SEO can drastically improve a marketplace’s bottom line – An interview with Mike van der Heijden

Mike van der Heijden shares how investing in SEO can considerably increase a marketplace’s traffic and valuation.

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Sharetribe’s Head of Content Mira Muurinen interviews Mike van der Heijden for the Marketplace Academy Podcast. Mike is the founder of Portal Ventures, an SEO agency that specializes in marketplaces. They’ve worked with marketplaces like Flippa, Fresha, and Luxury Escapes and invest in marketplaces through Portal Ventures Capital.

Mike and Mira talk about the opportunities and challenges of marketplace SEO. They touch on various topics from technical marketplace SEO to keyword strategy and link-building. Mike also shares his keyword research process step-by-step, complete with recommended tools (that’s around the 30-minute mark)!

Here are our main takeaways from the interview:

  • For marketplaces, investing in SEO can considerably increase traffic but also improve the bottom line and valuation of the company.
  • The golden nugget of marketplace SEO is learning how people search for the product or service you offer. Is there an organic demand for what you’re offering? Or will you first need to educate your audience about it? 
  • The searcher’s intent plays a key role in creating content for your marketplace. Don’t simply look at the search volume and make sure you’re targeting a commercial intent with a commercial page and informational intent with informational content, and so on. 
  • Completing an SEO audit of your marketplace is a great way to learn what to fix. For new founders on a limited budget, SaaS tools like Semrush or Screaming Frog offer important insight into what to improve. For more established marketplaces, working with an SEO consultant brings the best results.
  • Link-building is all about getting relevant exposure for your brand. The more high-quality websites link to you, the easier it is for you to rank. When you reach out to relevant sites in your niche, concentrate on the value you will bring to them. Think about link-building as a mutually beneficial partnership. As an added bonus, you’ll get relevant traffic through the links you build.

Prefer reading to podcasts? You can read the full transcript of the episode below. Find Mira’s complete guide to marketplace SEO here in Marketplace Academy.

Episode transcript

[00:00:00] Katri: Welcome to the Marketplace Academy Podcast. I'm Katri, your host. This episode, we're going to do something a bit different. My illustrious colleague, Mira resident SEO expert here at Sharetribe, recently published an article series on marketplace SEO in Sharetribe's Marketplace Academy. It's a six-part guide to search engine optimization, tailored specifically for marketplaces.

The series walks you through marketplace SEO basics, challenges and opportunities, technical SEO, keyword research, and keyword-targeted content, as well as link building. For the series, Mira reached out and interviewed top marketplace SEO experts. We recorded these conversations as bonus episodes for this podcast so that you too can learn directly from these masterminds of SEO.

Here is the first interview with Mike van der Heijden. Mike is the founder and managing partner at Portal Ventures, which is a consultancy that specializes in helping online marketplaces generate more revenue through effective and scalable search engine optimization. They've worked with marketplaces like Flippa, Fresha, and Luxury Escapes, and have also invested in a bunch of marketplaces through Portal Ventures Capital.

A tiny note on sound quality before we begin. There is some background noise in the recording, but I hope that does not take away from learning from this treasure trove of actionable advice on nailing your marketplace SEO. Mila and Mike discuss why marketplace SEO is its own branch of SEO entirely, why understanding what your users are searching for is vital, and so much more.

So without further ado, let's get into the interview.

[00:01:43] Mira: Hi Mike, and welcome to the Marketplace Academy. 

[00:01:47] Mike: Great to be here. Thank you for having me. 

[00:01:49] Mira: Let's start by introducing you to our audience. So you are the founder and managing partner at Portal Ventures. What does Portal Ventures do? 

[00:01:58] Mike: Sure. So Portal Ventures started out as purely an SEO agency that specialized in working with marketplaces on their organic search strategies.

And from there we've evolved into not just an agency, but we've actually evolved into sort of an investment arm as well. So we not only help marketplaces with organic search, but we also now tend to invest in early-stage marketplaces where there's a good deal to be happy. 

[00:02:24] Mira: Interesting. And how come the focus on marketplaces in particular?

[00:02:28] Mike: So quite early on I started working at various different agencies, and that's where my last 15 years had gone. Out of that, I really got away with marketplaces being such gigantic websites in most cases, that the return on investment from an SEO perspective can really drastically improve the bottom line of a marketplace.

