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Car finance - who's winning at SEO?

By Lucy Kirkness | September 2019

Table of contents

In this study, we take an in depth look at who's winning in the car finance industry when it comes to SEO. Which organisations are in the driving seat? Who is showing the potential to overtake their competitors? What are the indicators of success? Now, with those (roundabout?) puns out of the way, let’s find out.

The car finance industry is becoming increasingly competitive, with a mixture of household names and fresh startups aiming to attract consumers. In the 12 months between April 2018 and April 2019, 91 percent of new private cars were purchased on finance, with over £1.6bn in finance deals made in April 2019 alone.

It is no secret that directing customers to company websites is a major way to gain a competitive advantage, and with this in mind, we decided to take a look at the current state of SEO in the car finance industry.

What ranking factors did we analyse?

Using Ahrefs, we analysed ten of the leading car finance companies operating in the United Kingdom.

We looked at the following criteria, based on the data available in Ahrefs:

  • Monthly organic traffic
  • No. of organic keywords
  • No. of keywords in positions 1-3
  • No. of keywords in positions 4-10
  • Traffic value
  • Backlinks
  • Referring domains

All figures and data in this article are accurate as of 26th July 2019.

How competitive is the car finance industry?

As we mentioned at the outset, car finance is an extremely competitive space, and there is no greater indication of this than the overview of the search term ‘car finance’ from Ahrefs:

Figure 1 - Ahrefs data for the search term ‘car finance’, July 2019

The UK search volume for ‘car finance’ is 51,000/mo, highlighting the substantial number of searches made. However, what’s more striking is the average CPC (Cost Per Click), standing at a hefty $9.00/click. At today’s currency conversion rates, that results in an approximate cost of £7.40/click - meaning that, on average, UK organizations would need to spend £1,000 for 135 clicks to their website via a paid advertisement.

When we look at phrases including the term ‘car finance’, we see a similarly competitive - and high CPC - keyword environment:

Figure 2 - Ahrefs ‘having same terms’ data for the search term ‘car finance’, July 2019

Aside from ‘branded’ search terms - for example, ‘car finance 247’, ‘0 car finance’ or ‘the car finance company’ - the floor for CPC is around $5.00-$6.00/click, with the ceiling rising up to $15.00/click for the term ‘bad credit car finance’. For some companies operating in this sector, the cost of paid Ads is not an obstacle - and there is certainly a place for them in an overall online strategy.

However, as we’ve previously explored, the advantage of investing in (good) SEO is that it is a sustainable, long-term strategy which can help a website grow organically. With savvy searchers more likely to click on organic results as opposed to paid ones, catapulting a website to the top of the SERPs and capturing that organic traffic is a strategy which any organization should consider.

Another interesting factor to consider about the car finance industry is the prominence of comparison sites in the search results. Other industries who offer multiple services such as home insurance, energy suppliers and broadband providers are facing the same position, with the likes of confused.com, MoneySavingExpert and uSwitch having grown in popularity in recent years, due to consumers doing everything they can to ensure they are getting the best deal.

The moment of Google’s truth

So, what happens if we actually search for ‘car finance’ in Google?

Figure 3 - Search results for ‘car finance’, retrieved 26th July 2019.

Comparison site Confused.com have a dedicated car finance page which sits in the top spot of the search results, followed by three providers - Auto Trader, Admiral and Arnold Clark. Confused.com and Admiral have utilised schema markup to ensure their customer ratings and reviews are showing in the results, increasing their real estate in the search results, in addition to some potential reputational benefits.

Within the first page of the search results, we can see that some guides on borrowing and how to get the best deals, as well as comparisons, from MoneySavingExpert and MoneySupermarket are also ranking. For the purposes of this analysis - where we are looking to see how actual providers of car finance are stacking up against one another - we are not going to include them. This leaves us with the following providers included within the scope of our analysis:

  • Auto Trader
  • Admiral
  • Arnold Clark
  • Hitachi Personal Finance
  • Car Finance 24/7
  • Accept Car Finance
  • Car Shop
  • Black Horse
  • What Car?
  • AA Finance

So who is winning the car finance SEO race?

When looking at a number of ranking factors, namely organic traffic, traffic value and keywords in positions 1-3 in the search results, Auto Trader appears to be the clear winner:

Their dedicated car finance page boasts around 15,000 organic visitors per month, with 201 keywords ranking in positions 1-3, and a traffic value of $86,472 (£71,127). The traffic value represents the equivalent value of the organic traffic to the page, if the traffic had been purchased via PPC Ads.

So what factors have contributed to Auto Trader’s position at the top? There are several things to take into consideration here, but three of the main ones are:

  • Page Speed - the Speed Update from Google in July 2018 emphasised that speed - on both mobile and desktop - was gaining more importance.
  • Quality of written content - producing high-quality, engaging content which keeps the user on the page - and stops them returning to the search results to find an answer from an alternative source - has always been a significant ranking factor.
  • Quality of linking domains - ensuring that the sites linking to you are relevant and authoritative is a good ranking signal to Google.

Page Speed

We used Google’s Page Speed Insights to assess the speed of each website in our study. The tool provides an overall speed score when accessing a site via a desktop or mobile.

The average desktop speed score in our study was 84.8; the average mobile speed score was 48.3. The top performers in this category were Car Finance 247 (98 on desktop, 83 on mobile) and the AA (100 on desktop, 80 on mobile).

