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Pass, Play, Own: Which Automotive Keywords Should You Use?

pass play own automotive keywords

Keywords show search engines what products and services your dealership offers. Automotive keywords can be implemented and optimized throughout your website in places such as body text, image alt text, URLs, page titles, and page headings.

But you can’t successfully target every automotive keyword under the sun. You need to decide which keywords are most important to your team.

Just like your dealership, your website needs to stay focused. Start by taking ownership of the most important and most unique terms. Next, identify secondary keywords that you want to play but don’t need to dominate. Then pass on the keywords that are too competitive or that someone else is covering for you.

We call this the “pass, play, own” strategy.

Let’s use a fictitious Chevrolet dealership as an example. Here are keywords we would typically recommend (and recommend against) for a Chevy dealership in Indianapolis.


Forget about using broad keywords, competitor dealership keywords, and in some cases service keywords.

Using competitor dealership keywords is rarely worthwhile. Your competitors will always rank higher for their specific dealership name, and that’s perfectly fine. Focus on your dealership’s keywords before trying to add someone else’s.

Typically, service keywords are very competitive and aren’t a major focus for dealerships anyway. If service is a primary marketing effort for your store, focus on local service terms (i.e. “oil change specials in Indianapolis”).

Automotive keywords to pass on:

  • “Chevy Impala”
  • “Nelson Ford of Indianapolis”
  • “Oil change”


Used inventory typically “sells itself,” but it’s still worth optimizing — especially for certified inventory, which is usually supported by Co-op funds.

If you feel there is opportunity, consider playing with keywords around competitive makes and models as well.

Automotive keywords to play:

  • “Used Chevy Impala near me”
  • “Certified Chevy car for sale”
  • “2016 Ford Taurus Indianapolis IN”


First and foremost, own your own name. No one else should be showing up as the top organic result for your dealership name.

In addition, focus your keywords on your new models, using as many long-tail modifications as possible (including location and trim levels).

Automotive keywords to own:

  • “Kohles Chevrolet of Indianapolis”
  • “2016 Chevy Impala LTZ”
  • “Chevy dealership Indianapolis IN”

Boost Your Keyword Strategy

This “pass, play, own” strategy will look different for every brand and every dealership. You need to be aware of what keywords each tier of your brand is using so that you can effectively target the best keywords for your specific dealership.

Typically, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) take care of the broad automotive keywords in order to catch basic search queries. This allows your dealership to focus on more local, long-tail keywords.

Learn more about how to optimize your keywords by reading our post “Local SEO vs. Organic SEO for Auto Dealerships.”

Banner image: Giovanni Arteaga