This is the thirty-sixth episode of, ‘This Week In Organic’, the weekly show that debates the ramifications of the latest SEO and content marketing news.

In this special pre-recorded episode we discuss SEO in the automotive industry with one of the leading SEOs in local SEO & SEO in the automotive industry.

Our host, @DavidBain is joined by @GregGifford from DealerOn.

Sign up to watch the next show live over at www.thisweekinorganic.com and share your thoughts on what’s discussed using the hashtag #TWiO on Twitter.

Topics discussed:

  • How did you get started in SEO?
  • How is working as an SEO in the automotive industry different from working in other industries?
  • How has SEO in the automotive industry changed over the past few years?
  • What are the biggest mistakes that you see car dealers making with their SEO?
  • Is it still possible just to focus on SEO, or do you have to manage SEO in tandem with paid search?
  • What schema markup is important for the automotive industry?
  • How are consumers’ buying habits changing when it comes to searching for a car to buy?
  • What are the biggest mistakes that you see car websites making at the moment?
  • What are some of the most effective tactics for local car dealers to take advantage of SEO?
  • What about national magazines and websites – is there still an opportunity for them to take advantage of local SEO?
  • What’s the future of SEO in the automotive industry?
  • What about SEO in general – what are the likely changes that SEOs should be looking out for over the coming 12 months?
  • Is the perception that SEO is a dark art still there? Is that likely to change?

Full transcript:

DAVID BAIN: Hi, David Bain here, from the Big Data platform for content marketing intelligence, Authoritas.com. Now today, we’re bringing a special, pre-recorded This Week In Organic show to you, and that’s Episode Number 36 on SEO in the automotive industry. I’m fortunate to be joined by, someone who’s probably the world’s leading SEO in that particular field. No pressure, Greg! Welcome!

GREG GIFFORD: No pressure!

DAVID BAIN: Greg Gifford! How you doing, Greg?

GREG GIFFORD: I’m wonderful. How are you?

DAVID BAIN: I’m wonderful as well! Thank you very much for joining me. Well, Greg, of course, is Director of Search and Social at www.dealeron.com, and you’ll also find him over at Twitter, @GregGifford on Twitter. So Greg, how did you get started in SEO?

GREG GIFFORD: Well, I actually started as an unwitting Black Hat. So, years ago, I started my own website design company, and that was right about the time that flash was first released, and just because I’m a nerd and I like to mess around with new things. I started playing with Flash, and because I was a film-maker in college, the whole timeline aspect of Flash just resonated with me and so, I made some really cool websites back in the day, that were different than what everybody else was doing, ‘cause with normal sites that try to make Flash sites, where I was like, ‘Let’s make them be like a Flash site’, so…

DAVID BAIN: So, what year was this about then?

GREG GIFFORD: Oh, Gosh! This was twelve years ago, thirteen years ago.

DAVID BAIN: Okay, so about 2002, something like that, 2003.

GREG GIFFORD: Yeah, and so, I did that for a short while and then ended up rolling that into a larger company with a guy that I had become friends with, that I had done his website, so then we basically had a, kind of a marketing/Flash website design company and we realised really quickly that the content on the Flash site wasn’t showing up, and weren’t showing up in search engines, so we figured out why, and so we did some things that I now know are Black Hat, so those sites show up. So I kind of started fooling around with SEO, and then, as things sometimes go with partners that didn’t really go so well, we ended up shutting that down, and I got a job for a company called Autorevo, and that was about eight and a half years ago, started there as their Flash designer, because back then all the companies wanted the flashy intros and the cool things, so knocked that out, did that for probably three or four months, before they said, ‘Wow! You’re way over-qualified for this! Why don’t you run our entire marketing department?’, so then I did that for about six months, then they decided to start selling SEO, so then I started the SEO department there and really, kind of, dove in, you know, whole hog, as we say here in the States, at that point. So then I’d been really concentrating on local SEO for about eight years now.

DAVID BAIN: Wow! Local SEO. I mean, that’s a very long time to be concentrating on it. I’m not sure if many people even considered local SEO to be a separate discipline for quite so long. So how do you actually get into local SEO specifically?

GREG GIFFORD: Well, because the entire time I was dealing just with car dealers, and since we were dealing with car dealers that Google treats as a local business and we knew that there were all of these additional signals involved with showing up and the map pack, and doing all these things, it’s just I naturally ended up specialising in local SEO, because that was the only type of client that we served and so you kind of, have to figure out everything you can, to be able to have maximum effectiveness for all of the dealers.

DAVID BAIN: Oh, okay. And obviously, local SEO seems to be coming even more important than ever at the moment, certainly with Google Maps and…

GREG GIFFORD: Yeah.

DAVID BAIN: So many people with mobile phones as well, tend to be searching for things that happen to be fairly close by to them as well. And you’re sp…

GREG GIFFORD: Exactly!

DAVID BAIN: …you’re specialising in automotive and so, focusing on local SEO automotive. How is that different, if any, do you think, from other industries out there?

