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Reviews & UGC SEO – Kevin Indig // G2

Episode Overview: A little discussed industry that’s centered around foundational SEO principles is the business review industry. Join host Ben as he speaks with G2 Vice President of SEO and Content Kevin Indig about his time working in SEO for the business review industry and how SEO is applied within it.

Summary

  • If you’re creating your own directory or review site, avoid directly copying resources from competitors as it can toe the gray hat SEO line into black hat territory.
  • If you choose to compile resources from competitors, do so from open source platforms and crawl and scrape them respectfully.
  • Pay-to-play review platforms that inflate positive reviews distort actual review results and figures, providing unreliable information and skewing SEO data insights.

GUESTS & RESOURCES

Ben:                   Welcome to the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro. And today we’re going to talk to one of my favorite SEOs who every time we talk, he’s got a different job. Joining us today is Kevin Indig, who is the vice president of SEO and content at G2. G2 is the world’s leading B2B software and services review platform. And until recently selecting businesses software was difficult and inherently risky, but using G2’s real verified user reviews, they help you objectively assess what is best for your business. Now, prior to taking his role at G2, Kevin was the head of technical SEO at Atlassian. He was the director of SEO at dailymotion. And once upon a time, he was an SEO at the world’s greatest SEO SaaS platform, our friends at Searchmetrics. Okay. On with the show. Here’s my conversation with Kevin Indig, VP of SEO and content at G2.

Ben:                 Kevin, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.

Kevin:             Always a pleasure talking to you, Benjamin.

Ben:                 Good to reconnect. I think this is the third time we’ve had you on the show and we’ve been doing this for a couple of years and oddly enough, you’ve had a different job every single time. You get bored a lot, don’t you?

Kevin:             I think the podcast with you gives my life structure.

Ben:                Well, hopefully this isn’t the milestone that makes you think about getting a new job. Love G2. We use the platform all of the time in my podcast production business. We are actively stealing your reviews and publishing them on our website.

Kevin:              Nice.

Ben:                  Let’s talk a little bit about what you’re doing at G2. I’m interested in hearing a little bit about the review SEO business.

Kevin:              I should make this a customer interview and ask you how the reviews on our site are playing out for you, but it’s good to be on.

Kevin:              I’m not thinking about another job. And no, G2 is a lot of fun, G2 was very interesting. I joined as VP of SEO and content that last year, March, as you said, and I took on a much more strategic role. So my job Atlassian was to run maybe a team of five people plus a couple of support teams. Right now I have over 25 direct reports. So several teams with several hierarchy steps in between. And I still try to be a bit more in the weeds here and there. But reality is that 90% of the time I’m much more coordinating, strategizing as much of a higher level role. That market is also very interesting. It’s very, very competitive. So we’re trying to disrupt a big incumbent, which is Gardner, and Gardner has several domains staff Capterra, which is pretty strong. They acquired all these companies by the way, but that’s Capterra, which is really strong software.

Kevin:              They have their own peer review insights. So they have a couple of businesses that we’re actually competing with. And on top of that, come the brands themselves, all the sales forces, buffers, SAPs, Oracles. And then we also have publishers like the PC mags of the world and the business insiders and whatnot. So it’s a very interesting market and you’re very much at the mercy of Google and how many review sites they want to show for certain keywords. But at the same time, it’s a fantastic company. We get a lot of resources. We have a lot of freedom and how we tackle the market. And it is an interesting, fast growing environment. So as opposed to Atlassian, which was relatively, but sure, when I joined, they just went through IPO a year earlier, I think by now they probably have 4,000 people. There were around 3,000 when I joined and G2 is maybe 10% of that. So it’s a wild ride, but I enjoyed it a lot.

Ben:                 So you’re moving from a more product based business to one that I’d considered to be a content based business. Talk to me a little bit about that transition and how has it changed how you think about operating as an SEO?

