Rapha Racing & PPC | Climbing l’Alpe d’AdWords

THIS WOULD HAVE been way cooler if this article were produced like a classic Rapha film with a little lo-fi background music by This Will Destroy You. But it’s not a Rapha Film or anything really at all about Rapha cycling clothes. This is, however, something about how Rapha and a couple of it’s preferred US distributors – Competitive Cyclist and Studio Velo –  are using Google AdWords to market their goods.

Before I get into the AdWords review I want to preface that I am borderline obsessed with Rapha’s brand which uses stories to connect it’s customers with cycling. Rapha’s cycling philosophy is expressed in the attention to detail and quality they put into each garment they produce. They also build this philosophy into the service they provide to their customers. I know this first hand and my wallet hates me for it.

Rapha has also chosen two distributors of their high-quality cycling clothing of which I am also a customer. In the same fashion that Toyota does with it’s vendors, Rapha has chosen to work with Competitive Cyclist and Studio Velo because of, in my opinion, a shared philosophy of attention to detail, quality and service. Rapha makes the finest cycling apparel and Competitive Cyclist and Studio Velo only sells the finest in cycling apparel, bikes and gear. My experience with Rapha clothing, it’s service and it’s choice in vendors has been nothing but stellar. The same however cannot be said with their use of Google AdWords.

l’Alpe d’AdWords

Similar to climbing l’Alpe d’Huez, the historic Tour de France mountain stretch of 13.8 km at an average 7.9 per cent, with 21 hairpins, navigating the complexities of Google AdWords can be just as demanding. With AdWords, the complexities and demands are both internal (knowing the tool and keeping up with constant updates and changes) and external (keeping up with the competition). The following examples will address the former and take a look at the perceived quality of how Rapha, Competitive Cyclist and Studio Velo each use Google AdWords.

Example 1  – The Branded Search Query

Example of Rapha Cycling Google Adwords Branded Text Ad






Example 1 above shows a general search on the query ‘rapha’ which would be representative of someone shopping earlier in the buying cycle. In this case each ad is appropriate and the messaging is geared toward either Rapha clothing itself (classic style, performance) or distinct calls to action (in stock & ready to ship).

As far as the order of the ads go, Competitive Cyclist wins out probably because of the repetitive use of ‘Rapha’ in the headline, description line 2 and in the display URL. It’s hard to know if MAX CPC part of the auction is playing a factor in the AdRank but it is plausible and clear that Rapha is being trumped on it’s own branded keyword by it’s distributors.

The other observation I would make here too is that Rapha is missing out on the Google best practice tip of inter-capitalizing the first letter of each word in it’s text ad.

Example 2 – The Missing Ad Extensions





In Example 2 we are still using the query ‘rapha’ but this time the results are different. Competitive Cyclist still trumps Rapha and Studio Velo but this time two ads are showing up in positions 1 & 2 highlighted in yellow. In this case both the Competitive Cyclist and Rapha ads would be eligible for their ads to show enhancements called Ad Extensions. Ad Extensions are a free-to-use enhancements that allow advertisers the ability to add additional lines of text, phone numbers and product information/images (linked to a Google Merchant Center account) below the body of a simple text ad. This feature is something that Competive Cyclist uses with it’s own branded AdWords campaign but seems to be missing here. Or it is possible that any and all Ad Extensions just did not show when this search query was made. In either case, the use of Ad Extensions can help to both differentiate an ad from the competition as well as help increase CTR.

In addition to the missing extensions one thing I would recommend here would be for Rapha to test advertising something less generic. Rapha’s Autumn/Winter 2011 (AW 2011) line has is now out so why not talk about that? In my experience, a branded ad should display messaging complimenting the organic results with something other than what the organic results display. Or better yet, use the branded paid result to display an offer or benefit differentiating the brand from the competition. For Rapha advertising their bundle offers using the branded term would be a great differentiators since I don’t believe bundles are on offer at Competitive Cyclist or Studio Velo.

Example 3 – Rapha Cycling Jersey










Example 3 now includes the query ‘rapha’ along with the modifier ‘cycling jersey’. This search resulted in more competition but not necessarily for the keyword ‘rapha cycling jersey’. The intent of this search query is limited in scope but results in ads from advertisers that sell Rapha cycling jerseys as well as those that do not. Competitive Cyclist and Rapha land the top two spots for various Quality Score reasons. Again, Competitive Cyclist trumps Rapha most likely because the headline exactly matches the search query. Studio Velo however is trumped by 4 other advertisers even though the headline in its ad also exactly matches the search query. This is most likely due to the other 4 advertisers bidding on the broad or phrase match keyword ‘cycling jersey’ at a higher MAX CPC. This can be frustrating for two reasons –

1. As a customer I want the best user experience possible and if I do not already know that Performance Bike, Real Cyclist and Nashbar do not sell Rapha goods, I don’t want to waste my time trawling through their sites looking for something I wont find.