GREG GIFFORD: Well, I mean, there’s a lot of idiosyncrasies about any specific business vertical that you’re looking at, and there will be specific links that you need to get for certain verticals, or specific citations you need to get, but in general, if you’re talking local SEO, a lot of what you’re doing applies to any industry or any verticals. So, the basics of local SEO are all the same, it’s just when you get in to the nitty-gritty, you’re going to have things that you need to do specifically for a dealer that you wouldn’t need to do for a doctor or a lawyer.

DAVID BAIN: Okay. So, if you went back in time to, maybe say, five years ago or so, and you’re someone, you take someone from five years ago to the present day, and to be doing SEO with you just now, how much of it, would you say, has changed significantly?

GREG GIFFORD: All of it.

DAVID BAIN: Okay, they wouldn’t be able to anything effectively now, by using that knowledge?

GREG GIFFORD: I would say, if I took someone from five years ago and dropped them in today, maybe 20% of the stuff would be the same. I mean, you’ve always had to worry about content, you’ve always had to optimise title tags and H1s and all that, I mean, that stuff hasn’t changed in a really long time, but thanks to Pigeon, and Penguin, and Panda, and Hummingbird, the kind of content that you’re writing on your website is so drastically different now, so sure, they still know content matters, but the type of things that you have to write and the way that you’re crafting your content, and then all of the off-site things that you do are so vastly different now than what they were five years ago, that it would take a little bit of training.

DAVID BAIN: Okay. So, we’re recording this in February 2016, over the last twelve months or so then, what are the most significant changes that people have to absolutely be aware of, to actually be up-to-date with their SEO tactics?

GREG GIFFORD: It was a huge deal in local, I mean, if we’re talking outside the United States, really the Pigeon update didn’t hit until Christmas of 2014, so it’s really been within the last year that Pigeon hit, you know, Australia, Canada, the UK. And that’s still something a lot of people don’t know about. I mean, even here in the States we’ve had it for six months longer than you guys have, and it’s still something a lot of people don’t know about. The search radius has changed, you’ll have a different search radius for different queries, the way it calculates local search results is totally different, so that was a really big change. Just last year we lost the seven pack, so there’s less visibility on page one for searches, ‘cause now you’re only going to get a three pack instead of the seven pack, and even within that, we lost a lot of visibility ‘cause within the seven pack before, you had the clear link, the clear URL to the website, you had the business address, and you had the business phone number, so you could get phone calls without anybody even going to your site, and now in the new three pack, the website address and the street address, and the phone number are no longer present, so they’re going to have to click through, and then whenever they click that listing instead of going to your Google Places or Google My Business listing, you go to the local finder page where you’ve got all of your competitors stacked up really nicely, right next to you, so if you’re lucky enough to show up in the top three but you’ve got a guy that’s in position four or five that’s got awesome reviews or it’s had more reviews, or maybe it’s closer to the location that the person’s doing the search, you might lose out on a click that was originally intended for you, so that’s been huge.

Another really big change, that I don’t think really matters for users as much as it does marketers, Google removed the ability to set the city that you want your SURPs to be surfed from, so if I’m in Dallas and I’m doing SEO for a client in Denver, or even in London, I used to be able to go in to Google and say, ‘Set my location to this city’, and then when I would do searches, the results would populate based on my location spoofing to that city, and Google’s pulled the ability to do that, so it’s made it really, really hard for those of us that are marketers to check on rankings, and to check on visibility in other cities, because now you kind of have to make it and still nowhere near as good as the actual results, it broke a lot of rank trackers, and I don’t really hold with ranking, with rank tracking as being a really big judge of how you’re doing with SEO, but it’s still important to check it out and see those trends and so that change has been huge. They continue to make content more and more important, links are still really important, but I really see that the links, the value of links, is really being down-played, and I really see that social is going to play a bigger and bigger role moving forward.

DAVID BAIN: The challenge is that you’re giving so many answers that I can probably be delving into a little bit more, to…

GREG GIFFORD: Okay.

DAVID BAIN: …to one question here, then it probably means that we’re probably going to have three questions to every answer that you produce, so that means that this show will keep on getting longer and longer, but no…

GREG GIFFORD: Sorry.

DAVID BAIN: No, no, I’m sure you’ll keep on offering so much value. You mentioned three pack there, does that mean that it’s absolutely essential to be in the top three results locally now, if you want to get any signals in traffic?

GREG GIFFORD: No.

DAVID BAIN: No?

GREG GIFFORD: No. It used to be a great thing for local SEO to say, ‘Hey, look, we may not be able to get you on page one for Organic as easily as we can for Map pack’, you can go and do some things with citations and some other easy little things that you could do that would influence their ranking in the seven pack and boom, you get somebody to rank in those seven and now they’re on page one, even though they might be on page two organically, and they’re super happy, and so many of us that are local SEOs really push the visibility of, ‘Hey, you’ve got to be in the seven pack! Be in that seven pack! Be in that seven pack!’, now that the seven pack’s gone and it’s just the three, and after the Pigeon update where you pretty much have to be in the city that that person is searching for, it’s really hard, and the competition to be in the top three is so insane, we’ve all had to kind of, take a step back and pivot, and say, ‘Well, it’s great if we can get you there and we definitely know the signals that matter, and we can do the things to try and get you there’, but competition is so insane, it’s silly to try to sell a client on the fact that you can get someone there.

