One fundamental mistake we make in SEO is to treat all sites alike. We throw statements about ranking factors and priorities around as if there was no difference between companies. But, just like veterinarians don’t treat every animal the same way, we need to overthink our approach for different business models and types of sites.
To stay with the analogy, all animals have commonalities like a nervous system or a heart. And just like that, every website has a homepage or internal linking structure. But from there, things start to get distinguished.
One big example is content: it’s often touted as the most important factor in SEO – but does that apply to everyone? Should Amazon hire 100 writers and set up a blog to take its business to the next level? Nope!
Then why is it that we still have camps of SEOs debating whether backlinks are still the strongest ranking signal or not? Different sites demand different approaches to SEO, but we measure everything with the same yard-stick like it’s 2001.
But it’s 2019. And in 2019, machine learning algorithms and Google’s strong focus on user-intent require a custom approach to SEO. That development already started in 2013 with Hummingbird but we still haven’t adapted.
If the first mistake is to run the same SEO approach on different business models, the second one is to think that all ranking factors apply to different queries in the same way. There are significant differences between the importance of ranking factors for one industry versus the other, as shown in Searchmetrics’ ranking factor studies for different industries.
In other words, ranking factors are industry-specific – or better: query-specific. And it makes perfect sense – why wouldn’t Google weigh ranking factors (or signals) differently per industry? I’m not a big fan of arguing with “logic” because it can be very subjective, but I see users having different expectations per business – online just like offline. A bank must be secure, a clothing store must have a good selection. So, why shouldn’t SSL encryption matter more for finance and speed for e-commerce sites?
There’s a second mistake we often make as SEOs: treating each business the same. Ranking signals differ by industry and we have to customize our approach based on the business model.
(Airbnb vs. Marriott – same target market but different business models.)
Optimizing airbnb.com and marriott.com, for example, are two different things. You can’t shouldn’t take the same approach. Airbnb is a marketplace while Marriott is a hotel chain – they employ different business models.
Good SEOs intuitively understand that, but in this article, I want to provide a method to find the right approach and outline what strategies make the most sense for which business model.
SEO for B2B vs. B2C is fundamentally different
To scale SEO efficiently, we have to differentiate between four types of companies that differ in content creation and target market.
Selling to consumers is way different than selling to businesses. Creating content yourself (CGC) is different from having user-generated content (UGC) or a product inventory. Each factor has a major impact on SEO and the approach you should run.
Companies can be clustered into four types (clockwise, starting in the upper left corner):
- B2C inventory-driven companies
- B2B inventory-driven companies
- B2B content-driven companies
- B2C content-driven companies
(The “SEO Scale Quadrant” differentiates companies by content creation and target market.)
Let’s start by looking at the SEO challenges of B2C companies and then venture into B2B.
B2C companies are differentiated by company-created content (CGC) and user-generated content (UGC).
Direct-to-consumer (DTC) companies occupy the CGC space because their inventory is small, so they can’t use it to scale SEO. Most DTC companies drive business through paid channels or referral programs and have to find the right balance between customer acquisition cost (CAC) and lifetime value (LTV). However, not using SEO is a missed opportunity.
(Dollar Shave Club’s Original Content is a content hub around men’s grooming topics.)
Some leverage content in smart ways, like Dollar Shave Club’s Original Content. According to SEMrush, Dollar Shave Club’s content hub rakes in ~120,000 organic visits per month and ranks for ~7,000 keywords in the top 10 positions. Not bad for a hub that has been live since May 2019 (it was on a subdomain previously). Glossier even started as a blog (Into the Gloss) and then turned into a product. And yet, too few DTC companies use high-quality content to attract and retain their target audience.
(SEMrush’s historic ranking graph of dollarshaveclub.com/content)
B2C marketplaces are companies that sell physical products or platforms that connect buyers and sellers like Facebook or Yelp. Facebook is an ad-marketplace, just like Google, that connects ad-buyers to an audience that scales SEO through user profiles or business pages and ranks for their respective names. Yelp connects restaurants with eaters and drives SEO through user-generated content (reviews).
(Facebook’s strongest keywords are brands and names.)
Marketplaces employ SEO as a major channel to acquire users and drive revenue for a long time. Other notable examples are Amazon or Spotify (products = artists, categories = albums).
B2B companies are structured in the same way, according to the quadrant: it’s either UGC or CGC. However, the share of UGC companies in the B2B space is abysmal. Most B2B companies have to create content themselves.
Content Marketing is a viable strategy for certain B2B businesses, nowadays. The trend of “consumerization” of B2B, i.e. relying on B2C tactics to win and retain customers, was enabled by the cloud and new business models. Software-as-a-service (SaaS) and freemium business models provide low barriers for users to sign up, as I noted in episode #91 of my weekly email Tech Bound:
“Success = recommendations x product x happy customers
The formula for success in business involves more and more recommendations and referrals, amongst other reasons because CAC is rising and organic is super competitive.
For the formula to work, you want to employ a freemium model to get customers hooked and a premium model to get them to pay. Look at Spotify, Zoom, Slack, Dropbox, Wix, SurveyMonkey, et cetera, et cetera.“
Altogether, the border between B2B and B2C is not visible anymore for SMB and Mid-Market companies. SEO is really important in that equation. It was the main driver of sign-ups when I was at Atlassian and it sure is for HubSpot, which coined the term Inbound Marketing. For B2B companies with an enterprise focus, SEO plays a supporting role and is not the driver of business.