2. As an advertiser this is annoying especially if I am running the PPC program at Studio Velo. In this result there is an indirect effect of the other 4 advertisers’ strategy that is most likely having a direct effect on the Quality Score Studio Velo receives on the keyword ‘rapha cycling jersey’ for this search. In ad position 7, the Studio Velo ad most likely has a very low CTR and as we know, low CTR has a direct effect on Quality Score. Unfortunately for Studio Velo, which is a relative new-comer to the cycling retail world, the budgets of the much larger retailers like Performance Bike and Nashbar (assuming their budgets are much larger than Studio Velo’s) allow those two advertisers to cast a wider, less effective and less efficient net. Personally I would much rather shop with Studio Velo than with Performance Bike and Nashbar because I know they sell Rapha and I know I am going to get better, more personal customer service.

For Performance Bike and Nashbar, this type of cast-a-wide net strategy will eventually catch up with them because it is not sustainable. Paying a premium for ads of products that are not available might generate a few sales, but ultimately it promotes poor user and customer experiences.

And what about Real Cyclist and it’s relationship to Competitive Cyclist? BackCountry.com, parent company of Real Cyclist, recently acquired Competitive Cyclist. Once competitors in the space, Real Cyclist and Competitive Cyclist will now need to find a way to better implement their PPC strategies so that overlap is minimal, they advertise products they actually sell, use budgets more efficiently and keep customer confusion limited.

Example 4 – Rapha Bib Shorts & Onesies…










Not gonna lie, wearing Rapha bib shorts lathered up with Button Hole chamois cream is like biting into a York Peppermint Patty – absolutely divine… Example 4 showing how complicated PPC can be. Our 3 main advertisers are all in play but unlike the results for the branded ‘rapha’ search, the messaging of each advertiser on the query ‘rapha bibs’ is about as varied as the additional competition. In this example we not only see our featured advertisers duking it out, but we are now seeing ad from direct competitors like Road Holland, a long short advertiser like the Clymb and an irrelevant advertiser like CafePress.

As we have come to know in the previous examples, Competitve Cyclist wins out with the top result just above their older sister Real Cyclist. (Side note… in this example Real Cyclist is taking advantage of SiteLink Ad Extensions mentioned earlier in this article.) Of our three featured advertisers, Competitve Cyclist has the best matching ad since it includes both ‘Rapha Bib Shorts’ and ‘RaphaBibs’ in its text ad. Rapha and Studio Velo however miss the mark completely. For Rapha, the text ad displayed here is what I would have liked to have seen matching against the generic ‘rapha’ query in example 2. The Rapha text ad displayed here would be better matched to an ad group that includes modifying keywords like ‘rapha winter apparel’ or ‘rapha fall collection’. On the other end, Rapha should have an ad group in place just for ‘rapha bibs’ and ‘rapha bib shorts’ themed keywords with ads and a landing page that reflect their amazing line of bib shorts.

Studio Velo misses out too in a rough way. An ad in position 7 with messaging about Rapha Cycling Jerseys on a query for ‘bibs’ is likely to be passed over which will result in low CTR and Quality Score.

Example 5 – Rapha Cycling is Bad Ass







Yeah, Rapha is pretty bad ass, hands down. And so are their US partners. Whether it’s watching Andy’s product reviews at Competitive Cyclist or Karen’s personal customer service at Studio Velo, both get a thumbs up for rock n’ roll from me. As a customer of all three I hope for their continued success and look forward to more great products from Rapha for years to come. As a practitioner, on the surface, I think there are some good things they are doing with their PPC efforts. I also think that there are some things they can do better to compliment each other as well as increase their exposure and relevance making the quality of user experience as legendary as the Rapha products they are advertising.

* Please Note – I realize that this analysis has its flaws due to things like session based search results etc.


Matt LeVeque is the Service Product Manager at Monetate. He is a Senior Member of the American Society for Quality (ASQ) and recently completed Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business Certificate in Customer Experience Program. He is a Registered Yoga Teacher, an avid cyclist and recommends living by Velominati Rule #6 - Free your mind and your legs will follow.

Posted in AdWords, Cycling, Digital Marketing, Paid Search, Search Engine Marketing Tagged with: , , ,

Leave a Reply