Growing eForm2290 to become a market leader

eform2290
SilvermineGroup is a US based conglomerate with 2 main products i.e. eform2290 and Freelance Central. We will focus only on eform2290 which is today one of the leading IRS authorised Heavy Vehicle Use Tax (HVUT) e-filing service providers in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

At eform2290, we had 3 types of target audiences i.e. individual truck owners (70%), fleet owners (20%) and tax professionals (10%). We focused on providing ease of e-filing with our platform and focused on individual truck and fleet owners to grow the business.

What is HVUT?

Truckers in the United States need to prepay a tax to the IRS to compensate for the damage to the roads because of the heavy trucks. It must be filed and paid annually for every truck that drives on public highways and weighs over 55,000 lbs. There are certain exceptions in cases where the truck is suspended or weighs less than 55000 lbs. The form which is used to file HVUT is called Form 2290.


Truckers who already own a truck file HVUT in the months of July and August (full year filing) but if you happen to buy a new truck, you would need to file it by the end of the next month from your date of purchase. So if you have bought a new truck in Nov, then the last date is 31st Dec to complete your HVUT filing which is called partial year filing.
due datesSo for the most part July and August are the major season months for HVUT filings.

Now that we understand the business, let’s talk about growth.

Channel Selection

Since HVUT filing is a very niche business and except for July and August, it is super difficult to get targeted traffic from trucking businesses that have bought a new truck and now want to file Form 2290.

So 80% of the traffic came from search ads but search ads are expensive and it becomes almost impossible to sustain the business if your margins are slim. So pricing strategy comes a pertinent part of the equation.

Right off the bat we realised that if we continue to sell our services at $19, with a CAC of $25, scaling it up in hopes of higher LTVs can be dangerous. So we revised our prices, making it one of the most expensive HVUT services in the market but that gave us leeway to grow using search ads. And we did just that.
Since HVUT filing demand was inelastic, we saw almost negligible effect of price hike on the filings. We did an AB test to test for significance post the price hike to confirm our belief. To know more on how to conduct a fool proof AB test, watch my video on youtube explaining just that.

We experimented with facebook ads and quora ads but scalability was always an issue. So for the most part we relied on search ads as the major source of acquisition.

Building app like experience

A lot of startups fall in the trap of introducing apps without realising the long term overheads. Since startups are continuously iterating, keeping consistent experiences across different platforms becomes frustrating. Thus we introduced PWA (Progressive Web App) that works like an app with an inbuilt browser which opens up our website only.

This made sure we didn’t have to publish newer versions with the continuously changing website. Since people mostly used our app once a year our PWA provided them easy access to our service without us having to compete with other brands like on Google Search. PWAs slowly grew to contribute 8%-10% of our total sales.

Acquisition

Filing HVUT has a very inelastic demand meaning people who need to file it, won’t postpone it for long. Unlike other growth funnels, we thought of acquiring the customers by providing something of value for free. Thus we decided to provide the HVUT calculator to start the

This would enable users to calculate their HVUT and share their email address before they actually begin their journey to pay the tax.

Additionally, we also optimised the page for search engines with optimised content and schema marked-up FAQs for queries related to Form 2290 calculator.

Nailing Web Vitals

A fast performing website can bump up your conversion rate across sources, and additionally Google also added web vitals as part of their core algorithm factor. So nailing these web vitals was an obvious priority.

eform2290 webvitalseform2290 web vitals

For the pre-login pages, we used a combination of Angular and Wordpress (Oxygen builder for content rich pages) and post login flow was on Aspx.

Among the other competitors, our website was the fastest and had the highest score for web vitals. This helped us improve UX and rank better on search engines (especially Google).

Product led growth

With a limited market, conversion rate optimization became an important aspect of increasing conversions. So we removed menu items on checkout and introduced an option to pay the service charge with ACH (Automated Clearing House) payment option. Since users who were using the same method to pay their tax had to fill in all the account details, paying our service charge using ACH became a 1 click process.

The website already had conversion rates in the tunes of 15% and we tested these changes for 10% minimum detectable effect. These changes stood the test of significance and the changes were rolled out on the website.

We also introduced NLP based Chatbot on the website which drastically increased MQLs by over 150% and took us only 2 days to set it up. The following shows the logic for the chatbot which essentially answered common queries that people had and collected their email addresses along the way.

The email addresses that were not part of our existing user base were integrated into our drip campaigns through Zapier.

Introducing Pre-Filing season

As we discussed earlier, the filing season is for 2 months, July and August but we started what came to be known as the pre-filing season. Starting from the month of May, we started to market the idea that you could do away with the stress of your pending HVUT filing and file it now and get a discount on your filing.

We stored the details and collected money but processed it with the IRS when the season started. This way we could capture the market early and increase bookings.

New V/S Existing

Customer acquisition was one of the biggest hurdles in the growth phase. Since the market was limited, we had to manage expenses to be able to convert more new customers and maintain margins. So we created a custom Audience with a lookback of 540 days, including email addresses of the existing users in our DB and divided all campaigns into New and Existing.

The audiences here were mutually exclusive, which didn’t invite any internal competition among campaigns. This gave us better control and understanding of our true CAC. The objective was to try and get as many new user acquisition from Paid while using other channels to retain existing users.

To increase retention for existing users, we tried adding credits in their accounts instead of giving them a percentage discount on filings. This increased retention without increasing the avg discount ($ value) offered to existing users.

Refer and Earn

To get users to refer other trucking businesses to our platform, we introduced a 2 way incentivised refer and earn program on the Thank You Page.

