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Effective Dealer SEO Strategy Requires Keywords Focused on Car Buyer Intent

Keyword research has long been heralded by marketing experts such as J.D. Rucker, Brian Pasch, Ralph Paglia and Sean Bradley as a pillar of a proper Automotive SEO strategy.


In fact, without proper keyword research, a car dealership's inbound marketing efforts can be misguided, budgets misspent, and strategies designed on a poor foundation. While any SEO professional worth their title knows how to conduct keyword research specific to a particular car dealer and relevant franchises, many marketers tackling SEO still fail to consider a core component of keyword research: user intent.


'User intent' is a concept that’s known to most SEO professionals, but unfortunately, used by too few. I say unfortunately, because it’s the key to improving the very foundation of SEO campaigns, while driving content strategies that yield better conversion rates, clicks, leads, and sales.

User Intent: The Art of Detecting and Fulfilling a Need

In the commercial space, user intent has enormous value. But since it’s not immediately tangible in cyberspace, many SEOs don’t bother with it. However, user intent is one of the most important metrics that should inform the direction of your content strategy.

If you think about it, at the heart of every search on Google, there’s some kind of intention. A user wants answers, resources, information, reviews of a product, and much more. Content that is crafted to meet this expectation will connect with the user immediately. Content that makes only a passing reference to what the user is looking for, on the other hand, is much less likely to connect.

Understanding and measuring user intent is not just a way to increase conversions, trust, or click-throughs; it’s also a consideration you need to make to get better at SEO and provide more value to your visitors. As is often the case with things like this, in the long run, it also helps to establish your brand as a trustworthy and reliable source of content your audience can rely on.

In this post, let's discuss several reasons why user intent is so valuable for SEO, and talk about the ways you can start evaluating user intent to inform your keyword research and content strategy.

1) User Intent Tells You What Users Are Looking For

When you begin to focus on user intent, you’re going to be looking at live examples of searches that people type into search engines like Google every day. This isn't just an indication of which keywords are being used; it's also about how they’re tied to questions or queries in Google.

For example, “cars with iPhone connectivity and over 30 MPG” and “iPhone accessory reviews” are two popular keywords. But “iPhone accessory reviews” only tells you that users are looking for reviews of any iPhone accessory. It isn’t particularly clear what type of a case the user is looking for. Generic content will be sufficient here, without too much focus on a particular type of case.

On the other hand, “cars with iPhone connectivity and over 30 MPG” is much more specific: you instantly know what the user’s intention is. He or she is looking for cars that are equipped to connect with the driver's iPhone (obviously) that also happen to get over 30 MPG on their EPA rating. Knowing this, you might want to create content designed around iPhone connectivity and the model lines your dealership sells which have it, along with their other features, such as EPA ratings for Miles Per Gallon.

When evaluating either car buyer or service related automotive consumer intent, look beyond popular search terms, and start looking more directly at what people are searching for. There are a number of ways to do this, but I recommend using a tool like the Keywords tool in the HubSpot software, or Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool.

It’s also important to note here that your dealership's published content should be aligned with your franchises, regional location factors, and ultimately, the inventory and service department offerings your store actually sells. So, if your dealership does very well selling accessories for pickup trucks, you probably shouldn't be creating content about iPhone connectivity with the smallest sub-compact models that you do not sell, no matter how high the search volume for that term is. This is misleading, confusing, and it can damage your dealership's brand image. 

One of the best ways to learn about user intent as it relates to your dealership's particular audience -- and the people who are actually visiting your site -- is to look at your own marketing analytics. Using a keyword analytics tool like HubSpot's, or Google Analytics, pull up, sort, rank and investigate which keywords are being used by automotive consumers to find your dealership's website. Then, scan through each one, search for elements of user intent. In doing so, you’ll learn about what your particular audience is looking for, and identify opportunities to create and deliver the types of content and resources they really want and need.

You can also use your dealership's website visitor metrics reporting to see if people are actually finding the resources they need once they arrive at your site. To do so, compare your organic search traffic keywords with the search terms people are using in your website’s own internal search tool. Do the search queries match up, or is there a discrepancy? Compare this data to identify information your audience is looking for but might not be readily available on your dealership's site. Understanding user intent begins with analyzing your data to see what your users are actually searching for -- both on and off your website.

