It’s 2018 and AI is everywhere. Every company and their grand mom are now offering AI powered solutions. With so many options to pick from does it really matter who you partner with for AI moderation?

When we started building our AI for moderation in 2008 , machine learning had hardly been applied to content moderation. Since then others have understood the value automation brings in keeping marketplace users safe.

Every time we go to a tradeshow or conference we see new companies with AI offers and we understand that as the market gets more saturated it can be hard to decide which vendor to bet on.

To help you navigate the AI jungle we wanted to highlight some very specific areas where our AI is unique in the market.

It’s actionable

A lot of AI models work based on a sliding scale and the output you get is a probability score. The score gives you a picture of how likely the content piece is to be whatever the algorithm is looking for. So if a content piece receives a high probability score from a model looking to detect unwanted content, there’s a good change that the content piece falls into that category.

However, a score system is often arbitrary. When should you reject an item as a scam? When the probability score is 100%? 99% or maybe 85% is good enough?

Our AI doesn’t operate this way. We want to provide our clients with clear answers that they can apply straight away. As such we do not send back an abstract score, instead our algorithm provides a concrete answer.

We operate with 3 different, but clear answers that are easy to apply a moderation action to. The 3 values we expose are OK, NOK (not okay) and uncertain.

Let’s use the unwanted content model as an example. Our algorithms will look at the content and determine whether it’s unwanted content = OK, in which case you reject it. Unwanted content= NOK, which can be accepted or unwanted content= uncertain, which should be sent for a manual review.

 

A holistic AI approach

We believe that the value of AI is often mistakenly judged on the accuracy of the models alone. The reality is that it’s more complex than that. To explain why we need to get a bit technical and quickly outline a bit of AI terminology. (If you are interested you can read more about the basic concepts of AI moderation here https://besedo.com/resources/blog/moderation-ai-get-to-know-the-basic-concepts/ )

When evaluating an AI there are multiple KPI’s you can look at, accuracy is just one of them. To determine if our AI is performing to our standards, we look at a wide array of metrics. We can’t cover all in this article, but here are some of the most important ones.

Precision

Is a number that describes how often models predictions were actually correct. If there are 100 content pieces and the machine determine 10 of them to be unwanted content, but only 8 of them were actually unwanted content then the model has a precision of 80%.

Recall

Recall is showing how many of the actual unwanted content pieces the algorithm correctly identifies. If we go back to our example with 100 content pieces. The AI correctly identified 8 unwanted content pieces out of the 100, but, there were 16 unwanted content pieces. In this case the recall of the model is 50% as it only found half of the unwanted content cases present.

Accuracy

Describes the number of decisions the model gets correct. If we have 100 content pieces and 16 of them are unwanted content the accuracy of the model will be negatively impacted both by the unwanted content it fails to identify and by any good content it wrongly identifies as bad.

This means that if a model out of 100 content pieces correctly identified 8 unwanted content when there were 16 present and it wrongly identified 2 good content pieces as unwanted content the model would have an accuracy of 90%.

Automation rate

Automation rate are a way to measure exactly how much of the total content volume is being handled by AI. If you have 100000 content pieces per day and 80000 of them are dealt with by the models, then you have an automation level of 80%

When judging how well AI works we believe it needs to be based on how it performs in relation to all these 4 metrics as that will give you a truer picture of how well the AI is dealing with the content challenges.

You can never have perfect accuracy, precision, recall and automation at the same time. Our AI is unique in that it is calibrated to meet your business objectives, and to find the right balance between all of these indicators.

 

Supervised and continuous learning

Machine learning models can be taught in different ways and the way they are taught has a huge impact on how well they perform.

Our AI learns from structured and labelled data of high quality. What this means is that the data sets we train our models on has been reviewed manually by expert content moderators who have taken a yes or no decision on each single piece of content.

We also update the models regularly ensuring that they are updated and adhere to new rules and global changes or events that could impact moderation decisions.

 

A calibrated solution

One of the benefits of designing our AI with an eye on multiple metrics is that we can tailor-make a solution to ensure the perfect fit for your business.

We have multiple levers we can pull to adjust the output allowing us to tweak accuracy and automation ensuring that everything is calibrated as your business requires.

With our solution the accuracy and degree of automation is elastic and that makes our AI setup much more flexible than other available options.

 

Adaptive AI Solution

One of the few drawbacks of Machine Learning is that it’s rigid and static. To change the model, you need to retrain it with a quality dataset. This makes it hard for most AI setups to deal with sudden changes in policies.

We‘ve solved this problem by deeply integrating it into our content moderation tool Implio. Implio has a powerful filter feature which adds flexibility to the solution, so you can quickly adapt to change.

For example. when a new iPhone comes out the AI models may not immediately pick up the new scams, but you can add filters in Implio until the machine learning can catch up. The same is true for other temporary events like the Olympic Games or global disasters.

In addition, we have a team dedicated to study moderation trends and best practices and all our AI customers benefit from their knowledge and our 16 years of experience to support and guide them.

 

ML Tailored to content moderation

Most of the AI solutions on the market were created to solve a general problem that occurs in multiple industries. This means that the AI works okay for most companies, but it’s never a perfect fit.

We took the other route and dedicated our efforts to create an AI that’s perfect for content moderation.

When we develop our AI we do it based on the 16 years of experience we have helping companies of all sizes keep their users safe and the quality of their user generated content high. That has made our stack uniquely tailored to content moderation ensuring unparalleled results in our field.

We also have a team of experts supporting our AI developers with insights, internal learnings from moderating global sites of all sizes and research into industry trends and the challenges faced by online marketplaces and classifieds in particular.

Our research team feed their insights to Besedo as a whole ensuring a high level of expertise at every level of our organization. From moderation agents to managers and development. This ensures that our experience and expertise is infused into all our services and products.

 

Get an AI solution that fits your needs

There is no question about it, AI will play a huge role in marketplace growth over the next couple of years. However, to truly benefit from machine learning, make sure you get models that will work well for you.

We often talk to marketplace owners who have become slightly disillusioned after testing AI solutions that weren’t properly calibrated for their business. They have wasted time implementing a solution that didn’t solve their issue in a proper way and now they are vary of AI as a whole.