A few B2B companies use scalable inventory to drive SEO traffic and land featured snippets, for example, Trello or G2. Trello uses public-facing boards that contain content like recipes or company roadmaps. We at G2 have category and product pages as well: software categories and brands. Our site is very comparable to Yelp, only that we also create a lot of content ourselves on top of that. That kind of “inventory” allows us and companies like Yelp to scale SEO.
(www.g2.com’s keywords in SEMrush.)
The right SEO strategies for different business models
The next logical question must be “what are the main SEO drivers for each of the company types?” I promised you to show how what strategies different business models should follow, so let’s dig in!
To quickly reiterate, the four types are:
- B2C inventory companies
- B2B inventory companies
- B2B content companies
- B2C content companies
But we can boil them down into inventory-driven and content-driven companies. Even though you need to consider differences in target groups and markets, how content is created makes a big difference here. Content-driven companies, in this case, are businesses that have to create the content themselves. Inventory-driven companies have UGC or a product inventory they can leverage for SEO.
The big fields of SEO nowadays are really Technical SEO or Content Marketing. But there are finer segmentations, of course. Technical SEO is composed of focus areas like crawling, rendering, internal linking, etc. Content Marketing consists of content creation and promotion.
The two different types of companies should focus on specific areas, instead of doing everything. That’s the whole gist of this article. Mind you, nothing is exclusive, but focus really pays off here.
I replaced the exemplary brands on the SEO Scale Quadrant with SEO focus areas to make it clear:
(The SEO Scale Grid with SEO focus areas.)
Inventory-driven companies should focus on technical SEO
The focus for inventory-driven companies should be on technical SEO. Their high volume of indexable pages caused by product inventory or user-generated content is perfectly suited for scale.
Their biggest challenge is to keep page content quality high, especially when being a platform for user-generated content or competing with the same product inventory as other companies (like Amazon). UGC doesn’t give you a lot of control over what users are writing, so you have to focus on what’s being indexed. With similar product inventory, you need to find ways to differentiate from competitors, such as enriching product information.
UGC-driven sites should look for correlations between good rankings and the amount of content. Yelp, for example, should measure how many reviews are needed to rank well for a restaurant name or category in organic search. Most importantly, each product and category page for inventory sites should be built with user-intent and the question “what information would be helpful to the user?” in mind.
(HomeToGo provides helpful data on category pages like hometogo.com/miami to rank well.)
Inventory-driven companies also have to make sure Google can crawl and render their large volume of pages. Major drivers of crawling are well-thought-out internal linking structures and XML sitemaps. Of course, internal linking is not just important for crawling but also distributing internal (and external) PageRank. The goal is to help Google find all (important) pages.
Site speed falls into that category as well. It’s important for every site but the impact and challenges scale for large sites. Trimming a second off can have major (positive) implications on traffic and revenue.
The biggest site speed question for many sites is whether they should integrate AMP for mobile users. Currently, it only makes sense for publishers. Ecommerce sites do not see comparable conversion rates from the lean experience. Content formats like blogs or microsites, however, do benefit a lot from AMP.
(Rich snippets like star ratings are very important for large sites.)
Schema markup is handy for occupying rich snippets that attract clicks in search results. At scale, they can make a big difference in traffic, which is why this is another topic for inventory sites.
The most important structured data formats that scale are:
- Star reviews
- Carousels and articles (for publishers or blogs)
- Job postings
- How to’s and FAQs
Keep in mind that using some of that structured data markup can lead your traffic to drop because users get the answers in search results and don’t need to click through to your site any longer.
Content-driven companies should focus on content marketing
Content-driven companies should focus on scaling production, promotion, and the resulting backlinks, also known as Content Marketing. They can’t scale SEO with an inventory, so they have to rely on CGC.
To be successful at content creation, companies have to deeply understand their target audience, create content around their problems and map it along the user-journey. They need to focus on providing the best content experience possible. Outstanding content is a mere requirement for that. High-quality graphics, great formatting, and little widgets make a big difference here.
Content promotion and generating backlinks are an art and science by themselves. Knowing which players, brands or people, influence your target audience – and how to reach them – is key. A good outreach and promotion strategy is built on the right channels, tone, partnerships, and strategies. The most successful brands of today focus on building partnerships over acquiring one-off links.
One topic that’s tricky to figure out for all companies, inventory or content, is internationalization. Going to market in another country is more than just translating your content or inventory. You have to understand your local competitors, set up a clean local technical structure, and localize content. It’s one of the hardest SEO jobs and one of the most underestimated at the same time.
Conclusion: Know your business, hire well, and be creative
To summarize, you need to employ the right SEO focus areas for your business. Content-driven companies need to run the content marketing track, inventory-focused companies need to bank on technical SEO.
Mind you that inventory and content-driven companies have different foci, but that doesn’t mean the SEO areas I highlighted are exclusive to either one. It’s all about finding the right approach for your company and doing the things that matter. It’s about efficiency – working smarter, not just harder.
Eventually, businesses have a tendency to diversify traffic channels and SEO approaches. We at G2, for example, added a learning hub to our marketplace that’s driven by content marketing. Many companies start with product-driven growth or virality as a channel, but add others like SEO or paid on top over time.
No matter your type of company and target market – success depends on your team. Hiring the wrong people is a great way to mess SEO up, especially when you hired the right people for the wrong job. Inventory companies should focus more on bringing technical SEOs on board, while content companies need content marketers and promotion specialists.
Lastly, being creative is a challenge not just for content but also for inventory-driven companies. Creativity is not just a content marketing play. You can – and should – be creative in the approach you set up internal linking, appeal to local audiences, and optimize your crawl budget.
It’s a universal trait for non-technical and technical marketers.