On October 28th, eccentric Billionaire and Tesla CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter to complain that it was hard to find Tesla solar links on Google due to “tons of ads & SEO.”
Unfortunately, it’s hard to google Tesla solar links due to tons of ads & SEO. Go to https://t.co/UvQa8JOE7v to add solar to an existing roof & https://t.co/D9yUuL7NVE for a new roof with integrated solar.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 28, 2019
The reaction from the SEO community was mixed, to say the least. The ever-vigilant Barry Schwartz has a great recap of it on his blog, which you can find here.
After seeing all the commotion, I’m left with two questions, and I might even answer them here:
- Does Tesla’s solar division actually have an SEO/search visibility problem?
- If so, what’s the easiest way they could fix it?
Without further ado, let’s get to it.
Does Tesla Solar Actually Have an SEO or Search Visibility Problem?
Let’s start by checking out a handful of searches to see where Tesla properties actually rank.
Search rankings change often based on a wide variety of factors, including the searcher’s location, previous search history, engagement data from other users, and so on.
I performed the following searches on 10/29/2019 using Firefox’s private browsing mode from our office in Pleasanton, California.
This straightforward branded search returned two ads (neither of which was from Tesla), followed by two organic results from Tesla’s website. It also included a “people always ask box” that included four questions specifically about Tesla, a local Tesla car dealership on the sidebar, and top stories about Tesla below that.
Even the parts of their branded search that Tesla doesn’t directly control are generally positive, so it’s a strong branded search:
Anyone who’s specifically looking for “Tesla solar links” on Google should have no trouble finding them. But what about a broader, less branded term?
Let’s skip straight to a much tougher, broader keyword. According to Ahrefs.com, “solar panels” receives about 188k searches per month in the U.S. and costs about $3.50 CPC via Google AdWords. It also has a difficulty score of 59/100 (it’s a log scale, so that’s tougher than it sounds), and Ahrefs estimates that you’ll need backlinks from about 123 sites to your one landing page just to rank on page 1. Yikes!
So how does Tesla rank for “solar panels”?
Naturally, this is a much tougher search. I saw 4 ads at the top, a Google Shopping ad block on the sidebar, and a “see results about” block on the sidebar below that.
So far, no Tesla.
Next came a “solar savings estimator” block by Project Sunroof, a Google-owned property. Next came a four pack of “people also ask” questions, followed by a local pack of solar contractors.
Still no Tesla.
Then came the first organic links: one from wholesalesolar.com, then another Google shopping pack, one Wikipedia page on the broad topic of solar panels, then a link from us.sunpower.com, and then, finally, a page on Tesla.com.
So, Tesla’s visibility is a problem on the broadest possible search, but it’s also an extremely competitive search. With several established installers, local contractors, products, and informational searches all jockeying for position, it’s no surprise that Tesla isn’t reigning supreme. But they’re still on page 1, and they’re beating out results from The Home Depot, Washington Post, Sunrun, and more.
Take their position for that search, plus all other relevant organic searches, and Ahrefs.com ballparks that page’s traffic at 58.9k U.S visits per month, worth $240k per month (if you purchased that traffic via Google AdWords instead of ranking organically.) Of course, that’s a drop in the bucket versus how much they actually make off an installation job, so the actual value of that traffic to Tesla is substantially higher.
Long story short, Tesla’s solar division is still receiving great traffic from Google, despite what Elon thinks, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.
How to Improve Tesla’s SEO for Solar Keywords
1. Fix the keyword cannibalization
One of the biggest issues with Tesla’s SEO for solar keywords is that there are multiple pages splitting the traffic. While https://www.tesla.com/solarpanels earns $240k in organic traffic each month, https://www.tesla.com/solarroof earns $434k. Meanwhile, Elon tweeted two completely different pages, https://www.tesla.com/solarroof/design and https://www.tesla.com/energy/design, which each earn a fraction of the traffic.
The problem is that these pages generally compete for the same keywords, which can get into the issue of keyword cannibalization. When Google genuinely doesn’t know which page should be more relevant for “solar panels,” all pages involved will generally take a hit.
Minimizing the number of pages involved is a good start, but linking them together with accurate anchor text would also help define their relationship to each other. Adding links on the two main pages to each other, using anchor text and supporting copy along the lines of “learn more about Tesla solar panels” or “learn more about Tesla solar roofs” would be a good start. If the two /design pages linked back to their parent pages with similar anchor text, that would also help.
2. Expand the text content
Tesla’s solar roof page has roughly 250-300 words of content, while the solar panels page has even less.
While there is no definitive content length for SEO purposes, studies have found that 1950-2000 words is a great target.
The prevailing wisdom is that longer content generally ranks better, and that having significantly less content than the search results you’re competing against is worth fixing.
Here are some rough word counts for the other pages competing in the search results for “solar panels”:
These other pages also include comparison shopping guides, informational resources about solar technology, energy saving calculators, and other helpful, granular information.
You might have noticed that the “people also asked” boxes from the search results for “solar panels” touched on many of the same topics, such as “how many solar panels are needed to run a house?” and “how much does it cost to install solar panels?”
On the other hand, Tesla’s pages touch on very few of those topics, and only in passing. Their pages are generally designed to be sales oriented, with multiple “order now” buttons where “learn more” buttons could have made a lot more sense.
Instead, most of that information is isolated on other pages, such as their support subdirectory, that are generally inaccessible from their two main solar pages. For example, if you want to find out how many Tesla solar panels it takes to run a house, you’ll find the closest thing to an answer buried deep on their site:
3. More internal links
Since I only have the free version of the excellent Screaming Frog SEO Spider, my ability to find all of Tesla.com’s internal links to their main solar pages is severely limited.
With that in mind, I went through about two dozen results for “site:tesla.com solar,” which should return the most relevant pages for the broad keyword “solar” on Tesla’s website.
Of those 20 results, 12 were from their site’s support section, one is for New Zealand, two are the bare bones /design pages from earlier, and one is a PDF.
Not including the /solarroof and /solarpanels pages themselves, only three results actually linked to those pages.
When the most relevant pages for “solar” on your website don’t link to the pages that you actually want to rank for “solar” searches, that’s an enormous problem, or at least a missed opportunity.
4. Put some effort into the SEO
I could go on about Tesla’s bare bones title tags and alt tags, their low content density, their uncompressed photos and so on, but the fact is that they’re ranking incredibly well while barely touching SEO fundamentals. That’s the power of brand authority and a high profile CEO who earns press links before getting out of bed in the morning.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that Elon’s original tweet will earn enough coverage to put Tesla’s content over the top for all solar related searches, making the rest of this exercise irrelevant.
So, like so many other contemporary leaders, Elon is either completely clueless or playing the long game, and it’s probably going to work out for him either way.