DAVID BAIN: Right, okay.

GREG GIFFORD: So, now we’ve all kind of pivoted and we’re targeting just the organic results on page one, ‘cause it’s so hard to get in on those top three.

DAVID BAIN: And what about the map listings themselves, can that bring any significant levels of traffic at all?

GREG GIFFORD: It can. If you’re smart you’ll put tracking on the link that you have on your Google My Business listings so that you can see how many clicks you’re getting from that. It just really depends. We see some cities, some bigger cities where a lot of people will do Google Maps searches and pull stuff up, a lot of times in the more rural areas we don’t see that as much. As people tend to switch more to mobile device searches, off of desktop searches, I think we’ll see it less and less, because it’s going to become more of the Google Now, Siri, Cortana type of, you’re just talking to your device and saying, ‘Show me the stuff’, and it’s not going to be going specifically into Google Maps and doing the search.

DAVID BAIN: Okay, okay. So if you were talking to a car dealer then, for the first time, and they were, maybe, making a lot of mistakes, what would be typical mistakes that they’d be making at the moment and what would be the reasons why they wouldn’t be ranking that effectively in local?

GREG GIFFORD: Oh, gosh! Most of the time with car dealers, they just don’t know anything about SEO, but what they do know is so far out of date, they think they’re doing SEO and they’re not doing anything beneficial. Title tags are always awful, page content’s awful, one thing I always talk to dealers about is the fact that every dealer says, ‘We treat our customers like family’, or, ‘We’re a family owned dealership’, or you know, what’s another one, ‘We’ve got a state of the art showroom’, or, ‘We’ve got no haggle pricing’, but you could see that on every other car dealership site so all these dealers say these things, but if you could just substitute the city and the name of the dealership, it could work for any other car dealer that you see online. Right, so the content’s always really, really generic, so they think that it’s great, but always, always tonnes of citation problems. Car dealers love to do call-tracking, which always wrecks your citations, but even beyond that, when you’ve got dealerships that have been in business for ten, fifteen, twenty, 30, 40, 50 years, they will have moved location in that time, and a lot of those times, they don’t know they need to update their citations, so you’ll just see ridiculously messy citation profiles. A lot of times they’re not doing anything with building, so we’ll come in and say, ‘Hey, let’s run a link profile and we’ll look’, and they’ll have like links going to their website, so it’s just an all-out, complete lack of any SEO done ever in the past.

DAVID BAIN: Oh, so what do you mean by call-tracking can wreck your citations?

GREG GIFFORD: So, it’s really important for local search that your name, address, phone number information is consistent, so anywhere that your business name, address, phone number appears online, it should be the same. So what car dealers love to do is, do call-tracking so that they can track the ROI of their different ad-spends in different places, and fine, do that on your print ads and your radio ads, but online, they’ll get a bank of 30, 40, 50 phone numbers and put a different phone number on every single site. So they’ll have one phone number on auto-trader, another on cars.com, another on eBay, another on Craigslist, another on their website, another on Google, another on Yahoo, another on Bing, another on Maps, and just split out all these numbers, so now when Google’s looking, there’s a different phone number every time that it’s listed with that dealership, and that just wrecks everything. And then, they make switch-call tracking providers six months or a year later, and get another bank of 50 and so now you have even more mess out there. So it really wrecks everything when you use this bank of, you know, twenty, 30, 40 numbers, to try to track the online calls, and who really cares? All the people that are doing call-tracking, they don’t really look at their reports and even if they do look at their reports, they’re not going to change their marketing plan, because 90% of these sites that you’re putting these numbers on are free websites, so it’s not like you have to worry about changing marketing spending marketing strategy, so what does it really matter?

DAVID BAIN: So does that mean that there isn’t a rosy future for call tracking using lots of different numbers? Is there a possibility, a future that involves call-tracking but sticking with the one number?

GREG GIFFORD: Yeah, so some dealers want to do call-tracking, because they want the recordings of the calls, so they can listen to see how customer service is going and what their sales guys are saying, and track that sort of thing, and they sometimes do want to track what they’re spending on different sites, but as long as they’re doing it with a call-tracking number that has a local number, so it’s not a toll-free number, it needs to be a number that they own, so that they’ll have to pay extra for it, but if they decide to leave that call-tracking provider and either, stop doing call-tracking or move to another, they take that same number so they don’t have to change all their numbers, and then the final piece is, they use the same phone number everywhere, so instead of using a big bank of numbers everywhere, you use that same call-tracking number everywhere that your phone number appears, and then typically you’re going to have people calling in and saying, ‘Hey, I’m calling you about this truck that I saw on auto-trader’, or, ‘I saw this car on eBay’, or even if they don’t say anything, it’s really easy to train your staff to… When someone calls in, ‘Hey, I’m calling about this Ford F1 50’, ‘Okay, cool. Where are you looking at it, so I can look at the same thing?’, once that person says something, then now, the source of that call ends up in the transcript for the call, so it still gets into your tracking analytics and you can see all of the different attribution.

