SEO in the Bicycle Industry: A Case Study

A bicycle.

2008 has been a very good year for Wandertec, Inc. :

  • They have seen traffic increase on their flagship store, Bike Trailer Shop, by over 300% and overall sales are expected to surpass 400% (in comparison to 2007).
  • In the midst of a flailing economy, they have hired 3 full-time employees with plans to begin hiring more in the summer of 2009.
  • They opened a new webstore in November (The Bike Bag Shop ) to very strong numbers, despite winter being the very slow season for the Bike Industry.
  • They are currently working on a new store, The Bike Kids Shop, which will open early Q1 2009 and have plans for 3-4 more shops opening throughout the new year.

How did they do it?

While we have no doubt that the rising gas prices played a role in the overall boom in the bicycle industry during 2008, there are a number of steps that Wandertec, Inc. took to position themselves to be a leading player in their niche.  While much of the work Pilot has done with Wandertec, Inc. is very specific to the bicycle industry (keyword research, link building and creating contacts), most of the broad strategies can be applied to just about any field.

Gathering Data:

At Pilot, we always start with a Free Website Evaluation to determine strengths and weaknesses and create a rough game plan.  This is a pretty basic approach that tells us where major problem areas are and where to start digging deeper. During this phase, we also overhauled their analytics and audited their Google Adwords.  Both were actually set up very well and our work consisted of connecting the two and adding some filters to help fine tune the data.  We also started some experimental Adwords campaigns to help do more thorough keyword research.

On-Site SEO

While the data was being collected, we started what we like to call a website tune up.  For Wandertec, this meant URL rewriting, adding important metadata, creating better category structures, and much more.  We also ended up moving their blog from a hosted Blogger account to a semi-custom WordPress install.

The WordPress transition warrants a bit of explanation: we knew that a totally original design wasn’t needed, but we wanted to make sure it was completely optimized and looked good.  We based the design off of the Cutline theme by Chris Pearson. If you ever find yourself setting up a site in WordPress, I highly recommend his themes.  They are great looking designs and equally importantly, they are very tightly optimized. The only downside is that 2,938,239,487 other people will be using the same theme.

We were lucky in that one of the driving principals of the trailer shop was to provide extremely detailed product information (see the product descriptions and reviews on the Burley Nomad for examples).  Not only is this information helpful to customers, but it provided us with a great launching point for our SEO efforts. Though it is not impossible to rank a homepage for many keywords, having numerous content pages about specific products or ideas provide a much easier opportunity to optimize and rank for the product or idea keyword.

Creating Connections

While there are often divisions in any industry, the bicycle industry is one of the most diverse I have ever seen.  I am not just talking about “lots of different people use bicycles,” but rather, there are vastly different groups of people who have built lifestyles around cycling. As an example, think of the differences between road racing teams, hard-core bike messengers, bike touring junkies, and mountain bike racers; the differences in the cultures are quite striking.  Of course there are lots of overlaps, but creating these broad buyer profiles helps to understand who is more likely to buy and which sites are likely to appeal to a particular audience of buyers.

More than just buyers, the authors of sites that appeal to these small niches are the most likely to be interested in Wandertec’s products.  They are much more likely to write about Wandertec, to link back to the Wandertec site, to engage in the conversations on the blog, and to help spread the word in many more ways.

Connecting with these websites is much more than just asking for links. It really becomes the heart of a much broader strategy of being informed of the happenings in the industry and becoming a part of the conversation.  As Wandertec owner Josh Lipton puts it,

Using blogging as a marketing tool for our website has not only helped us to achieve high quality traffic and improve our search engine results for targeted key-words, it has also become a centerpiece in our involvement with the bicycling community, leading the way for both our customers to become much more aware of our business and broader range of interests and for our business to become much more aware of issues and opportunities in our industry.

The net result has been a strong networking effect, but also a lot of really good quality back links that send customers directly to the site (defensible traffic) and have the added benefit of moving the store higher in the search engine results.

In general, people who are into bicycling have a very low tolerance for marketing BS. All of the authors we interact with have a deep and abiding passion for cycling and they can smell a phony from a mile away, luckily, Josh and his team are all truly avid bike enthusiasts. Take care to be sincere and open in your intentions, get to know their site before you contact them, and make sure you have a real reason (not just to ask for a link).  You would think that this might be common sense, but sadly, in the SEO industry that isn’t always the case.

For the Future

Though the winter is the slow season for selling bike trailers, Josh and his team haven’t been idle.  The explosive growth of 2008 has made them believers.  Not only did they just launch the new store, they recently started up a social bike news aggregation site called Spoke and Word, they are sponsoring a women’s racing team with a new website and teaching them to blog, and they are working on starting up a new blog based around the concept of utility cycling.

It is starting to look like 2009 might make the growth of 2008 look tiny in comparison…

The relationship between Wandertec and Pilot Digital has resulted in Pilot becoming an expert in many aspects of the bicycle world. If you are in the cycling industry and are looking for a partner to drive your Internet marketing and search engine optimization, we’re an obvious choice.

Posted in SEO


Comments are closed.