Companies across every industry are trying to enhance their online presence in order to boost brand awareness and drive sales. Ecommerce merchants have a particularly unique customer journey that requires a lot of digital maintenance. The automotive industry is no different. Car and auto parts consumers who are accustomed to e-commerce price transparency and shopping convenience are going online, so independent auto dealers should plan to bring their onsite search functionality up to par.

The automotive industry has a wealth of online products and some of the largest and most complex product catalogs and datasets — from the cars themselves to parts to service packages and upgrades. These large datasets make it very difficult for onsite search engines to return the most accurate and relevant results, which can negatively impact user experience, and ultimately a dealer’s bottom line. That’s why having a strong on-site search platform, among other factors, is one of the most important tools in a dealer’s tool belt to simplify a shoppers’ buying experience.

onlineIn most instances, online consumers have a general idea of what they want to buy, and about 43% of those customers will rely on an on-site search bar to find exactly what they’re looking for, according to Forrester Research. A good on-site search engine eliminates the need to sift through pages upon pages of irrelevant car listings or even having to visit multiple dealerships to find exactly what they want.

Online retail giants like Amazon, eBay, and Target have phenomenal on-site search engines. But those, quite frankly, are the exceptions. Why? Building and maintaining an on-site search engine to this lofty standard can be very difficult to achieve. These behemoths have thousands of data scientists and search engineers to manage the complexity of on-site search. Additionally, many major online retailers utilize a search platform that operates off a rules-based model with extensive search teams that are constantly updating and writing rules. This simply is not an option for most independent and mid-sized dealers.

Thankfully, there are simple steps small to mid-sized online automotive dealers can take to amplify their site which can convert to sales.

Consider Complexities

SEOs, for the most part, do not think like people. Instead, they use algorithms and query processing technologies to deliver results based on keywords. To improve performance, companies can use tagging, keywords, and other metadata to deliver the most accurate results.

Related: How to improve your car dealership’s online retailing strategy – Lissette Gole, Head of Auto Retail at Google

Organize Listings

Automotive dealers should keep their online stores very organized. Product listings should be SEO-friendly, relevant to the user, and feature clean copy. Products must also be properly tagged and grouped so they appear with corresponding search queries.

Account for User Error

User error and misspellings are unavoidable, so it is also important for any retailer to have the technology in place to correct these inevitable search errors. Autocomplete, “did you mean” pages and a clean and clear results page are a few of the many factors that are going to give always-on-the-go consumers accurate search results.

Personalize at Every Turn

Accelerate ahead of your customers with personalization. Automotive companies that have stored information on their clients’ make, year, and model, can suggest search results or product and parts content before a user even performs a search. For example, if you know a car is coming up to a 50,000-mile mark, you could suggest new tires, windshield wipers, or other products for that specific vehicle. Similarly, search results could be ranked based on personalized recommendations.

Invest in AI

For independent dealers looking to gain an edge in SEO, there’s a solution — artificial intelligence (AI) — which is rapidly changing the game. AI-powered search engines are not some futuristic technology either, they’re already here today for automotive retailers, and other e-commerce platforms alike, to take advantage of. These search engines can cut through the complexities of on-site search using a data-driven approach to optimizing results. 

AI can assist in a few different areas including relevance and ranking. For years, search companies have been working on vector-based search, which encodes the meaning of words into very small files. With vectors, automotive companies won’t need to worry about misspellings or synonyms to deliver incredibly relevant results.

But even if a result is relevant, how does a search engine know where to rank it? This is where a technology called reinforcement learning comes into play. Reinforcement learning uses buyer signals, clicks, add-to-cart, purchases, etc., can automatically rank search results and push better results to the top.

Cox Automotive found that the average consumer looking to buy a car spends over 14 hours researching their options. Ultimately, if they can’t find what they are looking for on your website, they’ll simply move on to a major competitor. A powerful onsite search functionality has the power to give independent, small, or midsize auto dealers a leg up on the competition, regardless of size or inventory.

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