That’s a shame, when applied correctly AI is a great money saver and provides other benefits like fast time to site and user privacy protection.

To avoid spending money on the wrong AI, have a chat with our solution designers and they will give you a good idea of which setup would work for you and the results you can expect. Together you can tailor a solution that fits your exact needs.

Get in contact with us for our tailored AI moderation solution

In a recent webinar with Kahuna, Jeff Nolan made the statement that for digital marketplaces “Trust is the product”.

At Besedo this is exactly in line with our experience, working with online marketplaces for over 15 years.  As they do not carry their own goods, but merely facilitate the contact between users, their primary purpose is to ensure a safe environment for users to engage.

If users do not trust the marketplace, they will not carry out transactions through it.

They are probably unlike to even browse listings on it.

In fact, 50% of those that don’t shop online state that lack of trust is the reason.

But how do you know whether your site is trustworthy or not? It all comes down to the quality level of your inventory.

Determining this can be a daunting exercise. The nature of marketplaces is to facilitate users to post their content to reach buyers. This means that without proper processes in place you have limited control over the content that is submitted to your platform.

How many good listings do you have versus how many bad ones? And where should you start the process of pruning?

Not all bad content is created equal. At Besedo we’ve spent years learning which content poses the biggest risk for marketplaces.

Based on this experience and to help marketplaces understand their content quality better, we’ve created the Besedo layers model.

Essentially, the model is a way of assessing the quality and safety of sites and marketplaces. We use it to clarify specific areas of need for marketplaces and as the framework for our index reports.

 

Drilling down to the threat impact

We’ve used this model successfully for years and recently updated it to make it even clearer where and how the threat impacts your marketplace and what the ROI from managing the threat is.

To achieve this, we’ve broken the model into two areas.

Content quality threats and user experience threats. If both areas are well managed, you will be well on your way to establish user trust.

 

Content quality threats

All threats included in this table are things that lower the overall quality of your inventory. It includes illegal items, dangerous assets and are things that will make most people turn away from your site.

These threats directly impact acquisition and user churn and they may get you into PR or legal trouble. Especially if your marketplace operates in a market where the platform is liable for the content they feature.

 

User experience threats

content that negatively impacts user experience

The threats listed in this table impact the search and user experience and generally decrease the smoothness of the customer journey. Scams, duplicates, and wrongly categorized items all make it harder to find the items users are looking for, which in turn decrease overall conversion.

 

User Trust: The Overarching Objective

The primary goal of the Besedo layer model is to create a conversation around user trust and what impacts it. By creating discussions about threats within content we aim to give online marketplaces additional clarity – and by providing dedicated insights we hope to help companies tailor their moderation strategy and create better solutions.

We often undertake an assessment like this when a new marketplace or classified site approach us; it’s a way of understanding their pain points and figuring out where they can improve. Sometimes clients have an idea of what they need to do, but a formal analysis helps clarify specific needs.

 

Broader Industry Assessments

As well as client assessments we also use our insight tools to create ‘State of the Market’ reports: indexes in which we review content on a set of 20-30 websites operating in a specific sector, industry, or geographical area.

All things considered, quality content and a good user experience reinforce trust – a fact that applies across all businesses. Enabling UGC always carries a certain level of risk, but with the right awareness and tools in place, these can be easily and quickly mitigated.

You can view all Besedo’s Index reports, or in conducting an assessment of your own marketplace or classifieds site? Get in touch today!

Without content moderation, your online marketplace or classifieds site could end up a little like the Wild West: lawless. While user generated content (UGC) is – for the most part – contributed by genuine customers, a system that’s open to the public is open to abuse: which is why content moderation is a must.

However, despite its importance, there are a number of massive misconceptions about content moderation.

Let’s bust some of those myths right now.

Myth #1: Content moderation is censorship

Some people see content moderation as a form of censorship; a way for organizations to exercise control and block comments, posts, reviews, and other types of undesirable content.

The truth is, content moderation is about providing a healthy and safe environment where users can comfortably engage with others and upload their own products, posts or comments.

Flags and report buttons allow users to notify site owners when something’s out of place, human moderators ensure that all users comply with community standards, and well-trained AI moderation solutions use filters to screen for inappropriate words, phrases, and images – helping weed out the trolls, bullies, and spammers; keeping your online space a great place to be.

In short, content moderation isn’t censorship, it’s a tool to improve user experience, ensure that you adhere to local and global laws and that your users can interact through your services without fear of getting scammed.

Read how you can avoid making your users feel censored >>

Myth #2: Content moderation gives no ROI

Hmm… where to start? The notion that content moderation is simply another time-consuming and resource-heavy task that provides little ROI is a common one.

Marketers need to remember that all their hard work on SEO, branding, and marketing is all for nothing if a damaging image gets uploaded, someone is bullied, or links to spam content or NSFW material get posted.

Speaking of SEO. Content moderation helps here too. By removing duplicates, re-categorizing misplaced items and rejecting low quality ads you can increase your Google ranking.

Learn more about how to improve marketplace SEO from SEO expert Oliver Winberg >>

Content moderation also helps breed and maintain trust. A qualitative study we conducted  showed that 75% of users who saw scam on a site would not return and in a quantative study we found that 50% of participants encountered something they thought was a scam.

That means you could potentially experience 38% user churn just from scams.

And finally, a great content moderation strategy not only protects your brand value, it helps increase engagement as well. Besedo customers have seen a significant improvement in bounce rate, for example. In some cases, a drop from 35% to 14% – increasing the chance of conversion and return visits.

So, while you may not be able to directly translate money into money out when it comes to content moderation, you will definitely feel it on your bottom line if you neglect to set up a strong strategy for content review and management.

Myth #3: AI is not accurate enough

People just don’t seem to trust robots (thanks Terminator!). And while Skynet is still a way off (waaay off, we hope!) current forms of AI are tailor-made for content moderation – and are actually in many cases as accurate as human moderators.

