that I’ve noticed with these listings is as I said, if someone types a Joe Blow Car Dealership, sometimes they’ll be some star reviews. Where are those reviews coming from and how do you get people to give you reviews?
Tom: Well, what I know just from my experience—and Google really doesn’t share this information out loud—when you have over forty or fifty reviews, that’s when the stars start coming in. Now a lot of times you’ll see things that don’t make sense like a place with six reviews, they’ll have those stars, and it’s something that you just can’t really figure out. It’s like a hit or miss. If you’re lucky, you get it. If you don’t, you don’t.
Ashley: But where are they physically—like—where are these people physically filling out these reviews from?
Tom: In the Google Places.
Ashley: So there is a page on Google Places for your business, and people can go to that page and rate your company.
Tom: They can leave a review. When you’re asking for reviews—and I have seen this happen a lot too—don’t ask all of your clients to do it on the same day because if you’ve had one or two reviews over the last six months and then Google sees you getting twenty within two days, they’ll flag it as spam. So it makes it a little more difficult to get your clients to kind of follow up on things, but don’t do it in one day. Just kind of try to spread things out throughout a few weeks. I mean, this should happen naturally, but what I’ve seen a lot of companies do instead of asking clients when the job is finished, they’ll collect all the emails and just shoot them all off in one day and be like can you leave a review for our company, and that can actually backfire.
Ashley: That’s a good tip. You’ve just got to trickle them out. Another thing that I see, and I have had car dealers ask me about this. When someone types in, for instance—and you kind of talked about this a little bit—car dealers Los Angeles, on my listing page, I’ll see five or ten specific companies with their websites, and they’ll be a map on the right-hand side, how do you get listed in that—and I see it like you said like services like you type in plumbers, Los Angeles, how do you get listed in those results?
Tom: The map always shows up from the Google Places, and the way that Google works is that you like to work by neighborhoods, and they will work from the middle of the neighborhood to the outside so that companies that have addresses and the best proximity to the center will usually show up first. There are many ways to outrank the companies that initially do that, but that’s the first thing like if you were all equal, and no one has any reviews and you just put the addresses in, that’s how it would show up. It would be the proximity to the center. So a lot of people try to scam Google by giving other addresses which are closer to the middle of the city and then lead people to websites and other places so finally get to the dealership, but the main address will be from somewhere else like a post office box or someone’s house.
Ashley: Now you said there are ways to outrank them other than like the shady ways of listing a bogus address. Are there some legitimate ways that you can outrank the people who are closer to the city center?
Tom: Yes there are. Getting all the citations in place, and there are hundreds of websites like that so just like Google Places, you’ll have Yelp, Angie’s List, I have a big list. I can’t remember all of them, but when Google sees that you have all these citations in order and the addresses are all the same, the phone numbers are all the same, you have reviews on all of them, you get a bigger boost too. Having a lot of images in with correct text in the filename, having the right descriptions, having the right titles, there are a lot of things you can do, getting your Google Places starred. People can actually go and star it as their favorite. There are quite a few ways to outrank other sites, and it’s really safer than your website. You very rarely see a Google Places listing get flagged or hit by Google for some kind of a spammy thing.
Ashley: So maybe we could dig into that a little bit more. Aside from what you just said, are there some other tips you have for managing these Google Places pages. It sounds like at least in your opinion, that’s kind of the core of managing your local FCO is managing this Google Places listing, is that correct?
Tom: Yes. When people search for things locally, they usually do it on their phones, and they will usually do it from Google Maps or from Yelp or from one of these citation platforms. When someone is looking for a place to drive to when there’s a problem, people don’t go to google.com as much as you would think locally. Google.com is really good for buying things nationally. It does help, too, when someone’s at work and looking on their laptop or computer, but a lot of the searches, I would say fifty percent of them, is done from mobile phones on the road and people just want to see where this place is. So the quickest way for me to find something is Google Maps, for example. I go into Google Maps, I put in dealership Ford, and I expect Google to show me where it is.
Ashley: So are there some additional tips you can give us for managing the Google Places page?
Tom: The main thing is to get all of your citations in order, and that means that all of the information on there should be the same. Make sure the address, the phone number, description, and title are all exactly the same.
Ashley: Okay. And let’s define that for a minute. When you say all the citations, you’re talking about going to Yelp and claiming your Yelp page and making sure the address is the same on that page?
Ashley: Okay. And what are some of these other citations sites, obviously Yelp. But what are some of the other sites that you recommend people go and fill out?
