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Cycling has really picked up momentum in the UK. British success has made the sport more popular than ever and search volumes are rising.
Inspired by the imminent Grand Depart of Le Tour de France from Leeds in early July, we've looked into the search marketing (SEO and PPC) performance of a range of brands in cycling to see how they're set up to take advantage of this summer's biking boom.
We found that marketers can learn from Team GB's success in the 2012 Olympics, which British Cycling’s performance director Dave Brailsford put down to the team's absolute obsession over detail:
The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.
Our research into the digital marketing activities of some of the UK’s biggest cycling brands suggests that Brailsford's 'marginal gains' approach is also true for digital success.
Here are six things that digital marketers can take from cycling brands gearing up for summer 2014.
1. Provide brand content across the customer journey
Providing help across the whole user journey positions you as a trusted brand and can be the driving principle behind a PR and content marketing strategy.
This is especially true for cycling brands as buying the right bike for your needs is a very personal matter and consumers want tailored advice that’s right for them.
Most cycling brands still have opportunities to improve their performance in this area, especially when it comes to creating content that demonstrates expertise, builds consumer trust and improves organic search rankings.
This is something that Sigma Sport seems to understand having earned coverage with comment and stories on a series of authoritative sites that has lead to them competing with the likes of Halfords and Evans Cycles despite them being a smaller brand.
Sigma Sport has earned coverage on a series of influential sites with high SEO value (domain authority) including The Guardian, FT.com, Telegraph, Men’s Health and Cycling Weekly.
In addition to the PR value of coverage on these sites, Sigma Sport has sent a clear message to search engines, "look, we’re a reputable and trusted brand with something to say, rank us!"
Halfords, despite being the most visible cycling brand in organic search, doesn’t fare so well when it comes to optimising its content and doesn’t seem to have joined up its content strategy.
With little content onsite (relative to other cycling brands) and coverage earned as a result of brand reputation rather than creative offsite, it could find itself losing ground in organic results to the likes of Evans Cycles and Go Outdoors.
Halfords does, however, have a clear video strategy which means that its video content often appears in Google’s search results pages for a series of high-volume product-related search terms.
This is a tactic that other cycling brands could learn from, as video and photography is increasingly incorporated into search results pages.
Chain Reaction has a totally separate domain acting as a content hub.
Although it is extremely active and engaging it is potentially a missed opportunity as all social engagement, inbound links and buzz they generate won’t be directly impacting its primary domain’s organic visibility for product related searches.
2. Move with your customers
Mobile and tablet searches in this sector drove 44% of all bicycle and accessory-related searches in the final four months of 2013, up from 34% in the final four months of 2012.
This reflects the growing importance of providing a well-designed mobile user experience both on and off your website.
The subject of responsive, or mobile-first, design is well documented already, but it’s also important to provide a good brand experience for mobile customers before they hit your site.
For example, customers who call you are ten times more likely to make a purchase than those who click on a link, according to Google. Call extensions, which give the customer the option to call directly from a PPC ad served to a mobile device, lead to a 6% increase in click through rates on mobile devices.
Cycling is a great example of a market in which the customer often wants to talk directly to a specialist before purchasing.
3. Act local
The ability to advertise a local presence to consumers is one of the few advantages bricks and mortar retailers have over online-only retailers, as a greater presence in search results pages can be achieved through Location Extensions.
For products like bikes, where much of the purchase decision is very personal (based on look, feel and personal preference), the ability to find and visit local shops can be key. Evans Cycles is implementing this approach well.
The research online, purchase offline (ROPO) effect is evident here, though the opposite is also often the case.
By being highly visible both on the high street and online, bike retailers like Evans Cycles are able to convince ‘showrooming’ visitors not to purchase through a different supplier after examining or test-riding a bike in store.
4. Use social proof
A successful social proof strategy usually brings together a range of tools including ad extensions (such as review extensions and social annotations), onsite customer reviews, social PR and social CRM to manage reputation and customer feedback.
Customer reviews play an important part of the conversion process, and Seller Ratings let consumers know who their peers rate via a star-rating in adverts.
With a potential increase in click-through rate of up to 17% (according to Google), a high rating could be a crucial differentiator for online-only cycle retailers looking to overcome their lack of high-street presence.
Very few cycling retailers are using Seller Ratings in comparison with new non-specialist entrants to the market including Very.co.uk.
5. Don’t leave your PPC account structure to chance
Given that paid search advertisement click-through traffic rose by over 30% year-on-year, and overall cycling-related search traffic climbed by 3% in 2013, it was surprising to see that even the most visible brands have opportunities to improve their paid search strategies.
For example, only three out of 10 of the brands that ranked top for generic bike related searches had well-structured accounts.
Most had gaps in their keyword strategies (e.g. bidding on ‘women’s mountain bikes’ but not ‘ladies mountain bikes’) and some were running out of budget and disappearing before the end of the day.
6. Look for further ranking opportunities
Websites with high organic visibility inevitably rank well for many of their keywords. Still, there’s often the opportunity to significantly increase organic visibility by moving keywords just a few positions upwards.
Of the ten most visible brands in organic search results for cycling, most have a reasonable share of their keywords on page one. Despite this, there are still significant opportunities to improve further.
To understand the size of the opportunity for each website, it’s important to consider the context of the number of keywords.
For example, Halfords has just 21% of its keywords appearing on the second page. However, due to the vast size of its website and product set, the real number is a lot more significant in that the 21% equates to over 1,000 keywords.
A focus on improving the rankings of those keywords – in many cases, by just a few positions – would result in a significant increase in organic search traffic.
Every site has a significant amount of keywords appearing on pages two to five, which presents big opportunities. Those sites with the biggest potential relative to their current performance are:
- Decathlon, which has 32% of its keywords on page two alone, equating to over 1,000 relevant keywords.
- Wiggle, which has just 32% of its keywords on page one, equating to over 1,400 relevant keywords on pages two to five.
- Rutland Cycling, which has a huge 76% of its keywords on pages three to five, equating to just over 150 keywords on pages one and two.
- Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative, which has just 12% of its keywords on page one, equating to over 600 relevant keywords on pages two to five.
- JE James Cycles, which has 35% of its keywords on page two, equating to over 270 relevant keywords falling a few positions short of page one.
So who should we be backing for the online yellow jersey this summer?
It’s a close call, and there’s time for a late sprint for the finish. The table below illustrates the top 30 brands in organic and paid search for cycling related keywords.
Halfords leads the way in organic results, facing stiff competition from Amazon, Argos and Tesco in paid results.
However, with opportunities in both paid and organic search, brands like Wiggle, Tredz, Winstanleys bikes and JE James Cycles are leading the chasing pack and could field a late challenge as interest in Le Tour heightens this summer.
The top 30 brands in organic and paid search for cycling related keywords:
The 2014 Cycling Sector report is available from Epiphany's website.