Case in point: our own experience working with Meetic – an online dating platform with 6.5 million monthly users. We were able to automate 74,8% of their content from day one with 99% accuracy and over time we have moved the automation level to 90%, without negatively impacting the accuracy.

You can read more about this in our Meetic case study >>

Myth #4: Building your own content moderation solution is cheaper than using a SaaS solution

Building your own content moderation platform is a huge task, especially when you want to use machine learning AI to support your human team. Setting your developers to work on building something will cost a lot of money and take a lot of time. That’s time that could be used creating unique features that will give you the competitive edge.

Segment CEO, Peter Reinhardt states  “You should only be building your own tool if you’ve tried lots of others on the market and find that none of them will solve your problem. Only build if you’re left without a choice. And still take care: I’d estimate that 50% of the startups that I see build tools can’t maintain them.”

So if you haven’t yet tested our content moderation tool Implio, put your in-house development on hold. Implio is a proven SaaS solution, with inbuilt AI, customizable filters and an efficient manual interface developed specifically for online marketplaces, sharing economy sites and dating apps. And it’s free – for up to 10,000 items a month.

Most importantly, it’s religiously maintained, and new features are added regularly, without impacting your product roadmap.

Consider those myths busted!

There’s a lot of misinformation regarding content moderation. But fail to get it right and spam will harm your SEO, trolls will harass your customers, and irrelevant content will ruin your site’s user experience.

Want to get it right first time? Talk to our solutions designer team here at Besedo.

Conversions are the holy grail for online marketplaces. Once you have a healthy level of conversions from your listings you can start the transition from lead generator to transactional services.  

To get to the stage of persistent conversions, however, you must ensure high quality inventory, return visitors and construct a smooth search experience.  

The latter is especially important considering that according to studies by the Nielsen Norman Group, users will abandon your site within 10 seconds if they don’t find what they are looking for 

 

5 steps to improve inventory quality and increase conversion 

At Besedo we have conducted a number of studies on content quality, search experience and how it correlates to conversion.  

At the recent Global online classifieds summit in Miami AimGroup CEO Peter Zollman invited us to present our findings to a crowd of 267 online marketplace professionals.  

The end of our presentation included 5 steps that online marketplaces can take right away to improve the content quality of their site resulting in better conversion and lower churn.  

Now we want to share these actionable insights with all of our blog readers as well. You can watch the entire presentation below.  

Ready to improve user experience and conversion rates? 

Get in touch with a content moderation expert and learn how our moderation solutions can help your online marketplace convert better.

No doubt about it: developers are in demand. Positions are opening up fast and the profession is expected to grow around 24% until 2026 in the U.S. alone. While developers are brought in to help companies innovate, frustratingly, a lot of their valuable time is often spent solving problems that already have smooth, existing solutions: like content moderation, for example.

As an online marketplace, you need to monitor and review large volumes of user-generated content (UGC) – so a solid moderation tool is pretty essential. Historically many online marketplaces have built such tools as part of their back office setup. This practice occurred, first and foremost because 15-20 years ago when the first real online marketplaces were born there weren’t any good alternatives. That is however no longer true. There are off-the-shelf alternatives developed exclusively for our industry. As such the main arguments we hear these days for developing your own tool are control and customization.

Wanting the ability to keep your data close for insight on how to develop your product, is a great reason for creating your own tool. So is the goal of customizing your tool to your exact needs. Except that’s rarely the outcome seen when online marketplace owners develop their own tool. Too often we hear about clunky tools and slow interfaces that don’t  have all the functionalities needed to do the basic moderation tasks efficiently, let alone provide all the benefits described above.

Peter Reinhardt, CEO at Segment estimates that 50% of the startups he sees build their own tools can’t maintain them.

The truth is that when developer resources are distributed, moderation tool development and maintenance are rarely at the front of the queue (if it even gets to line up). And even when they do, that developer time could almost certainly be spent better.

Here are a few examples of what your developers could be doing instead of reinventing the wheel:

 

1. Improving the seller experience

Scrolling through categories on an e-commerce site can be frustrating for vendors to say the least. Finding exactly where to post a product can sometimes feel like rocket science – is a USB pen drive an accessory or an electronic product? Is this laptop case a bag or a computer accessory?!

As a result, users often end up advertising in the wrong category, which can hurt their sales, your SEO, and also your bottom line when consumers can’t find what they’re looking for. By setting your developers to work on building an image recognition tool that suggests placement based on submitted images, you can save your vendors a lot of time, improve conversion, SEO, and customer satisfaction in one go.

 

2. Increasing your conversions by as much as 20%

People care about security, especially when it comes to giving their credit card details online. An AIM Group report in February covered the security of escrow payments and showed that, statistically, non-secure payment solutions decrease conversion rates by as much as 20%.

Tasking your developers with improving security for your site in general is an excellent idea, and having them focus on payment process security can help you build even more customer trust and improve profitability.

 

3. Keeping your customers on site

In an ideal world, customers would set your site as their homepage. While that’s unlikely (!), you should definitely aim to keep them on your site for as long as possible, because people who stick around and search on your site are much more likely to convert.

Your developers could build a ‘related items’ feature into your marketplace, helping customers who have just landed on your site to find items similar to what they were looking for and upping the chance of them finding what they need.

 

4. Giving your customers exactly what they want

On a similar note, helping your customers find what they are looking for quickly is a surefire way of holding their attention and encouraging them to add items to their shopping baskets.

Get your dev team to roll out a solid search engine, built on data, and give your customers no choice but to convert when they see perfectly matched items popping up time and time again.

 

5. Staying on top of the latest trends

Many industries, from architects to real estate, and even car manufacturers are already taking advantage of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). And they’re getting the attention of younger generations, particularly Millennials, who are increasingly wielding more financial power and respond well to this kind of tech.

This is the perfect opportunity to encourage your developers to flex some creative muscle and for your online store to get an edge on your competitors. And with the right focus, resources, and insights the sky is very much the limit.

 

These are just some value-adding ways you can get your current dev team (and any future hires) to innovate. Content moderation, on the other hand, should not be the focus for your developers.

