Local SEO for Car Dealers: How to Rank in Google Like the Pros

Last updated Apr 23, 2020

Reading time: 10 minutes

Automotive Dealer SEO
With the modern car buyer now visiting just 1-2 dealerships before purchase, the role of SEO is critical. Furthermore, being visible in local search results will help you to increase buyers to the showroom.

Or you could ignore the opportunity and hope that the print, radio or TVC has managed to interrupt their day at just the right moment?

As an automotive dealer, competition is stiff. It’s not unlikely for any given city to have dozens of car dealerships around town, making it difficult to put your company in front of valuable online customers.

So what’s the difference between traditional SEO and local SEO?

Here’s an explanation from BrightLocal:

“Local SEO is a highly effective form of local online marketing. It allows local businesses to promote their services to local customers at exactly the time they’re looking for your type of business.”

In practical terms, it’s the search results returned for local searches. For example, “car dealers Melbourne” or “Hyundai dealers Melbourne.”

Within these local searches, you’ll notice a different Google search results page (SERP).

Instead of standard results, this page will display a local pack – a group of local businesses and detailed information including reviews, addresses and more – and a map.

The number of businesses shown in the local pack will vary, depending on the Google algorithm, and may include an ad.

The remainder of the SERP will include standard search results, but in a local sense, you better be showing in the local pack if you want to succeed in driving local customers via Google.

Performing local SEO includes the basic principles of traditional SEO, but with a few additional focus points.

However, because Google is always testing new formats, these objectives are continually shifting.

The good news is, there are some basic steps you can take to ensure you’re ahead of the curve and in front of the right customers.

Getting on the Map with Google My Business

Most car dealers will have Google My Business listings already created. Some will need to be claimed/verified.

If you’re unsure whether your business has been claimed or not, or need to create a listing, head to Google My Business and get started.

There, you’ll be asked to enter your business details to identify if you are already listed. At this stage, you will either need to create or claim and verify your listing.

Once you’ve verified your listing, it’s time to optimise your GMB profile.

You’ll want to complete it as much as possible, including trading hours, logo, photos, categories, description, etc.

Remember, this profile will be viewed by potential customers so do everything you can to make a great impression.

For dealer SEO best practices, follow these tips:

  1. Choose the category that best represents your business (there are several for dealerships)
  2. If your city name is not in your official business name, don’t add it to your GMB listing.
  3. Make sure your name, address and phone number are all consistent with the contact details listed on your website.
  4. Use a local phone number (not a 1-800 number).
  5. Consider hiring a Google Trusted Photographer to do a virtual tour of your showroom.

Update: In case you were concerned, Google has announced that a car dealership is allowed to have separate GMB listings for each vehicle brand they deal. For example, there is no issue with Geelong dealer Rex Gorell Honda and Rex Gorell Nissan both having a listing at the same location. It is also OK to set up a separate listing for your Parts department for instance, given they often have different opening hours. And further to this, Google is now listing your separate departments under the main GMB listing.

Image Credit: LocalU


Reviews: Your Dealership’s Secret Weapon

We all know how reviews influence our own purchase decisions, whether those reviews be from friends, family, colleagues, or even just online reviews from our peers. But in the local search result pages, specifically the local pack, reviews have significant influence.

Here are the local pack results I received when searching “Mazda Dealers Melbourne”:

Melbourne Mazda Search Results

Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes: Which result do you click on, if the location isn’t a huge consideration?

I can tell you the chances of people clicking on Penfold Mazda Hawthorn are slim – they don’t have any reviews. Those stars are pretty compelling, right?

Once that’s been struck from consideration, the potential customer turns to Melbourne City and Max Kirwan.

Melbourne City has a higher review rating and more than double the reviews. It’s a natural choice.

A click test study performed by Juris Digital supports my position. Read the results of that study here: Click Test Study on The Local Finder & Where Are Searchers Clicking?.

So now that we’ve established the importance of reviews and how they drastically increase the number of clicks your listing gets, how can you get them?

Creating a Foolproof Review Process

First, you need to make it easy for users to leave you a review. Google can make this a bit challenging, so we built a review link generator. Enter your details, and you’ll receive a link to send to your customers.

