How online tyre companies are racing up and down the SERPs
According to the RAC, there are around 30 million motorists in the UK. For each of those drivers, high quality tyres play a key role in ensuring a safe and comfortable ride. Our team of organic search experts review the industry-leaders’ SEO performance…
However, motorists no longer need to rely on their local garage to source replacement tyres – they can now snap up the best deal online and arrange a convenient time and place to have them fitted. It’s quicker, easier and gives the customer more control.
Click Consult reviews the search strategies of three of the market leaders – Blackcircles.com, Tyresonthedrive.com and e-tyres.co.uk – to see who’s winning the war of the online tyre retailers and how they’ve gained traction.
Blackcircles.com – burning rubber
Potentially the most recognisable brand name within this industry, Blackcircles.com uses strong traditional marketing methods alongside online activities.
The company received one of the highest Net Promoter Scores (NPS) of 2014, best-of-class against its industry peers and ahead of Amazon, Apple, Mercedes-Benz and Aldi. The score is based on customers’ likelihood to recommend a brand to others and is viewed as a leading customer experience metric.
Strong inbound links
Blackcircles.com has by far the strongest and most natural linking profile, with far more links to its domain than there are for the two other key players. In fact, Blackcircles.com has 2,179 links from 1,150 domains compared with 10,991 links from 776 domains for e-tyres.com and 5,572 links from 74 domains with Tyresonthedrive.com.
Data from Google Trends shows that search activity for the brand significantly increased at the start of 2006. And, according to Majestic’s cumulative backlink history charts, Blackcircles.com really began to build up a lead over its competitors in mid-2009. This is a lead they have never really relinquished as the profile of the brand has grown considerably.
Focus on PR
In mid-2008, The Times ran an article reporting that Blackcircles.com’s half-year turnover had increased by 30% and visitor levels had increased by 55%. Founder and MD Mike Welch put this improved performance down to the credit crunch, as motorists sought to cut down running costs. The interview was the first significant piece of PR activity noted by Google Trends and suggests that the company had started to focus on digital PR as a means of generating links.
This PR activity goes some way towards explaining the significant increase in inbound links at this point. Crucially, these links were generated naturally, which lowered the risk of Blackcircles.com’s linking profile in the eyes of Link Detox, with only 23% of their links considered to be on the higher end of the risk metrics.
Blackcircles.com continued this strategy in 2012, when the company launched its first TV ad starring legendary Formula One commentator Murray Walker – a celebrity held in high esteem by motoring bloggers and journalists was sure to result in the generation of links naturally.
Blackcircles.com’s brand reputation as the industry leader is further cemented by their on-page SEO performance with key technical factors taken care of and the site free from any major afflictions.
The only potential cause for concern is the content, which is generally quite thin on core landing pages and displayed below the fold, which is from an SEO perspective. This is due to search engines placing greater emphasis on assets which are surfaced higher up on landing pages.
In addition, the content on core landing pages such as the homepage is quite heavily duplicated externally on spammy blogs and websites. This is not unusual for a high profile brand, but can still have a detrimental impact on organic visibility and warrants regular content refreshes. After all, the Google Panda algorithm welcomes fresh content and Google takes a negative view of anyone whose content is shared with other websites.
Blackcircles.com’s content appears to have caused them difficulties in the past with Search Metrics showing a significant drop in organic visibility in January 2013 as a result of the 24th Panda update (which was launched to assess the quality of website content and demote websites who were deemed to have low quality and/or duplicate copy). The site did not recover from this until July of that year when a softer version of Panda was rolled out. This was perhaps behind their decision to refresh the look and feel of their website at the tail end of 2013. However, the lack of quality on-page copy and the heavy duplication externally means they are not yet safe from Panda.
Challenger 1: Tyresonthedrive.com
The first challenger we will examine is Tyresonthedrive.com.
With high quality on-page content, this brand offers a better on-site experience to its users than Blackcircles.com. On Tyresonthedrive.com, the content is presented above the fold or close to the top of the page, which is likely to have a positive influence on Google’s ranking decisions. However, this was not always the case, as the site was hit by a Panda penalty in January 2013 and this resulted in a loss of organic search visibility.
On the 24th January 2013, the same 24th iteration of the Panda algorithm that affected Blackcircles.com, also affected Tyresonthedrive.com.
Although the overall impact on Tyresonthedrive.com was comparatively less, the penalty prompted a major effort to improve the brand’s on-page performance. Subsequently, Tyresonthedrive.com launched updated pages in December 2013.
Penguin 2.0 considers the quality of a website’s linking profile. Sites that are reliant upon paid links or irrelevant spammy links for their search visibility will suffer ranking drops or Google penalties in the future. This results in a loss of visibility or, in some cases, complete removal from Google’s search engine results pages.
After the launch of Tyresonthedrive.com’s new website pages, there appeared to be no obvious improvements in terms of the brand’s overall search visibility, suggesting that the website content wasn’t the only reason for its loss of visibility.
After analysing the website’s search visibility using Link Detox, it became clear that the website was a high risk domain, as it had an unnatural backlink profile. This resulted in a major visibility drop in May 2013, when the site was hit by Penguin 2.0.
Despite subsequent Penguin updates, Tyresonthedrive.com has yet to recover from this drop in traffic. Link Detox suggests that 31% of the links on Tyresonthedrive.com are high risk and its linking profile is highly programmatic, mainly relying on exact match brand links.