But also improve the actual valuation of a company. So when I started, we started out with a typical classifieds model. Think of a real estate portal like Zillow, or an automotive portal like CarGurus. And disproportionately SEO was adding a lot more value than just traffic and leads. It was actually accounting for the main growth driver of the valuation into business.

So understanding that as a consultant, it was easier for us to get marketplace clients when we specialized in marketplaces and understood the value that we were adding other than just increasing traffic. 

[00:03:31] Mira: Yeah, that makes total sense. So there's lots of opportunity for marketplaces in SEO. What do you think are the challenges or do you see like common mistakes that marketplace entrepreneurs often do with their SEO?

[00:03:44] Mike: Yeah, that, that's an interesting question cause um, I've had variations of that question before, and I think there's a couple of things and I'll step through them. 

The first one is understanding whether or not there is already a demand for that particular product. Looking at, for example, Uber, if you look at the organic traffic to Uber, 90 or 80%, I forget exactly what the numbers are, is actually driven by brand. So people aren't necessarily looking for Rideshare Melbourne or Rideshare of Sydney. 

They're actually understanding that Uber is the product and Uber is what gets searched similar with sort of Airbnb and what a lot of marketplaces we see try to do is they try and replicate, I guess the old-style directory, Yellow Pages, model of pages by location, but then not fully understanding that there might not necessarily be a lot of search demand or people searching for that product.

And then what tends to happen is you have a big marketplace with all these location pages or all these permutations of pages. But no one is actually searching for it quite that in-depth and what you get is a very bloated website. It doesn't attract a lot of traffic, and simply because there's no existing demand, the job of that marketplace is really to educate the market on what that search is going to be and then capitalize on it.

Whereas, a perfect example, being Fresha, for example, being a beauty salon CRM, there is a lot of demand. People are looking for massages, haircuts, nail salons in their local area. So rolling out a marketplace for a product like that, they can capitalize on that search demand a lot quicker and scale the marketplace a lot faster. So the first problem we see is to understand whether or not search volume already exists, or whether you are actually creating an educational piece around what your services are. And I think that's the big thing with early-stage marketplaces.

The second thing that we see is a lot of marketplace owners go out and build pretty big websites and try and go, Hey, we've got all this supply stuff, but they spread themselves really thin. 

Again, going back to the example of a Yellow Pages, if you are a new marketplace and you don't really have the supply site to support something internationally or nationally or whatever your goal is, then it doesn't make sense to cut the pages so thin so that every location page or every category page only has one product or one piece of inventory. Because what then tends to happen is they might have a thousand or a hundred thousand different pages, but all that's available on that page is one piece of inventory. And then Google sees that as almost being duplicate content by the virtue of there not being any content on it. 

[00:06:33] Mira: Ah huh, right? So that would be a technical SEO challenge as well. And also a, like a UX... 

[00:06:37] Mike: Absolutely. If you go, I wanna get my nails done, and you go to a website, and you expect to see a list of nail salons in, you know, New York, but you go to that page and there's actually just one that's not a great user experience. So it's really understanding where is your concentration of supply and nailing the SEO for that particular location or category.

[00:06:59] Mira: That sounds like those are very sort of understandable problem. But then like if I'm a beginner marketplace entrepreneur and I want to start leveraging SEO, how do I start understanding, first of all, the opportunity and then if I now have this kind of website that has the exact problem that you described, how do I start sort of little by little tackling that issue?

[00:07:19] Mike: Sure. So when you start a marketplace, I guess the golden nugget, the thing that you want to get right from the start is understand how people are searching for that particular product or service online. You can do that through various different free tools. There's Google Keyword planner tool, there's Semrush, Ahrefs, really try and nail down what people are searching for or what people are typing in when they're searching for your products and really understanding the journey of, I'm looking for this. I'm looking for that. What are the next steps? 

Typically, if you are dealing with a supply site that already exists, so you're dealing with brick and mortar businesses, you're dealing with established businesses, and you're aggregating those businesses, it's a lot easier, right?

Because someone is probably already searching for something like that. Where it's a little different is when you've got a marketplace or a lift or an Airbnb, where you're actually creating that demand or you're creating a new product that we have to educate the market about. Then I would focus on doing that as an educational piece and not building out your marketplace right from day one, because it doesn't necessarily need a complete buildout. Which I guess is still a point that, going back to my first one, I think there needs to be a third point thinking about it a little bit more, is that we've got two sorts of marketplace owners we run into. We run into ones that overinvest in their marketplace and customize an entire build before they've actually found product market fit.

