1.) Sites Made Entirely Out Of Flash
As any SEO will tell you, or nearly any web designer with the slightest knowledge about the behavior of search engine spiders, designing a site entirely in flash is a recipe for disaster. As search engines become more sophisticated, the game of search engine optimization has become more complex....indeed, the process of becoming a highly ranked site has become quite a complex task. But at the most basic level, sites designed in flash are essentially invisible to search engines. A large component of determining the relevancy of a site by a search engine spider lies in the spiderability (ability of the spider to crawl) of high quality, keyword rich content. In the car industry, there are literally thousands of keywords that can be built into a website to dramatically increase traffic. In west palm beach alone, the location of a used car dealership I am currently in the process of optimizing for, there are literally hundreds of car related keywords which can be used to pull new traffic. This means that any new content that can be built into the site, any content which contains keywords that customers may be searching for, is content that can and should be seen by the search engines. It is content that should make it onto the web. If this content is presented in flash, however, it will never be indexed, and will therefore provide absolutely no value to ranking goals of the site. The bottom line is:
2.) Duplicate Content
For those sites not built entirely in flash, an even more ominous problem is usually lurking. Duplicate content is abhorred by search engines. As many may know, a great deal of keyword rich spam sites are generated dynamically through scripts that scrape the internet for content that is likely to be searched for by the general public. With a strategy designed to create revenue through volume, huge spam networks have been created (thousands of sites have been generated) by scraping or stealing content from legitimate websites. As a result, search engines approach duplicate content through a process known as canonicalization. What this means is the the search engines look at sites containing duplicate content and make a judgment about which site best represents the content contained on all of the sites. Whichever website is chosen as the most relevant for the content it contains then becomes the only site that is given any weight by the search engines and all other sites are completely devalued...or de-listed. To illustrate how extensive this problem is, visit any dealer.com site. Then examine any non-flash content, choose a text string (perhaps a piece of text from the about us section), and enter that text into Google or yahoo with quotes around it. The results are astounding. Google has crawled literally thousands of pages created by dealer.com that contain the exact same content. In fact, almost every page created by dealer.com that is in the slightest bit search engine friendly (meaning it was at the very least not built in flash), is keyword content that belongs to hundreds of pages already on the net. The bottom line is:
Many Dealer Websites do great harm to themselves by having their only spiderable content be content that exists in duplicate on the pages of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of similar sites.
Any site containing non-original content will very likely be heavily penalized in the SERPS (search engine result pages), or will be de-listed altogether.
3.)Hidden Sitemaps and Links
One of the primary ways to garauntee that a site will be completely indexed (all pages will be crawled and included in the SERPS) is to include a sitemap on index pages or main pages that are sure to be crawled. A sitemap is essentially a list of links to all of the pages on the site, organized in an organized fashion. The inclusion of sitemaps is seen by many seo's as essential, and is a step many dealer website have taken in the right direction with regard to designing sites that have a chance to rank well. What they do wrong in this regard is the inclusion of sitemaps whose links are either a.) Hidden Behind Flash Movies or b.) Hidden using CSS. Hiding text behind a flash movie is fairly easy considering Flash typically floats above any site content when properly positioned, and is desirably for many designers wishing to create a seamless and immersive flash experience for their visitors. This has largely been the goal of many dealer designers such as BZ results. While often beautifully designed, the templates set up by such companies are often designed in such a way that links, sitemaps, and often keyword rich text is hidden from human eyes in an attempt to lure search engine spiders into indexing deeper pages. This type of design trick may have been a work around solution in the past, but it has become a major no-no in the SEO world. A basic rule of thumb is that search engine spiders have a great aversion to any attempts at trickery. This means that if you have hidden content on your site, whether it be links to other pages or just text, you will be penalized in the SERPS, or de-listed. Search engines see hidden content as an attempt to trick search engines into thinking a page is about something other than is being showed to that site's visitors. As you can imagine, in the eyes of a search engine, this makes such a site irrelevant to all search terms. The bottom line is:
4.)Heavy Reliance on Meta Tags
In the early days of the internet, much less sophisticated techniques were needed to deliver very high quality search results to users. As the net became a place where revenue was considered by many to be directly related to traffic volume, sites hungry for profit began to use the system in place to deliver more and more traffic. In the past, search engines used what are known as meta tags to determine what a site was about, and therefore what types of searches it should be shown for. Meta tags are basically tags written in the head of HTML documents that contain a list of keywords relevant to the site (as determined by the webmaster), as well as a description of the site. This information was once the primary method for determining relevancy in the SERPS. Due to misuse, however, the use of meta tags has become nearly obsolete. Unfortunately, many dealer websites have not kept up with the times, and still rely on meta tags as one of the only ways they inform search engines of their content. This is usually done with a very large list of words in the "keyword" metatag. This type of optimization can be seen by examining the source code of any dealer.com, bz results, reynolds & reynolds, or cobalt site. What is even more disturbing is that the keywords in these meta tags are often the most general and therefore some of the most competitive keywords in the industry. As a poignant example, my current client's old site did not contain the words "west palm beach" or "used cars" in its keyword list. These keywords were the most important keywords for driving traffic to this site. Instead, dealer.com chose to include in its keywords a list of every car manufacturer in the world....even though my client rarely sells a number of these brands. Additionally, for the local keywords that were included, there were major spelling errors that in this case held absolutely no value for my client.
