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A sustainable foods marketplace builds its e-commerce platform from the ground up, achieving 230% YoY revenue growth with almost zero capital

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“We had limited resources, lacking both time and capital, so we needed smart tools to explore the competitive and market landscape, all to empower us to enter the market fast. We found everything we needed in Semrush.”
Wessel van Zuuk, Founder of SmaakGenot

About SmaakGenot:

SmaakGenot is a Netherlands-based startup that features a marketplace for environmentally and ethically conscious food shopping. It connects smaller sustainable food producers from all around the globe—each partner opens up a digital store within the marketplace—with consumers who want to get access to high-quality foods. The marketplace now features a variety of food choices ranging from organic coffee to farm-raised meats and plans to enter new markets in the future.

Business challenge: build an e-commerce business from scratch ensuring sustainable growth with almost zero capital

SmaakGenot opened its digital doors in March 2020, at the start of the pandemic. Although this gave their startup an edge—more people stayed home and wanted to have access to healthier food choices—it was still a big challenge to get the business up and running with a small team of two food enthusiasts and only a few thousand euros in their pocket.

This meant that SmaakGenot could only afford to invest in the smartest customer-acquisition strategies that would almost surely work. 

One more trait of this business posed a significant challenge. As a marketplace, SmaakGenot had a variety of products, but due to limited resources, they couldn’t afford to promote each and every one. So they had to go smart about their product strategies, only promoting items that would bring maximum impact.

This meant that they had to pinpoint products that were in highest demand and would help them to break-even faster, opening up new opportunities for growth and product extensions in the future. 
 

Solution: targeted market and competitive research that reveals key consumer and product trends

Setting up effective search ads

SmaakGenot decided to give its business an initial push through advertising. But they couldn’t just blindly run ads on randomly selected products and expect positive results. 

Advertising keyword research

So the question was, what kind of products can attract the highest number of site visits and help to build up the initial domain authority while keeping the business profitable and making it easy to enter the market?

That’s where they started with competitive research. Using Semrush intel, Wessel looked up competitors both in the Netherlands and internationally, particularly companies with a large marketing budget like HelloFresh and Marley Spoon, to find out:

What keywords similar food marketplaces are paying for

What keywords are bringing them the most traffic

What their ad creatives look like

What kind of backlinks they generate from which pages

 

They found most of this information using Semrush Advertising Research

The tool uncovered:

The keywords that other domains in the industry were advertising for currently and historically

The cost per click for each keyword

The ad copy

The estimated traffic the ads were bringing

 

After reviewing the potential keywords for their Google Ads campaigns, SmaakGenot chose the most relevant queries based on three factors: 

High buyer intent

Assurance that they could deliver the best deal due to the shorter food chain

Seasonality

 

Pinpointing seasonality in user demand

SmaakGenot realized that there was one particular trait their marketing strategy had to consider. The food business is influenced by seasonality—in summer, consumers want one set of products, in winter, they need something else. 

Using Semrush Traffic Analytics, the team looked at years-long traffic trends of bigger food chains and paid special attention to visitor counts for specific product pages. This helped to spot repeat ups and downs.

Semrush Traffic Analytics data for a competitors “bakery” page

For SmaakGenot, this would signpost that during given months, there is a higher demand for a given product and vice versa. This is how they unwrapped the key seasonality trends across their product range.

This helped to create more targeted campaigns for various products and to avoid wasting money and resources.

Growing organic traffic

Once the advertising campaigns were hard at work, it was time to kick off the long-term traffic-generation strategies. While Wessel knew he wanted SmaakGenot to rely on organic search traffic as the cheapest and most sustainable way of attracting customers, he couldn’t proceed just following his gut feeling. 

He set out to determine which of his direct competitors were already attracting users through Google search and benchmark against them.

Researching competitors to understand their audience-generation strategies

Since SmaakGenot already had a few products in their pipeline, they knew what kinds of search terms could serve as their seed keywords.

With those keywords in mind, they started their competitor research.

Using the Semrush Keyword Overview tool and setting up the location specs, they unwrapped the key brands they were competing against in the organic search space. Alternatively, you can Google the chosen terms and get a list of competitors without having their key domain metrics.

Competitor domains ranking for “organic chicken” displayed in Semrush Keyword Overview tool

Once they had revealed the main competitors, they turned to Traffic Analytics to dissect their traffic-generation strategies.

Semrush traffic sources data for a competitor domain

This helped SmaakGenot benchmark against the currently ranking domains and create their own traffic-acquisition strategy based on their data.