2) Automotive User Intent Supplies Unique Keyword Suggestions

When conducting keyword research, many SEO professionals providing services to car dealers  fail to capture high-value long-tail keywords with strong user intent. Why? Because when we’re guided by “keyword popularity,” we limit and reduce our ability to look beyond the shiny “search volume” count. When you shift your focus to “user intent,” you capture what users are actually inputting in the search field, and that means you’re thinking more like an automotive consumer instead of like an SEO would think.

For instance, it's no challenge to figure out that “how to get rid of coolant leaks” is a very popular keyword. It’s got great search volume (33,100 local exact/month), and that’s where the average SEO professional ends their search for target keywords.

But what about the user who wants to figure out how to get of coolant leaks in their vehicle without any help from a dealership's service department? Or by using a non-hazardous material product? Or without having to purchase any new products at all? This user might search for “how to get rid of coolant leaks without purchasing anything.” How’s that for user intent? Your article could even have that exact title and would probably yield a very high conversion rate, especially if you provide valuable, actionable advice that fits these parameters.

3) User Intent Highlights Clearer Demographics

In the world of mobile and local search, it’s often lucrative to cater to a particular demographic. Location-based keywords are clear indications of what the user seeks.

For instance, “cheap used cars in dallas” is a dead giveaway of user intent that is tagged with a location. This type of information makes it easy for you to design content, product positioning, marketing, and PR that’s aligned with this particular demographic information.

4) User Intent Helps You Craft Better dealership campaign Landing Pages and Increase Visitor to Lead Conversions

Optimizing landing pages with today’s SEO best practices in mind is a difficult, detail-oriented procedure that eats up a lot of time and resources. And the most important element of optimizing landing pages is conversion rate optimization.

When it comes to conversion rate optimization, there are plenty of variables that can be tested and optimized over time, but understanding user intent is also an extremely useful way to make your landing pages work harder for you. In other words, if you understand what the user wants, you can design your landing page to accommodate these very needs.

For example, think back to our example of the user who searched for “how to get rid of coolant leaks without purchasing a product.” Let's say you're a service manager, and you pulled together an ebook about various tricks and tactics for getting rid of coolant leaks using things you already have lying around your house. The keyword-minded SEO professional would simply include that keyword phrase somewhere in the landing page copy and call it a day. But the user intent-focused SEO professional would craft copy that specifically highlights the fact that these tips require no purchase of a specific product. This could be done through page elements like bullet points, bolded text, a focused headline, or a relevant image.

5) User Intent Generates Better Overall Content Strategies

Content relevance, quality, and freshness have always been important for a successful SEO strategy. But if there’s one thing that matters above all else in an effective inbound marketing strategy, it’s creating content that appeals to the specific needs, interests, and problems of the audience(s) your dealership is targeting. So when crafting your content strategy, start by figuring out what your target market is looking for. What are the long-tail keywords they are searching for, and what information can you glean from this? How can you craft your content strategy as a result of this information? Leverage what you know about user intent to strengthen your buyer personas so you can create content that is even more appealing to your target audience. 

Creating an effective content strategy isn’t especially hard; it’s just that there’s a lot of work involved. But content strategies based on user intent are much easier to create and implement because the focus becomes sharper and a need is identified -- and thus, able to be fulfilled.

User Intent Emphasizes the Shift Toward User Experience Over SEO Focused on SERP Ranking 

While the concept of user intent is nothing new, it's starting to gain traction as a key focus metric for SEO professionals. With the rollout of Google’s algorithm updates like Panda and Penguin, SEOs are starting to understand the importance of optimizing for the user experience rather than focusing solely on search engines.

Remember: Understanding user intent involves truly getting into the minds of the searcher to understand what their needs are, and developing a content strategy that fulfills those needs. And by fulfilling these needs, an increase in click-through rates, traffic, conversion rates, leads, and sales is sure to follow.