Tom: Googled Places, Yelp, Angie’s List, Kudzu.com, and the reason I say kudzu.com is sometimes Google will pull reviews from that website to Google Places initially if you don’t have any of them. Yahoo and Bing I think have business listings as well. You can basically search on Google and put citation places and you can find a lot of these websites.
Ashley: Okay. And on the Google places page, is there like a section where you pull in the specific link on Yelp for your page or Google is able to figure that out themselves?
Tom: Google does that automatically.
Ashley: For some reason I thought Angie’s list was a paid service so I didn’t realize that those business listing pages were public and that googlebot could actually find those.
Tom: Well, even though it’s private which means that you have to pay to get on there, Google does not. Google can browse those sites without paying for any of them.
Ashley: So let’s take a step back. It sounds like that’s kind of the off-site SEO stop. Is there anything that I missed as far as off-site local SEO that you think we should talk about?
Tom: You have a couple different things. When you look at just SEO, you have—well, let’s not even think about seriously marketing your website locally—you have the paid search which is the Google ad boards or Bing paid ads or one of those. You have the citation pages, the platforms such as Yelp, Google Places, and then you have the main rankings which a lot of people still talk about, the organic search engine rankings on the left-hand side under the paid ads. You also have different Google images which can be searched for locally. You have Google videos which is kind of a separate search engine which can be searched for locally. Now they can intermix and you can sometimes see a variety of them all spread around on the same page, but those are all ranked a little differently.
Ashley: And do you have some tips—it sounds like you’ve worked with some car dealers before. What sort of a low-hanging fruit—I mean what you just said is like a lot of stuff. Should car dealers go after those Google video rankings or what are some of the low-hanging fruit for car dealers do you think in terms of where they spend their time?
Tom: The main one is speed up your website; it can help a lot with ranking so speed up the website. The second one would be to remove duplicates. Almost all dealerships I’ve seen have a ton of pages and the only thing in there is copied from the manufacturer. That’s a big problem too. Now you should be image heavy but stay mindful of the image tags. So those can be a positive helping your ranking in Google images and Google itself or it can help get an on-page penalty so you have to be careful with that too. A lot of dealerships will put ten images on the page and think that Mercedes is 001, Mercedes 002, Mercedes 003 and that’s not the way to do it. You should say something like the interior of the Mercedes Benz. Make sure that it explains and that’s for filenames as well. So image tags and the filenames should vary. Don’t just put Mercedes 001 and Mercedes 002, Mercedes 003—horrible. That can actually hurt you.
Ashley: That’s an interesting point so first, let’s figure out what you’re saying. So, as an example, you have your Mercedes Benz; you might say 2012 Mercedes Benz and then you would say interior driver’s side and then the next one would be 2012 Mercedes Benz interior passenger side; that’s how you would actually name the image?
Tom: Some of them, but that’s the thing, if you have ten images and if you say that these are a picture of a Mercedes on two of them and the title tag of the page says something with the Mercedes, Google will know it’s about Mercedes. So just cut it out. Just put inside, the wheel, the exterior, leather seats, put in different words which are close to what you want to show off but don’t say Mercedes so much. That’s too much stuffing, and it’s something that you shouldn’t be doing. So you have to think Google hires some of the smartest people in the world, and they can fairly quickly figure out what your page is about. So don’t push it.
Ashley: One of the things I know—my own company, we offer car dealer websites, and I know most of the other sites offer other services that are similar—when people are uploading images, they’re doing it at such a fast pace that honestly they don’t even bother to name the images; it just gets uploaded and it’s usually like maybe a Venn number or a stock number, stock number _1, _2 so there is not any Mercedes or anything in that actual image name, and that’s really just a practical thing. I think it would be difficult for dealers to actually sit there and name every single image.
Tom: Yes, but you have to think this is such an easy win. Hire someone else to do it then. I see dealerships messing this up and hiring SEO companies to throw crappy backlinks that actually get their website dumped after a few months. So you’ve got to think if you’re going to pay for something, pay for the easy wins; you can at least control them.
Ashley: So let’s talk a bit more about—because the last couple things you mentioned were on page, speeding up your website and naming the images properly. Are there any other on-page SEO things that you think car dealerships could do?
Tom: I also mentioned thin sites and duplicate contents. Usually when you see a dealership they’ll copy a couple of sentences that they have from the manufacturer and just leave it there.
Ashley: And so your suggesting that they actually hire some sort of a copy writer to write a paragraph of original text on each individual car.
Tom: Sure. If not, then just make it a quick video. You could video something of that sort showing off the car and put that on there, and if you were saying anything in the video, then just transcribe the video and put the transcription on there. It’s still going to be better than what you stole from the manufacturer. It’s not duplicate content at that point.
