SEO Case Study: Churnet Valley Railway & Polar Express Ride

SEO for regional attractions with an emphasis on ticket sales

Churnet Valley Railway, a Midlands-based heritage railway operator with a focus on the restoration and preservation of the UK’s rich railroad history, approached Convert Digital for SEO services towards the end of 2019. They had two goals in mind:

  1. Develop a digital marketing and ticket sales platform for their then-soon-to-open Polar Express-themed train ride.
  2. Increase their overall digital presence to be more competitive in the regional tourist attraction market.

While the pandemic didn’t do tourist attractions any favours in 2020 and despite the fact that they operate in a competition-heavy industry, they stuck with us. Now, just over four years later, Convert Digital has managed to surpass all their growth and development targets by a long shot.

Key successes

Churnet Valley Railway


Increase in revenue between 2021 and 2023

Churnet Valley Railway


Increase in organic Google traffic

Polar Express Ride


Google result position for all high-value keywords

Polar Express Ride


Organic and paid visits to Polar Express page

Polar Express Ride


of impressions in popular regional publications

Polar Express Ride

Featured in 


of regional and national travel & tourism publications

How did we do it?

Convert Digital managed to achieve these spectacular results through a carefully planned and integrated SEO strategy. Our approach began with a comprehensive analysis of our client’s unique SEO landscape, identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. In close consultation, we pinpointed their specific needs, allowing us to develop a tailored action plan that included steps to:

1. Integrated Digital PR Campaign for Polar Express ticket sales

Since 2021 would be their first year operating their new attraction, we faced the challenge of developing public awareness and interest from scratch, and thus, our first step in marketing Churnet Valley Railway’s Polar Express-themed ride was to develop and implement a full-suite digital PR campaign. This was a major undertaking, spanning three years and involving close and effective collaboration between several parties, including ourselves, the client, content developers, and large local and regional online and print-media publishers. 

The main component of marketing the Polar Express ride involved working with our digital oureach service provider, ReachPLC, the largest commercial publisher in the UK and with whom we have a longstanding relationship. Each year since 2021, we have run several rounds of paid articles in both online and print media in the largest readerbase publications from our identified catchment areas with great success. In addition to the millions of impressions this made, ticket sales skyrocketed with each round of publication, in all cases surpassing Churnet Valley’s expectations.


A successful digital marketing campaign hinges on more than just the ability to have paid articles published for massive readership. To complement the work we were doing with Reach PLC, we also planned an extensive series of blog posts to be written by our experienced in-house copywriter. Week after week, we posted new, interesting, informative, and keyword-dense blog posts on Churnet Valley’s dedicated Polar Express site. While many clients are initially sceptical of having to post regularly scheduled content, well-written blog posts are a strong indicator of authority and show Google that you are actively building your business or site.

The blog posts soon paid dividends as they quicly shot up the rankings for their targeted keywords. Despite having absolute zero Google SERP rankings for any keywords related to the Polar Express, within a few short months, they had secured the number one and two spots for desireable keywords all across the Midlands, and even down south.  

After a hard push in 2021 and 2022 that resulted in page-one visibility for key Polar Express terms, our continued momentum and efforts throughout 2023 secured us the number 1 ranking for the highest-value keywords in multiple locations.

2. Onsite technical SEO to improve regional and national SERP rankings

While Churnet Valley’s main goal was to promote their new seasonal attraction, they also offer a wide range of regularly scheduled and other seasonal events.  As part of their integrated SEO package, we performed an in-depth analysis of their entire online presence, making significant technical improvements to all their pages and domains. This played a big role in sending the right signals to Google and jumping up in the rankings.

Technical SEO requires specialised knowledge of how Google and other search engines index and rank websites.  It starts with a complete breakdown of your site and its components, followed by a thorough, manual check to see that everything is in line with Google’s latest guidelines. We compared and optimised onsite SEO-score factors such as site architecture, metadata, site speeds, indexation, UX , and many more over the course of the last year, ensuring that our client’s site and hosting always met, and continue to meet, all benchmarks.

