0 to £6 billion IPO in 2 years | Role of SEO in Cazoo's growth | Automotive SEO case study

Feb 7, 2023 15 min read
Cazoo SEO story

The British online car retailer, Cazoo, went from launch to £6 billion IPO in ~2 years.

In this week’s case study, I sat down with their former Head of Organic Performance, Andy Francos, who led SEO from the very start.

There are no hacks in this story.

A career in organic performance has crafted Andy into a customer-centric strategist, focused on:

  • The user experience
  • The brand

In a company destined to be a household name, it was essential to align optimization and discoverability for their key terms with clean UX and customer-centric decisions.

And, ultimately, sticking to a strong customer-centric ethos paid off.

In this case study, we delve into the interplay between national branding campaigns and search, as well as how Cazoo built its product pages around great UX.

Expect to learn

Part One: How do wider brand campaigns impact SEO (e.g. TV ads, PR, and sponsoring football teams)

Part Two: How Cazoo chose keywords (and their on-page strategy)

Part Three: Cazoo’s Traffic Growth Results

Part Four: How SEO informed product launches at Cazoo

The Role of SEO in IPOs

Want more in-depth case studies? Take a look at our library of SEO case studies to find out what actually works in SEO right now.

The Mission

Cazoo is an online used car marketplace designed to transform the way people buy, finance, or rent used cars.

Andy Francos joined Cazoo in September 2019, three months before the company launched in December.

Even at such an early point in the journey, Cazoo was already a well-funded startup, having come out of two rounds of funding with a total of £55M by the end of September 2019.

“It is everything I wanted in a role, to be honest. [...] The Cazoo opportunity came along and I thought at the time these opportunities don’t come around too often. So I just thought I had to take it. I have absolutely no regrets in doing so.” - Andy Francos

At the very start, Andy was faced with a blank canvas. Cazoo didn’t even have a website when he joined.

And from day one, he was focused on building an organic search strategy that was 100% customer-centric.

“I wanted to make sure that we had a customer-centric strategy that would focus on customer needs - what they want from their car buying journey - and to capitalize on that shift from offline to online.” - Andy Francos

Cazoo’s strategy was built on real customer feedback:

  • Talking to customer support teams to uncover customer needs.
  • Collaborating with the performance marketing team in terms of sharing data (effective keywords, audience segmentation, etc.).
  • Forming focus groups to learn what customers wanted from online purchases in the automotive space.

The objectives and key results (OKRs) that Andy helped set for his team actually had nothing to do with traffic or revenue.

They were focused on more long-term, brand-building goals.

“It’s hard when you’re in year 1 and you’re going on a quarter by quarter basis. Because there was a ton of things where I would say ‘This would have an impact, but you’re not gonna see it in month 3 of Q1. So we just need to make sure that we [...] keep building a brand that customers love and really focus on that customer-centric strategy over the organic performance side.’” - Andy Francos

Instead of setting traffic-related OKRs, their objectives were to:

  • Launch a content hub
  • Set up a logical website and information architecture
  • Establish an effective long-term content strategy
  • Build authority within the automotive space

Part One: How do wider brand campaigns impact SEO

A company with the funding and ambition of Cazoo wasn’t only using SEO to grow.

They pretty much used them all:

  • Organic search
  • PPC
  • Social media
  • TV advertising
  • Other traditional advertising channels (radio, print)
  • Sponsorships (such as sponsoring football clubs)

Which brings up the question, how did these other brand campaigns impact SEO?

Andy notes that traditional advertising campaigns had an immense impact on organic performance.

1/ Branded search increases

Their first big TV advertising push happened around February 2020, and that is when they saw the first uptick in Cazoo branded search:

They also saw an increase in brand term + generic term searches, such as this one:

Overall, traditional ads had a twofold effect on Cazoo’s organic performance:

  • Increase in brand name searches
  • Increase in non-branded (generic) searches

Here is what Andy had to say about that:

“I wouldn’t say that there is any, like, magic tricks with it. You are showcasing your brand to an audience that then is engaged and wants to find out a little more. Then they go to Google to go and search for what they’ve just seen on the TV or heard on the radio.” - Andy Francos

Let’s see an example of Cazoo’s ad:

Cazoo Newspaper Advert
Cazoo Newspaper Advert
Cazoo Newspaper Advert
Cazoo Newspaper Advert

An ad such as this one could lead to people going online and searching for terms like:

  • Cazoo
  • Buy a used car
  • Cazoo used car
  • Buy a used car online
  • Used car sale
  • Cazoo used car sale

The job of Andy’s organic performance team was to capture the demand that these adverts created. They wanted Cazoo to be first in line (in the first position in SERPs) when curious users came searching.