Personalising the experience of the person who was referred and a percentage discount on their filing fee, helped us get in our new user acquisition without spending a dime on search ads to capture these users.

Content Marketing

To produce content related to form 2290 instructions and related articles we used Wordpress as our CMS and Oxygen builder to develop the structure. We researched a lot for builders that can deliver high performance with minimal development efforts and provided ease of iteration. We finally settled on Oxygen Builder. To optimise the performance further we used WP rocket for caching and CDN.

SEO Challenges

To start with the optimisation, we came up with 25 focus keywords and 100 other keywords to build the content and SEO strategy. These keywords were grouped into generic keywords (top of the funnel), informational keywords (middle of the funnel), money keywords (bottom of the funnel).

With that laid out we created an Information Gathering sheet implementing the skyscraper technique and created the plan for content marketing. This IG sheet essentially gathered all the existing information on the internet for the topic and made it more comprehensive and holistic outrank other players in the domain.

One of the main issues we faced was keyword cannibalisation and probably is one of the most ubiquitous issues that I see with most websites. Essentially keyword cannibalization occurs when multiple pages from the same domain are ranking for the same search query. This can be helpful if your pages are ranking on the top and taking most of the real estate on SERP but in most cases, this will create an internal conflict between your pages.

This was more common for short-tail keyword phrases like “2290 form online” as we couldn’t talk about form 2290 instruction without using the term 2290.

An easy way to check for cannibalization is to type the following in Google;
Site:<yourdomain> “<keyword>” This will give you all the pages on your website which is somehow trying to rank for the given keyword.

keyword cannibalisation

To identify content gaps in our content rich (instruction) pages, we had used SEOsurfer that essentially looks at all the pages that rank for a query on Google and analyses their content to suggest possible changes in your content. This is very important as this becomes virtually impossible to do this manually.

seosurfer

Reporting

For you to be able to execute data driven growth, data accessibility should never be a bottleneck. Core metrics like CAC and W-o-W and Y-o-Y growth across channels should be reviewed every day to decipher early signs of a slump. We have been using Supermetrics as the go-to tool for pulling data from all marketing sources into spreadsheets which can further power your dashboards for easy visualisation and configuring alerts.

Supermetrics will allow you to automate all internal reports so you can identify common issues without spending not more than 5 mins a day reading automated reports.

In Depth channel wise reports which dives deeper into campaign or ad group level performance or change in organic search positions should be visited weekly to be able to reach a level of significance before you make corrective steps.

To start automating reports you should start with the basics and identify issues and see what all data is required to get a deeper insight into the problem. This way you will only concentrate on data that actually matters.

Discount Pages

As we progressed on our journey to optimise our search performance, we noticed queries related to discount coupons for eform2290. On the SERP a lot of coupon code aggregators were ranking for these queries. These coupon aggregators contributed to 30-40% of our referral traffic but since there were other competitors listed there as well, we knew this could be optimised better.

So we created a page dedicated to discount codes on our website while continuing to post our coupons on these aggregators as well. Soon our page started ranking for queries specific to eform2290 discount coupons and conversion rate from these queries improved by almost 50%.

Since a lot of the competitors had similar sounding domains eg; form2290.com, 2290online.com, it was common for users to file their Form 2290 with some other brand and not knowing that they were tricked. So we made use of this by activating competitor coupon codes in our database. While these coupon codes were of higher % value but 75% of redemptions were done by new users, it was a no brainer to continue doing this.

eform2290 discount page

Leveraging EMDs

Some of you would be wondering that eform2290 is a very weird sounding domain and I agree it is but there was a reason behind it. When eform2290 started back in 2011, EMDs (Exact Match Domains) were given explicit importance in the Google search Algorithm. While Google denies any importance to EMDs now, we can see EMDs like 2290 online started to rank for queries related to “Form 2290 online” though the website was not even responsive and the content was pretty thin as compared to other domains which served the intent better.

We did some experiments buying domains that had the related queries like Form 2290 or schedule-1 as part of the domain name and putting up content pieces to see if those can start to rank. Though we only ran it for some while and didn’t see any significant short term results, I would still suggest trying it out as part of the long term content strategy for your niche.

Why does this trick work?
If you have let’s say schedule1.com and someone is searching for Schedule1 which is the proof of payment for the Heavy Vehicle Use Tax (HVUT) that Truckers pay to the IRS. Now Google has no way to know whether you are looking for schedule1.com or the generic term schedule1 thus your chances of your domain getting ranked are higher.

Experiments that didn’t work out

While you are experimenting with growth ideas you are bound to fail more than you succeed. So let’s talk about some experiments that didn’t work in our favor.

Form2290 download page
Since we were the e-filing providers for HVUT, a lot of people were also searching to download Form 2290 and filing it manually with the IRS. We saw an opportunity to capture the offline market by giving them the option to download Form 2290 as a PDF document.

The intention was to rank it organically but that page didn’t attract organic traffic as the SERP was filled with links from the IRS which was impossible to outrank (being a government website).

Competitor Pages
To capture competitor brand traffic, we created competitor pages comparing our features with theirs with the intention to convince the user to file HVUT with us. Since IRS only authorizes providers who can e-file HVUT, there is hardly any actual difference between the core offering.

People almost never converted from these pages because our prices were on the higher end of the spectrum. It rather gave people the chance to go to the competitor for the filing. We soon realised the problem and killed those pages.

With that I wrap this case study on eform2290. If you wish to learn how I helped other brands grow, visit my portfolio at ankitbagga.com/portfolio

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