Particularly not when you have alternatives like Implio, our all-in-one content moderation tool. It’s ready to use right away and combines both AI and manual moderation to maximise accuracy and efficiency. With Implio you get all the customization you want with our customizable filters and the option to add tailor-made AI. And you keep control of insight generated by your data through Implios analytics dashboard.

Developer time is gold, don’t waste it on a costly reinvention of the wheel.

Talk to our team about using Implio today!

We’ve all seen those unnecessarily mean comments and personal attacks, in response to articles, videos, and social media posts. The faceless “trolls” behind them seem to get a kick out of humiliating people; just for voicing opinions or sharing content online.

Though it’s clearly unpleasant, such behavior is often ignored or dismissed as an inevitable part of our online experience. But for many people abuse like this can have very real consequences; when trolling turns into full-fledged cyberbullying.

A Hidden epidemic

Often hidden from view on social media platforms, forums, or messaging apps, cyberbullying can be hard to spot. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. According to anti-bullying organization, Bullying Statistics, more than 50% of adolescents have experienced cyberbullying in some form or other – and up to a quarter have been repeatedly bullied online.

And it’s just as damaging as school- or workplace harassment, hurting the victims emotionally and often leaving them too afraid to socialize or go to school. In more extreme cases it escalates into physical abuse and has sadly led to a number of suicides.

As online marketplaces and classifieds sites increasingly chase community building, do they also have a responsibility for user actions on their platforms? How can they address the important issue of cyberbullying?

Germany sets an example

Germany certainly thinks businesses have a job to do. The country’s new “Network Enforcement Law”, which came into effect in October last year, sets a very strict precedent when it comes to dealing with offensive material on social networks.

The new act levies fines of up to €50 million if a social media platform – with more than 2 million users – fails to remove posts that break German law within a certain (very short) timeframe.

This law has already drawn international attention. And, as broader awareness of cyberbullying increases, governments around the world are likely to start following suit; putting regulations in place to ensure that businesses do everything they can to protect their users.

However, many countries are struggling to enforce action as current laws don’t categorize certain ‘bullying’ behavior as necessarily negative. For example, in Sweden, publishing a naked or sexual image is not seen as ‘defamation’ as being sexually active is normal adult behavior. A 2016 article in The Guardian, illustrates just how varied actions against online harassment can be.

From a business perspective, the time to start tackling the issue of cyberbullying is now. As companies everywhere begin to take action, the cost of not having an effective online bullying strategy in place will be high – and not just financially, but also in terms of brand reputation and user churn. In fact, recent statistics show that 30% of users that witnessed cyberbullying on a site stopped using the service afterwards.

As the digital society continues to mature we are also likely to see increasing legislation as governments start holding companies responsible for what happens on their platforms.

Taking steps to keep your users safe online

The growing problem of cyberbullying has been a difficult one to face for many companies. Reviewing billions of comments, messages and posts is an impossible task for a human team to do alone. However, there are a  number of ways to handle cyberbullying and neutralize it on your website.

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) filters can catch inappropriate comments or posts before they’re published. This not only prevents people from posting offensive content, but it also forces them to reflect on what they are saying.
  • “Report” buttons allow users to flag offensive comments or content online; meaning moderators can then take the appropriate action – deleting the post, warning the user, or even banning a person from using the service. This type of moderation can also be applied to private messages, groups and chat functions; as the worst kind of bullying often takes place in a one-to-one setting.
  • Training should be offered to all customer support staff; so that they know how to deal with instances of cyberbullying, especially when young people are involved. No matter how well integrated your anti-bullying safeguards are, it’s important to be aware that digital harassment often occurs across online platforms. Victims are followed from service to service and your agents will often find themselves in situations where they have to take a decision without knowing the full context.

Building A supportive valuable community with Besedo

Let Besedo help you build the community that you want; a friendly, safe place that benefits all of your users and keeps them coming back time and time again.

To find out more about how our AI content moderation service can help you protect your users from cyberbullying, please get in touch.

This is part 2 of our guide to top marketplace SEO. In part 1 you can learn about how to SEO optimize for buying and selling intent on online marketplaces.

Created content to supplement user-generated content. 

Marketplaces have the incredible advantage of receiving a mass of user-generated content (UGC). When this content is presented in a solid search engine optimized format, you will find that this UGC will attract significant traffic based on long tail search.  

Your category structure and the resulting dynamically generated listing pages do also contribute significant traffic volumes based on users’ search terms.  Your content marketing team should, therefore, take ownership of the category structure, which must be based on solid keyword research. To further strengthen the category keywords, each category and sub-category should include a unique and well-written introduction.  

However even after going through a comprehensive category analysis, it won’t be possible to cater for every user’s search terms within the category structure alone. To capture this search traffic overflow, it will be important to develop a ‘created content’ strategy.  

You will likely already manage a blog. Use these surplus keywords towards new post ideas. Add links within those posts where possible to categories that are most relevant. Internal links are a very powerful SEO tool that are often overlooked. 

A blog post may not always be the most relevant landing page for the user’s query. In some cases, it may be necessary to development addition dynamically generated landing pages to cater for some keywords. The best example of this are price guides that could be used to gain traffic from queries such as ‘average price of second hand iPhone 7 plus in London’ based on data derived from the UGC. Most searched for, most sold items, etc are also good examples of created content. But your keyword analysis should provide many ideas.  

 

Measure and test 

Define the KPIs by which you plan to measure your SEO effectiveness. There is a multitude of metrics that you can use to track your SEO progress. Top of the list is always traffic. Look at this based on the number of visitors that reach your site in total versus those that reach your site through organic search. Next always measure conversions. This could be a lead or a new ad submitted, etc. You likely measure these already but break these down by source – most importantly the percentage that can be attributed to SEO traffic. Thereafter measure your number of indexed pages, page load speed, incoming links, keywords rank, bounce rate, and any other metrics you decide are important and that are possible to obtain historically and monitor regularly going forward. 

This set of SEO KPIs must become your baseline. Every time you update the SEO structures of your site or do any changes to your site, record the status of these metrics, plus the date of the new change. Then again measure and monitor these KPIs carefully during the update process. Speak to your SEO team in advance and ask for forecasts and timelines. Don’t necessarily expect short-term results. But as with any optimization, you should expect improvement. If these don’t come when expected, be ready to go on with the next optimization or even redo the current set of optimizations. 