Ashley: Sure. So let’s talk a bit about off-site SEO in terms of having like blogs and getting backlinks. Can you speak a little bit about that as far as local SEO goes.
Tom: Blogs are still on-page. You put the blog on your website. I can talk about that. First you’ve got to figure out if you even need a blog because blogs need to be useful, otherwise don’t select them. I like ones that update about fun things going on around the company, short blog posts which answer simple questions or message posts that go into depth on a topic. Hiring writers that will do SEO-friendly content isn’t a joke. If you don’t want to be committed to doing it, just don’t start it. Might be better to just put out short videos or a weekly podcast, and, like I said, these can be transcribed and then become written content as well. It’s just up to what the person feels most comfortable with. I don’t like writing much so I don’t do written content that much, but you can still do videos; you can still do podcasts like I said and get them transcribed, and you give Google what they want which is original content.
Ashley: No. I see a lot of that where car dealerships will start a blog, and as you say, they’re not committed so after a couple of months, it just kind of dies off and the posts are two years old; the last post was two years ago.
Tom: That stuff doesn’t drive clients, though, that’s what you have to think about. If you are simply putting these articles that are supposed to be SEO-friendly, but they don’t actually help to fix or just help with anything, what’s the point of having them up there?
Ashley: Sure. So let’s talk a bit about backlinks.
Tom: That’s a very misunderstood topic. What do you want to know about backlinks?
Ashley: Well, what do you recommend in terms of if a car dealership to have a nice website, they’ve done the things that you’ve just suggested in terms of on-site SEO and now they’re thinking well, let’s go out and get some backlinks, what’s a nice white hat way of going out and getting some legitimate backlinks to their site.
Tom: I’m actually curious when you say that, to get some backlinks. How do you picture getting backlinks? I want to know from you before I say anything.
Ashley: Okay. Well, I think in terms of just like white hat links, I think you could go to maybe other dealerships you could go to and trade links. You could go to your better business bureau page; you could start some sort of a blog on Tumbler or something and then get a backlink from there. Write some content about cars and then get a backlink from your Tumbler page to your site. Those would be kind of like the first sort of easy way to get some backlinks.
Tom: What I like to do is I like to reverse-engineer the websites from other dealerships first and see what they have. If they’re signed up within the associations you can just buy to get a link from which you are not really buying the link, you’re buying to become a part of the association and then just because you’re in there, you get a link. So in Google’s eyes, that’s okay. Stay away from a lot of directories, though. There are SEO companies that pitch backlink directories, and most of those are garbage. Exchanging things without their dealerships, I would not really recommend that because that kind of shows that okay, I give you a backlink if you give me one. So that’s one of those that are easy to catch by Google. There are a couple of people in your industry, though, which you know you should get backlinks from. For example, let’s say you’re a dealership, but someone else is renting cars or fixing mufflers or doing things which you’re not directly doing, get backlinks from those guys. Starting different blogs like web 2.0 properties, that’s a good way to do it, but you have to remember too as with any blog, if you don’t update that for a while, it might start looking like something that you could have spammed. The thing about SEO companies and backlinks, all of them are still very shady when it comes to it. The lower end companies will use programs and tools to create them. And the large ones usually have huge private stuff like malworks, and these are only an inch away from being smacked by the search engines. So some backlinks can still be created and should be done by hand with original content. The anchor text on those—we’re talking about those blogs like Tumbler that you mentioned—they should be controlled and mostly branded. So that means that whoever sets them up should be able to go back and remove or change these as necessary. You’ve got to track them and keep the log-ins. Branded simply means that you should have something with your URL or your name. So if you’re Mike’s Auto Dealership, then that will be mikesautodealership.com as the anchor text or just mikesdealership.com. You can have had you stopped in at Mike’s dealership lately as an anchor text, make sure your name is within those links most of the time. Don’t try to spam Google by putting Los Angeles Dealership in anchor text.
Ashley: So just let’s take one step back just quickly and for people that don’t know anything about SEO, maybe just tell us why backlinks are important just quickly.
Tom: Sure. Google is still a high school popularity contest. Each backlink pretty much tells Google that someone else is talking about you or mentioned you. So Just like in high school, if you think back, as people say Tom’s cool right there; Tom’s cool because he’s got a new car, and if enough people say that, I’m obviously cool right? That’s the same thing with Google. The more backlinks, the more mentions if they’re done in the right way, then Google thinks that you should be ranked first.