They did this by building structured information architecture for their product offerings and following on-page best practices (that also made sense of the reader).

Avoid this mistake: Do not send your potential customers to your competitors. When running traditional ads, make sure you are at the top of the search results for all the relevant branded and non-branded terms when users inspired by your ads start searching. Otherwise, if a competitor website is ranking where you should be, you may lose out to them.

To best capitalize on the incoming traffic from traditional ads, make sure you have:

  • Logical information architecture
  • Intuitive UX design
  • Content that meets the need of the customer

That way you’ll appear in search when the user comes looking.

Andy noted in the interview that he hadn’t built a backlink since 2006. His focus is always on the user and delivering a great experience.

Yet, one positive side effect from heavy PR pushes is the natural accruing of backlinks.

Referring domains over time
Referring domains over time

If we look at their backlink profile from early 2020 onwards, we see backlinks from:

  • Maddyness (startup news)
  • Startup Nation
  • Other tech websites
  • Sports website with 78 DR thanks to Cazoo sponsoring a football team
  • Even the BBC in late 2021

There are backlinks from tons of sites all related to their extraordinary funding rounds, acquisitions of other companies in the space, and other PR stories.

Note: Cazoo’s acquisitions also ended in domain redirects, getting the site backlinks that way as a by-product.

Impact of editorial content - against “SEO content”

Andy emphasized that, even though his team worked on improving organic performance, SEO did not dictate what brand content went on the website.

Cazoo has an extensive library of editorial content that serves the purpose of informing and educating customers that are higher up the sales funnel.

Cazoo editorial content screenshot
Cazoo editorial content screenshot

Yet, keyword research was not a priority when deciding what content to publish in their library.

“People would say things like ‘good for the SEO’ or ‘SEO content’ and I think that type of language can kind of resent what organic performance teams are trying to do sometimes. Because all you’re thinking is it’s for Google or it’s for ranking. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense or if it’s even relevant for the business.” - Andy Francos

Instead, Andy’s team worked closely with their automotive experts, content teams, and product teams to build a collection of editorial articles that genuinely helped their customers.

This isn’t to say that they ignored all SEO best practices. The team still used content briefs for creating the content, a strong internal link structure, a logical information structure within the article, and similar.

It is just that their topic selection wasn’t based on what a keyword tool said, but on what their customer's needed help with.

Read more: Looking for a keyword research framework? The Planning Predictor Framework by Codeless is a good place to start.

Part Two: How Cazoo chose keywords (and their on-page strategy)

The core of Cazoo’s SEO strategy is ranking its product category pages.

The site essentially follows a classic eCommerce strategy in that respect.

Cazoo's top organic pages
Cazoo's top organic pages

Take a look at the top 10 non-branded keywords bringing in the most traffic to Cazoo:

  • Car finance
  • Cars for sale
  • Range rover evoque
  • Automatic cars for sale
  • Mercedes a class for sale
  • SUV meaning
  • Ford fiesta for sale
  • BMW cars used
  • Mercedes used
  • Mercedes gla for sale

The majority are transactional keywords (for people looking to buy a used car).

These keywords align Cazoo’s products with market demand, making sure the brand is discoverable where that demand exists.

“We looked at other areas of the business that we knew would be more profitable, like the car finance area which we doubled down on.” - Andy Francos

Cazoo also targeted more informational keywords, users who are likely not yet ready to buy, to ensure it is top-of-mind when the information-seeking customer is ready to make a purchase.

For Andy, it was crucial that SEO didn’t come as an afterthought.

Instead, he had a vision of product pages that went hand-in-hand with organic performance.

“It’s really essential to be embedded in the business and make it very clear that product and organic performance need to work hand in hand. [...] So we had our single-page app and I wanted to build [the product pages] out as opposed to having a separate add-on that we just do for organic performance, whatever that means.” - Andy Francos

At the very start, creating these product pages included implementing:

  • Breadcrumbs
  • Header 1
  • Interest snippets
  • Image alt attributes for accessibility
  • Informative content if the users wanted to read a bit more on the product
  • FAQs with schema markup so they show up in SERPs
  • Easy access to the product pages from the home page

All of these on-page elements were introduced to ensure the best customer experience possible, both for those who were ready to buy and those who were a bit further up the sales funnel.

