When you sell auto parts online, you pride yourself on having exactly what your customers need. If a prospect is looking for an obscure or hard-to-find part, you have it. And that makes it doubly frustrating when your target customers can’t find you.
Fortunately, automotive ecommerce sites have a number of factors working in their favor when it comes to SEO. You just need to know how to harness them.
How Is SEO Different for Automotive Retailers?
SEO strategies aren’t one-size-fits-all. The tactics that are perfectly suited to a consumer-friendly apparel site might fall flat for an auto parts website, while the ones that fit automotive websites like a glove aren’t ideal in highly saturated markets. The thing that sets your industry apart is the specificity of the products you sell and the specificity with which people search for your products.
In the world of consumer-friendly merchandise, we do sometimes see searches from people who are married to a brand. However, the search volume is typically higher for product searches that aren’t brand-specific. For example, someone looking for men’s summer shirts might Google “casual men’s shirts,” “casual men’s button-ups,” or “men’s graphic t shirts,” but they wouldn’t get more specific than that if they didn’t actually know what they want. Many shoppers just want to land in a place where they can browse.
Contrast that with a customer who needs new LED headlights for their 1997 Jeep Wrangler. Or a new key fob for their 2015 Volkswagen Jetta. They don’t exactly have a buffet of options to choose from, so they’re not trying to browse; they already know exactly what they need.
From an SEO standpoint, this shopping behavior is both a blessing and a curse. Let’s get the bad parts out of the way first:
Automotive SEO – The Cons
- Automotive websites are less likely to capture the interest of “window shoppers”
- The search volume for your products is likely much lower than the search volume for consumer-friendly products, especially taking the more general-interest searches into account
- Depending on what you sell, upsell and cross-sell opportunities may be limited. You wouldn’t be able to sell Volkswagen key fobs to someone who just bought Jeep headlights.
Don’t worry, though. There’s a major upside.
Automotive SEO – The Pros
- Your highly-specific keywords are lower competition than other keywords, thus easier to rank for
- Your search audience is high-intent and ready to convert. Compare the searcher who needs a replacement VW key fob to the one who might buy a t-shirt if they see one they like.
- Your large product catalog means you can pull in traffic using a wide net of individual low-volume, low-competition keywords. The diversity of this net keeps you safe. If you stop seeing traffic for a particular keyword, it’s unlikely to impact your revenue unless all of your keywords slip at once (which would indicate a bigger problem).
The Other Side of Search Behavior
Does everyone make highly-specific searches to find what they need on an auto parts website? Not necessarily. Your more laser-focused or knowledgeable customers might, but other people will make slightly more generic searches until they find what they’re looking for. Then there are the auto enthusiasts who don’t need replacement parts; they just want cool stuff for their ride. These broader exploratory or general-interest searches require a different approach, and successful SEO strategies target both.
Product Page Optimization for Auto Parts Sites
If you sell thousands of highly-specific products, keyword research isn’t the hard part of your product optimization process (but still very much worth the time). Instead, your challenges are technical and organizational. Let’s tackle one at a time.
The ol’ “one page at a time” optimization strategy can be pretty hard to follow if you have thousands of product pages. Read up on SEO for large product catalogs to get yourself rooted in some overarching strategies, then do this:
Prioritize Your Updates
Roughly speaking, there are two categories to sort product pages into: pages that warrant extra attention, and everything else (Name these categories Priority 1 and Priority 2, because “pages that warrant extra attention” is a mouthful).
There’s no need to overthink whether a page is Priority 1 or not. Prioritize your best-selling products, additional products you want to focus on, and pages that are pulling in a lot of traffic. Head to Search Console and view your top queries and their average positions. For any queries ranking at the bottom of page one (positions 6-10) or anywhere on page two (position 11-20), add the corresponding page to your high-priority list. Finally, mark additional pages as priorities if they fall in an important place in the site architecture, like one click away from the home page.
Everything that isn’t a high-priority page belongs in the Priority 2 category, which will naturally dwarf your Priority 1 list in size. Optimize your Priority 1 pages on a standard page optimization timeline: move as quickly as possible, but give yourself as much time as you need to give each page the attention it’s due. Perform your keyword research, on-page optimization, content updates, and conversion tweaks for these pages carefully and methodically.
Automate Your Updates
For your Priority 2 pages, automate the optimization process through the beauty of mass meta tag updates. At a minimum, start by making sure your ecommerce platform automatically populates title tags with the product name.
Open up Excel or Google sheets so you can tweak this basic structure and add unique product descriptions. Use a tool like Screaming Frog to import each product URL and its respective title tag/meta description into your spreadsheet.
Then write several different sentences that you can mix and match: product descriptions, benefits, category-specific features, and calls to action. Write each sentence as a stand-alone instead of making it depend on another sentence for meaning. For example, “Orders over $35 ship for free!” is a stand-alone sentence because it can cap off virtually any product description.
It’s also helpful to identify and section off your sentences by whether they belong at the beginning, middle or end of the meta description. For example, in most cases you wouldn’t want to sandwich a sentence starting with “Shop our…” into the middle of your meta description, but it would make a great first sentence. Calls to action, on the other hand, are excellent punctuation marks; those can go last.
Once you’re done, move by category and use the programmatic method of your choice (we like concatenate) to blend your sentences into unique meta descriptions. With a little legwork up front, you can knock out hundreds of unique meta descriptions this way. Just make sure to give them a final read-through at the end to ensure they make sense.
