In today’s digital world, businesses must have an online presence to reach their target audience and boost sales. Two essential strategies for improving online visibility are search engine optimization (SEO) and marketplace optimization (MPO). But which approach works better for your business? Let’s analyze the key differences to determine the best digital marketing strategy for your needs.

Differences Between Search Engine Optimization and Marketplace Optimization

SEO and MPO may sound similar on the surface. Still, they are quite different in terms of focus, audience targeting, ranking factors, time-to-rank, required maintenance, return on investment, and reach through major platforms. Understanding these key differences will equip you to determine which strategy (or combination of the two) makes the most sense for your unique business needs.


The core focus differs significantly between these two digital marketing approaches:


SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” As the name suggests, SEO focuses specifically on improving rankings in the organic search engine results pages (SERP) of search engines like Google and Bing. The end goal is to appear higher in the organic search results for relevant keyword searches. This allows you to tap into large search audiences and drive targeted traffic to your website.


MPO stands for marketplace optimization. Instead of search engines, MPO focuses on product marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, Etsy, and Walmart. The goal is to improve product visibility and search rankings within these built-in marketplace search tools. This tactic targets the huge existing buyer audiences already active on these sites.

So in summary:

  • SEO brings external traffic to your site from search engines
  • MPO targets buyers within leading e-commerce marketplaces

Key Ranking Factors

SEO and MPO each have their own unique ranking factors that impact search visibility:

SEO ranking factors include both on-page elements (e.g. titles, content, URL structure, site speed and performance, mobile friendliness, etc.) as well as off-page factors like backlinks, domain authority, citations, reviews, and social signals. Having an optimized on-site blog and content strategy is also important for SEO performance.

MPO ranking factors focus almost exclusively on on-page factors within product listings, mainly elements like titles, branding, images, pricing, shipping details, sponsored ads, and seller ratings. Off-site factors generally do not impact ranks within marketplace search tools.

In short:

  • SEO balances on-page and off-page factors
  • MPO weighs mostly on-page listing details

Average Time to Rank 

Another key difference is the average time-to-rank:

SEO rankings can shift fairly quickly with agile optimization tactics but generally take 6-12+ months of consistent work to move into the top pages for valuable keywords against entrenched competitors. Achieving page 1 rankings for extremely competitive terms can take even longer.

MPO listings can rank almost immediately after optimizing a live product listing. Early exact match and relevant keyword gains usually occur within the first weeks after initial listing optimization. You start ranking within the first 1-2 weeks on Amazon via early sales and reviews; full A9 algorithm potential is usually seen in the first 1-2 months.

In other words:

  • SEO rankings shift gradually over months
  • MPO ranks respond quickly to listing updates


Both SEO and MPO require ongoing optimization and maintenance work to sustain maximum visibility, but the specific upkeep tasks differ:

SEO maintenance involves monitoring keyword rankings, tweaking on-page elements, publishing fresh blog content, garnering links/citations/reviews, and expanding keyword targeting. If not maintained frequently, pages can slip in the volatile search results.

MPO maintenance revolves around product listing details – updating titles/images/pricing, inventory/shipping settings, product identifiers like UPCs and GTINS, and sponsored ad campaigns. Marketplaces strongly weigh listing accuracy and completeness when ranking products.

In short:

  • SEO requires broad, ongoing external site optimization
  • MPO focuses on nurturing optimized marketplace listings

Return on Investment (ROI) 

Calculating ROI also looks quite different for SEO vs MPO:

SEO ROI hinges largely on the value of site visitors from organic search and their downstream conversion rates into leads and sales. Costs mainly stem from labor hours or monthly retainers paid to optimize pages and publish additional site content. SEO delivers value over extended durations.

MPO ROI depends chiefly on product sales volumes and profit margins. Costs include listing fees, sponsored ads, and labor required for listing upkeep and customer service. MPO recurring revenues turn positive quickly from marketplace exposure and buyer conversions.

In essence:

  • SEO — Traffic quality multiplied by conversion rate
  • MPO — Sales volumes times profit margin

Major Platforms and Audience Size

Finally, the scale and reach of the top channels in each category also diverge significantly:

Major SEO platforms consist of high-traffic search engines like Google and Bing. Google alone drives 8.5 billion search queries per day and handles 99,000 every second. The search audience scale provides massive SEO traffic potential.

