Subscriptions for physical goods - such as the beer subscription boxes we’ll talk about in this article - are set to overtake digital subscriptions by 2025, according to researchers. That’ll give them a total market value of more than $263bn globally; a four-fold increase on 2020 figures.
Popularised in the early 2010s through the likes of BarkBox, Birch Box, shaving products and gaming loot crates, the food and drink sector has seen an exponential growth in subscription-based sales in recent years. In 2021, more than half of Britons surveyed said they were potentially interested in food and/or drink subscription services - up from a third just two years previously.
While meal kits are amongst the most popular food and drink-based subscription products, some 15% of UK consumers expressed an interest in receiving alcohol subscription boxes - compared to 8% for non-alcoholic beverages.
Today, we’ll look at three leading beer subscription box brands in the UK and find out more about how they’re strategically positioned to receive organic, SEO-driven traffic:
Branded keywords are used by an audience already aware of your brand, and are looking specifically for the products or services you offer. As a result, they’re not only amongst the highest-converting terms, but can also be indicative of your overall level of brand awareness - much like mentions or branded hashtags on social media.
In the battle of the beer boxes, Beer52 is the clear leader, with ten times the branded monthly searches of Flavourly:
With approximately 200,000 subscribers and named as the fourth fastest-growing ecommerce business in the UK back in 2020, these results should come as no surprise. Beer52 saw a particular surge in demand during the coronavirus pandemic and is considered the world’s largest craft beer club.
With diverse campaigns across digital, daily deals, sponsorships, TV, affiliates, vouchers and social media influencers, Beer52’s investment in marketing and advertising has clearly resulted in major gains; back in 2014, it had only 2,500 subscribers.
On occasion, the company’s innovative tactics have been considered to be non-compliant, but it’s difficult to question their effectiveness.
Despite being set up before Beer52, Flavourly and Best of British Beer are very much challenger brands in the industry, and this is reflected by their share of branded search.
Flavourly has an interesting history, being founded in 2012 and appearing on Dragons’ Den in 2015 under its original guise as a food and snack box subscription. Founder Ryan O’Rorke ultimately turned down £75,000 of investment from Piers Linney and Peter Jones off-air, before later going on to secure hundreds of thousands more in various crowdfunding rounds.
The business was eventually sold off in 2017 for just £118,000 when it pivoted to its craft beer offering. It touts over 500,000 customers, but this is an all-time user number rather than active subscribers.
Best of British Beer, meanwhile, remains an independent, family-owned business, and has seen largely organic growth since being founded by Will and Gill Sherwin in 2011. The company has relied on digital PR, social media and digital tactics such as PPC to drive its brand recognition - which stands at 5% of Beer52 in branded organic search terms.
As an agency, we at ICS-digital often measure the success of SEO content strategies by their ability to acquire non-branded keyword rankings, and in turn, organic users / potential customers. So, how well are the three beer subscription box brands performing when it comes to their on-site content?
When it comes to the total volume and diversity of keywords ranked for, it’s no surprise that Beer52 is by far and away the superior of the three companies - so we won’t spend time analysing those in detail. However, it is interesting to see where the likes of Flavourly and Best of British Beer look to differentiate themselves from their competitors in terms of key product messaging.
Looking at the table below, we can see that Beer 52 performs extremely well when it comes to generic terms such as ‘beer’ and ‘craft beer’, as well as keywords such as ‘beer subscription’ and ‘beer case’.
Interestingly, Flavourly punches above its weight when it comes to the generic ‘IPA’ keyword, ranking on page 1 where neither of its competitors do. Elsewhere, it is competitive for ‘beer delivery’, ‘beer club’ and ‘craft beer club’ - which speaks to its brand narrative of being an exclusive club for beer lovers, rather than simply a subscription service.
Best of British Beer, meanwhile, have a clear focus on gifting; they lead the other brands when it comes to terms such as ‘beer gift(s)’, ‘beer gift box’, ‘beer hamper gift’ and ‘beer selection box’ - with a number of page 1 rankings. Much like Flavourly, Best of British also outperforms its competitors for two types of beer - ale and lager.
Moving away from strictly product-based and transactional keywords, a website’s more user-centric, informational content is also worth considering. These pages often sit at the top of the funnel, with the intention of nurturing prospective or undecided buyers in a gentler way or to build a brand’s authority on a particular subject matter.
In SEO terms, the strength of this content can broadly be evaluated based on the diversity of longtail keyword rankings a website boasts.
It’s no surprise that of the three brands, Beer52 leads the way with 152 longtail keywords ranking on page 1, with Flavourly falling well behind with just 14. What is interesting, however, is Best of British Beer’s performance - with 114 such keywords occupying search positions 1 to 10.
This performance - representing 15% of the site’s overall page 1 keyword rankings - speaks to Best of British’s SEO-driven blog content strategy, with many articles written to cater to specific queries users have around beer, the brewing process or the industry as a whole.