DAVID BAIN: Okay. One thing in relation to citations, is scheme and mark-up, and there’s a lot of different scheme in market that can be used, but is there scheme in market that is particularly relevant and has to be used for the automotive industry?

GREG GIFFORD: Well, a lot of trans-dealers don’t have to worry about it, because 99.9% of the time, a dealer’s going to be using one of the major website providers for automotive and that’s all going to be banked into the system already, so it’s not really anything you have to worry about now. Once in a while, we’ll run across a dealer that has bought some word-press plug-in and they’re doing their own word-press site, and then they’re not going to have the schemer banked in, but you definitely want to have the local business scheme and mark-up on your Map information, your name and number, and there is an auto-dealer classic information in that local mark-up that everybody, for sure, should be using. And then, beyond that we actually put product mark-up on the individual vehicle details pages, so that’s really cool because in a lot of cities, if you’re searching, I don’t know one off the top of my head, but let’s say you did a search for BMW X5 Dallas, Texas, and if one of our websites has a BMW X5 and it’s in Dallas, and it shows up in the SURPs, we’ll actually have review stars and price listing, listed on the search right there, so it makes that listing stand out, even if it’s not number one, it’s visually very appealing, ‘cause it’s got way more information listed in the SURP than the other guys do. So, again, that’s something that’s cool, but you’re not going to be able to, as an individual dealer, to go and put that stuff in, it’s going to be based on the platform that you’re using.

DAVID BAIN: Got you. Got you. So I looked up your job title before we started and I saw online, as Director of search and social at Dealer On, but I’m looking at your lower third here and it’s saying, ‘Director of SEO’ at Dealer On, so what I’m wondering here is, whether or not you’re heavily involved with pay-per-click and if you are, if you’re seeing it as essential for SEOs to actually be highly aware of pay-per-click, and actually work in conjunction with paid advertising?

GREG GIFFORD: So we have a completely different department that handles the pay-per-click stuff, so I’m not really involved with Adwords or Bing ads, or any of that stuff. Our department, actually, is going to be the one that handles all of the Facebook and Instagram ads though, because advertising on a social platform is a completely different ball park than running Adwords, so I will be heavily, well, my department will be heavily involved with the Facebook side of advertising, but the Adwords stuff will be a whole separate thing, but it is important, you want to maximise your exposure and sure, the majority of clicks are going to go to the organic listings, but also on the flip-side of that coin, the people that click of Adwords, typically are a little bit further down the funnel and are more likely to convert, so why would you not be there? Especially when all your competitors are there, so, I think a lot of times with smaller businesses, it just comes down to budget. If they’ve got to spend money somewhere, a lot of times it’s going to go to SEO first, which is smart, and they may not have enough additional budget to be able to do Adwords, but for anyone that can fit it into their budget, I would say it’s essential.

DAVID BAIN: Okay. So you’re talking about budgets and SEO first. If you’re talking to an organisation or a set of dealers about the fact that they should invest in SEO, how do you measure the ROI of SEO, how do you actually persuade them that they need a significant budget?

GREG GIFFORD: Well, we’ve got a little trick that we use, I actually wrote a post on Search Engine Land about this, because a lot of times when we’re talking to dealers, they don’t really understand how local SEO works, and so this is a little example that I like to use, we’ll tell dealers, ‘cause we’re always talking to… while they’re at their office, they’re sitting at the dealership, and we’ll say, ‘Hey, look, do a search for pizza delivery and don’t enter a city’, and Google’s going to give you a list of pizza delivery spots that are right by the dealership, now, if you go home today and do the exact same search again, you’re just typing in ‘pizza delivery’ and you’re not putting in a city, the list of results is 100% different, and that’s because Google knows exactly where you’re located and knows for that query, that you need a local result, so it treats certain business types that way and car dealers are included in that, and that’s when they kind of get that light bulb of, ‘Oh, okay, I guess that we need to worry about the whole local side of searches’, ‘cause some dealers will be doing SEO, they’re just not doing local SEO, and this just helps them understand the difference there.

And then we point out the fact that, if you’re in a larger metro area where you’ve got a big city and then surrounding suburbs, in some cases, you got about two or three hundred car dealers when you’re counting new cars and used cars all together, that are fighting for seven or eight organic spots on page one, you’re not going to be there unless you’re doing SEO, and so that’s how we prove the need for it, and then as far as showing ROI down the road, like I mentioned a few minutes ago, we don’t really track with the whole ranking thing, because I could honestly go and get somebody ranked number one for 500 phrases in the space of a week, but who cares? Because they’d be so obscure and long-tailed that no human would ever type them and it wouldn’t give them any more traffic. So we let all of our dealers know, ‘Hey, the way that you really want to track the ROI on your SEO is, we want to look over time, what was the baseline on your organic traffic? And how is that being influenced over time? Are you getting more organic business to your site? Are you getting more conversions on your site? Is your conversion percentage increasing? And are you getting more leads from organic? That’s how you tell if your SEO is working or not’.