And on the other side is we've got someone that already knows that there's a lot of existing demand for that supply out there, and they start with a very minimalistic approach. When really they need to swap around. If there's already a lot of supply side and people searching for it, you can go a lot broader, a lot quicker and take advantage of the SEO.

Whereas on the other side, that person that's over investing into a marketplace, but not knowing what that product market fit is. We always tend to go, understand your customer first if there is similar demand out there, you can go a little bit further into your marketplace build. If not, start off small.

We've had marketplace owners start with basic questions on Facebook, filling out a form. 

[00:09:36] Mira: Interesting. So that would, in terms of keywords. I mean like first targeting some good informational keywords, helping searchers out with their questions, and then building on that to the transactional ones.

[00:09:47] Mike: Absolutely, a hundred percent. 

[00:09:49] Mira: I have a couple of questions about keywords, but first I wanted to tackle the topic of technical SEO because I feel that could be quite a big one for marketplaces because just like you said, the websites easily become quite big, there's lots of user-generated content, and there's the risk of duplicate content and thin content. Could you tell me a little bit about this unique technical SEO challenge that marketplaces have? And if there's possibility to keep some concrete recommendations on some of them. 

[00:10:15] Mike: Yeah, absolutely. So the first thing is understanding what we do is when we come across marketplaces that have been established for a little while, what tends to happen is naturally the websites tend to get, just like any commerce store runs out of inventory, product, sell out on a marketplace that is exactly the same.

So supply site might dry up in certain categories or certain location. And then what happens to that content or what happens to those pages? And so what we typically see is websites that are significantly underutilized because Google is trying to crawl, let's say, 5 million pages. But it is actually indexed only, you know, a hundred thousand of those simply because there might be pages that have thin content, pages that had inventory that no longer exist, or there might simply be certain filter parameters that have gone astray.

So when you're dealing with marketplaces, there's lots of permutations of particular searches and keywords. And if you're creating pages for all of those, at some point you're gonna find that Google's going, Hang on a second, this content looks too much alike. So it's gonna start dropping these pages out of the index, but Google is still spending its time crawling those pages just to see if it's been updated.

And so what we see is a ratio of index pages versus non-index pages in something like Google Search Console. 

[00:11:41] Mira: So what happens is you get both a duplicate content issue and then you run out of crawl budget. Is that what's happening? 

[00:11:47] Mike: Yeah. So basically they're utilizing too much of Google's crawl budget on pages that aren't relevant or not indexed. Whereas if they cut all those pages out, Google can focus on the pages that actually bring value to the search engines and to the users. And so what you want to do is really understand and keep an eye on your search console, which is a free tool that, uh, Google provides and it will give you an understanding of how many pages of my website are actually indexing Google, and how many has it found that it's simply not indexing, and then looking at what that ratio is. 

[00:12:20] Mira: So if I now find out that, say one third of my pages get indexed, and then I have too many listing pages that are like very low in content, don't have good quality images or high-quality headings. But they're my providers. I can't just go on indexing their listing pages or can I? What should I do? 

[00:12:38] Mike: So in that case, it depends, right? If the pages aren't being indexed, but they're your suppliers, the question should be, what can I do for my suppliers to make sure that those pages get indexed? So that might be taking the effort and perhaps interviewing someone, uh, one of your suppliers and adding content like we're doing today. Or it might be that you're not necessarily worried about ranking in Google for your suppliers' names. In that case, you can actually go, You know what? We're not going to index our suppliers. We're just going to index their services or products. But also, it depends if you've got a hundred thousand supplies where you need to write content for, it's a big task, If you've got a half a dozen or two dozen suppliers makes the job a little bit easier. So in that case, you'd wanna weigh up the effort versus reward. 

[00:13:28] Mira: Makes sense and sounds like for many marketplaces doing that, just looking at how many pages are indexed and then working on that might already move the needle quite a bit. 

[00:13:38] Mike: 100%. And ultimately what you want to do is if the supply site obviously then exists in this particular case. What you'd find is that the majority of competitors that you're up against in that particular market might also be just creating thin content pages because no one has actually gone out and invested time and effort into creating content for those pages. And so that would be something that you could set your marketplace apart from the rest, right? By producing this great content for that particular supplier.