Taking the example of the query ‘Why is it called Indian Pale Ale?’ (IPA), a term with 90 monthly searches, BoBB occupies the first result on Google. Better still, the article also ranks as a featured snippet - increasingly the likelihood of user engagement:
That’s not to say the brand’s blog is perfect, however; it could do a lot better when it comes to moving readers further along the buying journey. Currently, the page includes only generic, sitewide CTAs, rather than, for example, customised links that take users through to Best of British’s IPA products or gift sets.
This is an area Beer52 also falls short, despite having put a lot of thought into their ‘Ferment’ craft beer magazine, almost positioning it as a sub-brand of their subscription service. While articles are insightful, in-depth and objectively useful to consumers, there is no meaningful effort to convert readers directly on the blog pages themselves.
It’s a very similar story from Flavourly, who even commit the cardinal CMS sin of classing some of their ‘Discover’ blog content as uncategorised. They do, at least, include an inline, relevant CTA within their copy.
On balance, despite all three brands clearly viewing a blog as a worthwhile medium for content production, Best of British Beer gets the nod in this category due to the sense of it punching above its weight when it comes to SEO rankings.
Winner: Best of British Beer
While content is king, it’s by no means the be all and end all for SEO performance. Another key pillar proven to directly influence search rankings is off-page SEO; that is, the acquisition of backlinks, either through digital PR or more traditional methods.
The strength of a website’s backlink profile can be measured in a number of ways. Rather than purely considering the volume of links or referring domains, SEO professionals use metrics such as Trust Flow (Majestic), Domain Authority (Moz) or Domain Rating (Ahrefs), which provide a quantitative measure of how likely a domain is to rank for any particular topic.
Comparing the brands side by side in Majestic, Best of British Beer not only has the highest Trust Flow of the three, but it’s also receiving links from relevant external websites - note its primary Topical Trust Flow of Recreation / Food, compared to Arts / Television for Beer52 and News / Media Industry for Flavourly.
This topical relevance is also proven to directly influence Google’s understanding of a website and help rank it accordingly.
It’s notable that Best of British has the best scorecard here despite having the lowest number of referring domains. It’s quite possible that these metrics may rebalance when the site continues to acquire more links, but it’s certainly a promising picture.
In terms of how the brand is making gains over its competitors, we can take a quick look at a backlink gap landscape. Best of British Beer has successfully acquired links from the likes of the BBC, the Daily Mail, Cosmopolitan and Men’s Health:
These top-tier links speak to the strength of the site’s digital PR campaigns, with feel-good company news stories, creative product launches and competitions all providing wins for Best of British.
It’s on this basis Best of British gets the nod when it comes to off-page SEO performance.
Winner: Best of British Beer
Of course, a site may have the best content and link building strategies in the world, but if its technical foundations are lacking, these may be in vain. User experience, site speed and navigation and mobile performance have been confirmed as being direct Google ranking factors since 2018.
For this reason, we’ve compared the three sites using Google’s Pagespeed Insights tool to benchmark their overall performance when it comes to Core Web Vitals. These are a set of UX and performance metrics Google uses to determine a site’s success (or lack thereof) in providing a positive experience to users.
Of the three beer subscription boxes, Beer52 was the only brand to ‘pass’ Core Web Vitals for its homepage. Flavourly failed on two out of three metrics, while Best of British failed on one - Largest Contentful Paint. In other words, the ‘perceived load time’ of its page to users was too long, thus detracting from the overall experience.
For this reason, Beer52 comes out as the clear winner.
From the outset of this beer subscription box study, it wouldn’t have been unfair to make a number of assumptions. As by far the leading brand when it comes to subscriber numbers, you may well have expected Beer52 to have sent its competitors into a drunken stupor.
As it turns out, the contest was far closer than predicted. SEO is a multifaceted discipline, and indeed, we’ve seen different brands perform better in different areas. When it comes to product-driven content, overall organic traffic and technical performance, Beer52 maintains its market dominance.
Best of British Beer, however, has used innovative digital PR tactics and the production of user-centric content to build authority on both an on and off-page level. At least from an SEO perspective, Flavourly clearly has a lot of work to do.
In terms of personal, first-hand experience, I was familiar with all three brands as a consumer and have subscribed to their monthly beer boxes in the past. Correlating with the data-driven findings explored here, I first came across Beer52 as a result of their extensive digital display advertising, and was familiar with their TV advertising prior to purchase.
I had seen Flavourly’s original pitch on Dragons’ Den, and until recently still associated the product with being a meal and snack box - speaking perhaps to their slightly convoluted company history and lack of resonance (at least with me) through digital marketing.
With Best of British Beer, meanwhile, I had actively sought out gifts for a family member - landing on their innovative advent calendar product some years ago. This speaks to the brand’s success in punching above its weight in the SERPs.
At ICS-digital, we regularly advise both UK-based and international brands on all aspects of their SEO and content strategies. We’ll also be in attendance at the Food & Drink Expo 2023 at the Birmingham NEC to chat to food and beverage companies about how to leverage organic, paid and social marketing channels. Get in touch to organise a catch-up with one of the team.