This month, SectorWatch is tuning into the market for headphones – a market pulsating with innovation and driven by a blend of audio performance and aesthetic appeal. We’re looking for the best-performing sites and the winning content formats. Who is coming through in stereo? And who is tuning into the wrong frequency?
Sometimes tech revolutions have important secondary market effects.
The rise of MP3 players in the 2000s and the subsequent mobile internet explosion with the introduction of smartphones spurred growth for another tech product – headphones.
The UK, with its rich musical heritage and tech-savvy audience, is no exception to this global trend.
It’s not just music. With more of us working from home, looking for more immersive gaming experiences, streaming on devices or tuning into podcasts, there’s a chorus of reasons to invest in quality audio wear.
Whether in the gym, on the daily commute or on a video call, headphones are everywhere.
Indeed, headphone sales are estimated to reach $ 0.6 billion in 2023 and rise 1.8% each year. Worldwide the market is worth $17.6 billion with over 1.3 billion headphones expected to be sold by 2028.
The long-term trend shows a peak in organic traffic each November and December, as headphones have become a highly-popular gift choice.
Traditional names such as Bose, Sony & Sennheiser have been joined in the market by tech giants like Apple and new companies established precisely to create headphones such as Beats (now a subsidiary of Apple).
With a cacophony of brands, publishers and retailers clamouring for traffic, which domains are hitting the high notes of success?
Let’s plug in and find out.
Here are the top three domains for our keyword set.
Top 3 domains for ‘do‘ (transactional) searches – Headphones:
Keyword research in the headphone sector
We’ve curated a list of keywords used when UK searchers are looking to find and buy headphones. We always categorise our keyword lists by their search intent so we can find the best-performing content in our chosen niche.
This list represents some of the most popular ‘do‘ keywords used around headphones. Do searches are where someone is looking to buy a product or ticket, hire a service or download something. They can also include searches with a commercial research intent, looking to find the best option.
In this case, these are searches where the searcher is directly searching for a place to buy headphones or looking for shopping advice on the best options for their needs.
Examples of the keywords we’ve included are wireless headphones (searched for 67,200 times a month on average in the UK), noise-cancelling headphones (33,900 searches a month), Bluetooth headphones (32,100) and kids headphones (7,200).
We also have commercial research queries, such as best wireless earbuds (16,100 searches a month on average in the UK), best wireless headphones (12,000) and best over-ear headphones (5,650).
We included searches with brand modifiers (such as “Bose headphones”) but excluded searches for specific models or those using retailer or publisher names (navigational searches).
You can find out more about our keywords (including a link to the full list) at the end of this article.
What’s Trending in the Headphones industry?
Using the keyword set and our TrendWatch data we have discovered a number of headphone-related trends.
- shokz openrun pro
- shokz headphones
- in ear / on ear noise cancelling [variants]
- childrens headphones
- refurbished headphones
- headphones on airplanes
- wired headphones for iphone
For more trends, and the back-story to those rising keyword searches, subscribe to TrendWatch, the monthly newsletter from the SISTRIX Data Journalism Team.
Top 25 domains for Headphones:
Using our project of 1,129 headphone keywords with a ‘do‘ intent, we processed the current SERPs (search engine results pages) and calculated the effective project visibility for the domains ranking for our keywords.
|Domain||Project Visibility Index|
Content examples: What type of content is performing?
- The top-ranking domains primarily fall into two categories: retailers and tech review publishers
- A balanced mix of ecommerce and informational publisher domains dominate the top 20, each serving a different yet complimentary part of the buying journey – and all potentially useful for anyone looking to buy a set of headphones online today
- In our top 50 domains, ecommerce websites rank on page one for an average of 646 keywords
- Product review websites (like Rtings) rank on page one for an average of 614 keywords
- And tech news and reviews sites (such as Techradar) still do well, but slightly less than the above
- Retailers like Amazon, Currys and Argos have a strong presence, all ranking for over 86% of our 1,129 keywords. They are joined by John Lewis (70.1%) in the top ten
- Tech and product review publishers like Rtings, What HiFi and Techradar also perform well, showing that Google values expert opinions for searchers considering headphone purchases thanks to the big range of ‘best’ keywords we found
- Surprisingly, SoundGuys (7th, appearing for 89.99% of keywords) is the only audio specialist to join What HiFi in the top 20
- Publications dominate our top spots, with 12 of the 20 most successful domains review sites where you don’t buy headphones, but find advice on the best options
- The top 20 includes Cnet, Expert Reviews, NY Times, Wired, The Verge, The Independent and Tom’s Guide, all popular publications in the tech review space
- Manufacturers make our top 20 thanks to the popularity of “[brand] + headphones” searches, but only just, with Bose (ranking 17th, ranking for 53% of our keywords)), Apple (19th) and JBL (21st) present (Beats appears 22nd and Sony 23rd)
High-performance content examples:
Next, we’re looking at the winning domains to find examples of high-performance content. That is content which has a high ratio of page-one rankings.
