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Here Comes Everybody – The Pending Death of Automotive SEO

Where's the robot dude at the front of the line going?Not all that long ago it wasn’t difficult to have your dealership ranking well on  search engines. Few dealers were doing any search engine marketing. Those who did, easily found the top of the page.

Today the SEO and PPC “experts” seem to outnumber car dealers.

The days of being able to just write a cheque to an Automotive SEO company, (or your website vendor), to get ranked will soon end. (It already has in some Canadian Markets).

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been in the business long enough to remember how things were before Craig Newmark came along and forever changed the world of local classified advertising.

A few years back, automotive website providers were more successful selling websites than SEO and PPC services, (which were harder to explain to dealers and more costly a service to deliver). The pitch went something like this;

“We have a great looking website solution. Buy it and you’ll sell more cars than your competitor who has an ugly website”

Selling a website was not, (is not), unlike selling a print advertisement. In fact, as most of us in the car business know, when Craig’s List cut off a large portion of newspapers revenue, many print companies, (large and small alike), got into the business of selling web services to dealers, (including providing websites).

After you bought a website, the vendor’s sales representative would promptly walk across the street and use it to pitch your competitors;

“Look at ABC Mazda’s new website. It’s beautiful. Click here. Look at these great features. You need one of these if you want to stay in the game.”

This is the way most advertising has been sold to dealers for as long as I can remember. The advertising guys conditioned us to think we needed to respond to what “the other dealers” did in order to stay competitive. We were told we needed to “keep our name out there” because impressions are important, yada, yada, yada.

This was great for the newspapers. The more advertising they sold, the more evidence they had you needed to buy more advertising. The inventory was unlimited, (just print more pages), and they had practically no competition.

It was a brilliantly conceived business model that made a lot of people a great deal of money. Some newspaper sales guys I know made $200,000+ a year selling the same print ads to the same guys, in the same city, week after week, month after month, year after year.

They were REALLY good at their jobs. You know these guys. They were your friends. (Maybe they still are). You went to dinner with them, often. (They always picked up the tab). They gave you awesome gifts. Maybe they even arranged for tickets to the occasional NHL game or flew you to a CFL playoff one year. They did an amazing job using your money to keep you happy.

I know. I was one of those dealers writing cheques to the print guys and it always felt to me like we were burning through a lot of cash just to be, average…

Anything we did with print that was original or innovative was immediately copied by our competition the next week. Often because they were pitched the idea by the guy selling the ads.

“Look what ABC Mazda is doing. I heard they sold a lot of rides last weekend. Why don’t you run a promotion this weekend? You’ve got to keep your name out there…”

OK. That was a bit of a rant but if you’re a dealer between the age of 40 and 70, I think you know exactly what I’m talking about.

It’s very frustrating and very expensive to continually exchange blows with your local competition. It happened with print ads. It happened with websites. And it’s happening right now with PPC and SEO services.

How does all this relate to the death of Automotive SEO?

If you were one of the first dealers to get a website in your town, you had an advantage.

If you were an early adopter of PPC and SEO you know first hand the impact that decision had on your operation. (So do your competitors).

Unfortunately, the sales process I described above that was used to sell car dealers print ads and websites in the past is precisely the way SEO and PPC services are sold today, with one major difference.

First the good news:

You no longer have to worry about your print or website sales rep sharing your secret sauce with a competitor in order to make a sale.


The bad news;

There are no secrets left to be shared.

Anyone who knows how can see what you’re doing online and reverse engineer much of your process.

As a result, most dealers in large competitive markets today are doing a good job with SEO and PPC. This rising tide of knowledge has lifted all ships.

Here’s the big question;

Automotive SEO Clones - The Cookie Cutter SolutionWhen you and your (same brand) competitor are using exactly the same tools, often provided by the same vendors, how can you possibly get and keep an edge?

Short answer;

You can’t.

The people working on your marketing, and that of your competitors, are often sitting next to each other. (Literally and or virtually).

I hear this pitch from the larger vendors,

“Yes we have several Ford stores in this city using our services but we have different team members working on each and they don’t share information”.



Does anyone believe that?

For those who don’t know, PPC is an auction.

There are 11 spots on the page for PPC ads (Google).

There are 10 spots for organic listings (Google).

Do you see the problem?

We’ll soon reach the point where dealers become sick and tired of hearing why they need to spend money on SEO and PPC. (Perhaps you’re there already).

As with websites and print advertising before, dealers are going to feel like they are once again running on a treadmill. Spending money just to keep up. Just to be average.

But WAIT !  There’s More.

As  dealers spend more money for those 21 spots on the page, (via ppc and SEO), the cost to show up there will increase. Unlike newspapers, Google can’t just print more pages.