Kevin:             Yeah, that’s a great question. It reminds me a bit back of my days at Dailymotion, which is also a purely user generated content driven platform. And I have to admit that it lasted, we also had some UGC plays. We had a marketplace, for example, we had all sorts of sub domains on confluence and JIRA, which were pure UGC, but this is a different type of product that totally creates a marketplace.

Ben:                UGC is the product for G2.

Kevin:            UGC is absolutely the product. And it’s very interesting because we have different types of sites. So you have a UGC site, which is our marketplace, but we also have a sheer editorial site which lives on learn.g2.com. And that’s where we have a big staff of content marketers who create high quality content, which is our own concept, right? We use that to support our user generated content and basically tackle the problem from several sites. And that creates a couple of use cases, right? So one of them is for example, that for some keywords, Google tries to show a mix of review marketplaces or review sites, publishers, and maybe brands. And so by having that editorial site, we can send two contenders into that race instead of just one, but it also helps us just simply to educate our audience and build a larger audience.

Ben:                So, I think that there’s a couple of different things that are interesting to me when we think about user generated content, as it relates to reviews. You’re in the B2B SaaS business, there is the idea of collecting reviews through user generated content, right? You are at the behest of what people are writing on your platform. How much are you thinking about actually getting the reviews? What’s the process look like there to get people to actually put pen to paper or fingers to keyboards and create content for you?

Kevin:             Yeah. So G2 cakes up that whole process with a lot of incentives. So we’re a well funded startup and we invest a significant amount of money into giving people all sorts of coupons or gift cards, offline and online, to write reviews. And some of those incentives can be purchased by the companies themselves. So you, as a company could come to us and say, “Hey, look, I want this package of incentives.” And then we’d send out like a 1,000 coupons on behalf of you to a relevant audience that has used your software. It can review it, but we started to pivot more towards an organic model where we don’t pay customers to review software that they use, but instead, never more the companies themselves.

Kevin:            One point of leverage is NPS score. So when your customers review your software and they give you a really good score, you can then ask them to review your platform on G2. And then also it’s very interesting because once you reach critical mass with a platform like that, people come to you automatically. So it’s almost like the yellow board Tripadvisor, where if you’re known well enough, then there might not be any incentive necessary, right? They just want to establish themselves on a platform, leave a review for whatever reason, because they have been extremely satisfied or extremely unsatisfied with the platform. So once you get that flywheel going, it kind of spins itself.

Ben:                I think there’s the question of authenticity when I think about the review business, where I understand that business can try to drive positive reviews. And generally when consumers are leaving a review, it’s mostly because something bad happened and you really either get one or twos or five stars. And it’s really that two or three where people probably should average out, but most people think, “Hey, if it’s acceptable to have five, right?” You don’t get that middle range of the real reviews, Uber ratings, everything is 4.5 or above, right? And Yelp, it’s like, you’re a five star. Or if it’s a real review, they’re leaving you a one star rating. Talk to me about actually understanding the metrics of a review site. How does that work? And what should SEOs be thinking about in terms of not only cultivating reviews, but interpreting what tools they should be using?

Kevin:             Yeah. I love that you asked that question because we’re still being thrown into one bucket with other review sites a lot of the time, and the criticism that a lot of people have, rightfully so, is that most review sites are a pay to play game. Where, for example, for Gardner, if you want to be on the quadrant, you have to pay for that or on Capterra, if you want to show up on top, you have to pay for that as well. It’s a very simple arbitrage business. And therefore a lot of the reviews are, well, they’re not that helpful I would say, whereas G2, that’s the whole kind of disruption play, right? Our reviews are objective, meaning we don’t make money from placements, we’re not a pay to play platform. And each and every of our reviews has gone through a manual vetting process.

Kevin:            So you cannot just publish it and then see your review online. Instead, we have a team of research analysts and other teams who go through those reviews, validate that you actually use the software. So you have to, for example, upload a screenshot of you using the software and they make sure that you’re not violating any of our terms and to make sure it’s authentic and it’s an actual real review, right? So we do want to be the marketplace of objective reviews and that’s also how our grid comes together. So if you want to be placed on the upper right of our grid, you have to have a lot of reviews and you have to have great reviews, but the problem with the middle grounds, it’s a very interesting one. And so the way that it plays out is that usually people, their initial touch point with our platform is when they have either very good or a very bad experience with a product, but then we follow up with them to see if they have any other products to review.