But yeah, definitely that's something to keep in mind. And the second thing that kind of tacks onto that, is how are you internally linking your pages together, right? Everyone in SEO's heard these backlinks are important but just as important as backlinks are to our website internally linking your pages to other important pages is just as important and can be much more effective than building outbound links when you're first starting out.

So if you're starting out as a marketplace in New York and you have suppliers all throughout New York, throughout the boroughs in the suburbs, then what you want to do is you wanna make sure that your homepage links out to all the different suburbs that you have suppliers in. So what you get is almost like an inverted tree.

Your most important page links out to the next level of most important category pages. Those category pages then link out to the next set of most important. So what you get is an upside-down tree structure of how these pages link out to each other and then link back to each other. 

[00:15:10] Mira: Yeah. Let's talk about category pages because I'd imagine that as a marketplace entrepreneur, like those are the golden geese, those are the ones that I want to rank. What kind of things should I do? 

[00:15:19] Mike: So the big thing is you're gonna have to ask yourself one question. Am I gonna show my suppliers are, like an Airbnb, or am I going to run a marketplace like Airtasker where we don't actually show who the suppliers are, but we primarily want to rank for jobs that you want to get them.

If you're going in the first category where I'm showing you all the inventory I have. Less additional content is required because you can really pad out your provider listings with content that will help you build the main piece of content for that particular category page. If you're dealing with a marketplace where you don't want to share your supplier side, really all you've got is content.

How can I bring a particular piece of content or a particular keyword without showing all my suppliers? And so that question then becomes, Well, if I'm looking for an apartment in a particular city, the user expects to see a list of apartments. If you're a tasker and you just need a handyman for the weekend, you are gonna type in handyman New York.

Airtasker might rank for that particular query, but you actually have to write a lot more supporting content because you don't want to show the supplier side. And so really there's two, two pages. You can either show your supplier side, or not show your supplier side, and that will determine how much content and how much content effort you're gonna have to put in to be able to rank for those queries.

[00:16:46] Mira: Yeah, so even within marketplaces, there are meaningful differences that impact your SEO strategy. 

[00:16:51] Mike: Yes, a hundred percent. 

[00:16:53] Mira: I think at some point for marketplaces, even if they have looked at specific areas of technical SEO, doing a full-blown technical audit would be a relevant thing to do. But then if I'm a beginner in SEO, that seems like a very daunting task, also to be able to conduct the actual audit and then prioritize the tasks and understand what are the most impactful things to do, uh, what do you recommend to do here? 

[00:17:19] Mike: Good question. So the way we look at audits is, is kind of getting your car serviced, right? Having someone do an audit or you doing an audit of your website doesn't necessarily mean that there's something wrong. It's just what are the vital signs that we have to look for to make sure that our marketplace is in a healthy condition. And really, if you're a beginner, there is free tools out there Screaming Frog, or even Semrush. That will crawl your website and actually give you hints as to what needs to be fixed.

Screaming Frog, a little bit more technical, and you're gonna have to do a little bit more digging. Semrush is a little bit more intuitive, so it will crawl your website, and it will give you hints as to what to fix. That would be a very good starting point for a beginner. And as you grow, your marketplace gets bigger.

Ultimately, various tasks are gonna get more daunting. And then at that stage, if it makes sense to pull in some help from someone that sort of done this sort of thing before, whether it's a freelancer or someone you just wanna understand that they know what the vital signs are that drives your marketplace and how you can improve those. But the free tools will get you 70, 80% of the way they were usually and focus on the basics. Is every page on my website providing value? If not, cut it out and just focus on the basics. 

[00:18:40] Mira: That's a solid recommendation. I also think after understanding some of the SEO basics, I think I've learned the most about SEO by working with a consultant, having them do an audit, and then going through the audit together, understanding what are the most impactful things to do. Like that has been a great learning experience also. 

[00:18:57] Mike: Absolutely, and the way that I'd like to explain it to someone is it might be a daunting investment. But if you ask the consultant or whoever you are working with on your SEO order, ask them to explain the steps that they go through, that they check for your websites, and explain why you're checking for those things.

Any SEO that really wants the best for their client will have no issues in explaining what am I checking for. What am I looking for? And then help you understand why it could be an issue. And what tends to happen is once you've had someone do an audit once, and really explain it to you. You now know this, so you can keep this as a checklist in the back of your pocket to make sure and compare against it in the future.

