Despite the yearly predictions of its death, search engine optimization continues to be a booming industry because it’s one of the most effective, efficient, and purposeful ways of generating traffic online. But SEO best practices can vary from industry to industry and business model to business model. Luxury manufacturers need SEO just like every other business.

Element Three’s experience in RVs, boating, mobility vehicles, and other high-ticket manufacturers has allowed us to cater SEO efforts to get maximum value out of organic search traffic for our clients. Here are the top considerations for these unique businesses when it comes to dominating SEO.

The Customer Journey Matters

For luxury manufacturers (also sometimes referred to as original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs), their business model can often disrupt their SEO efforts, and great care is necessary due to where they’re looking to interact with potential customers. For most, dealers that carry their products expect help in the sales process. They’re looking for manufacturers to drive leads to their businesses, either online or to the dealership sales floor.

This isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Dealer agreements can add wildly different challenges to managing SEO for an OEM’s brand—things like dealer marketing agreements, co-marketing dollars, sales territory agreements, and more can all factor in. Dealers expect to be sent leads, but the agreements don’t always make this easy.

Your best bet as a manufacturer is to be clear in your dealer agreements in regards to who has rights to what sales territory, what a sales-qualified lead looks like, and what content is open to sharing between the brand and the dealership. More advanced agreements should include things like the following:

  • Rules for adding marketing trackers and pixels to dealer websites
  • Keywords that are off-limits for organic and paid search (those terms for which the brand wishes to maintain ownership)
  • Keywords that dealers are encouraged to own and market for
  • Rules for lead distribution and, when necessary, redistribution
  • Rules for website content published by the dealership that contains the OEM brand’s name and product names

There’s obviously a lot of considerations for dealership and other business agreements, but one area that’s often missed is the rules and regulations for online marketing. Brands should change that and be sure to protect their brand names online, and include SEO and other marketing concerns in their agreements.

Language of the People, Not the Brand

There are some terms, such as product names and unique brand terms, that are worthwhile for SEO concerns. And truly, while keywords still matter, the context surrounding them is what is chiefly important with today’s search engine algorithms.

This is why it’s absolutely crucial to understand the language your prospective customers use to talk about the type of products that you sell. Your internal team, product marketers, and others may swear that your latest RV should be called a “Luxury Travel Coach.” If that’s the categorization that your brand wants to be known for, that’s fine, so long as customers actually search for that term when looking for information about the product. If they’re looking for something else, like a “class B motorhome” or “class B RV,” then you are better off focusing on those terms in your SEO efforts.

This doesn’t mean you can’t brand-name your product lines or your products themselves. But unless a prospect really knows your brand and searches for a product or category by name (which is unlikely unless they’re already deep in the buyer’s journey funnel, towards the Decision stage), you need to optimize for the language these prospects really use.

The best way to learn what terms you should be using is to talk to your customers and potential customers. Survey buyers and ask them how they searched for products in your industry. Conduct interviews with customers and dealer sales staff. Spend a day at a trade show with the specific purpose of listening to how manufacturers, dealers, and customers talk about the products. Take good notes, and update your product descriptions and website content accordingly.

Inventory Rules All

One of the biggest drivers of SEO success in this industry can be product inventory. Dealerships definitely have a leg up when they are able to list on their website every product they have on their lot.

This can be tricky for the brand’s website, however, especially if the manufacturer’s site and the dealers’ sites are not using the same inventory management system, ERP, or CRM. There are two schools of thought here, and deciding which one to pursue will be absolutely critical to managing SEO successfully for your website:

  1. Include inventory on the website
  2. Encourage dealers to list and manage inventory on their sites, with the manufacturer focused more on top of the funnel terms

In both cases, the OEM will have to pay attention to branded terms, products, and the like. But this can be very tricky for companies where leadership wants to rank in the top spots for lots of branded, product-related terms. If you’ve ever sat across from a CEO or VP of Sales and been asked, “Why don’t we own the top spot for our own product?” this means you’ve got your work cut out for you.

Without inventory, there are just some terms where you may not outrank your dealerships. With so many pages listing products by name, and with new product-related content being updated often, dealership websites have a leg up on product SEO.

Marketers for manufacturers can either build extensive dealership portfolios on their website, complete with inventory—which can be a costly venture—or convince their leadership that organic traffic should be focused on educating the buyer higher in the funnel, and nurturing them through industry and brand awareness through a hand-off to a dealership when a prospect has demonstrated interest in buying a product or service.

Either way—including inventory at purchase locations or not—you’re going to have to be diligent and purposeful in how you approach products on your website, and in who you consider real competitors in search and who you’re going to be okay with outranking you for certain terms.

In a Sea of Sameness, UX Matters

Another hallmark of brands with complex B2B2C business models, like the manufacturer-to-dealership-to-consumer sales model, is that many companies’ websites look the same. Information architecture (such as your website’s navigation), key calls-to-action (CTAs), category and product organization, and other features are all often replicated throughout an industry.

