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Underdog SEO: How Progressive Insurance beat the competition in 3 steps.
Whether you’re in Switzerland or the US, most insurance markets are highly competitive because they are very lucrative.
In the US, that’s a trillion-dollar industry!
Companies rarely gain significant SEO market share in such spaces.
However, this didn’t stop the people behind progressive.com.
Here is an example of how the company made it to the top of the SERPs!
(This was inspired by Kevin Indig’s article about the same company. After reading through his findings, I wanted to learn more and started my own deep dive.)
Progressive used three tactics that built on each other:
They decluttered their website and stopped content decay
They built topical authority around car insurance
They heavily invested in brand awareness to build trust
1. Prune and declutter your website
The following chart shows how Progressive gained more traffic over time, while the number of indexed pages dropped dramatically.
Progressive implemented several measures to declutter their website. It is unclear whether this decision was made for technical reasons or to focus only on topically relevant pages on the domain, but it certainly helped the company's SEO efforts.
Why is this important? I believe that each website will have less crawl budget and rendering resources available in the future, as the volume of content explodes with new capabilties AI tools offer. Google stated a while back that “having many low-value-add URLs can negatively affect a site's crawling and indexing.” Progressive has embraced this idea.
My learnings: Make sure to prune your content on a regular basis:
Remove content that doesn’t provide value-added for the users.
Remove content that doesn’t generate traffic.
Remove content with poor engagement from users.
Remove duplicated content.
Remove or update outdated content.
2. Build topic authority
When it comes to content strategy, Progressive seems to do a few things right.
For one, they heavily invested in building topical authority around “car insurance”.
Currently, the company has a dozen landing pages and a few hundred answer pages all focusing on car insurance and therefore covering the whole customer journey.
If we look at the estimates on ahrefs.com, we can see that Progressive created 1155 answer pages that drive around 2.7 million organic clicks a month with topics such as:
Does temporary car insurance exist?
Do I need rental car insurance?
Why is your check engine light on?
This is what we would call "problem aware" content. Progressive targets people who have issues with their car or are unsure if they need insurance down the road.
What stands out to me is that they don’t just create bland FAQ content. Instead, all answers try to genuinely help readers and guide them along their journey to find the right solution.
Very interesting: Progressive covers one overarching topic with one page and stacks multiple related Q&A on top of each other instead of generating one URL per question. This seems to work well for them.
They also created 21 landing pages that drive 1 million organic clicks a month around topics such as:
Compare car insurance rates
Cheap car insurance
Types of car insurance
One of my favourite landing pages is the one targeting the keyword “cheap car insurance”.
Having worked with insurance and finance companies in the past, I am aware that many want to avoid using words such as "cheap" on landing pages or even websites entirely. Progressive doesn’t and gives potential customers exactly what they are looking for.
I love it!
My learnings: When creating landing pages, don't just focus on what you offer. Instead, put yourself in your customers' shoes and understand what they are asking for, e.g. “cheap car insurance”. When writing the content, figure out what information or reassurance they need so they can advance in their customer journey.
3. Invest in brand awareness
Progressive also invested in Google ads in the last few months.
Even though the budget has decreased significantly since April 2023, Progressive still outspends its nearest rivals by a factor of 10!
It seems to me that Progressive is looking to increase their brand awareness in search.
Why is this important? Because you probably wouldn’t buy car insurance from a brand that you’ve never heard of before.
This is where the “mere exposure effect” comes into play.
The mere exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon where people tend to like things more if they have been exposed to them before.
Studies have shown that…
CTR will be higher if people recognize you,
and people tend to like brands more, if they see them more often.
My learnings: Even though Progressive was in a David vs. Goliath scenario, they still had millions of advertising dollars at their disposal to create brand awareness. In highly competitive industries such as car insurance, you cannot approach SEO with blinders on. You need cross-functional teams that can think outside the box and look at search and related channels holistically to drive clicks and revenue.