[00:19:41] Mira: Yeah, true. Moving on, maybe to keywords and contents, so technical SEO, just so to say, like just half of on-page SEO. The other half would be then keywords and content. Can you share one thing that marketplaces often get wrong in their keyword strategy? 

[00:19:56] Mike: The biggest thing is probably going to be searcher's intent.

So a lot of, I shouldn't say a lot of, but the mistake that's often made is, I'm gonna do some keyword research, and I'm gonna look at all the keywords that get the most search volume, and that's what I'm gonna zero in on in focusing on. But that doesn't necessarily mean that those keywords are actually providing the answer that your marketplace is providing.

A perfect example is the emergence of e-commerce marketplaces. So here in Australia, we have CATCH and Kogan. They're all sort of Amazon-type marketplaces, and what we often see is people try and rank terms like best 65-inch, LED televisions. Now, when you and I type that in, it's a query because I want to understand what are the best TVs out here at the moment, I'm expecting review content or someone to write an opinion piece.

If you are then trying to rank your marketplace for a query with your 10 search results of the TVs that you're selling, that intent is a disconnect because it's an informational type search and you are trying to rank with a commercial solution. And so in a lot of marketplaces, what we're seeing now is they're trying to go and answer too much of a commercial query when there's informational intent, or they're trying to create informational content when there is a clear commercial intent.

And so really understanding, I've done my keyword word research. Now, what is the intent behind that keyword? If I were to type that in, what would I expect to see? And that step is often left outta the keyword word research process. 

[00:21:39] Mira: Right. Why do you think that happens? As we are talking about this, like it's so easy to understand, yeah, of course. If I'm typing that search, that's what I want to know, but then I also fall into that pitfall. I just look at the volume: oh, that's fantastic. So many conversions from that keyword and just try to push a very sort of commercial page to rank for that, and of course, that doesn't work. Why do you think that happens?

[00:22:00] Mike: I think people get obsessed with vanity metrics just because a tool tells you that it gets a hundred thousand searches. It's important to understand, it typically looks at the last 12 months of that cycle of that particular query, right? It doesn't mean that this month you're gonna get a hundred thousand searches for it.

It's just been the average over the last 12 months. And it doesn't necessarily take into consideration what converts because that query is just a query. It doesn't tell you whether it['s] got commercial intent, informational intent. And so people just go, Ah, it, it's got a lot of search forms, so that's what we're gonna, that's what I wanna rank for, and I'm gonna rank with this page because I've got nothing else.

When you start really understanding the intent behind what people are searching for, you could go, ah, I'm trying to rank my commercial page for an informational query. How about I swap this around and I write a really good piece of informational content, rank that particular piece of content for that query, and then link from that informational page to my commercial page as sort of a call to action.

And you'd find that by just understanding and, and really mapping out that journey, that sometimes switching out and writing a piece of content will end up converting and producing more sales for that query, than you trying to get higher rankings with a commercial page. If you can get it to rank at all, right?

[00:23:25] Mira: Yeah. Does the same sort of fallacy also result in marketplaces ignoring some really great keyword opportunities? For example, not being interested in writing informational content at all? Do you see that happening? 

[00:23:37] Mike: A hundred percent. People think it's, I want to start a marketplace, all I have to do is return 10 results that match that query, and I'm gonna dominate a market.

Whereas if I were to start a marketplace today, what I would be doing is, yes, supply and demand that, that's an obvious thing that you need to solve at a marketplace, right? But what I'm gonna understand is every single question that's been asked about my particular service, my particular product, I'm going to write content, and I'm going to answer every single question that's out there.

So you can type into Google, again, you're selling TVs, for example, very easy example. I'm gonna type in, you know, LED TVs. Now, what are the questions people are asking about LED TVs? I'm going to write them all down and I'm gonna answer every single one of them. What you're essentially doing from day one is you want to show the search engines and users that you are an expert on this particular topic, and you're not going to do that by just showing 10 TVs or 10 service-based businesses in a particular area.

Google is not going to understand that you are an actual expert in that topic. And what we've seen, a perfect example of that is companies got Yellow Pages or the old school directory style businesses having to adapt because previously it was enough to just show 10 butchers in New York. But now there's marketplaces that are specific around butchers and butchers around the United States.

So they're actually creating content. What's the best cut of stake? What's the best mince? And so these original directory-style businesses have had to adapt because they've never needed to produce content. Where the verticalization we're seeing now is they're being experts on a topic and then the supply site grows out of it. 

