SEO strategy archetypes

Every business grows with one of several SEO strategy archetypes. In this article, you learn what they are and how to leverage them.

Not every online business is the same, but most companies fall into a pattern, an archetype. Knowing how to leverage SEO, one of the few scalable growth channels, as a growth channel for the right type of business is a superpower. It simplifies strategy design, competitive advantages, and growth.

I generally distinguish between two types of business models: integrators and aggregators. Even though there is a third one, platforms, most businesses fall into either one category with the same principles, no matter whether they’re in Saas, e-commerce, or publishing.

SEO strategy archetypes

Let’s look at how the two business models apply to different industries and how SEO scales or not for each.

Saas Integrator

Example: Salesforce, Buffer, Mailchimp

Saas integrators typically scale SEO with company-created content like blogs or microsites. SEO is typically not the primary growth loop, but rather 3rd or 4th in line. The primary growth engines are either sales or product-led growth loops, followed by paid advertising. The reason for that is that SEO is often hard to scale when all content is company-created, but you can achieve the top position for some keywords when the brand is strong, as in Salesforce’s case.

Notice how Salesforce’s top pages are all either product or blog pages. A quarter of traffic comes to their homepage. top pages

That’s a typical indicator of a Saas integrator SEO strategy. Can you find creative ways to scale SEO? Absolutely! But will SEO ever be the channel with the highest revenue contribution? No!

Saas Aggregator

Example: Trello, Linktree

Saas aggregators are rare because it takes a scalable product-led growth approach with the right unit economics. Suppose customer lifetime value (LTV) is low and customer acquisition cost (CAC) is high, and your product creates inventory you can expose to search engines and attract new users. In that case, SEO is the #1 growth channel. But that constellation is not quick to find.

Trello indexes boards and cards, some of which rank in search engines because they provide helpful information like team building games, recipes, or product roadmaps. A small fraction of visitors to those cards and boards will convert to Trello users. Et voilà! You got a flywheel. top pages

The challenge here is indexing only useful content because a lot of user-generated content (UGC) will be low-quality.

Ecommerce integrator (DTC)

Example: Gymshark, Fashion Nova, Bullet Journal, Allbirds

On the e-commerce side, integrators are simply direct-to-consumer (DTC) companies: businesses that sell their products straight to consumers without wholesale or other middlemen. Just like for integrator Saas companies, SEO mostly plays a secondary role. Most DTC companies scale through paid acquisition but can drive audience and sales through content once the brand is more established.

The deciding factor for the importance of SEO for an e-commerce integrator is inventory size. A company of the size of Gymshark has thousands of products. As a result, their category pages can compete with marketplaces. Gymshark and Amazon compete for keywords like “workout clothes” or “gym bag”. keywords that overlap with

However, a smaller DTC company with five products or even just one doesn’t have the selection for powerful category pages. SEO is a smaller lever.

Ecommerce Aggregator

Examples: Amazon, Chewy, eBay, Etsy

E-commerce aggregators, also called e-commerce marketplaces, aggregate inventory from many different brands, which constitutes a powerful SEO lever with tons of potential for scale. The more that inventory grows, the easier it is for an e-commerce aggregator to break into new categories and drive more organic traffic.

Etsy, for example, drives most organic traffic with category and market pages (marketplace pages). According to Semrush, they have over 7M indexed pages that drive traffic, which is quite the firepower for SEO. top pages

Publisher Integrator

Example: NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Vox, Axios

Publisher integrators are like Saas or e-commerce integrators. They create content and “sell” it straight to customers, either through ads or subscriptions. And similar to DTC companies, after a certain size publisher integrators have enough inventory in the form of content to build out powerful topic pages.

The New York Times, for example, has also almost 10,000 topic pages. The one for Facebook drives an estimated 1.1M visitors per month alone. top pages

Publisher aggregator

Example: Google News, Apple News, Hacker News

Publisher aggregators are rare. Magazine or news bundles used to be a thing before the internet, but publisher aggregators today are either apps (Apple News, Flipboard), come straight from the source (Google News) or news boards (Hacker News).

However, most publisher aggregators don’t leverage their inventory at scale for SEO. They bank on single entry points like homepages or apps. You can see this from the URL structure Google News and Flipboard use. Other than the NY Times or comparable publishers, they don’t bundle content under topic or category pages. top pages
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As a result, SEO is often not a growth lever for publisher aggregators. Instead, it’s often partnerships and advertising.

Marketplace aggregator

Example: Reddit, Facebook, UBER Eats, Doordash, Instacart

Marketplace aggregators bundle ad inventory on one side and users on the other side of a market. That inventory allows them to use SEO as the main growth driver.

Instacart, for example, bundles stores and store products to rank for stores. top pages

Doordash ranks for “{food} near me” queries that display local restaurants you can order from based on your location. top pages

Understand the growth lever that works for you

Knowing what levers work is the foundation of your SEO strategy. However, you shouldn’t feel constraint by the main lever. You can combine them or add new ones over time.

Gymshark launched Gymshark Central, a blog that goes after workout queries. It's company-created content on top of their inventory but allows them to target a new set of queries/user intents. top queries

Etsy built out a section for curated products in its /featured/ subdirectory. This is another way to rank for a query taxonomy that's harder to rank for with user-generated content. top pages

First, master the SEO growth lever that most suits your business. Then, think about how to add another lever.