Ranking For License Plates | A True Crime Story
In this niche report, I examine a weird style of site ranking and banking by republishing public information.
So how did I stumble across this niche?
I was minding my business, living my baller MMO lifestyle, i.e. staring at a Google Sheet, when I got an alert from the Citizen App that there had been a stabbing nearby me in Brooklyn:If you don’t know, the Citizen app alerts you to all sorts of nearby crimes like shootings, manhole fires, missing persons etc. You can even film the crime and stream directly to the app.
The Citizen app said that the Police were trying to locate an “Audi Q50”, which is evidently a typo because Audi doesn’t make a Q50.
(On an unrelated note, the blacked-out Infiniti badge looks pretty cool.)
The Citizen app provided the license plate number of this imaginary Audi Q50 and I was compelled to Google it.
It does seem like a strange niche in some respects:
Is there really any significant volume for the license plates themselves?
How much content could you possibly add to a page dedicated to a license plate?
What kind of situation would cause people to Google a license plate in large numbers?
I couldn’t find the Q50’s particular license plate online, but I quickly realized that this would probably be a pretty interesting niche to report on.
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Comparing License Plate Lookup Sites
To get started, I used Ahrefs to find some of the highest-trafficked license plate lookup sites.
Eleven of them are below. You can see that DMV.com (Department of Motor Vehicles) has the most Total Keywords and Total Traffic, while AutoCheck wins the Backlink battle with over 17 million backlinks.
|License Plate Sites||Domain Rating||Ahrefs Rank||# Of Refeerring Domains||# Of Total Backlinks||Total Keywords||Total Traffic|
It should also be mentioned, that the DMV is going to rank for a lot of traffic/keywords because it is an (awful) brand. That is, people are forced to use the DMV, so there are tons of “DMV” searches that they’ll rank for. Just imagine if there was a law that people had to use your website- you’d be crushing it, too.
As you can see, there are a couple of .gov websites that rank for these terms. I didn’t want to focus on analyzing them because they aren’t realistically replicable if you’re a site builder.
You can always snipe their keywords, but it’s better for our purposes to see how an actual authority-site builder is ranking.
The best example I could find is a site called FindByPlate. They describe themselves as “a free resource to search by license plate numbers and report bad drivers.”
Running it through Ahref’s Site Explorer, you can see that (1) it’s got pretty decent rankings (as of January 2019), especially since (2/3) it looks like the site only launched in Spring of 2018. Traffic and keywords are both accelerating rapidly, despite a meager 4.5 Domain Rating.
I decided to use findbyplate.com to extract some of the keywords these style of sites rank for. Mainly because this particular site actually builds out individual license plate pages, instead of generically ranking for “license plate search” queries.
As you can see, some of the top ranking keywords include variations of plate search and plate lookup:
- license plate lookup
- license plate search
- california license plate lookup
- free license plate lookup
- license plate lookup california
- license plate lookup free
- free license plate lookup
- license plates lookup
What’s interesting, though, is that there are a bunch of individual plate keywords that get decent traffic. And the site has a ton of landing pages with information including Pictures (generic images of the car model), Video, Owners (vehicle ownership history), Related Websites, Comments, and Recalls.
One license plate, “ADD3MANA“, obviously a vanity plate, gets 700 searches a month. Why? If you check out the license plate landing page, you’ll see that at the time of this writing the license plate is registered to a 2014 Lotus (not the one pictured below):
If you’re driving around in an exotic Lotus with a memorable, vanity plate, you’re going to get a lot of people searching for the license plate number.
Just check out some of these sweet, sweet, license plate searches:
Their site is pretty new and I do see that they’re capturing emails by offering a license plate monitoring option, but as of right now it looks like a display ad play. On the Lotus landing page, you can see that currently there’s only one ad running:
What I Like
Free Content: The site aggregates free, public information and converts it into attractive landing pages. They’ve managed to push out a ton of landing pages.
If you run a site:findbyplate.com search in Google, I get 21,600 results, and there’s probably more to come, considering that at the time of this writing in January 2019, their landing page says that their license plate lookup feature is still in beta. They’ve struck a good balance of being brandable, useful, while republishing information.
User-Generated Content: They also solicit “Comments”, and as of this writing, they say that they have over 3,700 comments- user-generated content can help increase the uniqueness.
Cool Landing Pages: Each license plate number gets a snazzy mockup- you can see one in the upper left corner of the Lotus Landing page. The information is easy to navigate and the stock photo of the car model is a nice addition that doubtlessly increases uesr engagement on page.
Branding: The site goes above and beyond showcasing useful features, modern design and accessible information- this will help it survive a manual review if Google ever decides to take a hard look at a site republishing so much thin, duplicate content.
What I Don’t Like
Thin Content: It is a bit of a dangerous game. The content on the landing pages is very thin and if you’re depending on organic traffic from Google, this could make you a target for a manual review. In my opinion, the more brandable and useful you can make the content, the more you minimize the chances of a penalty. The site isn’t just republishing long lists of license plate numbers by state and ranking for these obscure, long-tail searches. They’ve put a lot of thought into the layout and functionality of their site.
User-Generated Content: While I do like the idea of soliciting comments- I can’t imagine anyone is saying anything that useful or constructive about another person’s license plate. The most likely use case I can imagine is someone writing a negative review of another person’s driving.
For example, if you look at this landing page for the “7478IN” landing page a user alleges that the driver participated in a hit and run! I wouldn’t want to publish that sort of information on my website:
The Big Idea
This is another example of a site that’s found a weird, micro niche with free information that they can republish for long-tail, organic traffic. The site has some nice features and design, which will help immunize it from a manual review from Google’s Search team.
I can’t advise that you enter into this niche. All things being equal, it would probably be pretty fun to scrape public information and publish thousands of license-plate targeted landing pages. But it could really get you into trouble with Google.
Plus, it’s my belief that if Google figures out that you’re a gray-hat webmaster, it could really hurt your chances with any site that you start or own in the future. If you are attracted to this niche, I’d really try to build out something that looks good and adds value. If your website seems like a shady traffic grab, you could get busted for spam.