[00:25:29] Mira: Right. Yeah, that makes perfect sense. I think what might happen with marketplaces nowadays, like they, very often they have an incumbent, the big marketplace that they're trying to challenge, either by just providing a better experience or targeting a smaller niche. And then when they look at organic results, they see that incumbent ranking with their product pages for some various commercials and in keywords, and they just try to copy that strategy and optimize their product pages for commercial keywords. And what they may ignore is that incumbent has already built that authority by just being there early or building trust with their users, and that's why they're able to rank even with commercial pages.

[00:26:06] Mike: Yeah, and there's, there's marketplaces, like for example, we look at restaurants, right? We're looking for a sushi place nearby or for a pizza place nearby. And typically what you'd find is either Yellow Pages, Yelp, Zomato. But now people have actually created marketplaces just around pizza shops nearby, wherever you live.

And so they've become the knowledge hub of anything to do with pizza delivery types of pizzas. And so they're able to cut into that market because Yellow Pages, Zomato, they're just providing business information. They're not providing topical relevance around the topic. Same thing with, if you were going to verticalize, Craigslist.

Craigslist used to dominate everything, but now what you're seeing is every single category of Craigslist has been split into its own little marketplace, and someone has attacked that particular niche, and that's what I'm, what I'm expecting, what we're seeing happen more and more often is people are getting more and more niche and because they're able to dominate and be an expert on that particular topic. 

[00:27:08] Mira: So even if I'm building a marketplace that is addressing a market, say Eventbrite or Zillow or Thumbtack, that, that have really leveraged SEO to grow, and I see them ranking number one for all of the keywords that I want to rank for, that doesn't mean that game is over for my SEO. 

[00:27:26] Mike: No, definitely not, definitely not. Zillow's very broad. True, you're not going to go head to head with them unless you've got really deep pockets, but you could carve out a little niche that says, I'm just going to show beachfront apartments or beachfront properties and have a marketplace or a classified business that just targets that little sub-niche. And yes, you're not going to rank for apartments in New York because there's not much beach out there, but what you'll get is you'll definitely be able to capture the long tail searches of beachfront apartments, Miami, L.A, um, smaller pipe, but you can dominate that smaller pipe.

[00:28:04] Mira: Yes, right. We've touched on this topic a little bit, but the challenge with marketplaces compared to, say traditional online stores is that marketplaces have two audiences. They're the buyers and the sellers, and very often, like when they search for the services that marketplace provides, they're using very different search terms. How should marketplaces take this fundamental two-sided nature into account in their keyword strategy? 

[00:28:27] Mike: I think it comes down to, again, understanding the customer. If there is a supply side and a demand side already, that kind of has solved the problem for you. But definitely, SEO isn't as effective at all for the supply side as it is for the demand side.

Really, the supply side comes as you grow the demand site because people go, Ah, I need to be selling on Amazon because Amazon has got, you know, a hundred million eyeballs. So in that particular scenario, supply side will come because they consistently see that particular marketplace ranking for what their customers are looking for.

And so I don't think SEO is going to be the right strategy to build your supply side. I think that's a little bit more manual. It's all about generating the demand side. And if you do that well and generate enough demand side, the supply side will flow on from the SEO efforts. 

[00:29:22] Mira: That makes sense. Can you share your favorite practical keyword research tip?

[00:29:27] Mike: Ah, my most favorite keyword research tip. What I like to do is, it's not really a tip, it's taking that extra step into keyword research process to understand the intent, because I can go to Semrush, S.E.M rush, and I can type in my competitor and download all that keyword. They now already trying and classify that particular keyword as to whether it's informational, commercial, or navigational.

Navigational is typically, you know, Airbnb. It's got a brand in there. What I would do is take all the informational content and then flock out all the keywords and put 'em into a tool called Keyword Cupid. It's a tool that basically can take a list of a thousand keywords. And through NLP and well, machine learning, it kind of matches terms together that should be clustered together on the same page and it'll spit out a document that says, of the thousand keywords we recommend segmenting 'em into these hundred pages or these 500 pages, and that will give you a really clear understanding of what keywords it does Google due to search engines associate with a particular topic.

And then what I do is I go to a Surfer SEO, which is a different tool again, and I'll put that keyword in, and it's gonna tell me how much content I need to write, how many headings I need to have, how many images, how many times I need to mention certain keywords. All based on the top 10 ranking keywords for that particular keyword.