DAVID BAIN: Great, great. Do you think that in the future, if a dealership, maybe, has a big location in the centre of the city, or near the centre of the city, that it might be worthwhile for them to actually open up at different, smaller locations, simply as a marketing tool, actually to get further listings within places like Google Local?

GREG GIFFORD: Yeah, potentially if you’re in a really large metro area, the more physical locations you have, the more opportunities you have to show up in searches. So I’ve worked with a couple of dealer groups that have five or six locations in a metro area, and they can dominate the first page of Google for the… obviously if you’re searching for a specific brand, that doesn’t work, but if you’ve got a Ford dealer and a Toyota dealer, and Hyundai dealer, and a used car section, then that’s four or five different locations that can show up for used cars or for service, or just car dealer or car dealership, so the more locations you have, the more opportunities you have to show up in SURPs , plus the flip side of that coin again, on the pay-per-click side, you can’t run multiple pay-per-click ads on the page for one website, so the more websites you have, the more pay-per-click you can run, so again, further domination on the page.

DAVID BAIN: A couple of questions ago actually, you mentioned that a lot of dealers were using word-press, are you finding that a lot of dealers sites that you are dealing with are using word-press as CMS and if so, is that a good thing for that type of business?

GREG GIFFORD: Well, I don’t find it, all that often, where they’re doing their own thing. It’s pretty few and far between, when we find a dealer that’s just found some sort of an inventory-management plug-in and they’re doing their homework for a site, but there are a few providers that use word-press as the CMS, so, it’s not all over the place, but we’re seeing it a little bit more often that we used to.

DAVID BAIN: Is it necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, or it’s just a thing?

GREG GIFFORD: It’s just a thing. I mean, it still depends on what you do with it. It makes it a little bit easier to… a lot of the older platforms, a lot of the really big providers, you can’t access some of the things you want to access, you may not be able to change the old text on the homepage slideshow or, you may not be able to fully do the meta descriptions or the title tags, or certain elements on the page you may not have access to sometimes. Obviously if they’re on word-press, you’ve got access to do anything you want to do for SEO, so what would make the SEO side of things much easier, is it an advantage over a really well done platform otherwise? I think it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other. I mean, it doesn’t really matter.

DAVID BAIN: Right, right, okay. I’d like to talk a little bit about the way that consumers are using the web now, and how that compares with a couple of years ago, and how that may change over the next couple of years? Because obviously with smart phones, with a lot of people actually browsing the web, and perhaps actually, making even purchase decisions, does that mean that their search habits have changed? If so, is that just for ease-ology, or is that even actually the search engine that they choose to use? How has that changed over the last year or so, with regards to consumer behaviour?

GREG GIFFORD: I do think that as people continue to use more of their mobile devices to search, we’ll see more of a change in behaviour. I think it’s still pretty confined to, ‘Let’s go use Google to do things’, but like I mentioned a few minutes back, I think we’re going to see more and more of the Cortana and the Siri searches, where people are using just their device and whatever’s built into their device, instead of going to Google or going to Google Now and asking those same questions. I think we’ll start to see more of that, but I do think that that’s a little bit more of a long-term play, it’s going to be the younger generations that do that, the older dogs are still going to just… Google is so engrained into everything, that most of us do, that’s just what we’re going to stick with. But the results that you get are going to be so personalised, that’s another reason that we talk to dealers about not relying so heavily on rank trackings to prove ROI, because your rank tracking is going to be based on whatever that individual rank tracking program is going to be doing and that doesn’t reflect, at all, on what the reality is of what consumers are seeing, because you’ve got personalisation for each consumer, based on their past history and then you’ve got location differences based on, if they’re searching on their phone, they’re going to get a completely different set of results than two miles down the road for certain business types. So you can’t effectively track what people are going to be seeing on their phones in all these different locations, so it’s really becoming… You’ve got to just make sure you’ve got the right content that’s going to show up, because you’re not really going to be able to track how you’re ranking in all these different places anymore.

DAVID BAIN: So if people are using Google on their phones to search, are you finding that people in general use slightly different phrase-ology than they would on a desktop?

GREG GIFFORD: Yeah, I think we’re seeing a lot more of the nearby and near me searches, so you’ll see ‘Car dealer near me’, or ‘Dry cleaner near me’, so we’re seeing a lot more of those type searches and then we’re seeing a lot of bone-headed optimisation tactics where people are starting to put, you know, instead of, ‘Used cars, Dallas, Texas’, they say, ‘Used car dealer, near me’ in their title tag, because they’re trying to show up for that, which, I mean, you’ve got to give them some credit for being forward-thinking, but you’re killing your optimisation on desktop and it just flat out just looks stupid if you’ve got that title tag on your site because you’re trying to show up for local searches.

DAVID BAIN: Yes, it strikes as an SEO tactic, maybe, from five to ten years ago.