Kevin:             Because the reality is that most people use a lot of software and I mean, a lot of software, much more than most people realize. And then we’re being asked to review some of these other things when you’re already in the door. That’s often a situation when you would leave maybe a more average review, right? So there’s an initial trigger.

Kevin:             And then there’s a followup, the kind of second to fifth steps of the customer journey, where people leave much more average reviews. And as an SEO, there are many things that you want to think about when it comes to UGC. I mean, there’s obviously the quality of the reviews themselves. So we have a minimum number of words that you need to write when leaving a review. So do most other review sites, right? But that’s kind of the first touch point, making sure that the review is high quality, making sure there’s little duplicate content, making sure that there is a constant stream of reviews. And these are all things we have to work very closely with our product teams to make sure that we have this user acquisition part of the flywheel in place so that we can never trade for SEO. And then there’s a whole range of other factors that you have to consider when it comes to different page types, that category pages, the vendor name pages, or the vendor profiles, comparison pages, alternative pages. So there’s quite a lot going on. And it’s actually very interesting.

Ben:                I want to steal your content. Don’t get offended. And honestly I’m making a joke a little bit, but I think a lot of brands think about this, where, for example, I run the MarTech podcast and we’re in the midst of making a community. We’re going to create a community directory of all of the MarTech companies. And that means I have to create a page for every company and there’s 7,000 or 8,000 pages right there. And instead of me actually going through and onboarding every company and getting their information, I’m just going to rip it off from G2. And part of that is I’m going to publish the reviews as well. And look, it’s publicly published content on LinkedIn and Crunchbase and G2. When you’re a platform like yours, you have content that is valuable to other SEOs. How do you think about making content accessible so people can republish it for backlinks to your platform? What do you want people to grab? What can’t they grab? When you’re creating user generated content how do you think about syndication?

Kevin:            Yeah, we actually syndicate quite a lot. For example, we syndicate our reviews tool, the Amazon AWS marketplace, where it sort of came with Oracle. We have a couple of super strong partners that use our reviews for their marketplaces as well. And we’re generally very happy when that happens, because reviews are not for us to be a walled garden or to be the only place where you find those reviews. Right? The idea for us is to be the source of those reviews.

Kevin:            So we syndicate quite a lot. You can, as a subscriber and customer, show those reviews on your site and to drop a little gem here, there is a little trick where if you use a rating schema in combination with our reviews on your landing page, then there’s a very, very, very, very, very high likelihood that you’ll get a rating snippet in the search results. So there are a couple of sites that are doing this out there already. And the fine thing about that is that they are the only results usually in the search results that get that snippet because their product is on our platform. Those are real reviews. So there’s no reason for Google to say, “Hey, that’s a fake attempt or something like that.” And you’ll stand out on the search results, usually getting a higher click rate than others.

Ben:               Hang on. I got to write that down.

Kevin:           You should honestly.

Ben:                I’m going to.

Kevin:            It’s a trick. It’s a bit of a secret, and I trust you and I want those reviews to play out well for you.

Ben:                 Look, I mentioned for the MarTech podcast, we’re creating this company directory. I’m sure that there are other brands out there that are creating maybe it’s not a B2B SaaS or a MarTech company directory, but thinking about grabbing content from other pages, right? For the MarTech podcast, we’re looking at LinkedIn to figure out who the executives in each company are. We’re looking at G2 to figure out whether the company has credible ratings or not, looking for who their competition is. All of that stuff is sourced from other places. And we’re building this page. It’s like a Franken page. Does that actually have any SEO value? Do you recommend that SEO start taking content from these other places and building their own mashups? It’s your content in theory. What’s the line, should I be grabbing it? Do you make it accessible, don’t you, what’s fair game?