Much of SEO is about getting to know your user’s better, such as learning which search terms lead to the best conversions. You will have a backlog of tests that you want to try out. Make sure that these tests can be done in such a way that the traffic acquired from these tests can be isolated from the rest of your site. If the result is good within the agreed time period, then keep the test as a permanent optimization. If not, revert the optimization quickly and move on to the next test. 

 

Challenges of SEO for Marketplaces  

Quality is a word that is being emphasized by all the major search engine – mostly loudly by Google. Google has made many adjustments in their ranking algorithms to better highlight the quality content that web users are demanding.  

The focus has been to eliminate duplicate content and content that is both fraudulent and spammy.  

Duplicate content can be defined as content that appears identical on your site and on other sites across the web. Good technical SEO can be used to ensure that all content only appears under unique URLs and with unique page titles and descriptions. It the job of your technical team to fully understand these structures and make the necessary optimization to differentiate your content uniquely across your marketplace web pages. This is a challenge, but the guidelines are well defined, and the skills can be acquired. 

The greater challenge comes in the form of user-defined content. Sellers are notorious for uploading the same content many times. It is possible to filter out much of this duplication via your own backend, but catering for all the permutations that a user can submit require a lot of time from your technical team. Time that could be better spent on other optimization that will have more direct monetary returns.  

The same can be said of fraudulent or spammy content. Users that have the intent to defraud others are becoming more sophisticated every day. They will continually switch identities and the type and structure of their content. 

The best way to traditionally address these challenges has been through using a combination of user reports and human moderators. However, building your own moderation platform means keeping up to date with the techniques of these non-genuine individuals. This will mean making the necessary technical updates to your platform and updating the skills of your moderation team. 

The availability of cloud services now makes it practical to integrate with external, custom built moderation platforms to mitigate the complexities and lost opportunities that building internal moderation tools will bring to your business. 

Improved content moderation will be reflected in the organic traffic metrics that you track for your marketplace.

Takeaways

  • Web users are using search engines to find products or services.
  • Search engine optimization strategies – technical on-page SEO, reputation building off page SEO and content marketing optimization strategies – are critical to acquiring traffic from search engines.
  • Marketplace SEO strategy must be devised to target both buyers and sellers.
  • Use your category and region listings to bring in free organic traffic.
  • Each step of your content strategy must be supported by well-documented keyword research.
  • Created content, such a price guides, can be used to target users on non-typical paths of their customer journeys.
  • Always consider the quality of your content.

This concludes part 2 of our guide to top marketplace SEO. You can read part 1 here.

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.

Oliver Winberg SEO expert for online marketplaces

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.

Oliver has now relocated to Stockholm and survived his first true winter. With extensive experience and expertise within marketplace SEO, Oliver is looking forward to working with you to find solutions to the challenges you may be facing with you Search Engine Optimisation strategy.

Few people know online marketplaces better than Mathias Ockenfels, partner at Speedinvest x, a Berlin-based early stage focus fund investing in network effects. We spoke with him to better understand why online marketplaces hold their value, how founders can get investment ready, and exactly what investors are looking for before investing in a marketplace.

Int: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us Mathias! Could you give us a little insight into your career so far?

MO: For sure – I’m Mathias and I live and breathe online marketplaces! I’ve been involved with them for the past ten years — since my student days. Before launching Speedinvest x, I was the German general manager for Uniplaces, a marketplace for student accommodation. I started out as an investment manager at Zurich-based Mountain Partners Group, before landing roles at Point Nine Capital, another early stage fund focused on SaaS and marketplaces; and heading the mergers and acquisitions arm at Ricardo Group, then a subsidiary of South African Naspers.

Int: So… why online marketplaces? What is it about them that drives your interest?

MO: I’ve been building online stores since I was a teenager but came across the idea of ‘network effects’ when researching my degree thesis. It’s underpinned by a very simple but powerful concept: the value of the network increases with every new participant who joins the network.

This idea predates the internet – it stems from telephone networks. The more people used a phone, the more it made sense for others to have a phone. From an online marketplace perspective, once you’ve built a critical mass of users, it’s hard for a competitor to penetrate or disrupt your market – even if your product is inferior (just look at craigslist!).

From a business perspective, one of the first investments I helped broker was for a company called ‘Yourdelivery’, a Just Eat competitor, which later rebranded to Lieferando and was eventually acquired by the Takeaway Group that IPO’ed for around €1bn. Shpock’s sale to Schibsted was another deal we saw come to fruition here at Speedinvest.

Basically, it’s clear that online marketplaces, given the right team, environment, and backing have huge potential.

Int: What kinds of marketplaces do you invest in now at Speedinvest x? 

MO: Speedinvest x sits underneath our parent company Speedinvest and focuses solely on early-stage online marketplaces and network effects-driven startups in Europe and North America.

Even more specifically, rather than ‘type’ of marketplace, we’re more interested in the stage or phase a company’s at, as we aim to be the first institutional investor a marketplace encounters: at both Seed and Pre-Seed stage.

That’s the phase we feel most comfortable getting involved in; and it’s where we can add the most value, too. We often invest in a company several times within the same phase.

Int: Aside from investment (!) what else do you offer the companies you work with?

MO: As VCs it’s not our job to come up with the idea, it’s to find the entrepreneurs who are creating them. When we do, we get very operationally involved. Most of our team come from an entrepreneurial background, so they know what founders are going through! We often place a dedicated team member within each company we invest in.

Also, because we can tap into Speedinvest’s experts in Europe (Austria, Germany, and the UK) and the US, we can help marketplaces grow their teams, presence and go-to-market strategy – thanks to Speedinvest’s dedicated HR (known as the Speedinvest Heroes) and growth hacking (known as the Speedinvest Pirates) teams.

Int: What do you look at when deciding whether to invest in a marketplace or not?  

MO: The overall market must be big enough, in order for it to offer the kind of return we’re looking for. It doesn’t make financial sense for us to invest in something that is very niche.