Analyzing competitors’ keyword portfolios to get more audience insights

Competitive keyword analysis through the Semrush Organic Research tool helped SmaakGenot to take a more granular look at its target audience.

Analyzing competitors’ keyword portfolios, they spotted that there were some notable similarities between queries that bring in the highest traffic share. These keywords helped to build up the core of SmaakGenot’s site and content structure.

They created pillar pages for certain product categories that were popping up the most among competitors. And they simply started creating better content that would outrank that of their rivals, taking into account:

  1. The average word count of a competitor’s page
  2. Background information about the topic / product and related keywords that were used in the H1, H2, H3, text, etc.
  3. Number of links (internal / external) to that particular page

Crafting content that resonates with your audience

As it turned out, SmaakGenot was mainly racing against large supermarket chains within the Dutch market. To have a better chance of ranking against these established domains, the team decided to direct traffic to product category pages instead of individual vendor pages.

SmaakGenot’s meat category page

The bigger brands typically feature generic product descriptions that don’t contribute to user engagement.

SmaakGenot took a different route. They knew they were serving a very particular audience: people who are genuinely interested in the origin and features of their food and take the time to choose it carefully.   

For each of their pillar pages, SmaakGenot created elaborate product descriptions for the user to learn more about the product, stay on the page longer, and move on to the vendor pages:

They gave background stories for each product, adding fun facts and more serious information about producers, the environmental impact, and other product specs that would interest the consumer.

The Semrush Keyword Magic Tool helped to enrich the content with all the right related keywords so they could tackle more search terms that people were interested in, paying special attention to questions.

But they didn’t just throw in any related keywords. 

As they had limited resources, they had to be smart about their keyword strategy. So they were closely looking at the search volume of each term they were targeting to make sure they were only allocating their efforts to search terms that could bring relevant traffic and more tangible results.

Making a double profit from link building

Building organic traffic was only a part of the initial ramp-up strategy. Referral sources could bring both traffic and brand visibility—things the company focused on the most.

Yet SmaakGenot’s small team didn’t have the time or resources to research potential referral partners. So they used the insights they gathered through competitor research in Semrush Domain Overview to spot sites that linked back to other e-commerce companies focused on food.

Semrush Domain Overview backlink data

Once again, they tried to pinpoint any commonalities there and put down a list of sites that they should connect with for backlinks.

This would, first, help to:

  • build up much-needed site authority;
  • drive more potential customers to the marketplace. 

Since they wanted to kill two birds with one stone, they were mostly paying attention to websites that had higher traffic counts and domain authority.

But to make sure they were partnering with sites that had relevant audiences, they also double-checked things with Semrush Traffic Analytics, unwrapping the sites’ top pages to see their most popular offerings and products.

Once they had built up a certain backlink profile, they kept monitoring their links with the help of Semrush Backlink Audit.

SmaakGenot’s backlinks displayed by Semrush Backlink Audit tool

Whenever the tool indicates that a link goes missing, they simply reconnect with the partner and ask for an update. Or, if they have a surprise backlink from a site that can potentially harm their site—relying on Semrush’s toxicity checks—they disavow it.

Monitoring overall site health and maximizing content efforts

As SmaakGenot has a big website with new pages being added with each new product and vendor, it became clear early on that it was impossible to maintain site health without regular site audits.

This is where the Semrush Site Audit tool became part of SmaakGenot’s monthly routine. 

SmaakGenot found another use for the Site Audit tool. 

Since, as we mentioned, they placed a large bet on pillar pages and worked to create the best content for target keywords they used the Questions feature within the Keyword Magic tool to tackle users’ questions. And that meant that they could potentially expect to get into various SERP features.

FAQ example from a SmaakGenot’s product category page

So they made sure each page came with a relevant schema markup (e.g. FAQ markup) and used the Site Audit tool to make sure everything was implemented correctly.

SmaakGenot’s SERP features found by the Semrush Organic Research tool

Results

In one year of optimizing organic and paid traffic performance (February 2021 - February 2022), SmaakGenot achieved:

257% site traffic growth

230% revenue growth

More than twice the number of keywords in Google’s top 10 results: 274 in April 2022 compared to 126 keywords in April 2021

Acquisition cost decreased by 21.8% YoY in Q1 of 2022.

"Our goal is to build a global marketplace platform with high domain authority and a great SEO score through valuable content. This strategy results in many new customers and lower traffic acquisition costs. So this is a triple win—for us, our partners, and our consumers," Wessel concludes.

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