SEO for Two-sided Marketplace Startups

When implementing SEO in a startup, it’s often very different from traditional businesses. The main difference? Startups have to do SEO at scale, typically by implementing structural SEO.  This is particularly true for multi-vendor online marketplaces (eCommerce sites).

What is a two-sided online marketplace?

An online marketplace is a platform where product or service information is provided by multiple vendors. Successful marketplaces like Amazon, Airbnb, Alibaba, and Houzz are perfect examples of this business model.

SEO Strategy reviews on successful startups

I’ve personally done many SEO case studies in both forms of video and blog.

  • Houzz SEO Strategy Reverse Engineered: Local SEO at Scale
    Valuation: 4 Billion (as in 2019 Aug) Type: B2C marketplace to find home improvement contractors Overall traffic: 25M visits/mon Organic traffic: 10.6M visits/mon (accounts for 43%) If you ever tried to find home improvement contractors on Google, you’ll probably notice that Houzz ranks well for almost everything such as “kitchen remodeling company in [XX city]”, “[XX city] interior designer”, and “carpenters near me.”. Today Houzz has 25M monthly visitors and around HALF of their traffic is from search engines based on SEMrush data. So here’s the billion-dollar question: …
  • What Is Structural SEO & Why Is It So Useful For Marketplace Startups?
    “Structural SEO” is a process of systematically structuring a website so that its pages rank well on Google for multiple keyword combinations naturally. Like the term “growth hack“, “structural SEO” has been applied widely yet didn’t have a name until someone coined the term. “Structural SEO” is most commonly applied to growth online marketplaces.
  • Zapier SEO Strategy to Reach $5B Valuation
    Valuation: $5 billion (recently) Type: B2B2C marketplace for no-code App integration Overall traffic: 12M visits/mon Organic traffic: 5.5M ( accounts for 45.7%) We all need different software to run our startups smoothly. The average small business uses 102 different apps, while each mid-market business uses an average of 137 apps based on this 2020 research. And when you need to integrate one software with another software, the thing you do is probably Googling “integrate A software with B software.” At least that was exactly I found Zapier. According …
  • How Did We Grow Our Organic Traffic by 69X in 15 Months?
    We had 534 organic monthly visitors to SolarFeeds.com in 2019 July when I first purchased the poorly run blog. But by 2020 October, we had 37,680 organic UV/mon. That’s a 69X growth in 15 months from blogging! And more astonishingly, we only spent around $18K on content creation.
  • Booking.com SEO Strategy Review
    Similar to Houzz’s local SEO strategy, Booking.com can systematically rank for this keyword combination by using structural SEO. Keyword combinations can be at category level searches such as “vacation homes in [Location name],” and also be business profile level ” searches such as [universal’s loews sapphire falls resort] reviews”.
  • Etsy SEO Strategy Review
    Per someone’s request, I decided to review Etsy’s SEO Strategy. There are a lot of case studies and observations about Etsy, as shown in the Sources section. It gave me a sense that Etsy gets where they are today despite their poor SEO in the beginning.
  • Crunchbase SEO Strategy Review
    Crunchbase is another good example of structural SEO. However, there are still a lot of room for improvement.
  • Databox SEO Strategy Review: Authority Building Hack!
    In January 2017, Peter Caputa joined an early-stage startup, Databox, as CEO. When he joined HubSpot in 2007, he was employee #15. Applying what he learned, he managed to take Databox to the next level.  Here’s how they hacked the authority-building process.
  • SEO Strategy Review: TripAdvisor VS. Yelp
    Most of TripAdvisor’s revenue was generated by users clicking from its site to hotel booking sites, on the other hand, Yelp mainly makes money from advertising. Should I even compare them? I’d argue, YES! because in terms of SEO, they both focus on local searches.
  • Top Growth Hack Examples: A Running List of Famous Growth Hack Stories
    Looking for growth hack inspirations? You’re in luck. Some people collect stamps, some collect cars, Well, I collect growth hack stories, especially marketplace startups’.
  • How HubSpot Steals Hotmail’s “Signature Growth Hack” and Get Users to Promote HubSpot for Free
    Pablo Picasso is often quoted as saying: “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” It’s debatable if Picasso did say that, however, this is so true in growth hacking. Most of the time when hearing about famous growth hacking stories, you can’t simply copy someone else’s “tricks.” You need to tweak here and there to fit your context.
  • Top Growth Hacks to Build Domain Authority Effectively
    Most effective ways to build quality backlinks. As I always way, SEO, in a nutshell, is “relevancy + authority“. Structural SEO is the most effective way to create “relevancy” to capture thousands (if not millions) of search quaries on Google. But what about “authority”? What the best ways to increase domain authority?
  • Amazon SEO Strategy Review: King of eCommerce SEO
    We’re not talking about how your store can rank well on Amazon. We’re talking about how to out rank Amazon on Google. However, Amazon is the king of eCommerce currently. At almost 1.7 TRILLION market cap, Amazon is a tough SEO competitor.
  • Books about Marketplace Startups & Network Effects
    I found all books I can about two-sided marketplaces. Most of the books I found center around their founders’ founding stories. That’s actually better for me, because, who doesn’t love good stories? They are my personal reading lists.

*No successful online marketplace (“successful” means 100+ million revenue) depends solely on one channel. Here, I am talking about the ones that get about 50% of their new users from search engines.

Structural SEO to get low CAC (customer acquisition cost)

Considered as “martech” in some startups, structural SEO is a process to build a website structure based on SEO.

However, structural SEO is the engine, user-generated content is the fuel.

Most common challenges of building a marketplace startup

To say that scaling a marketplace business is challenging would be a huge understatement. The main reason? You’re managing an ecosystem created by two sides of users: demand and supply. Oh, maybe there’s the 3rd side: you, as the admin!

  1. Choosing the wrong development approach: Should you choose a third-party tool or build it from scratch?
  2. “Chicken and egg problem”: Should you work on the demand-side or supply-side first?
  3. Leakage: How to minimize platform circumvention?
  4. Liquidity: How to increase the percentage of listings that lead to transactions within a certain time period?
  5. Buyer/seller logistics: How are the products/services delivered to the buyer? What does the process look like?
  6. How to choose the right payment solution? Do you want to use Stripe? Well, Stripe takes 2.9%, so how much would be left for you?
  7. Finding the right business model: What is the best way to monetize?
  8. Low CAC (low-cost user acquisition): It doesn’t matter if you choose social media, content marketing, PR, paid ads, growth hacks, or SEO for your marketplace startup, eventually, you would need to nail down at least one channel that signs up users with a low enough cost.

To make matters worse, each of these problems might have different solutions in the P2P marketplace, B2B marketplace, B2C marketplaces.

Online communities of marketplace startup founders

Despite all of the challenges mentioned above, there are always founders out there who “been there, done that.” As a result, while building my own marketplace startup, SolarFeeds, I am constantly trying to network with other marketplace founders.

Here are the communities or online groups that I found are specifically for marketplaces:

  • Everything Marketplace: https://everythingmarketplaces.com/home
  • r/MarketplaceStartup on Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/MarketplaceStartup/
  • Marketplace Conference https://www.marketplaceconf.com/