The significance of SEO for online marketplaces
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the art of structuring the content of a website to acquire organic traffic from web search engines. In most cases this means improving the rank of your website for specific keywords in order to acquire free traffic from Google.
Google remains the dominant search engine with more than 70% market share globally and upwards of 90% of the market in some market, such as Australia.
The latest stats show that Google users do more that 66 000 searches every second. Google users will have submitted more than 59M searches while you are reading this article. And that count increases every day. The traffic potential from well-crafted SEO is limitless.
There are 3 parts to modern SEO which must be continually evaluated and updated.
Technical on page SEO, Off-page SEO and content marketing. Let’s have a look at each.
Technical on page SEO is understanding how the search engines want content to be presented so that each individual piece of content – ie. URL – can be correctly interpreted and so the most relevant URLs for the user’s search query are returned by the search engine. For a poorly optimized website it will be easy to identify a lot of areas for optimisation that will give quick rewards. The best way to get started with technical SEO is through an audit of the site by an SEO expert. By now though most sites have already gone through a few SEO audits. The criteria for optimal ranking does change all the time, though the fundamentals of SEO have remained very stable since around 2005. This means that subsequent optimizations will not bring as fast results as the first-time round but are nonetheless vital to keep competitive. For example, when Google introduced mobile site performance as a ranking factor it required the auditing of sites based on total new set of criteria.
Off-page SEO is all about building your site’s reputation. This can be through link building, PR and social media. Your SEO audit will usually also include off page optimization advice. If you do not have have an off-site SEO strategy in place today, then you should put this together right away.
Content Marketing has become the third pillar of Search Engine Optimization and relates to the use of keywords in the text of your website. This text could be in blog posts but is also the terms that make up your category list. In fact, content anywhere on your site must be analyzed and optimized. It is all about writing content that will help the user and thereby help Google matching the users’ search query to the keywords used on your site.
What led me to become passionate about the search engine optimization process is how focused this has become on user experience (UX). Following the SEO best practices will result in better and better UX over time.
No one knows your market better than you! However, regardless of how your site is organized, you will have many different audiences. A horizontal site is divided into multiple vertical markets. Even a vertical site can be further subdivided into various niche markets. In SEO terms you define these markets in pockets of keywords. Each market will need a deliberate set of keywords for which your content must be optimized.
Your keywords will need to go beyond your classification lists. They should also include your category facets, such as specific brands and models. For instance, ‘clothing’ may be one of your categories and this could be further segmented to Ladies and Men’s fashion on your site. But users will be after even more specific items, for example, ‘ladies winter gloves’.
As you dive further into the keyword suggestions offered by the many keyword research tools, you will need to obtain an indication of the search volume of these keywords and an understanding which of the keywords may result in a conversion. The keywords that have both good volumes and are most likely to lead to conversions are the keywords your sites must be optimized for.
Region has become another vital factor when optimizing for local SEO, meaning region must become a part of site structure and content. Regions must form part of the keywords that are tracked on an ongoing basis.
Modern SEO keywords need to be even further divided into intent. Defining intent means understanding where your users are in their customer journey. Virtually every marketplace will want to reach users that have the broad intents of either buying or selling goods or services.
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Your end goal will be to generate leads and sales for your customers. In a marketplace, this should be and will likely be your main focus. The keywords you will use to attract these users will be based on your site categories and regions. In these cases, the buyer’s intent to purchase can be assumed or defined with the addition of keywords such as ‘ladies gloves for sale’ in the search terms used to find your site. It’s important though, to include the intent you’re targeting in your site’s optimizations. In these scenarios, it is important to understand how you will differentiate long tail and short tail keywords.
Short tail or lead keywords are usually defined as search terms that consist of one or two words, while the long tail will be made up of keywords that include three or more keywords. In the last couple of years, the long tail has become even longer and is continuing to expand as search users’ search terms become more specific.
The classic short tail keyword will never disappear completely. Though in the context of your marketplace, short tail keywords will typically consist of search terms relating to your categories such as ‘cars for sale’ and then even further drilled down to specific models and regions’, for e.g. ‘Volkswagen golf hatchback for sale in West London’. In my experience, the best strategy is to lead these short(er) tail users to your category listing pages. This could be a top-level category such ‘cars’ or the listing page for the specific model and/or region requested.
The majority of your search traffic can be catered for in this way, and your site’s SEO must be sophisticated enough that search engines will be able to match the users search terms to specific listing pages. The owner of a marketplace has full control over the categories and regions being offered to users. These lists will need to be examined regularly with the data obtained from search engines and then be updated at least once or twice a year to take advantage of new category and region opportunities.
Long tail keywords will be used to find specific products or services, eg ‘top edge bed-making machine’. The content for these more specific products and services will likely have been user generated. You will not have full control over the way the user formats this content, but you can ensure that every item uploaded by a user can be indexed by the search engine. i.e. You must allow the search engine to make the decision on what page the user should be directed to from the search engine result pages (SERPs).
Users searching to buy products or services will be in various stages of their customer journey. You will want to reach users in each phase of their journey.
Your main focus will be targeting those users wanting to immediately contact the seller. For this intent, you will need the lead form for each product and service listed to be easily accessible from the page that the search engine refers the user to. This includes ensuring that both the page the user reaches from the SERP and the next step is secure, fast and 100% mobile friendly.
Users in other stages of their consumer journeys can be targeted with the help of more specific content and features created by the content marketing team to fit these steps of the customer journey. A user that is focused on sourcing the price of various brands and models will be interested in product comparison features on the site. A user looking for advice on the right product choice will be interested in content created on your blog for this purpose. Again, present easy to follow links to the relevant features and content of your site from these landing pages to accommodate users with such intentions. Where the data supports it, create more of these alternative intent pages and optimize them to becomes standalone landing pages, but this time with clear links to the buyer focused parts of your site that relate to the user’s keywords.
Attracting sellers to your platform has mostly been a marketing or sales function. But SEO must not be overlooked for targeting these users. Most sellers will likely come across your site using similar keywords to the buyers. The sellers can again be targeted with clear links to ‘post’ their content online – or to contact the sales team if this is your intention.
To specifically target these users, your marketplace’s ad forms should be as dynamic as your listing pages, with page titles and other technical SEO requirements adjusting dynamically depending on the users’ choices. Then complete the optimization of these pages by including keywords that are being used by sellers in your markets, for eg ‘sell used iPhone ‘
Want more advice from Oliver Winberg? Check out our webinar how to improve your online marketplace SEO and attract more organic traffic or download the comprehensive keyword research for online marketplaces checklist.
This concludes part 1 of our guide to top marketplace SEO.
Part 2 covers how to supplement user-generated content with created content, we look at which KPI’s to track and which challenges are unique to online marketplace SEO. You can find part 2 here.
Oliver Winberg has spent the past 20+ years working in the highly competitive classifieds advertising space in South Africa – employed at the highly successful and innovative Junk Mail Digital Media.
In 2008 was offered the opportunity to found Junk Mail’s digital marketing team. With the help of training from Blue Rank in Poland, Oliver discovered the power of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) which has since become his passion.
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