GREG GIFFORD: Right, but yeah, we are seeing a lot more of those ‘near me’ type searches, because as people are searching on their phone, instead of saying, on a desktop, ‘I want to look for this type of business in this city’, you’re on your phone, ‘I need this type of business close by’.

DAVID BAIN: Yeah.

GREG GIFFORD: So, I think that’s going to be a huge change in the way people are searching. Again, because we’re seeing more and more people just completely rely on whatever their mobile device is, and not really do as much on desktop.

DAVID BAIN: Okay. So you talked about Siri as well, and Cortana, so people are maybe using the search on their device directly, rather than actually using a search engine like Google, if that’s the case then obviously, that search engine may be bringing up results such as, pages, sections within an app on their device as well, does that…

GREG GIFFORD: So we’re going to have all of the app de-blinking become an even bigger play as we move forward, because now, I mean, even in search results, you can do stuff on Google and it can recommend apps that are on your phone, so it’s going to get even more convoluted and more difficult, and it’s like I tell… we’ve been doing a lot of hiring lately, and every time I’m hiring people, I’m talking to them saying, ‘Look, the need to have someone manipulate or enhance, or optimise the signals related to a business’s online presence will always be there. Now, will it always be search engine optimisation? Maybe not. Five years from now, we may not even have Google anymore, and it might be all Siri and Cortana, or some new thing that comes out, it’s cloud based, it’s on everybody’s phone, who knows what it’s going to be? But the need to make sure that your signal’s both on your website, on your directory listings, on your links, on your social, on your apps, on all of these different areas of focus, there’s always going to be a need for people like us to know what things are important to do in what places, to help that business achieve higher visibility. So will that always be SEO? Maybe not. But we’ll change the title. We may be changing what we’re actually doing, but the general idea of optimising your presence is always going to be needed, so the jobs are never going to go away.

DAVID BAIN: Okay, so apps are probably going to become more important, is it important to have your own app if you’re a dealer, or is it simply important to optimise your presence within other apps?

GREG GIFFORD: I think it depends on what the business type is. I think it totally makes sense for e-commerce businesses, or even local businesses to have an app, you know, the guy that I get my beard trimmed from actually has an app now, so I can schedule all of my appointments and do that through the app, and it’s great, and it’s super convenient, but for car dealers, maybe they can have an app for you to schedule your service, but even then you’re only coming in every three to six months, do you really want to get an app on your phone and have an extra app that you’re rarely opening? Probably not. And we’ve been doing a tonne of talking about beacons lately and all the really awesome things you can do with beacons, and beacons have to be tied to an app, and with car dealers, you’re going to have the manufacturer’s app, so if I buy a Mercedes, I’m going to download the Mercedes app that’s tied my car, why would I now download a second app for the dealership that I bought my Mercedes from? It just doesn’t really work that way, at least yet.

DAVID BAIN: Okay. So essentially, if you’re wanting to build an app, ask yourself the question, ‘Will my customers, or perspective customers, are they likely to use the app at least once every couple of months, and if they’re not, then it’s probably not worthwhile.’ Is that a fair summary?

GREG GIFFORD: Yeah, I mean, it’s got to be… Or even beyond that, like with car dealers, what can you provide in an app for your dealership, that isn’t provided by the really kick-ass, million-dollar app that the manufacturer has already created?

DAVID BAIN: Right, right.

GREG GIFFORD: Sure, maybe you can schedule a service, but are you really going to get people to download your app and keep it on their phone, and use it? Probably not. But some business types, it definitely makes sense and it would be a huge opportunity, I mean, look at like, the Gap, Old Navy, Macy’s, all of these big retailers have their own apps, and it makes sense for them to have it based on the behaviour of the customers for that business vertical.

DAVID BAIN: Right. So one type of business that we haven’t discussed, that I struggle in my head to actually understand how they can take advantage of local SEO, is national magazines and websites that actually sell cars but, perhaps, don’t have a physical location. Are they going to lose out when more and more people turn to Google Local to find local dealerships? Or is there a good SEO opportunity for these types of businesses as well?

GREG GIFFORD: There’s still opportunity there, because with that Pigeon update that happened in the US in mid-2014, and for everybody else, the end of that year, directory sites are really heavily favoured, so we’ll see a lot of the auto-trader.com, or auto-trader.co.uk, whatever you guys have over there, we see a lot of the auto-traders, and the Craigslist, and the eBays, showing up in these local searches, because if you do your SEO correctly on these massive directory sites, then you will show up in local searches, and there still is a play there for you, but you’ve got to have the right content, and the right product, and the right, technical SEO done on your website to be able to show up there.

DAVID BAIN: Okay. So, I mean, we’ve talked a lot about what’s happened over the last few months or so, what about over the last year or so? Are there any specific things that businesses, local dealerships need to keep an eye out from, and actually think of doing on their websites, or implementing as part of their overall digital strategy to future-proof a little bit, in terms of what they’re doing?

GREG GIFFORD: Well, there is a big update that we know if pending with Google, because you can actually do the Beta of it right now, with your Google My Business page, and so, for years, even back when it was still Google Places, Google pushed everybody; claim your location, fill out all the data, get your photos in, get your user photo in, do all the things you can do to create a great user experience, because a lot of times that’s, a lot of times, the first touch point that a customer has.