Ashley: And I definitely would like to agree with your point because I know a lot of car dealerships get these emails from SEO companies that say hey, we guarantee you first page placement on Google. Car dealerships should be very, very leery of those companies because those companies ultimately don’t care if your site gets banned from Google, and you will have a lot of problems if your site does get banned. So you do want to be careful with paid services.
Tom: Well, let me just clear that up a little bit for the dealership owners out there. Most SEO companies that send you emails out, they know that customers only stick around for four to six months and don’t really care. It’s all about the sales for them. And SEO is not easy so when you see a low-priced SEO service, you’ve got to question it a lot. The person selling that service wants a commission or a good margin on it. So what can we do with whatever’s left from the money? So let’s say you’re getting an offer; I’ll do SEO for you for $200. The average margin is going to be 50 percent so that means there’s $100 left. A good SEO person charges $150 an hour or $100 an hour, what can we do in an hour? Not much. I’m just trying to give you an example so when you look at those offers, you have to think that way too. What am I going to get for this? I can get a couple Indians working on tools from India and expanding the hell out of my website, and then it’s going to crash. But the question is what am I getting for that money? The best SEO companies are really hard to work with because they have enough clients and they don’t want you. They will never send you an email spamming you; they won’t ever call you spamming you. They probably won’t even come out to meet with you because they don’t care. They have enough clients. The people reaching out to you like that, are not someone you want to work with in the first place.
Ashley: For sure. So maybe just to wrap things up, we can talk about, you’d mentioned that you’ve worked for some car dealerships. I wonder if you can just give us sort of a few pointers on things, some specific examples of things that car dealerships did to improve their local SEO rankings and just general tips.
Tom: I think I went over those but I’ll summarize them. The quickest ones, speed up your website. Make it mobile-friendly. Remove duplicate content. When you’re placing your images, name them correctly. Make sure all of your citations are done and all done the same way so address, phone number have to match exactly and match what you have on your website. These things can help you outrank. A lot of people are still doing it wrong.
Ashley: Okay. Good. I think that’s some good information. So let’s talk about your company. Can you kind of give us a two-minute elevator pitch for what you do?
Tom: Well, I have my own podcast on smartbrandmarketing.com, and any sites that I am providing services will be kind of linked out from that website so if you go to smartbrandmarketing.com, if I’m offering anything at that moment, you’ll find it there.
Ashley: Perfect. I will link to that in the show notes so if anybody doesn’t have a pen handy, they can just go to the show notes and I’ll put a direct link there to your website. What’s the best way for people to keep up with you and contact you if they have any further questions?
Tom: They can just go to that site. Everything’s link out from there. I used to have ten different websites and created a hub, and if there is anything important going on, if I’m offering coaching or anything, it’s going to be on that website first.
Ashley: Perfect. Tom, you’ve been very generous with your time. I think this is some great information. I know I learned a lot, and I’m sure some car dealers will get a lot of value out of this. So thank you very much for coming on the show.
Tom: You’re welcome.
Ashley: If you’re currently looking for a high-quality auto dealer website, check out our sister site, motorcarsites.com. We offer high-quality auto dealer websites at a very affordable price. Dealers can typically save between fifty and a hundred fifty dollars per month by using our service. You can upload as many cars as you’d like with no additional cost. We automatically can export your cars to all the major platforms like cars.com and auto trader so you don’t have to manage your inventory in multiple locations. We can have your new website up and running usually in less than 24 hours. Set-up is free and easy, and there are no long-term contracts so you can cancel at any time. Check out motorcarsites.com to learn more.
The next episode of the motorcar marketing podcast, I’m going to be interviewing Damian Thompson. Damian is an expert with email marketing. Email marketing is something that all car dealerships should be doing, but most aren’t doing it correctly. It’s a much more subtle art than just emailing out announcements for your upcoming sales. Damian has some great tips and advice for car dealers about how they should be using email so keep an eye out for that.
Just a couple of quick comments on today’s interview with Tom. A lot of stuff he mentioned like getting your Google Places page established, claiming your Yelp page are very easy to do and only take a few minutes, and once it’s done, it’s done forever or at least until you change your physical location of your business. So I would highly advise all dealerships to do that if you haven’t already done it. It’s really free leads and hopefully will lead to some free sales as well.
I would say link-building and all the other on-page SEO stuff is probably more complicated. I would jot some of this stuff down and talk with whomever is running your website for you. There are probably some things they can do to help you rank better in the search engines and they can probably do them fairly easily.
So, that’s our show. I hope you get some value out of it and it can help you grow your business. Thanks for listening.