And so it's really simple. Take keywords from a Semrush, put 'em into Keyword Cupid where they bundle 'em together, then load those into Surfer SEO, and it's gonna tell you how much content you need to write for that particular query in order to rank. 

[00:31:14] Mira: Perfect. That's a really great recommendation, like very concrete, actionable steps, and also about understanding the intent.

I feel like very often in SEO, like the extra mile is what actually brings you the leverage. Like everybody says they want to invest in SEO, but then many just scratch the surface, don't do the actual understanding the intent really thoroughly. 

[00:31:36] Mike: It's like a New Year's resolution. Everyone's got the best intent to lose weight or to quit smoking, but we don't follow through with it. And then what do we see as the marketplaces that follow through tend to do the best? 

[00:31:47] Mira: Yes. Really great recommendation. Again, so great to have you here, Mike, sharing your expertise. I quickly turn to Off-Page SEO. I'm a stereotypical Finn, so sometimes for me, my least favorite part is actually like putting myself out there, doing outreach, promoting my stuff. Can you convince me, like why should I still do it? Why is Off-Page SEO and link building so important? 

[00:32:10] Mike: So what it drills down to is, link building has gotten a really bad rap because you know, everyone probably gets a thousand emails a day about how they can help your website rank, and it's just being spammed to death. But really what I try and understand is when you really boil it down, it's nothing more than getting exposure for your brand. So if I can sit here with you today and say, Hey, this is my business. Just like we would be having a sales conversation or whether we having a normal conversation about our selective businesses.

That's the way I look at Link building. I don't look at it as, Oh my God, I gotta do link-building and outreach. What I look at is go, If I can reach out to five websites a day, and I did this in the mornings, and I sit down and go, would I want my website associated with that or would I want to get my website seen or linked to from this particular website? If I do, pitch your business in the light of give them, give the webmaster a reason to link back to you. So too often what we get is link building that goes, Hey, I've read your article. Can you please link to me? There's nothing in it for the other person.

And so what you want to do is you want to give the person a reason. It's a link to your website, whether it's you're adding a bit of value to their website, whether it is you've produced some great statistics on your industry, and you're reaching out to journalists, and once you start understanding that. It's like sales, you're gonna get a lot of rejections.

But ultimately it's unnecessary, right? Because Google takes into account links. It's a fundamental thing of SEO that Google looks at what other websites are linking to your website as a sort of a voting system, and the more high-quality and relevant websites links to you, the better it is for your SEO, right?

The better and easier it becomes for you to produce a piece of content in rank. You'll often see terms like domain authority or domain rating thrown around. And what we've actually seen, and we've done test on this, is you can take three separate domains. And one could be a brand new domain, one could be a domain rating 20 or a small website.

And then what you can have is a very large news outlet. You could produce three similar pieces of content, and a news outlet tends to rank higher than a website that has got a lower domain ranking or, and even lower again, the new website. Why? Because the one that has the higher rating has actually got a lot more trust from the search engines.

So look at it as a way to earn more trust, get more websites that are relevant, related to your industry, linking to you, and over time, your trust will grow. Just like you and I can't build trust in a one-hour conversation, that's how you gotta look at building trust on the internet. 

[00:35:14] Mira: So even if I do all of the things right that we just discussed, have my keywords, know the intent, do my technical audit, and tackle all the issues. If I don't have trust, then I won't rank. 

[00:35:23] Mike: Look, it's not that you won't rank, it's that if you have highly relevant websites linking to you, it'll make ranking easier. We've had marketplaces that have done absolutely no link-building whatsoever and have still ranked. If you're producing great content, good content, you can't simply rank by not having inbound links, but having link building in your sort of tactical arsenal will make ranking a little bit easier. But the flip side is it takes a lot of work. 

[00:35:56] Mira: So what kind of tactics then in link building have you found the most effective based on your experience? 

[00:36:02] Mike: Sure. I think the two most effective ones that we've come across is a founder that's really outgoing and jumps on every opportunity to get interviewed, podcasts, guest posts on things like entrepreneur or business Insider. And what you get is you're not looking at link building as a task, but it becomes a PR exercise, right? It's public relations because the founder is talking to someone.

