Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re curious about SEO. Maybe you’ve put off learning about it for long enough, maybe you’re required to learn about it, or maybe you just want to make sure you have the most up-to-date info. Whatever your reasons, we got you!
Just sit back, relax, and enjoy an ultra-simple crash course to get you comfortable with SEO before you dive deeper.
What is SEO?
Alright, let’s start with the basics, just in case.
SEO = Search Engine Optimization.
It’s the practice of optimizing a webpage to be analyzed by search engines and displayed in the results for a search query. Search engines (like Google, Yahoo, or Bing) want to present the best possible source of an answer to any query a user makes. Being one of the top ranked site comes with benefits – in fact, the top three results in Google get over 60% of the traffic.
So why does it matter to a dealership?
Car buyers spend over 12 hours researching cars online, and the closer they get to buying, the more important it is that your dealership appears in their search results. SEO drives essential organic search traffic to your website – and ultimately – into your dealership.
How Does SEO Work?
If you think of the internet as a spider’s web, with each webpage connected to others via links, you won’t be too far off from how a search engine sees the internet. Search engines are built around complex, automated algorithms, and continuously crawl the “web” and analyze the pages they come across. Search engines analyze the code of each page they come across and rank the page accordingly. The rankings are based on relevance and popularity, but the algorithm is much more complex, composed of hundreds of variables, each of which influence ranking, and each of which is weighted differently.
Search engines don’t make a habit of letting people know exactly how the variables in their algorithms are weighted, but marketers have done a decent job of figuring out the important factors.
There are few people with the time to sit down and read through the intricacies of each and every known variable, so we’ve highlighted the most important ones for you.
Website design is essential for an algorithm to easily understand and rank a site. Sites with sloppy or shoddy design can be difficult to analyze. Search engines are built to read HTML. A webpage composed entirely of Java or Flash will be mostly invisible to search engines. Images with embedded text are equally difficult to understand – so a carefully designed site is important to be recognizable and easily ranked by a search engine.
Part of this is how search engines are built, and part of it is to sort out bad sites. A badly designed site will normally, and unsurprisingly, have a bad user experience. Since search engines are built to point users to the best option as quickly as possible, a site with bad UX isn’t ever going to rank highly.
Keywords are probably what most people think of when they hear “SEO.” And that’s good, because they are immensely important. But they’re also pretty complicated. You need keywords in several key areas – in the titles of your webpage, your URLs, your meta description tags, your ALT tags and your ALT text. They should all contain the keywords you wish to show up under in a google search. But take this with a giant grain of salt. Too many keywords, and your webpage becomes spammy.
Keywords should only take up between 2-3% of your page’s total word count.
But even beyond percentages, choosing the right keywords is equally important. It might sound great to be the #1 result when someone googles “cars,” but even though that’s a more popular search term than “2016 Honda Civic with GPS,” the second search indicates someone MUCH closer to purchase – and therefore a much better prospect to land on your page. These are called ‘long tail keywords’ – and they make up about 70% of Google searches.
Picking the right keywords can have a huge impact on traffic quality, conversions, and ultimately your bottom line.
Meta titles don’t appear on your page, but they are written into the code and they are what appear in the search results page.
While the display is normally cut off after about 70 characters, longer keyword or keyword phrases are fine to use and will still be read by search engines. Meta titles need to contain the keywords you want, and they should be well constructed. Like all things SEO, you can’t just pack your title with keywords and sit back, expecting things to work out.
Meta Description Tags
(not to be confused with Meta Tags – which were dropped as an important ranking factor after they were spammed to death)
Description tags are the little descriptions of the page under the title on the Google results page.
Their main purpose is to help you decide if a page is worth clicking on. It goes without saying that having a well written description is a way to attract organic traffic. A good meta description tag should contain keywords and a good, clear description of what information the user should expect from the page. It can be as long as you want, but search engines will cut off the display after about 160 characters.
If the keyword used for the search query is included in the meta description, the meta description will almost always be shown – but if it isn’t Google will usually be able to find a phrase with the keyword in your page, and will use that as the description. Thus, it’s important to put keywords in first 160 characters of your meta description tag. Don’t just throw the keyword at the front of your description tag though – fit them in in a way that humans will easily understand.
Headings and ALT tags
SEO is complex and overwhelming, even without getting into the nitty gritty of the coding behind all this. So we’ll just round out our descriptions of the more important elements by mentioning headings and alt tags.
Headings are just what they sound like – ways to break up the hierarchy of a page into something sensible and easily understood. Headings in HTML go from H1 to H6, and depending on the size of your page, you might use all of these.
Let’s do a quick lesson in HTML to make this a bit clearer.
Headings are used to denote page hierarchy. H1 (heading 1) would be a title. These should also be unique. Having different pages with the same headings is usually a bad idea. H2 and H3 are used for less important information – subheadings of the main heading. H4 is where the headings become rather rare, and H5 and H6 are rarely used. Mostly, these headings are only used in specific circumstances, when you have a large page that requires delicate construction and layers.
Now that we’ve covered all that, we have to say, H1 tags are really the only heading tags you have to worry about (if you have a well designed site already). Search engines compare words in the header with the words in the corresponding section to determine the relevancy of the content. This means it’s important that your H1 tags contain the keywords you want. Google likes it when pages are neatly organized with the correct headings. It’s easier to read and understand when things are structured correctly, but remember not to pack all your headings full of keywords, or it can count against you.
Design errors can have big consequences for your SEO. For example, sometimes, sloppy designers will use HTML to alter the styling of text on websites – as different headings have different default styles. A good website designer will know to use CSS for this purpose.
Alt text is used to “invisibly” describe pictures and image. If you hover over photos on some pages, alt text will appear. Alt text exists both for design purposes and to aid those who cannot see – in which case text-to-speech programs can help them understand what is on the page.
Each of these is a good place to put keywords, and just gives more areas for search engines to find them. Again, too many keywords and you’ll be dropped in rankings, but that shouldn’t stop you from adding them here. With headings, main keywords should be in the larger headings, with less important keywords in the smaller headings.
So despite the fact that this crash course is over 1500 words, SEO is much more than what we’ve laid out here. It isn’t any one element. It isn’t just design. It isn’t just keywords. Just like a family isn’t just Christmas presents or just laundry. SEO is a collaboration and combination of all the elements and actions of your business that build trustworthiness and influence the usefulness of your site. Don’t lose hope though, SEO, once discovered, comes up in all sorts of situations and proves itself immeasurably useful.