When managing and evaluating your dealership's search engine optimization provider, the tendency is to focus on individual keyword rankings.
Often, dealers come up with a list of important keywords, check their website's ranking for each keyword, and then use this information to evaluate the success or failure of their SEO provider.
But focusing on rankings alone is bad way to judge SEO success or failure. The secret to measuring SEO effectiveness is to look at both the quantity and quality of visitors that the search engines are sending you overall.
Here's how you can evaluate your dealership's SEO success, and how you can keep your SEO company on its toes.
Start with analytics
We're going to assume your site already has analytics installed and that it's been up and running for at least a few months. But if your dealership website doesn't have an analytics package, that's your first order of business.
Analytics packages (such as Google Analytics, SiteMeter, Omniture Analytics, etc.) are able to track how many visitors came to your website from search engines, what search terms these visitors used to find your website and how many pages these visitors looked at.
Set up correctly, analytics packages can also track whether or not a visitor submitted a lead, sent you an email, or picked up the phone.
Focus on the number of visitors that search engines send you each month
Is this number trending upwards, downwards, or staying the same? Are you getting visitors from all the major search engines or just one or two?
Generally, expect to see monthly growth in the overall number of visitors sent to your website. Google should account for 70%-90% of your search engine visitors, with Bing and Yahoo roughly splitting the balance.
If the total number of search engine visitors isn't growing every month, or if your site isn't getting visitors from all three search engines, it could be a sign that your website is losing trust with the search engines.
What to do if your site is sliding with the search engines? Most instances of a website “sliding” in the rankings are a result of a design or layout change. Sometimes little changes to the site can make a big impact. If a slide is more gradual, it's likely a result of an ineffective SEO strategy.
Look at the individual search terms that are bringing visitors to your site
Do the search terms make sense? Do they seem like something that one of your potential customers would be searching for?
What you're looking for here is evidence that the search engines understand what your dealership web site is about. If your web site is getting a lot of search engine visitors from unrelated search terms, or if you don't understand the terms that are bringing visitors to your website, question your SEO provider about how to generate more qualified visitors.
Make a top-10 list of search terms (by volume) that bring visitors to your site
A single piece of paper is all you need. First, put down the top-10 search terms that get your website visitors. Next, write the number of visitors you had for each term during the last month. Finally, check each of the three main search engines (Google, Yahoo, and Bing) to see where your dealership website ranks for each of the keywords on your list and write down the position number.
It will take a few minutes, but when you're done you'll have a nice matrix of data that shows your dealership's top 10 keywords (by search volume), the number of visitors that used each of these keywords to find your website last month, and your website's ranking for each of these keywords on Google, Yahoo, and Bing. See Chart on next page.
Can your dealership rank higher for any of the terms in your matrix?
Unless your dealership web site ranks No.1 on each search engine for every search term on your list, there's room for improvement. The next step is to figure out what kind of improvement you can expect.
Incremental ranking improvements can add up
Studies show that when people use a search engine, 10%-15% of them click on the listing in the No.2 position. Compare that with the fact that only 3%-5% of searchers click on the listing in the No.5 position. For example, let's say that your dealership web site ranks No.5 for a particular search term and receives 50 visitors a month as a result of that ranking. If you can improve the ranking on that single search term from to No.2, you'll see an increase of 200-500%.
So, an incremental improvement on just one search term can bring hundreds of additional visitors to your website. Imagine how much search engine traffic could increase if you can achieve incremental improvements on just a handful of search terms.
Find out what's being done to improve rankings on these individual keywords
Now that you've seen which search terms are generating visitors and how much room there is for improvement, it's time to talk to your SEO firm. Ask what keywords it is focusing on and why. Let it know you're more interested in total search engine visits than you are in ranking 1st overall for a specific search term.
Rinse, wash, and repeat
If you really want to achieve SEO success, create one of these reports every month. Not only is it a great way to manage your SEO company, but it's also a great way to see how your site is improving each month. Remember the old saying: “You can't improve what you don't measure.”
Jason Lancaster is an auto industry veteran and Internet marketing expert. As founder of Spork Marketing, he helps dealers increase visibility and sales. He can be reached at www.sporkmarketing.com
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NOTE: Be sure to log out of your Google account before checking keyword rankings on Google — Google often personalizes search results. Also, if your dealership web site doesn't rank in the top 10 for a specific keyword, just put an “N/A” for that term.