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Blackhat CarGurus SEO Tactics PPT that Cars.com produced

Alexander Lau

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Same story, but we all know that Cars was desperate as fuck for attention (published that stuff) and just stumbled across a goofy Google update and ran with it. Cargurus will obviously recover from this and already are. Plus, I love how the specific keyword combination(s) rankings were never released.

https://searchengineland.com/cars-com-vs-cargurus-com-saga-shows-the-importance-of-seo-and-the-bad-side-of-a-google-update-317148

Cars.com vs. CarGurus.com saga shows the importance of SEO (and the bad side of a Google update)
When an algorithm update slams one of your biggest rivals, that's when you should step on the gas.

For Cars.com, the popular automotive marketplace, the March 2019 core update was good: the company has seen a 49% increase in search visibility since. SEO Director David Greene said he believes a lot of the success has to do with their SEO strategy around content and site performance updates, but there was another factor at play. While Cars.com saw a post-update bump, one of its biggest rivals, CarGurus.com, saw the opposite happen.

CarsGurus.com lost hundreds of thousands of number one placements in Google after the March update. About 30% of their keywords dropped significantly in Google. And you can see from the SEMRush chart below that their visibility in Google is back to where it was in December 2017:




CarGurus.com politely declined to be quoted for this story, but Greene said he believes that the downfall of CarGurus.com’s rankings also helped Cars.com realize a lot more traffic.

SEO in the spotlight
The financial results for Cars.com were not so rosy in the first quarter. The company’s revenue fell by nearly $6 million and it swung to a net loss of $9 million for the period. But one line in the earnings release stood out to us: “SEO traffic grew 49% year-over-year, driving record traffic and leads; material shift in SEO competitive share continues to accelerate.” According to Greene, Cars.com’s top traffic driver is search, so with the increase in visibility, that resulted in a direct increase in advertiser impressions and qualified leads for their dealership partners. There was an overall growth in conversions and leads from this boost in search traffic.

“In the first quarter, our total leads grew 15%,” Cars.com CEO Alex Vetter said in the earnings report. “Keep in mind, the most material shift in SEO market share took place just at the end of the first quarter and continues to accelerate into Q2,” he added.

The company also presented a slide in their earnings report showing the post-update swap that happened between the two rivals, while other competitors mostly stayed flat.



What happened to CarGurus.com?

We asked CarGurus.com for a comment, but they politely declined. However, one thing we saw was a steep increase in link building activities in December 2017. Shortly after, CarGurus.com’s Google rankings began to sharply increase. It wasn’t until the March 2019 core update where their rankings dropped off. It is almost like Google decided to completely ignore the links they built up starting in December 2017.

What we don’t know is what type of penalty this was. While the timing lines up with the March 2019, it could also have been caused by a manual action issued through Google Search Console. It resembles a drop caused by the Penguin update, which penalizes sites for spammy link practices. But we also know that Penguin is real-time and is run continually, without an update needed. Although the timing was in line with the March 2019 core update, I didn’t see many sites get hit specifically for link purposes around that time.

In its own earnings call, CarGurus.com CEO Langley Steinert didn’t say much about their rankings drop but did mention that Google isn’t everything to the company’s success.

“I would say that I think one of the themes we saw in the public discussion was that there was — I would argue kind of an inordinate amount of focus on organic traffic growth specifically Google. And I guess our only response to that is that over the last 12 years that I’ve been involved with this company, we’ve been through ups and downs and different Google algorithm changes and in the long haul we have benefited really by building a good product. We don’t — as a company we don’t spend a ton of time, focused on how we optimize our site for a given search engine. And I would even argue that like five years ago it probably would have — any given change in a Google organic — algorithm change might have had a bigger effect on our company, but at this point given especially all the investment we’ve made in brand, organic traffic specific for any given search engine just isn’t an enormous part of our business. So it isn’t — we’ve kind of grown up as a company to have a really varied number of sources of traffic. So it’s really not — we’re not dependent on any one source of traffic.”

CarGurus.com stock was at over $40 per share and is now trading at $36 per share.

You can also see from the SEMRush chart above that the company did increase their paid search spend as they dropped in Google organic search.

The lesson here is …
It appears that, yes, CarGurus.com took a major hit with their Google rankings. It also appears that Cars.com did see success with the March 2019 core update and when you add them both together, Cars.com won big here.

But Greene said Cars.com’s strategy will remain the same. He is currently running around 100+ SEO projects, which are around building out great content and improving site performance.

Your Google traffic can come and go. When you see successes, it can be a big win for the company. When you see downfalls, it can hurt the company in a serious way. Always make sure to perform SEO by the book, within the Google guidelines and don’t try to manipulate the algorithm.