Going from one manufacturer’s website to another, or from one dealer to another, can leave customers lost very quickly in a sea of sameness. This is reason enough to invest heavily in your website’s user experience (UX).

Knowing what users are looking for—and how they interact with your website—is paramount when working to get top performance out of your website. Google and other search engines use user signals such as time on page, click-through rates, and time on site to adjust search engine rankings. Your site’s UX affects this by helping customers find what they are looking for quickly, creating a natural user flow through information, site linking, and CTAs, and more.

These UX concerns are also great ways to test—and potentially start to differentiate—your brand’s website from others in the industry. Just because every one of your competitors’ websites looks a certain way doesn’t mean that your site must as well. Testing category names, navigation types, button placement, image sizes, headline fonts and sizes, and more can all help you improve your UX by finding ways to better inform, educate, and assist users.

These improved UX features will lead to improved engagement signals, which will thereby improve search engine rankings and organic search traffic!

Mobile, Local, and Voice Search Optimized

Other considerations when looking to optimize your website’s performance for search include looking into mobile, local, and voice search. These are often overlooked, particularly mobile. If your website isn’t getting a ton of mobile traffic, it might not merit it, but if more than 25-30% of your traffic is coming from mobile and/or tablets, you need to make sure you are mobile-search-friendly.

Local search can be challenging based on the decisions we discussed above, particularly whether or not your website has detailed dealership information.

As for voice search, the best way to prepare for this is to continue to lean into the natural language of your users as discussed above, really relying on the way they speak and the words they use to describe what you do. In search, as in any marketing venture when you want to connect with your customer, context can make all the difference. Though it is super-trendy now to have websites and web pages short on copy but big on bold statements, images, and space, these trends can be harmful for manufacturers who lack household names.

If you’re not a brand like Nike, Porsche, or Apple, the design aesthetics of “less is more” and “bold is better” can bite back when your users are left wondering just exactly what it is you do or sell, or what you want them to do on your website. Be clear and concise but provide all the context needed, in the words your users use, and you’ll be fine for mobile- and voice-based search.

AI & Machine Learning is Coming

A note on future technologies: you may have heard about machine learning and artificial intelligence. They are all the rage in certain circles and big name publications when talking about digital marketing. It’s important to know one big thing, though: they’re not here, not yet.

It’s true that Google is working on artificial intelligence. Their search algorithms are designed to be smart and learn as they go. But deriving the context of what to rank you for on your website is still the function of a largely-static algorithmic program that relies on content on your pages, links to your pages, user engagement signals, and other factors to control search engine results.

Make no mistake: the day when the search engine can read the words on the page and apply contextual thinking—such as reading a statement like “we believe in topic quality” as “[insert brand name] believes in top quality”—is coming, and it’s probably coming sooner than we think.

The best way to stay on top is to follow best practices, invest in SEO for both the short and long term, and publish genuine, fresh, effective content to provide context to users, educate the prospective buyer, and help customers solve real problems. Do this and you’ll be prepared for the AI takeover on search—after all, Google is not likely to move away from what they do with the search engine, and that is solving queries for users with good content.

The Little Stuff Makes a Big Difference

Even in 2018 and beyond, the little stuff is still bound to matter. It is true that Google doesn’t place a ton of positive value in things like meta titles and descriptions, missing pages (404s), and other basic webmaster functions. But, I am convinced they do place negative value on the absence or ignorance of these things.

Making sure everything is right—no 301 redirect loops, all content has unique meta titles and descriptions, clean URL structure, no duplicate content issues, Schema markup applied appropriately—can be tedious, but it’s also necessary to help provide context to both users and Google. You don’t need to over-analyze every detail, but you shouldn’t ignore them either.

Chances are, if an element of your website is represented in Google Search Console, Google Analytics, or the Webmaster Blog, you had better pay attention to it. These are the rainy day afternoon tasks that aren’t the sexiest, but they help you get the job done. They don’t require herculean effort, just a little bit of diligent TLC to keep things in order.

Engineered to Win

Just like your company takes care to manufacture an excellent product, so too must your search engine optimization efforts be crafted with care and intentionality. It takes diligence and practice to do SEO right in the best of circumstances, and adding in a complex sales model and products and services that are shared between dealers and the original manufacturer can make any efforts that much more nuanced and exacting.

Thankfully, the experts are here to help. If your business has organic traffic issues, or if you’re just looking to improve the performance of your website in general, give our experts a chance to share our expertise with SEO for OEMs and luxury manufacturers. We excel in the detail-oriented space of SEO, and have the brand names to back it up. Just look at what we’ve done for companies like BraunAbility and Boston Whaler—your brand could be next.

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Dustin Clark

As the Digital Marketing Director for Element Three, Dustin works with the Element Three digital marketing department to determine the best combination of data analysis, marketing technology, and storytelling for driving our clients’ bottom line. His background in journalism, digital communication, and ecommerce positions him as a unique voice in the cluttered digital marketing industry. When he’s not writing about the forefront of digital marketing, you can find him jamming with a guitar or at home with his wife and two children.