Kevin:            Well, I think gray zone from an SEO and from a G2 perspective. I think for us, as long as you don’t copy everything we have and go to G2, I think we’re probably going to be mostly okay with it. And if you crawl and scrape respectfully, meaning if you don’t overload our servers and if you don’t overdo it, right? So at a certain scale, we are an open platform and we want our content to be visible and out there. So I think it’s fine. From a sell perspective, it’s also gray zone because the way that I understand Google is that if you’re able to mesh it up a lot, meaning you don’t just hold from two to three sites, but you pull from a lot of different sources to the degree that the content becomes very valuable again, I think that’s when it can actually take off.

Kevin:            And that has been my observation with other sites or models doing that. So in other examples is Crunchbase pulling, syndicating our reviews as well. And Crunchbase has content from a lot of different sources and they have some of their own unique content. And I think they hit the sweet spot pretty well, where even if I was a Google quality rater and I came to Crunchbase or to any other site that does as well, and I’d see the content I would still say, “Yeah, that’s probably very valuable,” right? It’s not just a sheer copy or just a sheer automated network of different APIs, it’s actually something valuable for users.

Ben:                Okay. For what it’s worth there is a widget. I can’t remember the name of it, but you can essentially just pipe in the URL from G2 and it just shows the ratings. And I think that’s how most of the companies are pulling ratings onto their website. So I’m not actually scraping and copying your content.

Kevin:            Right, right. That’s absolutely right. Yeah. That’s the widget that you would preferably use and that’s also the widget they would give you star ratings snippets in the search results.

Ben:               Yeah. I guess the last question I have for you is for the B2B SaaS companies that are using G2, and they’re thinking about different ways to take advantage of the platform, and have great ratings show up in your algorithm. What’s the advice that you have for businesses that want to master and optimize their G2 rating?

Kevin:            Sure. So first of all, in terms of the value, we’ve seen that there are very clear kind of conversion benefits that you get from showing star ratings on your software landing pages, and even at the checkout process, by the way, checkout process is something that most companies forget, if you have a checkout process at all right, if you have an ecommerce-y business model, if it’s very enterprise, then it might be a bit more difficult. But then there are also these traffic advantages that I’ve mentioned with the star ratings snippets. These are obviously helpful, but then there’s also a huge aspect for product development. So we had our first ever conference last year called Reach in Chicago. And one of our speakers was the CEO of Zoom, Eric Yuan, who said that the way that he uses G2 is that he only looks at the bad reviews and he looks at them to understand what customers don’t like about Zoom.

Kevin:             And I think that is a pretty smart way, right? I think the way that I would want to use reviews, whatever space I’m in, is I would try to understand what do people love? What do people hate? And then take it to my product team and see if we can do it better. Now there’s a little grain of salt, right? Not every person has to love your product. There might be people who it’s just simply not built for, those are a couple of things that I would do if I was not G2 and if I was a customer instead.

Ben:                 Okay, Kevin, great to catch up, excited to hear a little bit about your role at G2. We’re also going to continue our conversation and talk about some of the work that you’ve been doing maybe slightly outside of your role at G2, talking about figuring out how to master user intent and reverse engineering it. So we’re going to have you back on the show tomorrow. So that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Kevin Indig, the vice president of SEO and content at G2. If you’d like to get in touch with Kevin, we’re going to have a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes, you can contact him on Twitter. His handle is Kevin_indig, that’s K-E-V-I-N underscore I-N-D-I-G. Or you can visit his personal website, which is kevin-indig.com.

Ben:                 K-E-V-I-N dash I-N-D-I-G.com. Just one more link in our show notes I’d like to tell you about, if you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to voicesofsearch.com, where we have summaries of all of our episodes, the contact information for our guests. You can send us your topic suggestions, your SEO questions. You can even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast. Of course you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is Voices of Search on Twitter. And my personal handle is Ben J Shap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P. And if you haven’t subscribed yet, and you want a daily stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish episodes every day during the workweek. So hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feed soon. All right, that’s it for today. But until next time, remember the answers are always in the data.