And like many algorithms, there can be false positives, so even if you do everything right, make sure you have a backup plan and diversify your traffic.

https://searchengineland.com/cars-com-vs-cargurus-com-saga-shows-the-importance-of-seo-and-the-bad-side-of-a-google-update-317148
 
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Jeff Kershner

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I found this statement from Scott Langley in the article to be a bit of an eye roll...

"We don’t — as a company we don’t spend a ton of time, focused on how we optimize our site for a given search engine."
 
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flosho

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Dec 20, 2010
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My question is this (because I am not sure I 100% understand the referenced document).

If only 6% of the clicks originate in the United States, does that mean that 94% of my inventory views on Car Gurus are actually not legitimate opportunities to sell a vehicle?
This. Someone put it in non-seo speak.

Seems like this could rise to the level of a class-action law suit. For the past 5 years, each summer I get an email from CG rep and our bill goes up 40% or so because of their incredible increase in exposure they provide, which turns out has been injected with SEO-PEDs that are against Google policies and may be a fraudulent basis for valuing their product worth to us, the customers.
 

SEO_Driver

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Jun 15, 2019
2
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Rudy
It seems as if Gurus responded to Cars this week in a few of their slides geared toward the investor community. Here are the slides I think are relevant, but I'd be curious on others thoughts.

On slide 54, they point out that they have 2.8x the number of monthly visits vs. the next two largest competitors and 1.6x the the number of monthly visitors vs. those same competitors. I think this shows Gurus is not only the biggest by uniques but also gets far more engagement on those uniques: https://ibb.co/XYXWBT7

On slide 62, Gurus showed that they are generating ~15% of their connections from Google non-branded keywords and those connections have grown 30% annually for the last three years. It seems as if Google is a significant but not disproportionate driver of Gurus' traffic: https://ibb.co/N23MZYQ

Based on the traffic data that Gurus shared on slide 63, it seems that leads have grown faster than connections, which have grown faster than unique visitors: https://ibb.co/KNkmjFN

Based on Google search interest disclosed on slide 66, it seems as if Gurus is in the lead, and their lead is growing: https://ibb.co/5Y2CP0b

Personally, that seems pretty compelling evidence that Google's core March 2019 update didn't derail Gurus' traction. Does anyone disagree or have any other thoughts?
 
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Alexander Lau

Sr. Refresher
Feb 11, 2015
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Alex
It seems as if Gurus responded to Cars this week in a few of their slides geared toward the investor community. Here are the slides I think are relevant, but I'd be curious on others thoughts.

On slide 54, they point out that they have 2.8x the number of monthly visits vs. the next two largest competitors and 1.6x the the number of monthly visitors vs. those same competitors. I think this shows Gurus is not only the biggest by uniques but also gets far more engagement on those uniques: https://ibb.co/XYXWBT7

On slide 62, Gurus showed that they are generating ~15% of their connections from Google non-branded keywords and those connections have grown 30% annually for the last three years. It seems as if Google is a significant but not disproportionate driver of Gurus' traffic: https://ibb.co/N23MZYQ

Based on the traffic data that Gurus shared on slide 63, it seems that leads have grown faster than connections, which have grown faster than unique visitors: https://ibb.co/KNkmjFN

Based on Google search interest disclosed on slide 66, it seems as if Gurus is in the lead, and their lead is growing: https://ibb.co/5Y2CP0b

Personally, that seems pretty compelling evidence that Google's core March 2019 update didn't derail Gurus' traction. Does anyone disagree or have any other thoughts?
Nice find there!
 
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JohnnyR6

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Jun 18, 2019
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I've been concerned recently with CarGurus and how sustainable their traffic is, considering that their traffic may be more volatile than their competitors as shown by the Google algorithm update that hit their traffic. I was looking at their traffic numbers and noticed that their organic (not paid-for) traffic is beginning to rise again. Earlier in June it rose around 10% in a single day. What would cause that, or if this further evidence that their SEO is black hat? I don't know a ton about this kind of stuff but I'd sure like to know how good their SEO really is, or if it's subject to get hit on occasion by Google.
 
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Alexander Lau

Sr. Refresher
Feb 11, 2015
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Alex
I've been concerned recently with CarGurus and how sustainable their traffic is, considering that their traffic may be more volatile than their competitors as shown by the algorithm update that whacked them. I was looking at their traffic numbers and noticed that their organic (not paid-for) traffic is beginning to rise again. Earlier in June it spiked up around 10% in a single day. I'm wondering if y'all know why or how that happened, or if this could be evidence that their SEO is black hat? I don't know a ton about this kind of stuff but I'd sure like to know how good their SEO really is, or if it's subject to get whacked every once in a while by Google.
Of course it did, just like those that understand the organic game here and I said it would. Now, where's @David Greene to explain himself. Such a bunch of crap.
 
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