We’re looking for teams that tackle billion-dollar markets; companies that are on track to achieve product-market fit; the kind that are solving real pain points for their users. We also look into the team and overall growth, but we take both a qualitative and quantitative approach to ensure we get a range of KPIs and statistics.

We talk to their customers and users, to get a good feel for what their real pain points are, and to determine the extent to which they perceive the business is solving these problems.

From a quantitative aspect, we look at a range of factors: how the numbers stack up, growth dynamics; as well as non-financial KPIs: such as engagement numbers and how people are using the product. This can include everything from weekly and daily active users to booking or transaction numbers. Basically, we are looking at anything that shows us how people are using the product and how engaged they are; and whether these are in line with the kind of engagement we would expect based on what the problem the marketplace or platform is solving.

For example, with a platform like Shpock, you’d expect to see more frequent, long-term usage, as a typical use case. However, with a real estate platform, user activity would typically be high over a few weeks; as those buying a home tend to conduct their search on a short-term basis, but actually move home rarely.

Retention is important, too. We therefore often look at cohort analysis of users. Once a startup is starting to generate revenue we look at how fast it is growing. But, making money isn’t the primary concern at the Seed- or Pre-Seed phase. The really important thing is to achieve that critical mass of users – which is why we take engagement figures into account and consider it as more important than actual, financial traction.

Int: So you’re not necessarily concerned if a marketplace isn’t making money from the outset? 

MO: One of the biggest mistakes founders make is monetizing too early. A small profitable business is not a bad thing, but it won’t be a game changer – or a good VC case. It might seem counterintuitive, but building a marketplace is about hitting critical mass as fast as possible so the network effects can kick in.

If you start monetizing too soon you risk people shying away, which impedes the network effect. That’s why we pay such close attention to engagement numbers. The ratio between daily and monthly users indicates the ‘stickiness’ of the platform. The higher that is, the better the market fit; and the more compelling a case it becomes for investment.

Int: What’s the most effective way for marketplaces to reach that critical mass?

MO: It all depends whether you’re building a vertical or horizontal marketplace.

With horizontal marketplaces, you should try to build liquidity early and focus on quality afterward. Get as many listings as possible and once you introduce listing fees, you’ll soon put an end to fake or prank listings. That said, it’s important to monitor and remove scammer from the outset – to protect users and to ensure the best experience for all.

If you’re building a vertical platform; quality comes first. You’re essentially creating a marketplace giving people access to a supply that no-one else has; a niche where you can make a difference and deliver a unique experience.

Being niche gives you the opportunity to truly cater to your target audience and provide a very targeted service and platform, however, there is such a thing as being too niche.

To be successful, the chosen niche needs to have broad enough appeal to build ‘quantity’.

Or If you can capture a large enough percentage of transactions (say, 20-30%) then that may be good enough even if it’s very niche – but that hinges on you providing enough value to ensure customers are willing to pay that kind of money.

Int: Some great info here… what would be your best piece of advice for online marketplaces looking for investment? 

MO: Try to have your numbers in place from the very beginning so you can come across as professional and on top of your numbers. Follow engagement numbers daily and show how changes to the marketplace alter user behavior.

And – show us you care! Because we invest at an early stage, first and foremost we invest in the founders. We want to be sure of them, their drive, and passion. If you’re not passionate about the industry you’re in, or the idea you’re working on, others won’t feel that excitement either. Authenticity accounts for a lot. Usually, the best ideas come from those with experience of the pain points; those who genuinely want to solve a particular problem. Rarely do those who start a business that ‘seems like a good opportunity’ have that same passion.

Int: And finally, do you think the online marketplace sector could exhaust itself? 

MO: A lot of people do – but I don’t. There’s lots of competition out there, and many categories are already covered. But, consider the B2B space. It’s still largely untapped.

In B2B there are lots of asset-heavy categories – such as construction materials, machinery or storage – assets that don’t get used to their fullest extents. Companies like Stowga (one of ours…) who uses the sharing economy approach to warehouse space, is growing in popularity.

There are some great ideas out there, and we want to back the entrepreneurs that have those ideas and help make them a reality.

Thanks Mathias! A lot of great information and a huge help to a lot of early-stage marketplaces. For more information on how to get investment for your online marketplace, contact Speedinvest x

To learn how content moderation can help you get better engagement numbers talk to one of our solutions designers

Mathias Ockenfels investor

Mathias Ockenfels is a Berlin-based Partner at Speedinvest x, an early stage focus fund under the Speedinvest umbrella investing into network effects. Mathias eats and breathes marketplaces: Prior to launching Speedinvest x, he was a General Manager for the German market at Uniplaces, a marketplace for student accommodation.

Before that, Mathias was a Principal at Point Nine Capital, a Berlin-based early stage fund focused on SaaS and marketplaces. Earlier in his career, Mathias worked at Naspers, previously the parent company of online auction and classifieds platform ricardo.ch, where he was heading the M&A department of the group. He started his career as an Investment Manager at Zurich-based Mountain Partners Group. Mathias holds a german-french double-diploma from European School of Business Reutlingen and Neoma Business School Reims.

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.

Your Markets

know your marketsNo 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.

Buying Intent

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.

Selling Intent

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 SEO expert for online marketplaces

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.

Oliver has now relocated to Stockholm and survived his first true winter. With extensive experience and expertise within marketplace SEO, Oliver is looking forward to working with you to find solutions to the challenges you may be facing with you Search Engine Optimisation strategy.

SEO expert Oliver Winberg gives advice on how to rank in Google and acquire more organic traffic in a webinar about Online marketplace SEO.

We live in the world of search engines. There are 66 000 searches on Google every second, that’s almost 238M searches per hour. That is a lot of potential traffic from search engines, and companies are constantly competing to rank number 1. To win the audience. 

How do you outplay your competition?   

There are many SEO guides and checklists available online. However, most of them are very generic and none are specific to online marketplaces and the challenges that come with running one.  

On April 26th, we had the opportunity to host a webinar together with Oliver Winberg, former SEO Manager at Junk Mail Media Group, and pick his brain on how to successfully work with SEO for online marketplaces. 