“Working with the content team, we just wanted to ensure that customers were given as much information to get the car of their dreams as well. It’s a very customer-centric approach.” - Andy Francos

On-page strategy: Cazoo’s category pages focus on intuitive UX design

Cazoo’s category pages follow the same UX principles as their car pages.

Note the breadcrumb trail at the very top, just before H1. That’s core to improving crawlability and usability.

One of Cazoo's category pages for used Land Rovers
One of Cazoo's category pages for used Land Rovers

In the description of the category ‘Land Rover cars’, the user can easily spot the three most popular products and click on their product pages.

The page also has a neat sidebar that makes it easy for the user to filter through the products and find the exact car type they want to buy.

Cazoo’s product category pages incorporate editorial content into their design. They answer FAQs and give other helpful tips, but underneath the main search intent: to browse through used Land Rover cars.

FAQs at the bottom of the category page
FAQs at the bottom of the category page

Andy points out that they can’t predict where the user is in their buying journey when landing on any one page.

The editorial section is there to inform the user who is still in the consideration phase and isn’t sure whether a Land Rover is the right car for them.

Cazoo placed the buying guide & FAQ information underneath the vehicle pages themselves. That helps the page match search intent. Most users will want to browse cars, but it also helps any visitors who aren’t quite there yet to get educated.

Cazoo decided against “local” SEO-optimized keywords

Most online used car marketplaces optimize for local keywords like “BMW for sales in London”.

No one wants to travel across the country to pick up a used car, so helping the searcher discover a car for sale near them makes sense.

But Cazoo delivers cars anywhere in the country. So those same limitations don’t apply.

For that reason, they chose not to build out local car pages.

Here’s a deeper dive into three reasons why:

  • Their business model doesn’t match the intent
Cazoo has customer centres where it stores cars locally (or ships them there for local pickup)
Cazoo has customer centres where it stores cars locally (or ships them there for local pickup)

Compared to its competitors, Cazoo is not a conventional marketplace. It actually buys the used cars from their previous owners and stores them until they’re ready to be sold.

Cazoo has ‘customer centers’ all over the UK, which customers can visit or from which Cazoo can deliver a car to the customer quickly and easily.

  • It wouldn’t be user-centric

Andy failed to see the benefit of having 30 identical pages with just the headers reading differently, such as: ‘Used cars for sale in London’ or ‘Used cars for sale in Manchester’.

It would benefit organic performance, but would it really benefit the customer?

Since the answer was no, Andy’s team chose to simply have an identical inventory for all website visitors, regardless of their location.

  • Capitalizing on the shift from offline to online

Many are still apprehensive about buying a car without personally visiting a car dealership and taking a look (and a test drive) at the car. And that likely won’t change any time soon.

But, as Andy points out, there is a growing number of people who are looking for an easier car-buying experience. This was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic which hit only a few months after Cazoo launched.

So Cazoo capitalized on that shift from offline to online purchasing by offering the same products to all of its users and making delivery easy through its customer centers.

Cazoo decided against indexing its product pages

Andy was adamant that a website such as Cazoo should not have every single one of its pages crawled and indexed by Google.

“Every page needs to have an objective.” - Andy Francos

The type of pages they blocked from indexing with a combination of robot.txt and a no-index tag are:

  • Car pages - Cazoo’s cars for sale are unique. When one is sold, it is sold forever and will never be back in stock.
  • Deeper product pages (pages 2, 3, and more) - Because their car pages were not indexable, they didn’t feel the need to index the deeper product pages, either. Not recommended if you need your product pages indexed!
  • Filtered pages (pages with filters applied by users)
Pages that haven’t been crawled would still be accessible to the website user. It’s just that Google wouldn’t be able to index them and display them in SERPs.
“I didn’t ever worry about crawl budget for Cazoo simply because of the size of the site. [...] At the time, it really didn’t matter. I just wanted to focus on what the customer would want to see in search.” - Andy Francos

In the SEO industry, crawl budget is defined as the number of pages of a single website that Google can crawl in a single day.

Different SEOs have different opinions on what the maximum crawl budget is - anywhere from 10k+ to 1M+ pages. Can a website have too many indexed pages?

Andy doesn’t think this is important in any way.

In his words, you would be much better off spending your time “focusing on the UX, the content you produce, and the overall customer experience.”