For Penfold Mazda Honda, they would have created this link. Test it out for yourself!

Next, you’ll need to identify which customers you’ll be asking for a review, when the best time is to ask them for one to ensure a positive review, and the best way to deliver this request.

For many car dealers, an email will be the best method following a new or used car purchase.

Think about those first few days after a buyer is in their new car. Positive emotions are high, and it’s a fantastic opportunity for a glowing review.

So implement a follow up “review request” email as part of your process. Remember to monitor your reviews and respond accordingly.

Don’t be afraid of negative reviews. There is a chance you’ll get the odd one. It just makes it all the more important to concentrate on getting more and more positive reviews to improve your rating.

Important Note: Don’t do a huge mail-out asking old clients for reviews and be careful of how many start flooding in. It can look suspicious, and Google hates suspicious.

Boosting Search Rank with Local Citations

Citations are essentially any mention of your business online, whether they include a link or not. Though, links are always going to be preferred.

Acquiring local citations and links strengthen your specific authority in the area.

So how do you get them?

Local business directories are always a great start. If you’re in Melbourne, I’d recommend MelbourneBD. You can also check out national directories such as TrueLocal, StartLocal and HotFrog.

Your local council will likely have a business and community directory, so you should find out what these are and list with them.

Identify if there are local business associations or a chamber of commerce and join them, as well. There’s a good chance you’ll get a listing on their website.

Remember, it’s vital to all of your citations that your business name, address and phone number (NAP) are consistent with your website and GMB listing.

You can take this local link-building process a few steps further with some little-known tactics pros and automotive SEO companies use to rank high in search results.

1. Sponsorship

If your business sponsors sporting clubs or local events, make sure they’re mentioning you on their website. If you can get a link, even better.

If you’re on the lookout for sponsorship opportunities, do some research on your prospects and consider the traffic and standing of their website – along with your primary objectives – before making a decision.

2. Scholarships

Educational institutions utilise the “.edu” domain. Because they’re harder to acquire, links from these domains hold more weight. Consider creating a scholarship for a local educational institution and reap the benefits of having a coveted .edu link.

3. Local Charities

Read up on the local charities in your area and research the strength of their websites and if they get significant traffic. Getting a link on the right site could lead to a significant boost in the SERPs.

4. Local Content

In this day and age, it’s no secret that content marketing is an excellent way to get free traffic. Local content can be something that attracts visitors from search engines, as well as links from local websites.

For example, you could publish a list of local sporting clubs on your dealer’s website, which would attract traffic from search engines, as well as links from other local sites.

Sporting clubs may not be a good fit for your business though, so it’s important to determine the type of local resource that would be most valuable to your audience.

5. Local Media

Get to know your local media landscape and connect with journalists and other media professionals on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Monitor if they’re asking for local business people to comment for a story and reach out when they do. Just a mention of your company and the dealership online adds to your local authority.

6. Local Influencers

Identify local influencers online and connect with them on social media. Form genuine relationships with them by commenting on/liking their posts and keeping yourself on their radar.

If a local person mentions your dealership (this could be through your charity support), this will add to your local search position, as well.

7. Local Business Awards

If your city hosts any local business awards, enter them. If you are nominated or even fortunate enough to win, you’ll receive plenty of online press that will add to your local search authority.

TIP: Inconsistent citations or NAPs kill your Local SEO efforts. Get an audit of your online citations for just $7!


Optimising Your Website for More SEO Juice

I mentioned earlier that local SEO includes some of the basic principles of traditional SEO and one of those is on-page optimisation – optimisation of your website.

There are a few important areas to focus on:

  1. Heading Tags and Image Tags
  2. Make sure to include your dealership name and the suburb in key heading tags and image tags.

  3. Meta Titles and Descriptions
  4. These are the titles and descriptions Google displays in search results.

    If a buyer searches “Mazda dealers Melbourne” and you have those terms in your title, those words will be highlighted and increase your chances of people clicking.

  5. 3. Page Speed
  6. Page Speed is a publicised factor in Google’s search algorithm. Why?

    Well, Google knows that a slow website delivers a lousy user experience and that’s not good for Google, and it’s certainly not good for your business. Make sure your site is FAST!