To improve Page Speed, analysing outputs from Google’s Page Speed Insights is a good starting point to identify areas for improvement. For example, serving images in optimised or next-gen formats and removing unnecessary Javascript, could improve the loading time for visitors - which will have a positive effect on the overall user experience.

Quality of written content

For the purposes of this piece, we used Clearscope to analyse the written content of each website in our study. Clearscope analyses content for a given keyword, and provides an overall grade (from A to F) based on the quality, depth, and relevancy of the content.

The majority of results in our study achieved a Clearscope grade of at least a B - showing that the content is relevant to users and covers terms which are of importance to searchers. This also highlights the competitiveness of the car finance industry within an SEO context.

It is worth noting, however, that Auto Trader and Admiral - the two websites with the best ‘traffic value’ in our study - each achieved an A- grade for their car finance pages. This shows that the pages have sufficient depth and relevance to be of great use for visitors - both from a commercial and informational standpoint. This is important as the ‘car finance’ search results indicate a mixed intent of commercial landing pages, comparison sites and informational pages, all ranking highly.

Figure 4 - Auto Trader’s car finance page, showing their guide which provides detailed information for visitors

Both Auto Trader and Admiral also utilise two common features:

  1. Links to thorough guides on specific elements of car finance
  2. An expanded question & answer section for briefer topics

This helps to meet the intent of the searcher by answering related questions, and providing further information elsewhere on the website.

In terms of commercial intent, Admiral and Auto Trader also boast effective calls to action on their website. Admiral invites users to get started or check the process of an existing application:

Figure 5 - Admiral’s car finance page ‘above the fold’, highlighting calls to action for visitors

Auto Trader’s car finance page is also effective from a commercial standpoint, calling on users to search for finance deals for popular makes:

Figure 6 - Auto Trader’s car finance page ‘above the fold’, prompting users to search for deals in their local area

In addition, both websites promote a car finance calculator above the fold on their pages - a popular tool for visitors interested in seeing how much they can afford to borrow. Both of these calculators also rank on the first page of the SERPs for the term ‘car finance calculator’.

Quality of linking domains

We used Ahrefs to analyse the backlink profile of each website in our study. The tool creates a URL Rating for each page of a website, showing the strength and authority of the sites linking to it.

The table below from Ahrefs shows the strength of Auto Trader by virtually every backlink related metric - a contributing factor to their strength compared to their competitors.

Figure 7 - Domain comparison from Ahrefs for major websites in the car finance sector

Although there is some divergence between the number of backlinks for each website - the average in the study was 2,470, yet Car Finance 247 has over 8,000 - however, the quality of the backlink is the major component here.

Obtaining links from high-quality, relevant websites informs search engine algorithms that pages are popular, and thus providing searchers with useful information.

The volume of referring domains is also an important factor, as well as the ratio of backlinks to referring domains. Having thousands of links from just a handful of domains is not necessarily a good thing. Having a smaller number of quality links from a wider range of domains is preferable.

While Auto Trader may have fewer referring domains and pages than some of their competitors in this study, the fact that their backlinks appear to be from authoritative websites within the automotive industry is of huge benefit.

For example, driving.co.uk produced an article linking to Auto Trader’s car finance campaign featuring Countdown’s Rachel Riley; driving.co.uk has a domain rating of 71 on Ahrefs, and is one of the most respected and relevant sites in this niche. Links such as this one have helped to boost the backlink profile of the Auto Trader site.

If we look at the top 10 referring domains Auto Trader is attracting links from, and the content these domains are linking to, they are as follows:

  • prweb.com - a 2012 press release detailing a partnership between Auto Trader and Car Loans 4U.
  • webcinddario.com - a web directory of organisations offering car finance options.
  • mumsnet.com - a guest post on Mumsnet, whom Auto Trader had teamed up with to produce a family car buyer’s guide.
  • prnewswire.com - a 2012 press release detailing a partnership between Auto Trader and Car Loans 4U.
  • recruiter.com - an article on non-financial incentives for employees, linking to Auto Trader’s car finance page in the ‘Company Cars’ section of the article.
  • giffgaff.com - a comment on GiffGaff’s forum regarding purchasing a new car on finance.
  • driving.co.uk - the aforementioned article highlighting Auto Trader’s campaign featuring Rachel Riley.
  • economicvoice.com - a short article outlining the importance of thinking before applying for a loan.
  • uknetguide.co.uk - a directory of car finance providers in the UK.
  • osv.ltd.uk - a December 2017 article from OSV (who provide car purchase/leasing solutions) which is essentially a thorough guide to everything about car finance.

Through a mix of guest posts, press releases, directory mentions and hyperlinks in articles from blogs which operate in the automotive industry, Auto Trader has built up a range of referring domains which has helped to boost the authority of their website.

What should car finance companies focus on when it comes to SEO?

As with any industry, there are ways for car finance companies to gain an advantage over their competitors in this niche. Following the points on this checklist is a good starting point:

  • Ensure your website loads quickly, and functions properly, on both desktop and mobile
  • Produce high-quality, relevant written content to meet searcher’s intent (both commercial and informational content)
  • Consider including a Q&A section or guide which can help provide the answers to searcher’s questions
  • Try to obtain backlinks from authoritative, trustworthy websites

Whilst focusing on just one of these factors would likely help your website’s organic traffic, working on them in isolation can only achieve so much. Bringing them together as part of an overall SEO strategy, which can be sustained, is a smarter long-term plan.