The insurance industry is one of the hardest to compete in - not even just in SEO but business in general. It’s rare for companies to grab significant SEO market share in such spaces. But Progressive managed to increase organic traffic by +280% over 2 years and go from the 4th biggest SEO player to the number one.
In this case study, I show you how.
Strategic questions you can ask yourself based on this case study:
- Does all of your content get traffic? If not, what’s your game plan for it?
- Do you have topics or formats on your domain that could dilute your core topics?
- Are your brand impressions growing?
A look at the insurance space, one of the toughest SEO verticals
Before we jump in, it is important to understand just how tough the insurance space is.
Insurance companies are highly regulated to ensure rates aren’t too high or too low. Almost every word has to be approved by internal legal and compliance departments. In most US states, regulators can even force insurance companies to lower excessive rates. Regulation slows content creation and new landing pages down.
The competition is strong. In the US, almost 6,000 insurance companies compete with each other (source). Over 10% of the market is liquid, meaning one in ten insurance buyers is looking for insurance at all times. Some customers are new to the market; others want to switch their insurance. There is a reason you see ads from all big insurers at the Superbowl.
Customers move fast. Buying cycles are short in insurance. When you buy a car or rent a home, you decide relatively quickly. Even though insurances are complex products, providers don’t have a lot of ways to differentiate themselves due to the regulation.
But the rewards are high. Insurance is a multi-trillion Dollar business in the US and makes up 3.1% of GDP! The 5 insurers in this case study make between $25b and $90b a year.
The average annual rate for car insurance is around ~$1,500 (source). The US has about 243m drivers as of 2023, meaning we’re talking about a TAM (total addressable market) of $364b for car insurance alone.
Progressive goes aggressively after that pie.
How Progressive wins SEO in the insurance industry
We can split the journey to almost tripling organic traffic into 3stages.
Stage 1 - status quo
In the first stage, we see Progressive in place 4. None of the players seems to make any strides in the fall of 2021.
Google launched a Core update in November 2021 and a Product Reviews Update shortly after in December. As we’ll see in the next stages, those updates significantly boosted Progressive’s visibility several times.
Stage 2 - the change
The second stage begins in early 2022. Progressive slowly overtakes Allstate (#3) in September and eventually Geico (#2) in October.
Remember, Google launched the Helpful Content Update in August, a Core and Product Reviews Update in September 2022. We’ll talk about what Progressive did to be rewarded in a moment.
Stage 3 - rising to the top
Stage 3 begins in November 2022, when Progressive’s SEO visibility made another jump and catapults the brand to the top of the market.
When looking at the number of top 3 keywords, you see that they dip in January 2022 and really only start to come back in October. In the meantime, market leader Statefarm got decimated by the May 2022 Core update.
Both of these trends are important to understand.
Spring cleaning, topical authority, and brand, brand, brand
Your first thought might be, “Progressive built a lot of links!” But that’s not it. All players in the industry grow links at the same rate.
One chart explains why Progressive was rewarded by so many updates over the last two years: the number of indexed pages over time.
www.progressive.com went from 32,000 pages in December 2021 to 2,500 in May 2022.
The team over at Progressive took several “spring cleaning” steps. Whether the decision was made due to technical reasons or to have only topically relevant pages on the domain, it certainly helped.
Progressive moved a large amount of pages in the /agent/ subdirectory to the domain www.progressiveagent.com.
Almost all links in the top nav on progressiveagent.com point at progressive.com, which makes the agent domain a sort of directory for agents.
I don’t think the agent pages were moved for crawl budget reasons. Progressive should have enough brand authority and backlinks to get 30K pages crawled daily.
To better surface relevant, expert, and knowledgeable content in Google Search and News, Google developed a system called topic authority that helps determine which expert sources are helpful to someone’s newsy query in certain specialized topic areas, such as health, politics, or finance. (link)
Finding an insurance agent is topically not far away from buying and learning about insurance, but agent pages only have a few pieces of information that are often repetitive across many pages.
Another big chunk of cleanup was done in the /lifelanes/ directory. Progressive redirected many pages to the /answers/ directory and removed underperforming content.
It seems Progressive removed a lot of duplicate content as well. An explainer piece about liability coverage, for example, moved from https://www.progressive.com/lifelanes/uncategorized/liability-coverages-explained/ to https://www.progressive.com/answers/liability-insurance/. The redirects were implemented around January 2022, but it has taken over a year until they showed an impact.
Today, the /answers/ directory makes up almost 40% of organic traffic to the whole domain. Both directories, /answers/ and /lifelanes/, have 5xed organic traffic in the last 12 months. The cleanup worked out.
Progressive’s content answers questions so deliberately that they rank for 119,000 People Also Ask SERP Features in June 2023, compared to Statefarm’s 17,000 or Geico’s 15,000.
Another factor that surely plays a role (and seems to more and more) is brand growth. Progressive and Statefarm are the two players of the 6 covered in this case study that have more brand searches now than before 2020.
Brand searches for “progressive”
Brand searches for “state farm”
Brand searches for “usaa”
Brand searches for “liberty mutual”
Brand searches for “geico”
Brand searches for “allstate”
Progressive has been on an advertising rampage over the last 2 years. Most big insurers have brand mascots they use in TV campaigns. State Farm has Jake (who was even featured in a Drake song). Liberty Mutual has LiMu Emu and Doug. Progressive developed several brand mascots: TV Dad, Flo and the Squad, Replay and Dr. Rick.
Progressive’s mascots grew in search volume:
- flo from progressive - 29K
- dr rick progressive - 2K
- tv dad progressive - 700
“Jake from state farm” still has the top spot with 62K, but monthly searches have decreased lately.
Progressive also ramped up its paid spend since December 2021: from $11M per month in December 2021 to $30M in March 2023 (though lately, the budget seems to have decreased again).
Compare that against Allstate, which spent $370,000 (almost a tenth) on paid search in March 2023. The only player coming close in paid spend is Liberty Mutual, with $6.2M in March 2023.
What you can learn from Progressive
Progressive is an outstanding example of a company that leans into SEO from all angles to win a hypercompetitive space. The main contributors to SEO growth are
- Keeping content quality high by cleaning up underperforming, cannibalizing or outdated content
- Improving Topical Authority by migrating disjunct content formats to a separate domain
- Building a brand through memorable mascots and boatloads of $$$ spent on advertising
A few of the many noteworthy keyword wins:
Car insurance quotes