During the webinar, Oliver gave insights and actionable tips on how online marketplaces can optimize their SEO actions. We had a very engaged audience with a lot of great questions, so many in fact that we ran out of time and didn’t manage to answer them all during the live session.

Oliver has been kind enough to answer all questions submitted and you’ll find the questions and answers about online marketplace SEO further down this page.

But first, make sure to watch the webinar. Here is the full recording:

  

SEO for online marketplaces Q&A 

Q: What is your preferred online tool for keyword tracking? How much do you trust Search Console? 
Oliver: My favorite way of tracking keywords is using MOZ. I like their interface and dashboard design. MOZ is not the least costly, but I trust their data. But honestly, that is just my opinion. There are at dozens of other good keyword(KW) tracking tools out there and the standards of these tools are changing all the time.

If you are not tracking keywords today, you will probably have to start by tracking a few thousand keywords at least. In that case, you should pick the tool that can get you started quickly, and then put some time over the next few months to properly research the options out there and switch to what makes sense to you.

Regarding Search Console, I have no reason not to trust their data. That data is coming directly from Google and has to be included in your SEO toolset. However, it will only tell you what KWs you are already ranking for, and a lot of it will probably be brand related phrases. It’s good to know where you stand, but you will need a 3rd party tool to help you understand the potential that is out there and especially one that can give you some insight into your competitors’ actions. For this, I like Search Metrics, but again do the research and find the toolset that works for you and your objectives.

 

Q: Google is moving towards mobile first indexing. Is AMP the perfect solution to this to make pages mobile friendly? 
Oliver: Google has some great guidelines for Best Practices for mobile-first indexing.

In summary, it will be best to have a core mobile-friendly version of every page, which must include the same content as your desktop pages. Some of the navigation elements may be too cumbersome to include in the mobile version, but the important content/keywords must be there plus the most critical links. Using responsive web dev will be your most effective means of managing these pages over the long term. 

Keep in mind that Mobile Friendly also means that pages must load quickly – aim for max 1s. You should only use AMP if is not practical to meet the development timelines to achieve mobile-friendly pages quickly. In my experience, it has always been a better strategy to develop mobile-friendly versions of your core site, and then use AMP plugins to achieve the mobile-friendly version of blog content on a Wordpress site – or other similar plugs for Joomla, Wix, etc sites.

 

Q: More and more users post their ads from mobile devices, and those ads have less and less text. Do you have any idea on how to solve that?
Oliver: Agreed, that is a growing concern. I think this can be offset to some extent by having more granular classifications and making sure the keywords that are relevant to the bottom-most categories are included in the adverts metadata (mainly the page title and meta description).

My experience with mobile ad entry is that users are not as adverse to drilling down a few layers of category selection as they are they are too typing on mobile. Make sure that you allow a user to include a unique title or item description and use that when it’s available, as some users will understand that this will help their items selling faster. Include that in your help info about how to sell an item more quickly. But cater for the average user by having as much as possible selectable by dropdowns or checkboxes. Test that continuously. e.g. Do more users complete color via dropdown lists or do they prefer checkboxes.

I’m hoping though that image recognition technology evolves fast enough so that machine interpreted descriptions can be substituted for advertiser input text. This is a great example of why it’s important to keep innovating.

 

Q: What to do with expired ads? 
Oliver: This is dependent on the type of content/portal. When the content can be classified down to a very fine level, such as is the case with cars, then it makes sense in my opinion to (301) redirect the expired ads to the relevant category landing page.

In the case of content, that is more uniquely identified by the user-generated ad title and description it will be more effective to build an archive of the expired ads with dynamically generated links back to the latest content (ads) received in the relevant category. This will keep the expired ad URLs indexed by search engines and will give the search engines another way to discover the new content.

This archived content must be supported by links in your navigation to an index of all archived content. It must be possible for regular users to reach your archives from your core site’s navigation. It won’t need to be a highlighted link, but that content must be present in a way that will be useful to regular human users. Each archived advert must be clearly labeled as ‘expired’ and the advertiser’s contact details should be hidden to avoid connecting active buyers to inactive sellers.

In a generalist marketplace, it may be necessary to employ different expired content strategies based on the nature of specific categories. The bottom line is that the more pages on your site that are indexable by search engines, the wider your pool of content that draws traffic and generates conversions will be.

 

Q: Do you have any favorite keyword research tool? 
Oliver: When starting a new Keyword Research project these are first 3 tools I will always make use of (currently):

Google’s AdWords Planner is brilliant because it is drawing data from the ‘source’, based on what real humans are searching for now. MOZ and Ubersuggest are good in my opinion but can be replaced or supplemented by numerous other tools that exist in the market, which could be more relevant to your location or industry.

Pay attention to the SEO chatter in your area and industry and go with the tools mentioned in those channels. When time allows and especially when you are looking to draw traffic from the fringe of user search, include sources like Google Trends and even Google’s search suggestions from Google search engine.

 

Q: At how granular a level should you create categories for keywords? iPhone makes sense, but what about more obscure tech such as VR helmets that may have a narrower user base? 
Oliver: In this case, it’s important to define how you as a marketplace define the difference between a category and a facet. Categories will include subcategories for this purpose.

In my opinion categories and sub-categories is a compulsory selection that a user must make to either post an advert or when browsing to find the item or service she wants. Facets, on the other hand, are optional, but could be used to get a better result for the buyer and seller.

This difference between a category and facet is best defined by the research you do in your market.

Let’s use iPhones as an example. iPhones are a type of mobile phone and therefore usually a subcategory of mobile phones. Users will be searching in Google for ‘iPhones for sale’.

iPhone 6, 6Plus, etc. are all well-defined and common subsets of iPhones, but would it make sense to include them as sub-categories? If your keyword research shows that there are significant numbers of users that are looking for ‘iPhone 6 plus’ for sale, then it does make sense to add iPhone 6 Plus as a subcategory of the iPhone category. This is also where it gets fun. We know Apple will release a new iPhone model during early autumn. To attract these searches, you may want to add an ‘iPhone Z for sale’ category, at least as a temporary category that could be merged (301’ed) back to the main iPhone category after the launch.

