Will Increasing A Car's Search Engine Optimization Make It Sell Better?

Illustration for article titled Will Increasing A Car's Search Engine Optimization Make It Sell Better?
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We all know General Motors needs to do something about the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, and it's vowed there's some kind of fix to make the midsize sedan remotely competitive among increasingly talented rivals. So while a hurry-up-and-fix-things refresh (in the style of the 2013 Honda Civic) is underway, the marketing department at Chevy is cutting prices too, but it's not just to entice people who walk onto the dealership lot.

GM marketing guy Russ Clark told Bloomberg News yesterday that it's going to shave a few hundred dollars off of the MSRP of the Malibu "in order to try to generate more potential traffic on the car both on the websites as well as dealers."


"It depends on the sites," he said. "Some of them, that's all the customer sees is the starting at price before they get into too much detail. So we wanted to make sure we were in there."

This is about as close to SEO for cars as you can get. True, many of those car buying sites not only distinguish cars by category (compacts, midsize, wagons, etc.) or make, but also by price range. GM's strategy will bring the Malibu in line with the Toyota Camry in terms of pricing, meaning that if you're looking at midsize sedans between $22,000 and $23,000, the Malibu will now show up alongside the Camry, unlike before. Never mind which one has more features or anything like that.

I feel like this is gaming the system for no reason. You don't think people cross-shopping midsize sedans weren't already thinking of the Malibu if they were considering a Camry? Trying to make a car pop up more in searches strikes me as a last-dtich effort to move a flagging model before a big change. What's next, the Chevy Malibu Camry LE Edition? The Malibu VTEC? I'm sure at this point, Dodge is considering a Dart Civic Corolla Focus Cruze Value Package variant.

Is SEO something marketers need to think about when pricing, spec-ing out, or even naming a car these days? Or do you Jalops just go looking for whichever offers a manual or a turbo?

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Patrick Frawley

GM is doing exactly the right thing given modern car-shopping trends.

By tuning the price to show up directly against the Camry in searches, they specifically create a level comparison - and, more importantly, draw attention to the Malibu when that first search is made with the Camry as the benchmark. It presents the Malibu as a legitimate competitor and likely provokes a follow-through investigation where one would not have existed before. Not everyone who does this will buy a Malibu, of course, but it definitely induces a contest where one did not exist as clearly in online comparisons before - which is a huge step forward for Chevy.

It's similar to what VW did with its most recent Jetta: In real life it may be a step back from the prior model in terms of feel and sophistication, but it was designed to show up so well in an online numerical comparison (interior room, luggage space, etc.) against its competitors that it becomes much more "competitive" even if it's not as "good".

No, it's not the way we (read: gearheads) would consider a family sedan, but this isn't about us. It's about mainstream purchasers who see cars as necessary if sometimes alienating in their complexity and want a way to compare different models as simply as possible. Yes, it's the most superficial and low-information of shopping approaches, but it's also becoming increasingly common for modern buyers. If that's the way the game is being played, why not play it to a better advantage?