Google expects some variety in linking profiles but Tyresonthedrive’s links follow the same wording and styles, making them highly suspicious. This is an occasion where a few exact match anchors wouldn’t go amiss.
The linking profile is an issue currently, and a manual review of this would seem to be the logical next step if Tyresonthedrive.com is going to mount a challenge to Blackcircles.com.
Challenger 2: e-tyres.co.uk
However, Tyresonthedrive.com does not have the worst linking profile based on Link Detox data. That honour goes to e-tyres.co.uk, where 33% of the links are considered to be high risk.
The high risk backlinks are from low quality websites (such as directories) and the keyword usage with close to 75% of their profile being made up of exact match keywords featuring the word “tyres”.
Ordinarily you would expect this to result in a visibility drop around the time of a Penguin update. This has not been the case but closer analysis reveals that there was a visibility drop in March 2014. This could be the result of a manual action penalty from Google due to the nature of the poor quality linking profile.
There is some evidence to suggest that action is already being taken to clean up this profile, with a manual inspection revealing that some of the links on the poorest linking directories already appear to have been removed. However, there has not yet been any dramatic increase in visibility on the back of these efforts.
e-tyres.co.uk’s linking profile is not the only problem faced by the brand – it has also faced significant Panda (content) problems previously. This resulted in the visibility drop which started with Panda’s #22 and #23 algorithms in November and December 2012 respectively, and got worse still with the launch of Panda #24 in January 2013. The site’s overall visibility has not recovered subsequently and the reasons for this are very clear from a quick on-page inspection: it displays low quality on-page copy with heavy keyword stuffing. The only saving grace is that the content is displayed above the fold, but this isn’t the kind of content you want to be bringing to Google’s attention in the first place.
The lack of on-page focus is further emphasised by a significant number of on-page technical issues. On-page really needs to be the focus of e-tyres.co.uk’s efforts if they are to recover their lost visibility.
We’ve already established the relative pros and cons of the three competitors, but this does not explain the size of the gap in visibility – Search Metrics reports a peak organic visibility level of over 16,000 for Blackcircles.com compared with just over 5,000 for e-tyres.co.uk and less than 400 for Tyresonthedrive.com.
The reason for this significant gap is keyword targeting, with “tyres” being by far the most searched for term in the industry, with average month search volumes of 110,000 per month according to Google Adwords. To put this into context, the next biggest non-brand keyword is “cheap tyres” which has just 22,200 average month search volume according to data.
Performance in this industry well and truly lives and dies on the head term. And, given the size of Blackcircles.com’s organic visibility advantage, it should come as little surprise to find that they appear on page one on the head term “tyres”. This is further supported by data from SEMRush, which reveals that “tyres” is the biggest traffic-driving keyword for Blackcircles.com, ahead of the brand terms.
Neither e-tyres.co.uk nor tyresonthedrive.com are currently inside the top 10 for this dominant keyword.
However, e-tyres.co.uk is still achieving reasonable visibility scores overall by pursuing a long tail SEO strategy. This has resulted in them building landing pages targeting a significant number of long tail keywords. Although the search volumes for these terms are generally low, the fact that they are less competitive means that, with a focused on-page strategy and good linking profile to the pages, e-tyres.co.uk are able to achieve top ranking positions on these terms and generate good organic traffic levels to the site overall. To achieve this, they are building dedicated landing pages to target car make and models queries (i.e. Ford Focus tyres), locations based searches (i.e. Bristol tyres) and also tyre manufacturer related searches (i.e. Continental tyres).
Conversely, Tyresonthedrive.com are in limbo in terms of their SEO strategy: Blackcircles.com is taking their positions on head terms, while e-tyres.co.uk’s focus on long tail terms means that they don’t rank well for these keywords either. This explains their low search visibility scores, with 18 of the top 20 top traffic-driving keywords being brand-based, according to SEMRush data.
Eating Blackcircles.com’s dust
Despite its content limitations, Blackcircles.com is in pole position in terms of search engine results pages, leaving e-tyres.co.uk and Tyresonthedrive.com to eat its dust and deservedly so – the company is currently doing the best all round job. On top of this, it’s a relatively well-known brand name that Google’s users will be expecting to find when they type in tyre-related queries.
What could Blackcircles.com’s competitors do to catch up?
Blackcircles.com has yet to fully address its Panda issues – the site’s lack of quality on-page content is their Achilles’ heel. If Tyresonthedrive.com could improve their linking profile to match the quality of their great on-page content, they would be doing an all-round better job than Blackcircles.com.
Another area of SEO best practice where either of Blackcircles.com’s major competitors could steal a march is mobile, with all three using a parallel website for mobile devices. This is an acceptable solution where a separate website is served to mobile users on a subdomain. However, a dynamic URL where the page changes based on the user device is advocated by Google and would help to consolidate incoming links; this is particularly important at a time when mobile SEO results are beginning to differ from desktop organic results
All three also have Trustpilot accounts for users to submit reviews about the service they have received. Despite this, none of them have yet implemented star rating schema mark up on their landing pages. This results in star ratings appearing next to the company listing in search results and is something which has been shown to increase click through rate (CTR). These are currently only available on local results and could potentially help them stand out over their competitors, even if they are in lower positions.