“Hold on Dave, prospects can just click to the next page on the search engines right?”

Sure they can.

When’s the last time you did that?

OK. I think you see the problem.

What’s the solution?

This is not rocket science.

Google is no friend to the “SEO industry”.

Google rewards those sites that add value and contribute.

If you want to have the most popular website for your brand in your market, start creating quality content for human beings. Forget about the robots and search engines.

Write a blog.

Make a video.

Do something.

Do anything.

Just start already !

If you’re tired of all the “noise” you keep hearing about what you should or shouldn’t do online, if you want some straight talk from people who know the car business, contact us.

We help our dealers transition from link builders and spammers to content creators and web publishers.

We know how to help you get (and keep) an online competitive edge in your market.

David Tingley

PS: Am I saying you don’t need PPC and Automotive SEO?


I am saying if you take a gun to a knife fight, you have an advantage.

If you show up and everybody is sporting an AK47, not so much…



{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Arthur April 10, 2012, 4:03 pm


  • Ryan thompson September 18, 2012, 7:22 pm

    Wow !!! Your description of a print salesman was bang on!!

  • Todd Herman September 25, 2012, 1:05 am

    Sorry I have to 100% disagree with your statement, we specialize in “Trend Analysis” in the automotive retailer industry.

    “The days of being able to just write a cheque to an Automotive SEO company, (or your website vendor), to get ranked will soon end.”

    Automotive SEO has never been stronger and is growing at an alarming rate. Fact is that over 75% of the automotive retailers do not even know what SEO is, this leaves us with an untapped market. Dead you say? I think not.

    Nothing could be more further from the truth. Fact is, the trend analysis spouts the the Canadian search volumes for “Smart cars for sale” are at a all time high as is our Canadian Car Dealers proposals.

    Google is a friend if you know how to treat them. The hard part is, most “Marketing Gurus” don’t know a lot about professional Automotive SEO Services. It takes years of analysis to even begin to understand what the volume of automotive link diversity and contextualization will do when applied in the right places.

  • Jason Andrews October 18, 2012, 1:31 pm

    Hey Dave,

    I think this is an excellent article. Your insights into the automotive technology industry are spot on in many of the points made above. However, the idea that dealers in the same market cannot or should not use the same supplier contradicts your final statement. SEO and PPC are still important elements to any dealers marketing mix. The difference between what you are selling and what others are selling is execution. Execution is what makes the difference in the automotive industry. While tools and platforms are great ways to make execution easier or better, those who are better executors in areas like blogging, creating video, offering quality web content are the winners in their markets. So to group suppliers selling automotive SEO and PPC all into one category is a complete farce. There are companies out there which provide automotive seo and ppc along with training for on site staff to execute upon. Your essentially selling a service of execution where you can financially benefit from the execution rather then invest time and money into a platform. That does not make you any better than the other suppliers out there. In fact, it makes you more of a predator. You can fish for dealers all you want, but eventually they will learn to fish for their own. Once that happens, how is this model any different than that of the current suppliers in north america? It isn’t. So please get off your high horse and play nice…

  • David Tingley October 18, 2012, 2:00 pm

    Although we may not agree on process, ultimately we do have the same objective. (Helping our clients find more business).

    I appreciate all comments guys. (The good, the bad, and the ugly)

  • Jonan Castillon May 8, 2013, 11:11 am

    I read your post smiling and nodding my head. Thank you for this ‘get real’ article. Whether great SEO and catchy PPC, it always goes down to ‘what would make browsers to “click” and interact. Like all car brands, Automotive SEO will just come up with new models with features claiming to give clients the edge. Best regards Dave!

  • Steve Vigus November 6, 2013, 7:23 pm

    Well said. I see some of these turn key SEO solutions sharing the same articles and videos among their subscribers and I have to scratch my head. How is a dealer supposed to stand out when their most important content isn’t even original?

    Unfortunately, original content cost even more to produce. It’s a marketing arms race.

    Arm up or give up. It’s time to start writing.

  • Will Harris February 20, 2014, 5:50 am

    David, thanks for sharing this blog.

    Though I’m a relative newcomer to the industry (1 year) I have already seen many dealerships get so involved with PPC/SEO strategies that don’t focus on the fundamentals: good/fresh content, a steady domain, and hard work.

    Too many dealerships believe that there is an “easy” button that can be pushed to make SEO happen. As you alluded to in the print days, you could easily throw money at a spread in your local paper and hope for the best.

    Spray and pray marketing will get you to zero fast. It takes a steady effort to really invoke and maintain a smart digital strategy.

    Thanks for sharing this and look forward to more,

    –Will Harris

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