The bottom line is:
Many Dealer Websites still see meta tags as a viable means of communicating a site's content, and remain for many sites the only method exposure.
The use of meta tags in SEO is, at best, a slightly useful way of optimizing a page, if the proper keywords have been chosen, and at worst, completely worthless as a tool in increasing search engine position or relevance.
5.)Poor Keyword Research/Choices/Optimization
As was mentioned in my treatment of the use of meta tags, the majority of dealer websites fail to take into account the large variety of relevant keywords available and optimize only for the most highly competitive and least targeted terms. For sites like the one being optimized for my client, a concentration on the "long tail" is the most effective method in gaining quality traffic. What this means in terms of keyword choice and seo is that the keywords which are of most importance are not those that get the most searches and are the most competitive. What this means is that the most highly qualified keywords, and those most likely to bring in buying customers are those keywords that are on the long tail, bring in less searches, but are more relevant to our consumers. This means that choosing the key phrase "used cars in west palm beach Florida" would be much more effective in bringing customers than the term "used cars," which is arguably a very competitive phrase. Additionally, keyword optimization for a word such as jaguar would not be nearly as effective in our treatment as, say, "jaguar s type Florida." Many dealer websites ignore altogether the need to optimize both for specific key phrases, as well as specifically targeting and tailoring keywords locally. The more specific and tailored the keyword, the better. Although such terms will undoubtedly generate less traffic, they will be more highly targeted. With effort, a large list can be compiled and can be used to generate traffic that is cheaper (when used in pay-per-click campaigns) and also much more effective. The bottom line is:
Many Dealer Websites are unwisely optimizing for keyword that are too competitive and not targeted (both in terms of attracting customers who are ready to buy and in terms of attracting local clientel.)
Keywords that are not well targeted are useless. They result in high exit rates, wasted resources and WASTED MONEY.
6.)Major Design Flaws (not anticipating the customers needs)
As anyone involved in the new Web 2.0 Culture will tell you, the internet is shifting. Internet users are increasingly hungry in their search for information. They are finicky and impatient and are most concerned with finding the information they are looking for in a an efficient manner. The days of flashing lights, rotating banners, animated gifs and marquees is far behind us, and the days of flash intros and bandwidth hungry animations seems to fading away as well. To replace the old web is a return to simplicity, a return to what matters most on the internet; information. In some ways, many dealer website have taken this sentiment to heart in that they have begun to include a large wealth of information about individual cars on their sites. In fact, this was a major selling point for my client in his initial decision to outsource his website development to one of the major dealer site developers. Where Dealer websites have largely missed the boat, however, is in creating sites that are very flashy and seem good in their attempt to attract customers, but are off the mark in anticipating what their customer is truly looking for when they visit a website. Each hit a dealer site receives is an opportunity for that site to convince the customer of the trustworthiness, helpfulness, and value that can be offered by that dealership. In print and television advertising flashy advertising has worked well, but on the internet their has been a major shift. People have learned to tune out anything that tries to hard to grab their attention. Nobody clicks on those popups claiming you've won $10,000, and peoples eyes are no longer drawn or remain fixed to text that scrolls. Web users, as the philosophy of Web 2.0 emphasizes, are more drawn to well organized, simple to understand information. We skim the pages we read, switch windows quickly, and ignore content and information that is not readily at hand. I would even go as far to say that any extraneous material is not only unnecessary, but is an obstacle in helping customers to find the information that they are essentially searching for.
Additionally, many Dealers make the mistake of trying to mirror their real life presence on the internet, meaning their website become the equivalent of the typical ways dealerships have hooked customers in the past. A Dealer Website should not be giant stickers and balloons in cyberspace. While a loud looking sign and gimmicks may work well to draw in drive by customers, it doesn't work well on the internet anymore. The bottom line is:
Dealers waste their customer's time and insult their intelligence by trying to hook them on the internet the same way you hook them on their lots
The majority of web users are less impressed by flashy design and are more satisfied when presented with the information they are looking for in an easy to understand fashion.
