When someone says ‘aggregator’ (referred to as ‘aggs’ in the following blog because that’s seven letters saved every time), you probably think of a Trivago or a MoneySuperMarket or some equivalent service. If you go online and search for a consumer product or service offered by multiple companies, you’ll likely be barraged with loads of aggs. Or you’ll be presented with Google’s own aggregated results directly in the search engine results pages – for example when booking a flight (unlucky Skyscanner).
Rise of the aggregator
Google thinks aggs are excellent at satisfying user intent and is therefore inclined to reward them in the organic search results with high rankings. Their natural composition is very search engine friendly i.e. lots of descriptive content on a range of relevant entities (companies selling the product/service the searcher is interested in). Pair that content with some half decent SEO and you have a recipe for ranking success.
Google has decided that aggs are the results users want. They don’t want organic search to return a flight per result, they want to see how much the same thing will cost from multiple retailers and they want access to the best price as quickly as possible. I reached out to Rand Fishkin, SEO supremo, creator of Moz and founder of audience analysis software SparkToro, for his thoughts. Fishkin claimed the natural language processing element of Google’s algorithm resulted in the search engine favouring posts containing ‘multiple brands & descriptions’ and as he says: “Aggregators can nail that.”
Aggs are well established in the consumer market, however, we’re now increasingly seeing them in the world of B2B as well.
This is well trodden ground. It’s affiliate marketing – earning money for promoting other companies’ products or services. There are a few players you will see making regular appearances – especially in the world of software selection. Think Capterra and G2 for example. But we’re now seeing aggs in the creative sector – search ‘video production agency’ – and Clutch, an analyst and agg of services and solutions, ranks third. If you take a look at their video production page, it includes (at time of writing) 11,227 firms, automatically sorted sponsored first.
Aggs typically have four main revenue streams:
1 They make commission when a prospect clicks on one of their listings, goes through to the vendor’s site and buys something.
2 It may not involve a prospect even buying anything – Capterra infers that it makes money from referral traffic alone – probably a standard CPM model (per thousand impressions).
3 They charge for premium ‘sponsored’ listings. The result will be premium placement in the agg’s search results. Capterra infers that it runs a bidding system – bid the most, appear first.
4 They offer sponsorship deals. In Clutch’s instance they make it very clear that you do not need to pay to be included in their ‘Leaders Matrix’ but you do need to pay to:
- Become a ‘verified’ company on Clutch – they say: “When looking for a service provider, use our verification information to supplement your research and to see if a vendor on Clutch is registered, active, and trustworthy.” (Making it very easy to assume that any vendor not ‘verified’ is not trustworthy.)
- Get more visibility than basic or premium profiles on review pages (i.e. pay to feature first in a list).
- Benefit from ‘enhanced’ review widgets to make your listing standout.
- Get ‘priority’ review processing (Clutch encourages companies to get customers to leave reviews on the platform).
Clutch’s top sponsorship level ‘Triple Diamond’ (which I’m guessing will ensure first place placement on the desired review pages) costs a whopping $18,000 a month.
Pay to play
Google is getting gamed. Aggs are compiling content and then promoting specific results within their own ecosystems based on levels of sponsorship. This is essentially an instance of a company piggybacking on another domain’s authority to appear first in organic results. I think Google will eventually decide this contravenes the way search should work.
The problems with aggs:
- They are closed ecosystems with their own pay to play rules – this fundamentally flies in the face of organic search returning the ‘best’ result. You can essentially pay to rank first (or at least be the first company a user sees when they click on an agg’s organic result).
- They’re returning bad results – it’s easy to compare results for a commoditised product like a flight. It’s much more difficult to compare a service or even a piece of software – it’s subjective. I might not have any experience in video production whatsoever, I might be a really rubbish result to return when a user searches for ‘video production agency’, but if I’ve got thousands of dollars a month to spend then it doesn’t matter; I can piggyback on the authority of another website and see my company listed first.
- Google isn’t making money from aggs – then ones I viewed while writing this post don’t feature Google Display Network ads. Google’s the greatest money making machine ever invented – this will bother it.
- User intent – I know I previously said users want options and aggs satisfy user intent, but actually a list satisfies a user searching for the plural, ‘marketing automation platforms’, not the singular ‘marketing automation platform’. It also means if I search ‘best video production agency’ I want the best one, I don’t want lots of companies in a long list ordered according to sponsorship. I know this is a matter of semantics but with more focus on Google’s natural language processing abilities at the moment than ever before (because of BERT being released into the wild) I think semantics are worth considering.
- Google’s very own SEO starter guide says: ‘Users dislike clicking a search engine result only to land on another search result page on your site’. Exactly – especially if it’s a list of sponsored results!
Tactics for beating the aggregators
- Outrank them by playing them at their own game – suck it up and do your own roundup, including your competitors (though you can obviously ensure you get prominent placement!). Take the keyword ‘marketing automation software’ – a HubSpot blog post ranks first, but they’ve had to include an up to date list of the best marketing automation software tools. The advantage HubSpot has over the second place result – technologyadvice.com – and the reason they’ll probably always outrank them, is they’re a marketing automation company – their domain has lots of relevance for the keyword and huge amounts of related content – (dwarfing technologyadvice.com’s marketing automation content volume). I asked SEO guru and director of acquisition at HubSpot, Matthew Howells-Barby, about this tactic, and he said:
- Target the long tail – aggs are only interested in bottom of funnel lead generation keywords. As soon as you start using your expertise to explore topics related to the research stage of your prospect’s journey, they’re less likely to feature.
- Rank for brand names and modified brand names, not generic products – this tactic works best for companies specialising in and reselling a product. If you search for a product using its brand name you’re likely to see the manufacturer’s website. Aim to rank second to the manufacturer for the product and also aim to capture related business with modifiers like brand product name + ‘training’. This is a tactic we’ve used with great success for our clients.
- Analyse other page one results for your target keyword. Is there any way you can feature in them? We’ve previously deployed targeted media relations to get clients featured in roundups and reviews that appear on page one search results for important keywords.
- Join them – the search engine landscape is always changing. If you’re being outranked by an agg then make sure you’re included in the agg’s listings. Howells-Barby went on to say:
“Our goal is to appear on every page ranking on page 1, regardless of who wrote it… Internally we call this our ‘Surround Sound’ playbook…. A large portion of the review sites are pay to play in one way or another so whether it’s CPM, affiliate or an organic placement we want to be there.”
Until the SERPs change (if they do), aggs are here to stay. But you’ve got options. You can compete with them or you can join them or you can choose to do both. What you can’t do is ignore them – with organic search still vastly outperforming PPC for clicks and traffic, inclusion in the search engine results pages is a necessity for every B2B company out there.