In other words, everything you do needs to be backed by good research – with some room for experimentation – in order to get the best results from SEO.

The same principles can be applied to VR Headset. Is there a specific brand or model that stands out in your market for which there is good search volume then add the relevant sub-categories. If not, then include that data in your facets.

There is no generic magic answer to this question. Significant numbers are all relevant to your niche. But the answer will be there when you have right data. If the numbers interest you and you think that the searchers are serious enough to generate conversions, then create the categories.

 

Q: How many hours should you expect to spend on SEO optimization to see results?
Oliver:
SEO is a very broad topic and will have an impact on every aspect of your portal. It has to be a long-term, ongoing commitment. Every person in your organization must be thinking about what will work best for SEO, which now also includes the User Experience. You can’t put a time to this. But rather make sure everyone in your teams makes the SEO of your portal their top priority. Doing things the search engine friendly way must become second nature to your team and executed as part of their regular function.

It will be easier to quantify the time your team will need training in order to get to this level. An hour a week for the next month in a dedicated training program should be enough to get your team’s attention and get started with this thinking.

Specific SEO related tasks, such as the Keyword Research and optimizing your category structures, can also be divided into time slots. But even these are an ongoing commitment that will need chunks of time continuously to stay on top of your game.

The time that it will take to see results will vary depending on the task and the optimizations that have already been done. Probably my biggest learning over the years has been to make sure you have the right measurements in place. Take the time to get this right up front and you should see the impact of your SEO efforts quickly, within days when optimizations are onsite.

 

Q: Should you edit user-generated content (titles for instance) to optimize the content? 
Oliver: The short answer to this, in my opinion, is No!

Moderation is crucial to help identify duplicate content and fraudulent content. But changing your user’s wording is bad for trust, and misspelling etc. that your users may contribute will all be great for SEO.

Some additional moderation may be necessary to correct the category and/or region selection but mostly there is no need for you to proofread content – unless that is the feature that makes your marketplace unique.

 

Q: When it comes to short and long keywords, where would you place and focus on each? 
Oliver: The short tail is not as significant as it was a few years ago. Users are generally using more natural speech in their searching, which means that long tail keywords are growing.

You will need to subdivide the keyword suggestion that you find in your research into those that will make sense for categories, those that will better match faceted results, those that that will work for created content and finally those that should be covered by your user-generated content.

Your most significant traffic should be directed to your category landing pages, and the keywords that are needed to optimize those structures should, therefore, have your focus.

 

Q: What about optimizing for Image search? One piece of advice around image optimization is to “Name your images descriptively and in plain language”. But with users uploading the images how is that done in a good way? 
Oliver: Images are often the last items on your site to get SEO attention, and yes, it is hard to get conversions from image searches – today. But as more users make use of reverse image search feature, i.e. uploading images to either a search engine or your site, you will find more of these searchers convert. Although even today a search for images by Google users, and in other search engines, will bring in traffic volumes to your site.

The general SEO work that you do will already have an impact on the image results, but the two more important SEO features you need to focus on for image optimization is the Alt Text tag and the image file names. Mobile phones and digital cameras will normally generate generic files which are meaningless to a search engine. These file names are in your control as the image is uploaded and can be turned into much more meaningful file names by including a few words on the ad title, category, and region and then make the filename unique with a combination of time and ad ID.

The Alt tag text is the text that displayed on a webpage if the image fails to load and is a key description of the image that a search engine will attempt to interpret together with the file name. Ideally, the Alt text will be completed by the user. But we know that this is an impractical wish. Give the user the option to complete at least one option image description per batch of images that are uploaded. But when this is not done, fall back again to a combination of the ad title, description, category, and region to build dynamic Alt tags.

When more than one image is used, add the image sequence number to better uniquely identify the specific image, or build an algorithm that will use different advert structure to better uniquely identify subsequent images. The user will likely select one image to be the lead images, and it’s this image that must be given the cleanest (first) file name and alt text. Again, image recognition tech will catch up with these demands for optimized alt tags per image. But till then this is another aspect of SEO that needs experimentation.

 

Q: How do you make sure that UGC gets properly indexed by Google? 
Oliver: Google’s requirement is to have a unique URLs for every piece of unique content. Sounds obvious but one of the most common issues I have come across is that it can be possible to reach the same ad page, i.e. your bike, using multiple URLs that will return the exact same content. That could be OK as long as a unique canonical URL is referenced in each of those versions of the URL.

Even a parameter in a URL will make Google believe the URLs are different and therefore the content. eg www.mystuffforsake.com/yourbike-101.htm?q=bike will be indexed separately to www.mystuffforsake.com/yourbike-101.htm and must, therefore, include a canonical (link rel=”canonical”) pointing pack to www.mystuffforsake.com/yourbike-101.htm.

Duplicate content and fraudulent should be cleared from your content pool, though not necessarily before the content is indexed. If this content is indexed before being moderated, make sure that you have the right 301 structures in place to handle this inactive content – or even allow this content to return a properly structured 404 (not found) page.

But having each piece of content, i.e. advert, on its own URL is the single most important aspect of allowing Google or any other search engine to index your content in an efficient way. Also, make sure to include these URLs in your sitemap file and ensure that users or Google will find new content on your site where it is expected.

 

Q: Finally, a question for the near future. With more and more people turning to voice interfaces, how will that impact SEO for marketplaces? How can I optimize my site for voice? 
Oliver: It’s still very early to make a prediction on this tech mainly as we don’t have sufficient data yet on which to base the predictions. But I don’t think much will change. Users are already using more natural language in their search terms, so the occurrence of this will probably only increase as result. Also, voice devices are not typically programmed to deliver more than one search result, but users are already becoming accustomed to this in terms of the current featured snippet’ in the Google results.

It will take time for the impact of these trends to be felt by site owners. But the owners of marketplaces should already now make sure that their sites are keeping pace with the trends by investing in the new tech and skills needed.

Ready to get started with your online marketplace SEO?

Together with Oliver, we have created a keyword research checklist for online marketplaces that will help you improve your SEO through a step-by-step approach.