Auto dealers are well-versed in the “out with the old, in with the new” adage, especially when it comes to maintaining a sleek inventory. Unfortunately, there is one area in which dealers everywhere are chronically and tragically lacking: intent-based search optimization.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process by which we draw more customers to our stores by ensuring we appear at the top of search engine results. For example, if you Google “Honda Fayetteville NC,” you will find that my employer, Bryan Honda, is the first result on the first page — and we didn’t get there by relying on strategies that were cutting-edge in 2010.

Intent-based search optimization represents a seismic shift in digital marketing. Rather than focus on what users are searching for, we have begun to ask why they are searching. Regardless of your readiness and willingness to adapt, SEO is evolving, and dealers who ignore this fact do so at their peril.

To be successful in a changing digital environment, you must learn to leverage the latest SEO trends to get found and stay ranked. This is the key to the kingdom! Whether you use an in-house marketing team or an outside agency, you must be sure your experts are no longer relying on outdated strategies such as maximizing SEO through links and keywords. While it’s true that great keywords can help build strong inbound marketing strategies, your focus should be on user intent.

The bad news is that, while intent-based search optimization is understood by most marketers and SEO professionals, for some reason, it isn’t a commonly leveraged tool in the dealership space. The good news is that focusing on intent now can help you lay a critical foundation that will help you steal clicks, leads and sales from less aggressive competitors.

How? By giving yourself the opportunity to learn exactly what your prospects and customers want and need. With intent-based search optimization on your side, you can become a trusted authority by offering carefully crafted content that informs and stimulates your digital visitors. It’s not a new concept! User intent has always been a reliable marketing tool. It’s just a matter of rolling it into your campaigns.

Start by thinking like a customer: What high-value, long-tail terms and keywords are you likely to enter, and what do you hope the results of your search reveal? For example, “cheap cars in Fayetteville NC” shows user intent as well as location. That gives us the opportunity to create more effective landing pages and deliver useful content to prospects — all while working our way up the search results ladder. The key is to create compelling content that isn’t about sales. Instead, the copy must be about the reader.

Perhaps the most important factor behind intent-based search optimization is that it promotes a healthier overall content strategy. Dealers who utilize this tool inevitably find themselves creating enhanced content that really meets the needs of their customers and prospects. You will also be more in tune with your audience’s needs, interests and problems, thereby offering tailored content that is effective and engaging.

Intent-based search optimization isn’t an overly technical strategy, but it does require some work. You and your team must be willing to take the time to conduct the research needed to “be the customer.” The extra hours are worth it! Dealers who have kept pace with the evolution of SEO are reaping the fruits of their labor via leads and conversions right now. Are you among them?

Rico Glover is chief digital officer at Bryan Honda in Fayettville, N.C., and a nationally recognized expert in dealership digital marketing. Contact him at [email protected].