  7. 4. Mobile Friendliness
  8. SearchEngineLand reported that Google recently stated “local searches on mobile devices are growing 50 percent faster than mobile searches overall.

    Mobile is also an official factor in Google’s algorithms and essential to your website’s vitality.

    If you don’t have a mobile-friendly site, you won’t perform as well as your competitors in mobile search (all other things being equal).

    How mobile-friendly is your site? Test it now.

  9. Reducing 404 Errors & Maintaining Crawl Budget
  10. Large dealership websites often have to deal with broken links and managing crawl budgets. In many instances, your site is generating a new and unique URL for every car you have listed. When that car is sold, or you don’t need the page, what happens to the URL?

    Other sources on the web might link to those unused URLs, and anyone following that link gets the inevitable 404 Page Error. A 404 error is working against you in a few ways. It’s not the experience you want to provide a potential customer. It is also bad for your search engine optimisation. Too many of these 404 pages signals to Google that your site is low-quality. It also bloats the number of URLs that you are asking Google to crawl, and this hurts too.

    So once cars are sold, and the URL is not required, you want to ensure two things:
    – Redirect the user from that URL to the most appropriate live page. Ideally, you want this to be a category page that will itself not be removed in the future.

    – Tell Google that this is an old page and you don’t want them to index it. The 301 redirect you’ve placed above will do this.

    You do have to be careful with 301 redirects. It’s effortless to forget about existing redirects and subsequently create a redirect chain which is not great. Establish a process of implementing them and make sure that everyone who will manage them understands it.

    Once you can get all this in place and have reduced the number of indexed pages down to a number that more accurately represents what the user can see and expect on your site, I would be surprised if it didn’t result in a good jump in search visibility and traffic.

    There are a few ways to implement 301 redirects. Depending on the platform your site is built, you can add manual redirects quite easily. I would ask your web developer and if that’s not a solution, perhaps talk to your web host as some will allow you to implement redirects from the server side.

  11. Local Schema Markup
  12. A few years back, Google and other key search engines agreed to use a markup language (code) to add another layer of information to web content, to help them better understand web pages.

    Not everyone is doing it yet, and the opportunities to add markup are still growing, but now is the best time to take advantage of this, and advance your visibility in search results.

    Start by using our JSON-LD Schema Generator For SEO.

Do you have more than one showroom?

You should deploy different location pages with relevant contact information for each.

For instance, if you have a showroom in Bundoora, Yarraville and Werribee, you should have the following pages set up:


For more details on how to best optimise these pages, please check out Anatomy of an Optimal Local Landing Page Infographic.

You should also add the following information to each showroom listing:

Specific business descriptions for each showroom. Are you selling new, used or both? Is it a service centre? Etc.
Mention local associations: local sponsorships, business memberships, etc. Anything relevant to that location.
Add a map of your location.

Putting Your Dealership in the Best Position to Dominate Local SEO

SEO and local SEO do not come with hard and fast rules. Google doesn’t want it that way because if there were, then we’d all know how to game the system and users would end up paying with poor search results. Not only that, but the entire Google empire would come crumbling down.

That’s why SEOs listen to Google, test and analyse results, and ultimately discuss their findings with others to ensure we all have a comfortable way forward.

Moz Local Search Ranking Factors is a great resource for further reading on SEO.

The beauty of local search is that it demonstrates “buyer intent” – not just “research intent.”

A car buyer’s research won’t usually include looking at dealerships. If they’re looking at dealerships, then they’ve already undertaken much of their research and are now in the final phase of finding the right dealership.

These buyers are performing local searches every single day and are ripe for the taking.

The tips I’ve outlined today make up 77% of the Overall Ranking Factors identified by top SEO experts.

Start implementing them now and you’re already ten steps ahead of the competition and well on your way to dominating local search!

Further reading: Check out ‘Car Dealers: The Ultimate Guide to Online Marketing‘.

Quentin Aisbett

Quentin Aisbett

Quentin Aisbett is the strategist at OnQ Marketing. He has a specific focus on local and mobile SEO, content strategy, and marketing automation. Blogging all the time, tweeting even more so. Pick his brain on Clarity.fm.