Now with this update, they’re yanking all of the location information from Google+, so your Google My Business page goes from this great page with all this location information, to strictly a social page. So it’s like a complete social page with no location information, so there’s zero reason anybody’s going to want to do it. Now it’s still important to claim your page, obviously, ‘cause you want to show up in map searches, but all of the effort that we’ve been putting in for years, into our Google Places or Google My Business, is now pretty much wasted effort ‘cause all that stuff is gone, so that’s coming, we don’t know when Google’s rolling that, but it’s in Beta right now, you can go to your Google My Business page and say, ‘Hey, I want to know what the new look looks like’, and switch over, I wouldn’t suggest doing it, but that’s going to be a pretty big game-changer. You know, Moz does their local search ranking factor study every year, and I think it was like 14.7% of the signal last year was Google My Business page. I think this year when we see the updated study at the end of this year, it’s going to be drastically lower because there won’t be a Google My Business page anymore. So that’s definitely important to pay attention to.

Beyond that, I mean, who really knows what the heck Google’s going to do, they make so many changes out of the blue, and you know, pulling the ability to set your SURP to a different location, was a crazy change. Google says it’s because users didn’t really use it, but now what are all the marketers supposed to do, that are serving businesses in other cities? All of these, pulling the seven pack, changing it to the three pack… I think it’s going to be interesting to watch what happens there. We’ve seen a lot of tests lately with paid local listings, so they’re doing that in the San Francisco area with some service-orientated businesses where the local listings are now paid, so a lot of us have suspected for a while that Google’s going to make a play that local listings will now become paid listings, which makes sense, I mean, Google’s there to make money, I mean, I get that, a lot of people tend to forget that and they get frustrated, but hey, Google’s a business, they’re trying to make money, it’s a good revenue stream for them, the problem is, let’s hope that they do it correctly so that that doesn’t trash the relevancy of your search results, because hey, if I’m a locksmith, but I’m a shyster and I screw people over, but hey, I’m willing to throw more money than everybody else at my local listing, do I still deserve to rank number one? If I get awful reviews and my website sucks, but I’ve got deep pockets, is Google going to let me be number one or is there going to be some sort of a quality score, or some kind of a local check, that’s going to check some factor, that’s going to influence whether I need to just pay more to be there or whether I can’t show up there because I don’t satisfy that requirement? Who really knows? But I think that’s potentially scary for a lot of businesses, because you can have somebody that’s been number one for years, now get replaced by somebody who’s got deeper pockets, if that’s how it works.

DAVID BAIN: Is it possible to get impacted by negative local SEO as well? Is it possible to get people to claim listings nearby your business, and actually talk negatively about what you’re doing?

GREG GIFFORD: I mean, yeah, there’s definitely the review side. I’ve dealt with car dealers before, I’ve done some stuff with some lawyers too, where they’ll have competitors that will go and fill out fake, negative reviews to try to bring them down, and does it really have an effect? I mean, for all the effort that goes into it, it’s probably not worth it for the competitor to try to even do it, but could it potentially hurt you? Heck yeah! I mean, if somebody goes and flames you on Yelp, but you get a bunch of really bad Yelp reviews, that could hurt you a little bit. Or if somebody goes and flames the crap out of you on Google, and you get a bunch of negative Google reviews, that could hurt you. And does it really play into your visibility? Maybe not, but you know that people searching for your business, are going to see that info box over on the right side, and if your knowledge box shows that the last ten reviews are all scathing one star reviews then that’s probably going to scare some people off so, potentially it could be bad. But Google’s pretty good at watching the footprint on that, so at times they can catch those fake reviews, but also, a lot of times they skip through and then it could really hurt you.

DAVID BAIN: And in terms of where SEO as a whole actually integrates with other marketing activities, would you say that it’s fair or unfair to say that SEO’s still considered to be a ‘dark art’, and if so, do you think this perception is slowly changing over time, and will SEO continue to be part of marketing and talk, and integrate nicely with marketing over the coming years?

GREG GIFFORD: I do see that it’s getting a better public perception. I think in the past there have been a lot of people that said they did SEO and they didn’t really do SEO, and took a lot of money and gave people a bad taste in their mouth. There are also SEOs that would not stay up to date with their tactics so then once Penguin rolls out and these guys are still buying links from porn sites, now their clients are getting penalised, so there’s a lot of people out there that have a bad taste in their mouth, because of past experiences, or they know people that had bad experiences, and so it’s the whole, kind of, for a long time people doing SEO are seen as the snake-oil salesman, you know? Does it really do anything? Or you’re just doing a bunch of stuff that sounds fancy cool and doesn’t really change anything, you’re just taking all my money. I think there’s been a lot of that perception for a long time. But I know that, at least within Auto and within law, and within some of the restaurant people I’ve worked with, a lot of peoples’ perceptions are changing and I think a lot of people now realise, you’re going to have to do something besides just having a website. So those days of, ‘Hey, I’ve got a website, I’m good’, those days are long gone, ‘cause now everybody’s got a website so you’ve got to be doing SEO and hopefully some PPC, and some Facebook and Instagram advertising, and anything you can do to grab whatever local visibility you can, because if you’re not doing it, your competitors are.