In other words, we’re looking for content that between its information and format often satisfies users and meets the intent of their search. We can learn from such formats and apply the lessons to our content.
Our second most successful domain is Rtings, which ranks for 1,047 (92.7%) of our keywords and on page one for 661 (58.55%). That certainly qualifies as high performance for our keyword set.
Even better, Rtings has a dedicated /headphones/ directory which houses the majority of these rankings. If we look at the most successful pages for our keyword set, 23 of the top 200 pages are in rtings.com/headphones, with 22 in the more specific directory /headphones/reviews/best/.
If we look at this directory in more detail, we see their overall success. The /headphones/ directory ranks for 38k keywords in the UK, with 1,510 pages ranking for at least one keyword. Together, these deliver an estimated 256.6k organic visits a month on average (traffic worth £202k).
The main headphones directory is broken down into several types of articles:
- Comparison tools
- Individual product reviews
- Guides, such as this article on over-ear vs on-ear vs earbuds vs in-ear headphones
- Brand roundups introduce the best options for each manufacturer, such as the best Bose headphones or the strongest products from Beats
- ‘Best of’ roundups, such as their guide to the best noise-cancelling earbuds or just the best overall headphones. Rtings also further break these down with roundups categories by usage (such as the best for running or working out), the best by type (such as over-ear) or by feature (for example, noise-cancelling)
This produces a comprehensive library of content on choosing the right headphones, and one Google clearly values.
The /headphones/reviews/best/ directory ranks for 20,683 keywords (and over 70k globally). 27.3% of these rankings are on page one, making this a high-performance content format, regularly able to compete for target keywords.
We can also see that this directory has grown in importance, multiplying its organic footprint several times over, including regular gains after Google’s product review updates.
Rtings has a comprehensive set of reviews, but what makes these ‘best of‘ roundups so successful?
A review of their guide to the best noise-cancelling headphones and the best wireless Bluetooth earbuds (the third and fourth most visible pages for our keyword set) gives us some clues.
Rtings’ guides tick a lot of the boxes you need to demonstrate E-E-A-T as well as signs of high-quality, useful review content Google wants to reward:
- The guide is easy to navigate on both mobile and desktop, partly thanks to an index of contents with internal anchors and excellent use of descriptive subheadings
- The structure of the page is also geared toward demonstrating expertise to Google (and users)
- The author is mentioned, complete with a link to their bio page. In this case, we can see the other article Vanessa McCuaig has worked on, which includes a huge list of headphone reviews and roundups
- The ‘updated’ date is clear (in this case, 6th October 2023)
- Rtings use a single URL for each roundup and update it continuously, rather than having to manage a ‘2022’ roundup, a separate 2023 one and so on. This means once Google knows the URL, they only have one page on this subject to consider and know to recrawl it regularly
- Impressively, Rtings include a ‘Recent updates’ section which lists the updates they’ve made to their recommendations so you can see what’s changed
- There are strong internal links across the section thanks to a submenu listing other ‘best’ options such as the best wireless earbuds, gaming headphones, earbud and in-ear options, Bluetooth headphones, over-ear headphones, headphones for running and more. There’s a second row in the submenu linking to the headphone comparison tool, full review list, table of all products and more. And finally, there are links to important product reviews
- Together, these reinforce the topic cluster Rtings has built on headphones. This helps Google see the scope of similar content the site offers, boosting the topical authority assigned to the site
- We also find an introduction which is just long enough to give readers – and search engines – important context whilst not being overlong and outstaying its welcome. The intro also notes Rtings’ experience in the area by mentioning they have reviewed over 220 pairs of active noise-cancelling headphones
- Rtings break down their guide into sections, with the main ones giving a clear winner in each scenario: The best overall noise-cancelling headphones, the best mid-range, the best budget option, the best cheap option, and the best sounding
- For each recommended product, there is comprehensive detail, with review scores across a host of categories such as for office use, for sports and phone calls. There are also specifications such as the type, enclosure, if the headphones have a mic and more
- There’s also a link to the full product review of each model listed (with anchors of “See all our test results” and “See our review”) – this dedicated product review for each model combined with bespoke images is a clear demonstration of first-hand experience with these products – a core part of E-E-A-T
- Each listing also includes a couple of paragraphs of copy, explaining why Rtings recommend this product
- Below the winners, Rtings also include a list of Notable mentions, complete with links to the full review of each
- There is also a huge table of all the headphones tested – under the heading ‘All Reviews‘ – filtered for those with active noise-cancelling. This shows there are even more options and that Rtings has looked at them all
- Below the main reviews are links to other guides that might be relevant, repeating some of the key articles from the navigation
- And there are comments so readers can chime in with their thoughts, adding UGC to the page which can increase the depth of content as well as introduce further long-tail keyword variants
Put together, it is an impressively comprehensive package, all based on data-led in-house testing.
