If you live in Montreal, you’ve probably seen Silver Star print ads. But you’d be a lot less likely to see them in search results on any major search engine because their search marketing effort is nonexistent (well OK, maybe MSN might return them). Not only is their SEO (What is SEO?) non-existent, it’s a near-100% duplicate of Mercedes-Benz Canada’s site!
If you’re Google and some random Canadian searches for “Buy Mercedes Benz car,” would you rather return the more authoritative Mercedes-Benz website or a total copy on a subdomain?
The answer isn’t as obvious as you might think. As far as domain authority, original content and other mainstays of search marketing, the official Mercedes site is obviously going to come out ahead. But you need to take into account the fact that the person looking for “Buy Mercedes-Benz car” is probably more interested in finding the local dealership version of the site, which at least has more relevant About Us and Dealer information.
That’s just an appetizer to get your brain thinking like a search engineer. (In practice, you’ll find Mercedes Canada’s site ranking, not Silver Star’s.) Now let’s look more closely at the site and the two pages that will count for it most, ignoring the duplicate content for now:
- Their category and individual car/model pages, where search engine visitors are most likely to land [if the site gets its SEO done properly], and
- The lead gen forms. While some places like eBay can pull off car sales online, most car dealerships that are taking search marketing seriously, and the number is growing daily; I had to make an effort to find an dealer’s site here in Montreal not using SEO! are opting for quote-request lead generation forms.
Silver Star’s car classes page has a few usability issues to begin with. I like to address usability before search, because there’s no point ranking a site if the traffic’s not going to convert, or convert poorly at best. (Hat tip for the idea to Web Design 4 ROI – an excellent book that I highly recommend buying.)
There’s no particular order or logic to the classes as they’re laid out on the page. It isn’t alphabetical (Mercedes names it’s lines “C Class, SLK class etc.). It isn’t by price range. It isn’t sedans vs coupes vs sports cars vs SUVs. So if you’re looking for a particular class, you have to read through all of them (or scan the pictures, if you’re sufficiently familiar) until you find what you want. Not quite the “Don’t Make Me Think” proned by usability expert Steve Krug.
Individual Car Class Pages
As far as finding what you want, the pages are spot on in terms of content. They describe the class of cars, and tie some features to benefits. Thus, for the E300, ” 10-way power adjustment for the heated front seats along with manually adjustable lumbar support for the driver’s seat allow for the ideal seat position to be found.”
As far as the onpage SEO goes, however, it’s a mixed bag.
- The sidebar’s navigation is excellent: it’s text that search engine spiders can read and it’s precise, descriptive keywords.
- The body text uses the keywords a couple of times.
- The title tags just say Mercedes-Benz Canada. Not even Silver Star Mercedes, let alone descriptive keyword oriented stuff like “Mercedes E300″ etc.
- The subtitles are images of text, rather than text. In and of itself, this isn’t horrible – after all, many people make their [textual] logos images and use those as the main homepage header! But in this case, there’s no text for the “alt” (alternative) attribute nor is the image itself in any sort of header tags (<h1>, <h2> etc.).
- The content could use more modifiers.
The Call to Action and Lead Generation Areas
There’s also a modest call to action to “build your own E300 4Matic.” From there, using the horizontal navigation at the top, you can customize options and “send config to dealer.”
While I can understand the modest call to action – you don’t want to be loud and cause brand damage – moving the call to action somewhere where it would more naturally fall into the reader’s line of sight would probably boost the conversion rate. I might try having it at the end of the article, in line with the rest of the column. People read down before they read across, and they don’t always read across to the next column. It’s not a surefire idea, but one worth testing at any rate.
Similarly, it would probably be a good idea to test different wording for the call to action. Instead of “build your own,” “choose your options” might work better. Again, something to test, and measure the impact on leads generated and lead quality.
Another option, and one that would probably have a more significant impact, would be to simplify the process of building your car. When I clicked, I looked around the page’s content for a while to see where I could click to customize options. Only by trying different things did I realize that you had to use the top horizontal navigation to do that. Putting redundant navigation into the content area (and simplifying the mass of text).
If you need models for your forms, check around the affiliate networks. There are some excellent landing pages there (also some shoddy ones). In short though, you’re asking:
- Who? Answer: Their name.
- What? Answer: The car they’re interested in; you’re doing a good job of pre-populating this field based on the car page that they’re coming from, e.g. E300 being filled in if they came from that page.
- When? Answer: Buying time-frame (this also helps prioritize what leads you respond to and when), and best time of day to get backto them.
- Where? Answer: Where they want to be reached – phone, email, fax, cell etc.
- How? Answer: Loan, cash, other payment?
- Optional: Trim (tends to be the most important option).
Finally, and this is the best suggestion I could make for the call to action: try sending visitors straight to a “request a quote” form. By reducing the number of steps to get a quote, you’re likely to increase the number of leads generated.
The quotes can always be adjusted once the dealers are in contact with the potential purchaser and get the options selected. But you can’t adjust a non-existent quote request (e.g.where a visitor felt that it would take too long to ask for the quote, got lazy, and decided not to fill in the form).
Three More Areas For Improvement
First, realize that you’re operating in Quebec, where half the population speaks French. Thus if you want to convert Francophone visitors to the site into buyers, and rank your site for French keywords (“nouvelle auto,” “vehicule neuf” etc.), I’d make the “” link more obvious.
Second, there’s no reason for people to link unless they’re making a list of local dealerships (and in which case, the competition’s getting the same links so the links’ values cancel out, where search engines are concerned)… Therefore, consider how you’re going to build relationships with folks and establish original content on your site. Professional photography of the cars at your dealership in particular would be a good starting point, while getting involved in the huge car-blogging community would certainly be beneficial as well.
Third, since the strongest page of a site tends to be the homepage (and thus the one that can rank for the most competitive terms), leaving it as a content-less spash page is hurting the possibility of it ranking for any worthwhile terms. It should feature quality copy and try and either (i) lead visitors deeper into the site and/or (ii) get them straight to a quote request form.
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