For the final installment of Automotive SEO 101, we're going to wrap up a few remaining topics and provide an introduction to some more advanced concepts. As always, be sure to start at the beginning of this auto SEO series if you're just joining us. Our previous sessions cover keyword research for car dealers, title tag optimization, headings and content, as well as URLs and site architecture.
The focus of this wrap-up session is meta tags, the concept of link juice and the way internal linking, meaning the way your site links all of its pages together, impacts rankings.
Meta tags are an often misunderstood element of SEO. While they do play an indirect role, they do not have any immediate effect on rankings. We introduced link juice in the last session, but we only touched upon it. Link juice is a very important factor in search engine ranking algorithms, and the way it's distributed through your site's internal links is important.
Let's start by dispelling some myths about meta tags. First of all, there is only one meta tag that is important to your site's ranking: the meta description tag. The others, especially the meta keywords tag, you can forget about. Due to widespread abuse of the meta keywords tag, search engines stopped looking at it a long time ago. Don't even waste your time putting it in there.
The meta description is the snippet that appears below your page in search engines results pages (SERPs.) Since it's the only extra real estate you get on Google aside from your page title, make sure the content is compelling and well written enough to entice the user to click on your page.
While SEO experts go back and forth on whether the meta description has any direct impact on rankings, one thing is certain: it has an effect on clickthrough rates, which is one of the factors in Google's ranking algorithm. So, if you have a good meta description that actually entices users to click to your site, you're not only increasing your traffic, but you're helping your rankings over time.
Here are some tips for optimizing your meta description:
• Length - Keep it to 155 characters or less, including spaces; search engines cut it off after that
• Keyword - Inject your primary keyword, or a related phrase, in there somewhere; Google will bold the matching term, making users more likely to click on your pages
• Style - Be sure your meta description sounds like it's written by a human, and that it's something that entices users to click
Other advanced meta tags like the robots tag are useful when trying to prevent Google from indexing certain pages, but this is most likely not relevant to car dealers, so we'll leave them out of this discussion. For now, just concentrate on having compelling and unique meta descriptions that include your primary keyword on every page of your site.
So what is link juice? Link juice is the ranking power that a page has from the sum total of the links pointing to that page. Because search engines basically look at every link pointing to the page as a vote for that page, the more incoming links you have, the more link juice that page has and the more likely it is to rank higher.
There are many other factors that tie into links and how they affect your rankings - not all links are created equal, for instance, and a link from whitehouse.gov passes far more link juice than a link from a WordPress blog set up yesterday. But for this introductory explanation, just know that the more links your page has from relevant, trusted websites, the better that page will rank.
Your site's homepage will almost always be the page with the most link juice - it's inevitable that the majority of external links will be pointing there. Therefore, it's important to distribute your homepage's link juice carefully in order to maximize the ranking power across all of the most important pages on your site.
Internal Linking & Anchor Text
If you remember our previous session's discussion of site architecture, you already know that a flattened site is the best structure for SEO. Not only is this important to ensure that Google finds and indexes all of your pages easily, it's also key in effective link juice distribution. If all of your important pages are just a single link from the homepage, then they'll all receive plenty of link juice and have the best chances of ranking well.
Another important element to consider when designing the links throughout your site is anchor text. Anchor text is the text contained within the tags of a link. In other words, anchor text is the text that's linked, so that when you click on it, it takes you somewhere else. Search engines use the anchor text as a signal as to what the target page is about. So, if you link to your used inventory page with the anchor text "Used Cars," then Google knows that's what the page is about.
That said, don't go crazy with keyword stuffing your internal links. Your used inventory page should just be linked with "Used Cars" in the navbar, not with "Used Cars in Los Angeles, CA for Sale" or something equally unwieldy. Google is cracking down on sites that overly optimize internal links. A good rule of thumb is always to balance user experience with search engine optimization. Don't ever build a site for robots instead of humans, but don't ever forget about the bots either.
Just to recap, here are some rules when building the internal links on your site:
• Even distribution from homepage - Link to all of your important pages right from the homepage to pass the most link juice
• Keyword - Put a keyword into the anchor text of your links whenever possible
• Be reasonable - Don't go overboard with keyword stuffing in anchor text; only do it where it helps your site and the user
• Never more than 100 - This isn't set in stone, but it's generally considered a best practice to avoid having more than 100 links on any page when possible; Google may get suspicious otherwise
You now have the basics of on-page optimization covered. Go back through previous sessions anytime you need a refresher!
Image Credit: Mark Kens