Rtings has developed a template designed to delight search engines and serve users. And they repeat this across more than 50 such roundups, and apply similar principles to over 1,500 reviews, guides and articles in the /headphones/ directory, building an enviable, and exhaustive, library of useful content.
Of course, Rtings aren’t the only success story in headphones.
Our third-place domain is What HiFi. It ranks for 88.1% of our keyword set, and on page one for 49.8% of them.
16 of our top 200 pages are from What HiFi, all in the /best-buys/ directory which is home to the site’s roundups.
The top article is their review of the best wireless earbuds, and this is the top-performing page for our keyword set. This one article appears for 147 of our keywords, and on page one for 114 of them. That’s a 77.5% page-one ratio!
Overall, this article ranks for 1,486 keywords in the UK and brings in an estimated 35,785 organic visits a month. An incredible 70.6% of those rankings are on page one. An impressive return from a single roundup!
The /best-buys/ directory is a powerful performer for What HiFi. It took a hit during the August and October Core updates and the September Helpful Content update, but still appears for 58.7k keywords in the UK, bringing in 300k organic visits a month.
26.7% of those rankings are on page one, with a further 13.4% on page two.
On the ecommerce side, Currys appears fifth in our list of winning domains, appearing for 87.78% of our keywords. Currys have a dedicated directory to headphones, within their TV and Audio department (which acts as a top-level directory).
The headphones section is a recent addition to the site, appearing in January 2022 and currently ranks for 12k keywords. The section ranks for 50% of the most important keywords – another example of highly successful content in this sector.
Currys have a strong product listing page (PLP) template which helps them rank well, alongside their clear brand advantages (and reputation as a retailer in this sector):
- Currys have over 400 wireless and Bluetooth headphones to choose from
- The site is a strong ecommerce proposition with all the content and UX elements you’d expect such as many filters including by price, colour and brand, the option to check local stock, a good overview of each product so you can see key features, the cost and choose to compare without clicking through to the product page (PDP)
- Currys have a link to this PLP in the main navigation which gives the benefit of page site-wide internal links. There are also links to the main headphones category-listing page (CLP or department page) and several other important headphone categories
- There is good on-page optimisation with sensible title, H1 and meta description tags
- And even a bit of intro/descriptive copy, though this is positioned at the bottom of the page, so clearly for SEO rather than for customers!
What can we learn from what is ranking well in the headphones sector? What lessons can we apply to our content?
- For some commercial topics, such as headphones, publications with review content get great rankings for clearly ‘buy now’ keywords. Google thinks it’s useful to blend these into the page one results alongside retailers
- This is great for publications – the potential keyword footprint for top-quality guides and roundups is much bigger as a result
- But it means there is less space for retailers, so the big names are the only ones on page one making it harder for other retailers to get into the space
- Ecommerce sites are competing for only a few of the top-ten rankings when they might expect the SERP to be entirely retailers. That means ROI is harder to come by
- Retailers need to offer an excellent shopping experience to be seen as a potential rival to the big-name brands that are ranking
- To compete for reviews of tech products requires considerable content investment – not just in your website but also in a team of experts and facilities to properly test the kit in question
- Demonstrating first-hand experience is key
- Having a comprehensive library of reviews and resources is an advantage, but also an advantage that is becoming slightly commoditised and therefore in danger of becoming the norm and just a baseline requirement
- Manufacturers can likewise find it hard to rank for non-brand terms, meaning building those brand searches is crucial in getting the most out of organic search. This likely means investment in other channels to build that demand
However, to please customers and attempt to rank for non-brand terms, manufacturers still need to offer an excellent shopping experience and should also consider if there are informational terms they can target to build their reputation with.
For this SectorWatch, we used relevant keywords from a selection of keyword discovery tables.
We chose a selection of highly targeted keywords with a ‘do‘ or ‘know‘ intent. From these, we harvest all the ranking keywords for the URLs in the SERPs. We call this the Keyword Environment. Most SERPs will have some mixed intent so we re-filter the list for the correct intents and sanitise it by hand to leave a smaller, highly-relevant set of searches made by the UK public broken down by searcher journey. The results are based only on organic result rankings.
Curated keyword set and sector click potential
Core keywords: headphones, earphones, wireless headphones, wired headphones, noise cancelling headphones, best wireless headphones, best headphones, best bluetooth headphones.
The full keyword set is available for download and further analysis can be done in the SISTRIX keyword lists feature, including competitor analysis, SERP feature analysis, questions, keyword clusters and the traffic forecast shown below.