7.) Little to no use of analytics
For any web marketer, the use of analytics (measures of website usage) is essential in creating highly effective sites that provide the best return on investment. In the past, analytics programs were beyond the scope of small businesses or beyond the ability of certain providers to offer their clients. Today, however, highly sophisticated analytics programs can be obtained at little to no cost, and many dealer site developers offer limited or even more extensive analytics as a value added service. For those providers who do offer high quality analytics, kudos, but for many out there (such as dealer.com)....analytics that are useful in making changes to the site that will actually increase traffic, productivity or ROI are severely lacking. There is more to site statistics than simply number of clicks. Analysis of page views, exit points, conversion ratios, and much more is essential to tweaking a site so that the most leads can be generated. Looking at a real life example of this lack of analytics comes from my experience with my current client and their use web analytics. After my own analysis of their site and the implementation of Google analytics (which far surpassed their previous measures), we were able to see that their landing page was losing almost half of all new visitors. This was astounding, not only because it meant that they were losing half of all of their traffic after the first page load, but also with the realization that traffic could be greatly increased simply by redirecting to the main inventory page. (which makes sense considering our model of the new internet consumer, who is more interested in information than anything else.) The bottom line is:
Dealers are losing large portions of customers to design mistakes that cannot be tracked due to poor analytics. Furthermore, Dealers do no usually have the ability to configure their websites to the degree necessary to help their site improve.
Web site design is not a one step process....it requires a degree of testing as well as trial and error.
8.) Illegal redirections
Another problem plaguing dealer websites is a lack of proper redirection on sites that carry more than one domain name or exist with multiple sub domains. As was mentioned earlier, duplicate content hurts the listing of your website. The way search engines see it, duplicate content exists if two domain names point to the same site. So, if a site like my clients: http://www.usedcarwestpalmbeach.net points to the same IP address as his other domain: http://www.autoadviceoffl.com, Google will see duplicate content because it sees both domains as separate entities. This is also true in terms of the use of subdomains...especially the WWW. For many dealers, their site can be accessed at [http://www.dealersite.com] or dealersite.com. Google treats these as different entities, and more often then not, punishes both versions of the site for duplicate content. This needs to be fixed with a properly configured 301 redirect, which is a permanent redirect.
For Google, one of the most important measures of a site's relevance is the number of links pointing to that site. This is true for the other search engines as well, and seems to increasingly be a main measure in the ranking of sites in the SERPS. Quality backlinks from sites that the search engines deem "authorities" are the most valuable links that can be obtained. Additionally, backlinks should have anchor text (the text that is hyperlinked) that are relevant to the keywords on the site. Google's infamous Page Rank, is based upon this model of backlinking, and as a result has facilitated the rise of Google as the internets most used search engine. Backlinks are arguably the most important aspect of SEO. Building backlinks is also arguably the MOST IGNORED seo tactic by nearly all of the major players in dealer site game. Searches for cars in most major cities reveal results targeted to dealership sites only in the pay-per-click side. Dealer sites nearly never show up in the organic side, and those that do have no doubt concentrated their efforts on backlink building. This is a real problem in the industry. Dealers are shelling out thousands of dollars a month to websites that are paying for traffic they could be getting for free....with proper backlinking and minimal optimization techniques. The bottom line is;
Dealers are losing customers by not doing proper backlinking, thus cutting off one of the most important methods for increasing ranking in the organic SERPS.
Backlinking is not an automated process, but requires a plan of actions and follow through.
10.) Poorly Formed URLs
Creating URL's that can be easily spidered is simple if a few key rules are followed. First and foremost, URLs must be properly formed and must obviously link to their proper destination. Whether in a flash movie or as a simple hyperlink, I am often surprised to see how often broken links exist. (these serve only to take away from the credibility of the dealership and causes users to leave your site). More importantly for SEO purposes, though, is the use of URLS which are created dynamically....meaning they look something like [http://www.cardealer.com/vehicle_model?id=12324213]. This URL is not search engine friendly because search engines do not usually properly crawl dynamically generated URL's, and if you are lucky enough to have a dynamic URL indexed, more often then not, the dynamic content is cut off, leaving you with something like: [http://www.cardealer.com/vehicle_model]. This URL will not lead to the intended page, and will result in duplicate content being indexed if such links are crawled at all. Any server running apache with mod rewrite access can fix this simply, and should fix it. Properly formed URLS that have been further optimized to contain keywords can go a long way in helping the ranking of a site, and as we have discussed, getting more pages indexed properly means more content and more hits. The bottom line is;
There is no excuse for broken links, malformed and seo unfriendly URLS
Rewriting URLS so they are search engine friendly is not necessarily a difficult process and is one that can greatly improve the ranking a relevance of a site.
Please visit our website at http://www.autoadviceoffl.com to get a better idea of how to implement what you've read above!