Welcome to the fourth edition of Automotive SEO 101, our ongoing series covering the basics of on-page and off-page optimization for car dealers. In this post, we cover best practices for optimizing URLs and the overall architecture of your site. We're getting slightly more into the nitty-gritty here, so be sure you have a firm grasp on the foundational elements we covered in previous sessions first: keyword research, optimizing titles and on-page content optimization.
URL structure and site architecture play a multifaceted role in the optimization of your site. Not only do they have a direct impact on your rankings, but they also allow search engines to reach all pages on your site more easily. And when Google can reach the pages you want to rank for within just one or two links, it's more likely to consider those pages important and serve them up higher in search results.
Let's start with the root of every URL on your site: the domain. As the host for every page, your domain is an important signal to search engines of what the site's about. For example, with the domain name hondaofhollywood.com, Google knows that every page on your site is about Honda and Hollywood, which from semantic relationships it has learned crawling the web means that it's also tangentially related to cars, Los Angeles, California, etc.
Having a keyword that you want your site to rank for in the domain is practically a necessity. At one time, having an exact-match domain to the keyword you wanted to rank for was among the strongest on-page ranking metrics. Nowadays, it's diminished in importance, but it's still a strong signal. Whenever possible, put your make keyword, whether it's Honda, Ford or any other, as close to the beginning of the domain name as possible.
A geographic keyword is also a plus to have in your domain, especially if your dealership name contains a big metro area like "Honda of Los Angeles," but it's not as important as the make. Google short or long-tail keywords, and you'll see why - the make will be bolded in the domain names of sites in search results. See the examples at right, where we Googled "honda dealers" from LA and "used honda accord los angeles." In both SERPs (search engine results pages), "honda" is bolded in the domain names.
There are three rules of thumb to keep in mind when optimizing URLs:
• Keyword in URL: Include your primary keyword term in the page URL
• The Fewer Directories, the Better: Keep your pages as close to the root domain as possible, with as few directories in the way as possible
• Hyphenate: Separate words with hyphens or underscores; hyphens are preferable, but won't make much difference compared to underscores
Example: "http://brucewillishonda.com/used-accord-los-angeles" is better than "http://brucewillishonda.com/content/landingpages/accord1" because it has the keyword phrase hyphenated and close to the root domain without 2 subdirectories in the way
Be careful not to go overboard when optimizing your URLs - length can be an issue. Don't try to cram too many keywords into the filename. That's a spam signal to search engines. Just name it with your primary keyword phrase and stop there.
All of your important pages should be one, or at the most two, clicks away from your homepage. With that in mind, a flatter site architecture is always best, since, by design, it keeps the majority of your pages close to your homepage.
The farther your pages are from the homepage in terms of internal links, the less importance those pages have in Google's eyes. A large part of this also has to do with what's called "link juice." Google relies on incoming links from other sites to rank your pages - think of every link another site gives you as a vote. Because your homepage is most often the page that gets linked to the most, it has the most link juice and the strongest ranking power. It passes that link juice and ranking power to any page it links to, so direct links from your homepage to the pages you want to rank most are the best way to get more pages at the top of search results.
This is a complicated topic, and one that we'll discuss further in the final entry of our series. But for now, remember that the ideal site architecture for a car dealer site would put inventory listings, top landing pages and service forms just one click from the homepage, and vehicle details pages just two clicks from the homepage.
Image credit: Siddhartha Thota