And the other one is a business called HARO, it's H A R O, Help a Reporter Out. And what the service does is all the journalists from pick publications to small publications will put a request there and say, Hey, we're writing a piece of content, or we're writing a story on. I don't know the best nail salons in New York, or what are the best types of nails to get for a wedding. I don't know. And they're gonna put that out there. And if you come across that and go, Ah, I'm a nail salon in New York, or I specialize in makeup and nails for weddings, you can respond to that journalist and give them a quote and say whatever the quote is, and then they'll link to typically the business that's given them the quote.

So it's almost a strategy for you to connect directly with journalists in your industry and then you evolve your relationships from there. And then I guess the final thing that we've done, uh, we've seen do really well is people are producing timely and statistical information. So if you have a look at HubSpot, for example, and you look at their most popular pages, and when I say most popular pages, it's mostly links to pages on their website.

Out of the top 10, nine are statistics. The 10 statistics every email marketer should know. The 50 statistics every Facebook marketer should know. Why is this important? Because journalists love to reference statistics. And so if you see a journalist writing about Facebook marketing regularly, you should produce a piece of content that talks about all the statistics that you've found, or you've done a survey, compile that information and say, Hey, we've actually done a study on this particular Facebook marketing exercise. Why don't you use that in one of your content pieces and just reference our website or our study as your source? Those three things are probably the most effective ways to link building. 

And what 

[00:38:23] Mira: sounds to me that all these have in common is that they're very natural. So you're not just asking for a link, but there's a partnership angle there. So is there then some tactics that you advise against? 

[00:38:33] Mike: Yes. Buying links from places like Fiverr, responding to the email spam that you get. Really what you want to really get down to is no one has access to 10,000 websites to be able to give you a link without there being an unnatural way in doing so.

So you always gotta ask yourself what's in it for them? And what you'll often find is that these websites that they can promise you these links from are typically websites set up to just be pumped full of articles to link out to other businesses. And what you'll often find is that they do really well for a year and then they get penalized. They do really well for a few years and they get penalized. So you are spending your hard-earned money on links that might only last a year, two years. Whereas, if you put that little bit more effort into the start and you created a relationship with a journalist, they're gonna be writing about your topic for the next few years, right?

So one relationship, many articles. Whereas, otherwise you do many articles, no relationship, so you're gonna consistently just be shelling out money. So it's almost finding a way to woo the journalist in your market and create a relationship with them and be their source. Be there for them when they need a quote or information about a particular topic that you cover. It's the greatest asset you can have.. 

[00:39:54] Mira: Yes, that makes perfect sense. And then when you are building partnerships in a relevant niche, then the added value of those links is that you actually get relevant traffic through them. It's not just for SEO. 

[00:40:05] Mike: Yeah, you get referral traffic. Plus also, they might end up going, Hey, we'd write about the same topics.

Can we write something on your website? And so what we sometimes see is that journalists in their free time will write on a particular topic for a marketplace or for another website. So you get free content. 

[00:40:22] Mira: Yeah. So many wins when you just put a little bit more effort and not take the easiest route of saying yes to all the spam emails you get.

[00:40:31] Mike: Exactly. And it's just like building a marketplace. You wouldn't go out and spam 10,000 suppliers and then not build a relationship with them. Look at link building the same way, it's an appreciating asset over time. 

[00:40:44] Mira: Yeah. Well said, really well said. Great. 

[00:40:47] Mike: You can use that quote! 

[00:40:49] Mira: Yeah, I will, I definitely will and super grateful that you took the time to join me and, and share your knowledge on your recommendations with us.

[00:40:56] Mike: Yeah, no problems. 

[00:40:58] Mira: Any last words of encouragement before we conclude? 

[00:41:01] Mike: The one thing that I'll consistently say when I speak to potential marketplace founders is understand your customer, understand their needs, and the rest will flow from there. 

[00:41:12] Mira: One last thing. Where can people find you and Portal Ventures if they're interested in finding out more about what you do?

[00:41:18] Mike: So if you were to find out more about what we do, you can find us at, uh, That's really it: No dot com. Um, and you learn a lot more about that or hit me up on LinkedIn. Always happy to have a chat with marketplace owners and founders. 

[00:41:36] Mira: Great, fantastic.

[00:41:43] Katri: The Complete Guide to Marketplace SEO is available at Subscribe to our newsletter through the link in this episode's notes to learn all about new releases, first thing. The SEO articles will eventually also be published as podcasts here, so make sure to subscribe wherever you're listening to be notified of new episodes.

We have another expert interview coming your way soon with Michael Caldwell of GigMasters and Petworks. Until next time.

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