One aspect of Churnet Valley Railway’s onsite SEO strategy that deserves special mention is the content management strategy we worked on. In addition to the blog posts created specifically to climb the rankings for Polar Express keywords, Convert Digital also assisted Churnet Valley Railway in updating and refreshing much of their existing content. While there wasn’t necessarily anything wrong with much of the content we helped them replace (it was informative and well-written), through extensive keyword research, we were able to create updated copy for many of the pages of their site. This updated text was carefully crafted to be keyword dense and contain headings (H2s) in the form of natural search terms, dramatically increasing the chances of landing a Google ”snippet”, making the page easier for potential leads to find, and converting leads to sales. 

From a UX (user experience) point of view, we analysed anonymous video recordings of users interacting with Churnet Valley and Polar Express’ respective websites, paying special attention to the checkout process. This invaluable insight allowed us to track and optimise the entire user experience through the sales funnel, leading to a much-improved conversion rate.

3. Backlink development and management

A strong and robust backlink profile is SEO gold. When sites with good authority link to yours, it’s a strong indicator to Google that your site is trustworthy, quickly leading to improved rankings and organic growth. 

While Churnet Valley Railway obviously benefited in terms of exposure from the digital PR campaign we oversaw, direct links from well-established publications like the Liverpool Echo, Manchester Evening News, and many others in the Reach PLC domain played a huge role in boosting their SERP result, especially within their main catchment area. It’s important to note that, in addition to driving Polar Express ticket sales, this also gave potential leads and clients a chance to discover and explore Churnet Valley’s other offerings and services.

In addition to these high-value links that we secured for our client, we also worked proactively to directly contact regional and national tourism sites, popular bloggers, and travel sites. By building these relationships on behalf of our client, we had many of their attractions and offerings reviewed, discussed, and endorsed by a rich variety of content creators. The benefits of this are twofold: there are the obvious backlink benefits mentioned before, and it creates further positive publicity from independent creators and reviewers.

Below, you can find some examples of backlinks that we managed to secure, as well as backlinks that were created organically due to Churnet Valley’s increasing online presence:


What does this mean for you?

Our team at Convert Digital is incredibly proud of the results we’ve managed to achieve on behalf of our client. It is a testament to how effective a long-term partnership between a dedicated business and an SEO company can be. While there are a lot of takeaways from this case study, there are three that stand out:


1. You can dramatically increase sales for seasonal/one-off events with a well-managed Digital PR campaign

Over the course of three years, we managed to create millions of impressions as part of a coordinated and structured digital PR campaign. This directly led to massive increases in the number of leads and sales they received, resulting in millions of pounds of additional revenue. We count this as an enormous win for our client, especially when considering that the Polar Express ride was conceived during the pandemic and that we started from scratch. 

With Convert Digital managing your digital PR campaign, we’re sure that your business or event can see that same degree of growth.

2. Actively building backlinks works

While it’s inevitable that large businesses or service providers will eventually gain organic backlinks in directories and other sites, actively engaging with content creators once again proved its worth while working with Churnet Valley Railway. Going from zero ratings for competitive keywords to the literal number one position in several regions around the UK is no small feat, and we heavily credit the additional page authority and trustworthiness gained from independently published backlinks. 

3. User-friendly interfaces lead to higher conversion rates

This certainly isn’t a secret, but we once again saw the difference that optimising the website user’s journey can make in terms of conversion rates. After carefully studying recordings of user interaction patterns, we were able to confidently make suggestions that improved and simplified the user’s journey through the sales funnel. Combined with ever-increasing organic growth and unique site visits, this had a marked effect on their bottom line.

Give your business the boost it deserves

Our team of experts is on standby to help you restore page rankings, improve organic traffic flow to your site, and boost leads and conversions to new levels. 

Tom Clark

Founder, Technical & Offsite SEO

Paul Gordon

Technical SEO & Digital Marketing

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