Part Three: Cazoo’s Traffic Growth Results

From the moment they launched in December 2019, it took Cazoo about 4 months to start seeing the first results of its customer-centric strategy.

Here is a rough timeline of their progress:

  • Launch date: December 2, 2019
  • First organic performance results: April 2020
  • First organic keywords they ranked for: used car online, buy used car online - keywords specific to the business
  • No significant changes from April 2020 - August 2020
  • Redirecting the traffic of a newly acquired entity (Imperial Car Supermarket) to Cazoo: September 2020
  • Significant organic performance improvement due to an algorithm update: December 2020
“The December 2020 core update changed everything for me and for us as a team.” - Andy Francos

Andy was never an “algorithm chaser”.

“I don’t know why you should be like that. You should just stick to what you think is correct and right for the customer and keep moving forward with that.” - Andy Francos

But there is no denying the positive effects that the December 2020 Core Update had on their carefully developed and executed content strategy.

Thanks to the update, Cazoo went from 6K non-branded clicks per month, to a crazy 120K non-branded clicks per month. That’s a 1900% increase!

Find out how Monday.com scaled to +1.2M organic visitors in a single year in our Monday SEO case study.

Part Four: How SEO informed product launches at Cazoo

Over the course of Andy’s tenure at Cazoo, the company launched two key products:

  • A car subscription service
  • A “sell your car” proposition

Here’s how SEO played a pivotal role in both of these launches.

1/ Car subscription service - joindrover.com acquisition

In Q4 2020, Cazoo acquired Drover, a leading car subscription company in the UK.

The acquisition called for a domain migration. All of joindrover.com was 301 redirected to a specific landing page on the Cazoo website.

Within the first 24 hours, this page on Cazoo was ranking number 1 for the main service keywords: car subscription and cars on subscription.

Considering the fact that joindrover.com never ranked number 1 for these terms, how did Cazoo achieve this?

It came down to a combination of two things:

  • The backlink equity that joindrover.com had built up, now pouring into Cazoo.
  • Cazoo’s landing page content which was created with the customer in mind, just like all other pages on Cazoo’s website.
“We were number one before the paid search team could get their ads live for car subscription services.” - Andy Francos

SEO can be fast!

Tips on page-for-page migration: If you are 301 redirecting pages from another website to yours page by page, make sure to redirect only the pages that are performing well for a topic. Look at the backlinks of the page, as well as whether or not it adds topical authority. Redirect it to a relevant page on your website to boost your ranking.

2/ “Sell My Car” proposition

In December 2020 to January 2021, Cazoo wanted to develop a service where customers could sell their cars to Cazoo.

Andy and his team did extensive market research beforehand. They looked at UK-based competitors offering this service and came to a realization.

A large number of people wanted their cars evaluated in terms of price before they made a decision on whether to sell or not.

So it was a matter of simple calculations: “sell your car” had an X monthly search volume, while “car valuations” had a Y monthly search volume.

Andy’s team concluded that by offering a valuation service as well (alongside the ‘sell my car’ one), they could be capturing both of these audiences, not just the ones looking to sell their car.

And so Cazoo launched its Value My Car service as part of its Sell My Car proposition.

The Role of SEO in IPOs

Andy is clear that he had no conversations with potential investors and has never been given instructions or a roadmap on what to achieve for a company that wants to go public.

But from his experience, companies should strive to have SEO as a big channel for one main reason:

  • Low customer acquisition costs - The cheaper it is to acquire a new customer, the more valuable a company seems to a potential investor. Compared to paid advertising, SEO is a much less expensive customer acquisition channel.
Read more: Hotjar’s SEO strategy that enabled them to drastically lower the costs of customer acquisition.

Final Lessons from a Career in SEO

In the final part of my interview with Andy, we chatted about some other experiences from his career.

Here are some of his key lessons:

  • Surround yourself with positive people you can talk to - SEO work can become highly stressful, especially in companies looking for fast results. If you can, ensure that you surround yourself with positive, like-minded people that you can bounce ideas off of. It will greatly help your process and your mental health.
  • Build a blog to experiment with what you’ve learned - Don’t just blindly accept everything you read or hear from SEO experts. Build a blog to test these new ideas. See which ones work and which don’t and let that inform your practices.
  • Believe in yourself - In the SEO industry, pretty much every agency has a different opinion and approach to optimization, content creation, and similar. To make it, you have to believe in yourself. Believe in your methods, trust that you are doing what’s right for the customer, and rely on your experience to succeed.
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