Chances are, you’re pulling products from a manufacturer and using their boilerplate product description. And if you’re writing unique ones, they might not be unique for very similar products. That’s why duplicate content is one of the biggest threats for sites with large product catalogs.
Focus on rewriting manufacturer descriptions first, then tackle the duplicate content across very similar products. There are a couple of ways to attack the latter project:
- Understanding how your audience searches can save you a lot of time. If you have a unique page for every possible size of wingnut, are you sure your audience searches for wingnuts by size? Or color? Or part number? If they do, it makes sense to have an individual product page indexed, optimized and ready to greet them.
If your customers are searching for the make and model of their vehicle but they don’t dig for the specifics until they land on a website, it’s a waste of bandwidth to let individual part sizes rank. (By the way, swap “part size” for whatever specifics apply to your products). Instead, canonicalize to the parent product using canonical tags, which tell Google about the relationship between the pages and encourage them to prioritize the parent page.
Pair this with the UX features that will make drilling into specifics as easy as possible once the customer gets to the parent product. Drop-down menus and faceted search are two popular options.
- Group the remaining products by category and use a similar Excel process as before to mix and match sentences that say the same thing in different ways. Working by category can help you make sure all of the priority features are mentioned for each product, and it keeps the descriptions fresh and as product-specific as possible.
From fancy UX features to a glut of pages that pull bandwidth, sites with large catalogs are at a high risk for site speed issues. Fortunately, these are easy to identify (even if they’re not always easy to fix) using Page Speed Insights or GTmetrix. Work with a developer to implement the technical recommendations. On your own, you can make huge waves just working through some of the non-technical recommendations you’re likely to encounter, including:
- Compress and reupload your images
- Use a CDN
- If you use plugins, read the reviews and/or test each plugin individually to make sure it doesn’t weigh down your site. Additionally, read up on site speed optimization plugins you can add to make your job a little easier.
Keep an eye on Search Console to make sure you have a consistent or increasing number of indexed pages. While there’s no reason to anticipate a sudden drop, should one occur it’s a sign of a problem that needs immediate diagnosis. Keep an eye out for errors, too. You can also pay for crawling tools like the one included in Moz Pro, which is an easy, “Set it and forget it” way to monitor the organic health of your website. These tools will send you automated reports and alert you immediately if they detect an issue.
Content Strategy for the Automotive Industry
Once your on-site optimization is complete, a robust content strategy will:
- Help you produce linkable assets, which you can use to springboard your linkbuilding campaign
- Target an ever-wider collection of searches, ranging from casual interests to pain points and detailed how-tos, from your target audience
- Target top-funnel customers in the Awareness or Discovery phase, compared to the purchase-driven, low-funnel searches people make to find your products (the Decision or Purchase phase). The Awareness phase is where your new customers and prospects are, this is a critical phase to target.
- Establish your brand’s thought leadership, expertise, helpfulness, and enthusiasm for your community
- Show off your brand’s personality and values
- Build an ongoing, consistent relationship with your customers and cement long-term loyalty
Sounds pretty great, right? There’s just one problem: the Venn Diagram of overlap between content strategists and auto industry experts is very small. In other words, it’s hard to find someone who’s adept in writing and content strategy (and often social media) and also understands your industry to the depth that creates useful content.
Fortunately, it’s not impossible. First of all, most writers are really good at performing research and digesting information quickly, often connecting it to a topic they know to come up with a useful (and correct) takeaway. Further, most professional writers have a few “focus” areas of expertise — tech, sports, cars, medicine, entrepreneurship, consumer-friendly goods, etc — so you can find the writer most likely to knock the subject matter out of the park.
Our favorite solution is to pair up content strategists with in-house experts. The expert can help the strategist hone topic ideas, check their work for accuracy and depth, and can even outline or bullet out information the writer/strategist should include. The strategist will then funnel this information through keyword research and audience targeting to choose a strategically sound direction, then they can wordsmith the information until it’s irresistibly readable. If you’re the one performing the content strategy, the same rules apply: find a way to fill in whatever information gaps stand in your way.
So what should you write about? Well, rephrase the question first: what does your audience want to know? Track down your community on Reddit or in Facebook groups and watch the questions people ask. Within just a couple weeks of lurking or actively interacting in these groups, you should be able to spot patterns and identify repeat questions. Make an ongoing list of these, then under each one jot down some content ideas and resources that can meet that need or a similar one. Quora, Google’s autosuggest, and your own support team are also great ways to mine common questions.
You don’t have to stop at questions, though. The same groups will help you understand what else is on your audience’s mind, from overlapping interests to the general response to a piece of industry news. As an active member of this community, it’s appropriate for your content to touch on the same subjects — just tie them to your brand’s area of expertise.
Consider the Format
Prior to writing every piece of content, consider the format that would be most useful for the people wanting that information. If it’s a how-to, would the content be more easily accessible as a guide, a blog post, or a tutorial video — or all three? Rather than churning out rote 300-word blog posts, allow each piece to adapt to the length and format that would make it most useful.
If you’re not sure, Google the post’s target keywords. Actually, even if you are sure, do this anyway. The top results for a given query are your models for what satisfies the people who make that query. Note the length, format, and subjects covered. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here; if you see something working, don’t assume you can beat your SERP competitors by taking your page in a completely different direction. Just aim to be better than what’s currently ranking: more helpful, more image-rich, more personality-driven, etc.
Above all, remember to have fun! Your audience will be able to tell, and personality gives you an instant edge in any industry rife with technical information. Between your on-site SEO strategy and your winning content, your revenue engine will be humming like a Corvette in no time.