DAVID BAIN: Right, okay. But SEO in general is certainly going to stick around for the foreseeable future, perhaps the way that SEO is done is going to change a bit, but…

GREG GIFFORD: Sure.

DAVID BAIN: …because search engines exist in some form, it’s not going away anywhere soon.

GREG GIFFORD: Well, we may not even be calling it SEO anymore, because really SEO has just become marketing, I mean, SEO is marketing, it’s not, ‘You’ve got a marketing plan and an SEO plan’, you have a marketing plan, and the tasks involved in SEO are just part of your marketing plan now, it’s not a one or the other separate thing, like it had been in the past.

DAVID BAIN: Great, great. Okay, well, that sort of takes us to the end, I reckon. But just one more question for you. If someone was looking to get involved with SEO, what would you say is the best way of getting started? Would it be to actually try and get a low SEO role within an organisation, or perhaps, actually try and actually start their own website and see how to optimise things by themselves?

GREG GIFFORD: I would say, both. I would say, if you’re wanting to get into SEO; get a website set up, start messing with it, you know, if you like food, set up a food blog, and post some recipes, and play around with optimisation, play around with word-press. Figure out how things work. Read websites, follow things like the TWIO broadcast, find smart people that you can listen, whether it’s in a webinar or podcast, or a website that there’s a regular article that you can read from a certain, you know… find those smart people that you can tell, by quick Google searches, are the top minds in SEO. Follow them, listen to what they say, listen to what their tweeting about or posting, or check out the links that they’re sharing. And you know, read Moz, read Majestic, check out other things, you know, find people like me to follow on Twitter that go to conferences and live tweet conferences, because if you’re trying to get into SEO, you may not have the capacity to go to a conference, but you could follow people like me that’ll live tweet a conference and you could still get a lot of that great information without actually travelling there, or you’ve got stuff, like if you’re in the UK, you’ve got Brighton SEO that’s free that you can go to, like a free ticket, why would you not go to that? Sure, you’d have to take a train down, but who cares? It’s a free conference and it’s an awesome conference, with tonnes of great speakers, and you get inspired when you go see these expert speakers that tell you all these awesome things you can be doing, and combine all that with messing with your own website, and you’ll figure it out really quickly.

DAVID BAIN: Great advice. Well, this episode of TWIO will be published on the 19th of February. So what… you mentioned conferences there, what kind of conference schedule have you got over the next couple of months after that, where people can see you?

GREG GIFFORD: Oh, gosh! Let me pull it out, it’s pretty insane.

DAVID BAIN: I’m sure it is. You seem to be all over the place.

GREG GIFFORD: Yeah, I mean, I need to learn how to say ‘No’, honestly, or my wife’s going to start saying ‘No’ for me.

DAVID BAIN: Does she find it easier to say ‘No’?

GREG GIFFORD: Right, so this is going up on the 29th when I’ll actually…

DAVID BAIN: On the 19th of February.

GREG GIFFORD: Oh, the 19th, okay. This goes up on the 19th of February, I’ll actually be attending MozCon Local in Seattle but I’m not speaking there, then the 29th of February, I’ll be speaking at the advanced local SEO training course, the day before SMX West in San Jose, then I’ll also be speaking on the local SEO panel at SMX West, then in March I actually don’t have a conference because there’s several falling during my Spring break and I’m taking my kids on vacation. Then in April I’m speaking at NADA, which is the biggest automotive conference in the US, that’s in Vegas, I’ll be doing a webinar for my company on the 7th of April, then I will be speaking at Brighton SEO on April 22nd, so everybody in the UK, come see me, it’ll be fun, I’ll cuss a lot and have cool movies. I’m also running the advanced local SEO training course the day before Brighton SEO, so yeah, it’s a couple of hundred pounds, but chip in, I promise it’ll be worth it. It’s like four and a half hours of super intense SEO training from me for local SEO, so that will be awesome. Then the first week of May I’m speaking at SearchLove in Boston, then I’m speaking at an automotive conference in Napa Valley later in May, then I’m speaking at SMX Advanced in Seattle in June, and that’s like the next few months. So I’ve got five or six already on the books.

DAVID BAIN: Greg, is coming somewhere near you everyone, so no excuse at all. You’ve got to go and see him live as well, ‘cause that was just a great little taster of obviously, all your knowledge, but I’m sure you’ve got so much more to share Greg, and you’ve given us a lot of a great time already. People can find you at Dealeron.com and @GregGifford on Twitter. Are there any other contact details worth mentioning?

GREG GIFFORD: Yeah, I mean, if anybody has any specific questions, they can email me at [email protected].

DAVID BAIN: Superb! Well, thank you so much for joining us on TWIO, Greg.

GREG GIFFORD: Thanks for having me again.

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