Are you implementing user intent research into your keyword and content strategy? If so, have you seen positive results? Let us know in the comments!

Written for the Hubspot blog by Jayson DeMers

The above article was edited for the auto industry and revised from a guest post written by Jayson DeMers. Jason is the founder and CEO of AudienceBloom, a Seattle-based SEO agency, as well as, a lyrics-humor website. You can contact him on LinkedInGoogle+, or Twitter

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Tags: Car Buyer, Dealer, Effective, Focused, Intent, Keywords, Requires, SEO, Strategy


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Comment by Thomas Reidy on April 15, 2013 at 9:55am

Thanks, Jim for the insight--you know your market!

Comment by Jim Canto on April 15, 2013 at 8:27am

Thomas, in reply to your question:

Why would a dealer go after a long-tailed key word like "“how to get rid of coolant leaks without purchasing a product?” Doesn't that attract the wrong kind of crowd?

...I'd like to add just a bit to help you see it even more clearly.

"Doesn't that attract the wrong kind of crowd?" is a perfect question to ask. The answer speaks to knowing the demographic that the dealership you're working for serves. As an example; The store I work at serves those with less than perfect credit. In general terms, our clients often are in more desperate situations and would, in fact, be looking to "get rid of coolant leaks without purchasing a product." Our store is proficient at converting these folks into closed deals. Often, this shopper may not even realize they have a chance at buying a reliable vehicle on credit. As they say in Vegas; "We'll take that action."

Conversely, the BMW store down the street would convert that particular shopper at a much lower conversion rate. So, again I say; "Your question is on the money" ... as long as you understand why you asked it.

When you're researching key words, "Walk a mile in their shoes." Then you'll begin to truly understand your specific shoppers intent.

Comment by Alexander Lau on April 15, 2013 at 6:43am

I'm confused, which part of this article was edited for the automotive retail world versus what DeMers wrote or was automotive inserted in substitute for another market? It's a good article, just wondering. 

As with most SEO posts on this board, I've commented on the same tactics that are being explained above. Yes, going after Keywords based upon Search Volume alone is a bad concept. It goes without saying (even though presumptions are the mother of all crack-ups, especially when dealing with humans) a strategy is absolutely needed. An understanding of your target audience / demographic behavior is an absolute must. Failing to comprehend keyword conversion performance will drastically hurt your website's chance of being properly optimized and in future conversion performance. In other words:

Reporting on improvements in keyword position is pointless without applying keyword visits and conversion data

The better tools we have to understanding which keywords truly convert, the better off we are with producing content for conversion processes.

SEO Evolution: Sell, Discover, Deliver & Report on Highly Conve... = "Google’s algorithm updates have changed the practice of SEO. Search marketing firms have an opportunity to evolve their sales, delivery and reporting practices to differentiate themselves. Focusing on the discovery of highly converting keywords beginning with the sales and marketing conversations through delivery and reporting will produce stronger SEO results over the long term and happier SEO clients."

Additionally, you or your 3rd party "SEO" Company should be using an SEO / Content Marketing CRM or the like from groups like gShift (shown below) or SEOMoz. As you can see below, tools like this measure the effectiveness of Keywords (popularity / search volume, ranking and your conversions (based upon goals and conversion set-up - can be imported in from Google Analytics, if need be), On-Site Page and Off-Site Page analysis, Social Signals, Backlinks (they absolutely still matter) and how your Competition compares according to the aforementioned, especially conversions for the same keywords.


Comment by Thomas Reidy on April 14, 2013 at 5:00am

Thank you for the clarification; Ralph you put out great stuff!

Comment by Ralph Paglia on April 13, 2013 at 6:07pm
Thomas, I inserted an exaggerated example to illustrate the point... A better example might be; "Black Cherry Ford Mustang GT coupe with upgraded wheels and tires....

Comment by Thomas Reidy on April 13, 2013 at 4:31am

Thinking in the mind of the customer, rather than in the mind of the seller--excellent article! But I'm a little confused: Why would a dealer go after a long-tailed key word like "“how to get rid of coolant leaks without purchasing a product?” Doesn't that attract the wrong kind of crowd?

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