Effective Marketplace SEO is more like Product Growth
There are two types of SEO: product-led and marketing-led.
The key lessons about marketplaces from my time at G2 and my work with Nextdoor, Bounce and others: good SEO is the result of Product Growth, not just website optimization.
❓Why it matters: Most advice and sites on the web are not marketplaces. The approach to marketplace SEO is very different from non-marketplace sites. Applying the wrong approach severely limits the impact on company growth.
💡Marketplace SEO is different
Mission critical: 80% of new users coming from SEO is not uncommon for marketplaces.
Low ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) makes advertising or outbound sales too expensive for buyer/seller marketplaces.
Retail marketplaces can scale on advertising but lean on SEO to diversify growth channels and make marketing spend sustainable.
Marketplaces are Aggregators:
Aggregators are either retail marketplaces or connect buyers with sellers in a market:
G2 connects software buyers with sellers
What sets them apart from integrators is content generation: new content is generated either by users or products but not by the company itself.
Aggregators and integrators scale SEO differently: Aggregator SEO is closer to product growth (PLG), while Integrator SEO is closer to marketing.
More depth about different aggregator types: SEO Strategy Archetypes.
When thinking about marketplace SEO, most marketers jump straight into solving technical SEO problems, like title / content / internal link optimization. While doing those things is not wrong, they limit the scale of SEO impact you can have.
🗺️The Product Growth approach to marketplace SEO
To scale marketplace SEO successfully, you need to optimize across the whole range of Product Growth: website, product and network effects.
The reason: Marketplace SEO lives and dies with the volume and quality of pages. As a result, SEOs need to become product managers and work on incentives, friction and leverage across the user journey. It’s like funnel optimization, just broader.
Example: At G2, we went deep into the review creation process to understand where we need to remove or add friction to get the right balance between more and better reviews.
Optimizing the website for search is, of course, an essential part of marketplace SEO.
The most important areas of optimization for marketplaces are:
Indexing and crawl management
Titles & Rich Snippets
Core Web Vitals
Key pieces of information
Visual & interactive elements like maps
New page types
Each of these areas provides enough depth to fill roadmaps for years. The key to winning is doing the basics incredibly well and building an experimentation engine that surfaces new wins and levers.
Take a site like Tripadvisor, for example, where every element is intentional and tested. The site didn’t start like that but evolved over time. Tripadvisor has SEO deeply engrained in its DNA. You can rest assured that every element is there for a reason.
The product experience for marketplaces spans the sign-up, content creation and admin experience (sometimes more). It's vital for SEO to be involved in optimization because it directly impacts the number and quality of pages.
Strategic questions SEO should ask themselves:
What (incentives) and who (user profile) drives new content? It’s critical for marketplaces to find out why users create content or buy products.
Where do users get stuck when creating new content? Where is it too easy? Too little friction decreases content quality; too much inhibits content volume. Get the balance right.
What are the core growth loops in the business? Every company has inputs and outputs that perpetuate the business forward.
What entities need their own page type? Marketplaces have entities they can organize page types around, like places, companies, brands, or people.
What are available optimization surfaces? Examples: SERP snippets, landing pages, sign-up funnel.
How can the company build a continuous testing engine? After optimizing for the basics, most wins come from experiments.
What metrics are critical? Monitoring the right metrics that reflect the user journey and growth loops defines focus.
Marketplaces develop powerful network effects that accelerate growth and defend them from challengers.
Network effects = competitive advantages that grow with the company
Brand - recognition
Economies of scale - doing things more efficiently
Switching cost - increasing opportunity cost of switching to a competitor
Deep tech - proprietary technology that solves specific problems
Systems of intelligence - data, monitoring system and understanding of customers and market
Integrators don't have access to the same network effects that aggregators do, like economies of scale.
It would be absurd to say SEO needs to own network effects - it’s a company effort. But SEO, as the largest user acquisition channel, needs to be aware and work toward building network effects.
G2, for example, has developed such a prominent reputation that the G2 badge is a sign of credibility for software buyers. That, of course, wasn’t the case when G2 (crowd) started. It developed over time and with sustained quality. As a result, companies pay to add the badge to their sites and drive new reviews, which adds to the overall value of the marketplace.
🥽Dive deeper: Where to start with aggregator SEO
Aggregator SEO evolves over five distinct steps:
Step 1: Identify the jobs to be done
Map out all problems users are trying to solve and their corresponding situations, independent of their persona
Example: Users want to compare software features when making a purchase decision
Step 2: Map jobs to page types
Match jobs with page types
Only create a new page type if the suitable keywords have search volume
Example: G2 compare pages under g2.com/compare/
Step 3: Define metrics for each step of the user journey
Monitor input and output metrics for each step of the user journey, from first visit to recurring interaction and content creation
Example: # compare pages, # software comparison of products with at least 10 reviews, # compare page views, # top 3 ranks of compare pages
Step 4: Identify sharp drop-offs
Identify dropping engagement across all your metrics - what’s most holding growth back right now?
Example: the length of reviews limited the amount of high-quality content we were able to serve on product pages
Step 5: Run experiments to reduce drop-offs
Brainstorm and test how to mitigate drop-offs
Example: We tested a higher minimum number of words in software reviews
The Product Growth approach to aggregator SEO has experimentation and funnel analysis at its core - not what you would typically expect in SEO.
Next step: Read aggregator case studies for more best practices