Leading MPO platforms include product marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, Walmart, Etsy, Wayfair, and Target. Amazon captures nearly 50% of all US e-commerce sales. Top platforms drive billions in sales between tens of millions of active buyers and merchants.

In short:

  • Huge search volume and buyer intent on Google and Bing fuel SEO
  • Highest-traffic online commerce ecosystems enable profitable MPO


Core FocusImprove search engine rankings to drive website trafficOptimize marketplace product visibility to reach buyers
Key FactorsOn-page and off-page factorsMostly on-page listing factors
Time to RankTakes 6-12+ monthsCan rank in 1-2 weeks
MaintenanceOngoing on/off-page optimizationKeep listings accurate and complete
ROIBased on visitor value and conversion rateSales volume and profit margin
PlatformsGoogle, BingAmazon, eBay, Walmart
Table: SEO vs MPO

Using Both SEO and MPO Can Boost Up Your Business

Instead of choosing one approach, smart digital marketers leverage SEO and MPO together in a synergistic strategy. Each avenue plays a unique part in attracting visitors, boosting visibility, and increasing conversions across multiple channels.

Expand Reach Across More Platforms

Every marketplace and search engine has a distinct audience. Using both SEO and MPO expands exposure across more platforms like:

  • Search engines (Google, Bing)
  • Marketplaces (Amazon, eBay, Etsy)
  • Social media (Facebook, Instagram)

Reaching consumers on multiple sites allows gaining more qualified traffic instead of relying on one channel.

Attract Visitors at Different Purchase Stages

SEO and MPO also target users at different points in their buyer’s journey:

SEO brings visitors to research potential solutions in the early consideration and comparison stages.

MPO targets those ready to purchase now on eCommerce sites.

So together, they aid both top-funnel awareness and lower-funnel conversion goals.

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As the image displays, SEO attracts visitors searching for information on search engines. Then MPO further promotes products to the same audiences while shopping on marketplaces.

More Brand Exposure Outside Regular E-commerce Site

Having an online store is great. But many shoppers also browse or look to buy directly on marketplaces, not just your website.

MPO widens visibility by showcasing products to audiences beyond site visitors. Over 90 million buyers monthly on Amazon alone demonstrates the massive opportunity.

Higher ROI Across Marketing Channels

Bidding for paid ads across search and marketplaces carries high costs with minimal long-term impact. In comparison, organic results through SEO and MPO offer more cost-effective and sustainable visibility.

Balancing both earns higher ROI than concentrating budgets only on paid promotions. Forbes notes brands gain $2 back for every $1 spent on SEO. Similarly, 88% of Amazon merchants saw sales boosts from marketplace optimization.

Synergistic Strategy Delivers Compounding Benefits

When used together correctly, SEO and MPO deliver mutually reinforcing advantages driving greater revenues across channels.

  • SEO raises brand visibility and trust signals, making visitors more likely to purchase from the same store on Amazon or other marketplaces showcasing those products.
  • Positive marketplace metrics like reviews and sales then further boost SEO authority and keyword rankings.

This creates a positive feedback loop fueling continuous growth:

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So the interplay makes both strategies more effective.

Helps Mitigate Platform Updates or Algorithm Changes

Centralizing efforts into one channel opens businesses to major risks from platform shifts. For example, Google updates impacted many sites dependent only on organic search traffic.

However, balancing SEO and MPO mitigates such channel dependence. If search visibility temporarily declines, marketplace conversions can compensate to buffer revenues.

Flexibility to Shift Focus as Opportunities Emerge

Business conditions constantly evolve digitally. Having expertise in both areas allows pivoting initiatives per changing priorities:

  • Expand SEO efforts if buyers are researching more before purchasing.
  • Increase MPO is shoppers demonstrate readiness to buy from marketplaces directly.

Built-in agility to direct resources towards the highest return.

Enhance First-Party Data Tracking Across Customer Journeys

Sophisticated means like CRM platforms offer unified data views blending insights across channels. So teams can better understand and retarget site visitors from initial to eventual purchase locations by mapping cookies, login profiles, and purchase paths via analytics.